Welfare Reform Bill – the problems

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:

Key areas

  • 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.
Thanks to DarkestAngel32 for finding some of these points.
There are some changes that are happening outside of the Welfare Reform Bill. Tax credits are changing from 6 April 2012 including changes to the number of hours of work necessary to qualify. The Local Housing Allowance is already being seriously reduced, meaning that people are being forced to move out of accommodation that is too expensive, without always having somewhere to go. This has already caused some people to move from their own home into care at great cost to local authorities. The Independent Living Fund – which pays for severely disabled people to live in their own homes – has also been cut because it is “not financially sustainable.” The result will be that 20,000 people might have to move back in to care homes at even greater expense.

Some useful links

Author: Latentexistence

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

8 thoughts on “Welfare Reform Bill – the problems”

  1. The government make a lot of assumptions about relationships and families. I was thinking today about the potential consequences for me in future if my long term MH problem continues. I’m appealing against an ESA fail so don’t know if I’ll get it, or be placed in the WRAG. I’m single. What would happen if I met someone and decided to move in with them. I’ve never had a relationship where my partner and me shared a bank account or the partner fully supported me. It’s making a massive assumption that any potential partner in future would automatically want to be made completely financially responsible for me, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want them to!! It’s grossly unfair to stop sickness benefits after a year and take away a person’s independence. It’s bad enough for a woman to throw herself on the mercy of a man but imagine the other way around. Men are still generally made to feel that they should be the main income provider, they do tend to get paid more than women do. Any man with an illness embarking on a new relationship will find himself in a very humbling position. It’s wrong! Epsecially for those who may have paid much more into the system in NI insurance than they are set to get back out of it in their time of need.

    The spare bedroom rule is also going to penalise men who are divorced and have children. They want to share the responsibility of their children and see them on a regular basis but they are penalised if they have a bedroom for those children to sleep in?

    It’s despicable. This bill is going to be the undoing of this cynical nasty government. When it starts to effect ordinary people in all sorts of draconian and cruel ways.

    Good post! Thanks for the pointing out the key issues. Most people think that it’s only the ‘scroungers’ who are getting kicked about. It’s high time the truth was out.

  2. Oh and one last thing, if someone fills your forms in for you, let’s say because you are too ill or too disabled to do it for yourself, or you might be illiterate, and they find an error and fine you the £50 penalty or whatever it will be, who will be responsible? The carer who filled in the forms or the incapacitated person because it’s in their name? Have they even considered that I wonder? What about the DWP? Can we fine them when they ‘lose’ our forms and documents and make mistakes? I’ll assume not.

  3. I’m in the same situation as Stella in that I’m single. It’s difficult enough to try to find a partner who wants to have a relationship with someone with a chronic illness, knowing they will have to care and assist that partner, but to have to support them financially too…? This also goes against David Cameron’s ‘you will be better off as a family than you are apart’ pledge.

    The one thing you appear to have missed, and which seems to be rarely mentioned is the loss of the Severe Disability Premium which is paid in income support to those on middle rate or higher rate care DLA. This is worth £200+ per month and will hit hardest the people who need the care most.

    At the moment it is snowing outside and I know i will get a small supplement from the
    Government for it dropping below freezing, but that goes no where near to covering the amount I’m actually spending on fuel. I can’t sit in the cold, it causes exasperating chronic pain, my SDP helps me cope, but not for much longer it seems.

    1. I had heard about the SDP but forgotten. I’m also a bit confused about it, actually, since I get high-rate mobility and mid-rate care but don’t seem to be getting the SDP. Possibly because I get ESA though.

      1. If you get carers allowance then you don’t get the SDP it works out the same amount plus the carer gets a stamp. You have to decide if you can manage alone or get someone to act as carer. I had to go through it about two years ago.

  4. Don’t forget making all overpayments recoverable, even those due to official error. This means you get told you are entitled to, say, £10 a week more than you should be. You get paid it. You spend it on those tiny improvements to Quality of Life that it affords. A year later, they realise their mistake, and demand £520 from you. You can take time to pay it back, but why should you have to pay it back at all? Say they take it back at the same rate it was paid – you were £10 a week better off than you “should” be, through no fault of your own, but you are then punished by being made £10 a week worse of than you “should” be.

  5. I really don’t like the sound of “vouchers”. I shop where I do as it’s the easiest for me,access wise,product wise, etc. What if I get vouchers for somewhere I can’t handle? I lose out?
    Years ago,when I claimed IS, I felt awful cashing the milk vouchers until my milkman offered to buy them off me. Imaging the stigma of using a ‘grocery voucher’. It’s going back to school and knowing which kids had free school meals. They always felt awful then and a new system was brought in to get rid of that stigma for the kids (around here it was,not sure of any where else).
    I am really not looking forward to how the future will pan out.

  6. I wonder under what circumstances food and clothing vouchers would be introduced? I believe in the USA they’re handed out after a claimant on work related benefits has failed to find work within a given time and has no other means of feeding themselves? A disgraceful system which ever way you look at it. The only people who will ‘benefit’ from vouchers will be the companies signed up to the scheme who will have a steady supply of customers and presumably some sort of financial incentive paid for by the tax payer? They won’t help local businesses that’s a certain. I dread to think what goods will be allowed on such a scheme? No doubt the government will have full control of your diet and dictate to you not only where you can redeem these vouchers but also what you may eat! It’s the workhouse mentality. Here’s your bowl of gruel – be grateful for it!

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