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Welfare Reform on the Web (June 2009): Welfare state - UK

Developments in the protection of victims of domestic abuse

D. Barran

Family Law, May 2009, p. 416-419

This article focuses on the work of Coordinated Action against Domestic Abuse in pioneering services which could transform the way in which the UK addresses the problem of domestic abuse. These include:

  • Risk assessment of victims by a range of professionals including midwives, health visitors and housing officers, instead of just the police
  • Introduction of Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences to improve the safe sharing of information among practitioners
  • Expanding support available to victims through the use of trained independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs)

Divided Britain gap between rich and poor widest since 60s

L. Elliott and P. Curtis

The Guardian, May 8th 2009, p. 1, 6 & 7

According to data from the Department for Work and Pensions, deprivation and inequality in the UK rose for the third successive year in 2007-08 which has prompted strong criticism from campaign groups for the government's backsliding on its anti-poverty goals. In a further blow, the government failed to make a dent in the number of children or pensioners living in poverty after big increases the previous year. The figures show that about 15% of pupils in state schools are now entitled to free school meals because their parents receive welfare payments or earn below 15,575 per year. Ministers all but admitted that labour had abandoned the 2010 goal of halving child deprivation from the 3.4m total at the end of the millennium but insisted that the party was committed to abolishing it entirely by 2020.

(See also The Independent, May 8th 2009, p. 1 & 2)

From broken families to the broken society

J. Kirby

Political Quarterly, vol. 80, 2009, p. 243-247

Since his election a Conservative leader in 2005, David Cameron has given greater prominence to the subject of family policy than any modern leader of his party. This article examines the changing role of the marriage-based family in the development of Conservative tax and welfare policies since 1979. It shows how support for the marriage-based family has become the focal point of Conservative social policy under Cameron's leadership.

Legislative scrutiny: Welfare Reform Bill; Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill; Health Bill

Joint Committee on Human Rights

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09: HC 414)

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (the Committee) reports here on its scrutiny of the Government's Welfare Reform Bill, the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill and the Health Bill:

Welfare Reform Bill

The Committee raises a number of human rights concerns, including the following:

  • Proposals to introduce benefits sanctions for drug or alcohol dependent people receiving Employment Support Allowance could interfere with the right to a private life. This section should either be deleted from the Bill or significantly amended.
  • The Government's view is that contractors providing services under the proposals of this Bill would be viewed as public authorities, meaning that they would have to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government needs to explain further whether and how individuals could bring action against those contractors.
  • The proposals to allow the Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission to make orders to suspend driving licenses or passports should be dropped from the Bill.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

The Committee welcomes the following as human rights enhancing measures:

  • Provisions concerning education for detained young offenders
  • The obligation to record the use of force on pupils

Health Bill: healthcare for refused asylum seekers

The Committee calls on the Government to revise urgently its guidance to NHS trusts about how, and when, to charge refused asylum seekers, in order to meet the recent Court of Appeal's decision that the Guidance was unclear and unlawful. It also recommends that people who have claimed asylum can access free primary and secondary care whilst they remain in the United Kingdom.

Paying off the national debt/ NIESR Economic forecast

National Institute for Economic and Social Research, 2009

This report gives the government three options for reducing public debt and restoring the state finances to health following the credit crunch. These are all unpalatable. Option one involves raising the state pension age to 70 for men and women between 2013 and 2023. Option two is to raise income tax by 15p in the pound. Taxes would have to rise by as much as 8p in the pound even if the retirement age was increased to 70. Option three involves drastic cuts to government spending, which would hit frontline services such as education and healthcare.

Putting things right: complaints and learning from DWP

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman

London: TSO, 2009 (House of Commons papers, session 2008/09: HC 367)

In 2007-08 the Parliamentary Ombudsman received 7,341 complaints about government departments and a range of other public bodies. Of these, 2,574 were about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It is not surprising that the largest number of complaints concern DWP given the size and nature of DWP's business, serving as they do over 20 million customers at any one time. What is important is how DWP dealt with the complaints arising from mistakes. Many, but by no means all, of the complaints received could have been resolved much sooner and by DWP themselves, if the complaint handling had been more customer focused and this should have happened. The cases included in this digest have been selected because they illustrate the wide variety of complaints and complainants, and the often serious results, when DWP get things wrong. The report identifies five themes flowing from these cases:

  • poor information provision
  • delay
  • poor record keeping
  • falling between the gaps
  • poor complaint handling.

Targeted relief

T. Gash

Public Finance, May 1st-7th 2009, p. 24-25

Use of national targets to improve public services such as health and education is falling out of favour due to perverse consequences such as 'teaching to the test' and manipulation of GP waiting times. Three alternative approaches to public service improvement are discussed: 1) extension of user choice of service provider; 2) introduction of tournaments, which reward local areas for performing better than their peers; and 3) promotion of a form of national leadership that builds consensus and harnesses the energy of the public sector workforce.

Under constant observation

J. Ransford

Society Guardian, May 6th 2009, p.3

Senior figures from across the public sector who have been through periods of funding cuts offer advice to colleagues on how to manage in the forthcoming tough times.

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