Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith unveiled his ‘flagship’ welfare reform bill amid much nodding and clapping on the part of the government. He was, he declared, going to end the ‘benefit culture’ and ensure that work pays.
There is something disconcerting in the tone of IDS’ statement. It seems obvious to assume that work should be something that is a default option but I still find it hard to understand the emphasis on ‘the feckless’ and ‘the idle’.
To try and shame and insult people into work when there is no work to be had seems particularly callous.
I don’t have any moral problems with the changes to a universal benefit type system incidently. The current system does need reform and there are always changes and improvements that can be made but there are a couple of elements of this Bill that I feel particularly strongly about.
As anyone who has worked alongside me can confirm, knowledge of benefits is not my forte’. We have a team in the council (for the moment, very likely to be cut) to whom we refer people who we feel might not be getting as much as they should. Note that, because it’s crucial and absolutely shapes my ‘real life’ knowledge of benefits. That’s PEOPLE WHO ARE UNDERCLAIMING.
And yes, there are many whom I have come across over the years.
But back to the main points of the Bill announced – the BBC list the main changes as being
- A single universal credit to come into force in 2013
- Tax changes to enable people to keep more income
- Changes to the disability living allowance
- More details of the back-to-work programme
- Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits
- Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family
- Review of sickness absence levels
The first two elements are fairly uncontroversial.
Changes to the disability living allowance
Changes in the disability living allowance is anything but. publication of changes in the DLA and referring to the Personal Independence Payment (PiP) in the Part 4 of the Welfare Reform Bill seems to run counter intuitively to the fact that the actual DLA consultation ends today – you know, the day AFTER the publication of this bill. I wonder how much there actually is to consult on.
There is a little subsection about ‘persons of pensionable age’ which confirms their exclusion (as is currently the case) but I read it as meaning that there will be a change in that currently if you receive DLA prior to 65 (or equivalent pensionable age) you continue to receive DLA (Which is higher than the ‘over 65’ benefit ( Attendance Allowance). It seems that this will stop and all PiP will stop at pensionable age (which, of course, will be above 65 in the future).
This will mean a potential significant disadvantage to those who are disabled prior to their pensionable age.
DLA will also be removed from those who are not resident in the UK which I assume will affect some of those who currently claim within the EU. That has been taken away.
I am not expert at reading legislation but that’s how I have read it. There are few details but then again, the consultation on the change between the DLA and the PiP is still in progress as this Bill has been published.
More details of the back-to-work programme
There are going to be four categories of ‘work related activity’ specified required of claimants who are unemployed.
Work focused interview requirement, Work preparation requirement, Work search requirement and work availability requirement. I won’t go into the details of these because they are available on the DWP website.
More interesting, I found to be the four groups of people and what would be required of them in order to be paid their universal credit.
So there would be those with:-
‘No work-related requirement’
This will be applied if the claimant ‘has limited capacity for work’ – which is yet to be determined – probably by a private company like ATOS. If they have ‘regular and substantial’ caring responsibilities for ‘a severely disabled person’. I have only to listen to the government spokespeople and wonder about definitions. If they are the main carer for a child under 1 or meet ‘other conditions’ which are not specified but obviously given the framing of the legislation some flexibility.
‘A work focused interview requirement only’
This is specified for a main carer of a child between 1 and 3.
‘A work preparation and interview requirement’
This is specified both for carers of children aged 4-5 as well as others who may have limits to their ability to work. This is the part, that, for example, includes a ‘health assessment’. It also includes taking part in employment programmes.
‘All work-related requirements’
Fairly self evident and that’s everyone else.
Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits
Sanctions are to be imposed if the work-related requirements are not met. These are set out in 26(1) (chap 2) of the Bill.
So basically if someone fails to apply for a specific vacancy that might be suitable (lots of scope for interpretation here), doesn’t take up a specific job offered or is sacked (because of misconduct) or resigns from a job – ‘with no good reason’.
Currently sanctions apply in some of these cases but the main difference is the length of time that they may apply.
I do wonder who this is meant to punish and am concerned particularly about the effect it may have on children who are dependent on their parents for income.
Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family
The benefit cap remains associated with a family rather than listed per individual. I wonder if this links with Mr Duncan Smith and his ilks’ promotion of marriage..
Personally, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of a specific benefit cap because families come in all sizes and with many different needs. Yes, disability benefits are going to be excluded from the cap but it is important to remember that disability benefits are going to be reduced substantially (at least 20%) in any case.
As a Londoner, living in one of the highest cost cities in the world, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a blanket cap be placed nationally with no thought to the different costs of living in different areas. I’m not saying that £26,000 isn’t a fair whack. Of course it is, the figure is based on national average earnings, but, and this is a bit but, we are not all uniform in our needs and costs.
A definite benefit cap seems more about deterring some of the front page stories in the Daily Mail about ‘scroungers’ rather than a real chance to get to grips with defining and working on need.
Review of sickness absence levels
Cameron and his proxy Iain Duncan Smith, also announced a ‘war on sick note Britain’.
I suppose this is the relation to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) which is replaced the previous ‘Incapacity Benefit’ and is given to claimants who are unable to work due to illness or disability.
(Note – DLA is NOT an out of work benefit – it is non-means tested and it given in relation to meeting additional costs related to the disability itself – hence it allows a lot of people to continue to work – it’s a bit of a red herring to stick it in with all of the work-related benefits here).
For ESA, the government are reducing the people that a contributory (generally higher) rate is paid to one year only. This will significantly affect people who have long term illnesses and disabilities.
The ESA claimants who are in the work-related stream will be subject to the same work-related requirements as detailed above.
I have no doubt that there are many details that I’ve missed. This is just a precursory glance at the Bill and some of the writing around it this morning.
While there are elements that need to change the focus on a deserving and undeserving claimant does not credit to our society.
The victimisation and ostracisation of people who cannot work or cannot find work particularly in a climate of rising unemployment creates the potential of a much larger underclass and people who feel they have no stake in the future.
It doesn’t help that the cabinet that introduce this legisalation is very much one of privilege that have never known and understood hardship and the desperation that comes from not being able to find work when you really do want and need to.
No, they can buy their own children internships..
This creates more of a dichotomous state.
Us v Them
Rich v Poor
Deserving v Undeserving
There has to be a better way to live than to punish, force and shame people into work.
- Welfare reform: ‘most radical shake-up for 60 years’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Welfare reforms reaction (telegraph.co.uk)
- What’s in the Welfare reform Bill? (independent.co.uk)
- Disability charities raise welfare concerns (independent.co.uk)
- Workers could be hardest hit by Welfare Reform Bill (mirror.co.uk)