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Welfare Reform on the Web (December 2010): Social security - UK

Assessment that fails its own test

V. Pitt

Community Care, Oct. 21st 2010, p. 22-23

In October 2010 the government began piloting the reassessment of long-term sickness benefit claimants on their fitness to work. Following the pilots, there will be a nation-wide reassessment of 1.5m existing Incapacity Benefit claimants. However, the Work Capability Assessment that will be used continues to face criticism, particularly for its treatment of people with fluctuating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease and mental illness.

Benefit cuts rushed, say critics

R. Ramesh

The Guardian, Nov. 19th 2010, p. 17

Critics of the cuts to housing benefits have accused the government of rushing them through without first ensuring they have a full understanding of how the measures will hit vulnerable groups. The claim came after the Department for Work and Pensions admitted that data was not available to conduct an equality impact assessment to reveal if there was a risk of discrimination against ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups and/or whether working households would lose out.

Benefit cuts trap jobless 'in spiral of despair'

R. Watson

The Times, Nov. 8th 2010, p.1 + 8

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has criticised the Government's proposed welfare cuts. He was particularly anxious about plans to force the jobless to do unpaid community work or risk losing their benefits. It risked pushing vulnerable people into a 'downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair'. He was also worried that housing benefit reforms could lead to 'social zoning' where poor families were pushed out of whole neighbourhoods. The Work and Pensions Secretary is expected to say that his plans revolve around trying to instill the work ethic into a generation of claimants who may never have known it. The plan centres around the new universal credit where work will always pay more than a life on benefits.

Benefit policy based on figures culled from the web

O. Wright

The Independent, Nov. 19th 2010, p. 5

Iain Duncan Smith misled Parliament by passing off figures from a property company website owned by the Daily Mail as official government figures. In a parliamentary debate, the work and pension secretary claimed that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) had found that private sector rents had fallen by 5% in 2009 while the amount local authorities paid to private landlords had risen by 3%. The ONS does not collect such statistics and the figure was quoted from findaproperty.com.

British young twice as likely to claim disability

R. Winnett

Daily Telegraph, Nov. 25th 2010, p. 16

The OECD reports that about 4% of young people in Britain aged between 20 and 34 are claiming Incapacity Benefit because they are deemed unfit for work. Around the world, an average of 1.5 per cent of young workers claim similar benefits. The OECD comments that the British system is in urgent need of reform. The report found that the number of people claiming Incapacity Benefit in the UK had increased sharply since the mid-1980s, raising concerns that workers are being moved off unemployment benefits to avoid political embarrassment.

Cameron: I had to cut housing to avoid social unrest

P. Wintour

The Guardian, Nov. 16th 2010, p. 16

Reports that the PM told the chair of the Public Accounts Committee that social unrest among taxpayers would have been likely if housing benefit payments had not been cut, after claims that the cuts would lead to an influx of poor families from inner cities to hard pressed suburbs.

Labour wanted these welfare reforms too

J. Purnell

The Times, Nov. 9th 2010, p. 25

'Everyone knows the benefits system needs a shake-up. But the coalition must not be tough for toughness' sake.' Several years ago and on more than one occasion Gordon Brown suggested introducing something similar to 'workfare'. Now the coalition plans among other things to require the unemployed to do one or two weeks work in return for benefits and one of the names it proposes to call the scheme is the Work Programme. Everybody wants welfare to be sufficiently supportive to avoid people being trapped in dire poverty, but it needs to be tough enough to prevent the support itself becoming a trap. Despite the coalition government's claims that Labour did nothing to reform the benefits system, their plans are very similar. However, James Purnell (secretary of state for work and pensions 2001-10 and chair of the think-tank IPPR) is concerned that the coalition risks being tough where it should be soft, and soft where it should be tough.

New rules on jobless: say no to job, lose your cash

P. Wintour and R. Ramesh

The Guardian, Nov. 11th 2010, p. 1

A tougher than expected squeeze on the unemployed is to be announced today as they face the prospect of loosing all benefits for up to three years if they refuse community work or the offer for a job, or fail to apply for a job when advised to do so. (See also: The Independent, Nov. 11th 2010, p. 4)

Plans to force jobless into unpaid work unfair, says Williams

A. Sparrow The Guardian, Nov. 8th 2010, p. 12

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has criticised government's plans to force some people to do unpaid work in return for unemployment benefit, saying the proposals will plunge the unemployed into a 'downward spiral of uncertainty, even despair'. Shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander has also criticised the proposals, saying there was no point in penalising the unemployed when jobs were not available. He added that the policy focused solely on the workshy offered nothing to the workless, despite the fact that there are five unemployed people chasing every job vacancy. According to the TUC, the policy is not only unfair to unemployed people, but also to workers who find themselves competing against people paid much less than themselves, and to businesses which compete with the organisations which employ the subsidised workforce.

Pressure to sack peer who thinks cuts will encourage poor to 'breed'

N. Watt

The Guardian, Nov. 26th 2010, p. 1

The Prime Minister came under pressure to evict new Tory peer Howard Flight from the party after he suggested welfare changes wouldencourage 'breeding' among the less well off. Both Labour and the Lib Dems denounced the 'shameful' remarks, with the shadow work and pensions secretary Douglas Alexander saying 'these shameful, but revealing comments cast serious doubts over David Cameron's judgement in personally appointing Flight.'

(See also: The Independent, Nov. 26th 2010, p. 4; Daily Telegraph, Nov. 26th 2010, p. 3; Times, Nov. 26th 2010, p. 3)

Sickness benefit cuts climbdown

C. Hope

Daily Telegraph, Nov. 24th 2010, p. 2

The employment minister has indicated that the coalition government will water down plans to rein in incapacity benefit by refusing to set a target for the reduction in claimants. The government has also agreed to make medical tests for claimants more 'human' after a review criticised them for being too 'impersonal and mechanistic'.

Single parents should 'prepare for work' when child is a year old

A. Grice

The Independent, Nov. 12th 2010, p. 18

Lone parents could lose some of their state benefits when their baby reaches the age of one if they refuse to prepare to get a job. The move, outlined in the Department for Work and PensionS White Paper, has been strongly criticised by children's charities and groups representing single mothers. Fiona Weir, chief executive of parenting charity Gingerbread, said: 'most single parents want to work, but find the odds heavily stacked against them and the effect of financial sanctions would plunge children into unacceptable levels of poverty'.

Universal credit: welfare that works

Department for Work and Pensions London: TSO, 2010 (Cm. 7957) This White Paper proposes a radical simplification of the benefits system through the introduction of a single universal credit. Sanctions are also proposed to force more claimants back into employment. Every person who is out of work will receive a basic payment, similar to the current 64.00 per week Jobseeker's Allowance. This payment will be increased if the claimant is disabled, has children, requires childcare or is responsible for caring for another person. Those requiring help with housing costs and council tax will also have their universal credit raised, though this may not be included initially. People will begin switching to the new system in 2013, with all out-of-work benefit claimants having moved onto the universal credit by 2017. The only benefits to remain outside the new system will be child benefit and the disability living allowances. People over retirement age will switch to a state pension. Under the new system, anyone returning to work is guaranteed to keep at least 35p of every pound they earn as their benefits will be withdrawn more slowly than at present. The entire system will be run by HM Revenue and Customs through PAYE. New sanctions will also be introduced to punish claimants who refuse to seek or accept work. From Summer 2011, those claiming out-of-work benefits may be forced to take part in 'mandatory work activity' such as helping to maintain parks. Those capable of working will be expected to be seeking employment and those refusing to attend interviews or accept job offers will have their benefits suspended. Claimants refusing three offers of work will be stripped of their universal credit for three years.

Vast majority 'will not be affected by the benefit cap'

A. Stratton

The Guardian, Nov. 15th 2010, p. 9

The welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday that no more than a few thousand people would be forced to move because of housing benefit cuts, including the cap of 400 a week for a four bedroom property.

Work longer or else, claimants to be told

J. Sherman and R. Bennett

The Times, Nov. 4th 2010, p.3

Part-timers will face benefit cuts under universal credit. Iain Duncan Smith's plans to merge most benefits into one payment from 2013 suggest that millions of people going onto the Government's new universal credit will have to work longer hours or face benefit cuts. This radical reorganisation of welfare aims to encourage people to move off benefits into work by guaranteeing that people who work will be better off than those on the dole. At the moment going to work means losing too much in benefits. The new scheme will allow claimants to keep more benefits when they take a job or increase the number of hours they work. However claimants who get a part-time job working about 10 hours a week will be financially penalized if they fail to increase their hours to 15 or more within 6 to 9 months.

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