The Welfare Reform Bill will, according to the Parliament website, replace means-tested benefits with a new Universal Credit. This is a huge change which in theory I am in favour of, except that I believe that the government have got the implementation and the details very very wrong. The website lists these other key areas where the bill will change things:
- introduces Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance
- restricts Housing Benefit entitlement for social housing tenants whose accommodation is larger than they need
- up-rates Local Housing Allowance rates by the Consumer Price Index
- amends the forthcoming statutory child maintenance scheme
- limits the payment of contributory Employment and Support Allowance to a 12-month period
- caps the total amount of benefit that can be claimed.
During the Committee Stage, the Government amended the Bill to provide for the establishment of a Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.
That all seems quite well-intentioned and innocuous, however the detail is a lot less reassuring. I probably can’t do any better at explaining why than this blog post which I recommend reading - So The Welfare Reform Bill Doesn’t Affect YOU!?!
The aspects of the bill that most worry me are those that impact on sick and disabled people. Those aspects are:
- Limiting contribution based ESA to one year for people in the WRAG, after which people may only claim income-based ESA if their partner earns less than £7,500 per year. People who have paid their National Insurance and have become ill but are expected to regain some ability to work within two to five years with the right support will receive contribution based ESA for one year. After that they will be made dependant on any partner or family earning over £7,500 per year and have no independent income unless they live alone.
- Introducing frequent assessments for everyone receiving PIP, even those who will only get worse, or cannot get better, and including those made worse by assessments.
- Making PIP much harder to get by redefining disability. (Expecting to save 20%) People will be considered able to wash themselves if they can wash only above the waist. I am sure that everyone wishes to clean their genitals and anus. As a diabetic I am supposed to pay very careful attention to looking after my feet, but if I can’t wash them, I won’t get help with it. Changes to the definition of mobility are worrying too.
- Stopping the practice of treating people disabled from childhood as having paid NI – meaning they will never get contribution based ESA and so never have an independent income
- No longer pay for spare rooms in social housing, even for disabled people with a proven need such as a separate bed for a partner or carer or a space for mobility equipment or for treatment of some kind.
- Prevent access to other support by removing PIP from many people. DLA / PIP is a gateway benefit which allows access to things like the blue badge parking scheme, a free bus pass, or proof of disability to access support from energy companies and others. When many people do not qualify for PIP they could lose these things.
There are a whole host of problems for people who are on a low income or unemployed. The bill will:
- Introduce sanctions – stopping benefits for four weeks, three months, or three years. Punishing people by removing their income will make people homeless and may drive some towards crime. Unfortunately the range of things that you could be sanctioned for is more than just fraud.
- Punish people for making mistakes on benefit claim forms.
- Send people on unpaid work experience (“The Work Programme”) and sanction them if they don’t go or if they don’t get a good report. This is the same work programme that has people doing unpaid shelf stacking or washing floors alongside people getting a proper wage for the same job. And a mere 20% of people on the work programme get any kind of employment out of it.
- Sanction people who don’t improve their appearance when told to. To what degree changes can be ordered is not specified.
- Charge parents for the use of the Child Support Agency after breaking up. £20 – £50 fee, plus 7 – 12% of ALL income. An extra income tax for not having a partner, or for having escaped from an abusive relationship. Charges are likely to cause people to ignore the CSA – which is the government’s intention – but probably in favour of no support at all.
- Limit total household benefits to £26,000 per year. (Except when on high rate PIP?) The main problem with this is that people in expensive places like London or Brighton will be forced to move away, potentially leaving family behind and losing local support such as care or child care.
- Abolished the social fund, which pays for emergencies and provides crisis loans.
- Introducing vouchers to pay for particular costs – potentially where you can buy your food, clothing, energy and so on will be dictated to you.
- Force both people in a couple to look for work in order to qualify for Universal Credit. Since Universal Credit replaces housing benefit, low-paid (minimum wage) families will no longer have a choice to send one parent to work while the other cares for the children. Both parents must work.
Some useful links