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Welfare Reform on the Web (January 2012): Social security - UK

77-a-week widows' benefit faces axe

T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 13th 2011, p. 11

Historically, about 41,000 bereaved partners received benefit payments for up to 20 years to help them raise their children and cover household bills after losing a spouse. Under proposals published in December 2011, payments would end after one year as government sought to encourage widows, widowers and civil partners to return to paid work. The government believed the system to be antiquated and to derive from a time when women were not expected to work and would have needed more state support. Two options were proposed in the consultation: 1) replacing all existing bereavement-related benefits with a single lump sum payment of 10,000 for people with children and 6,000 for those without; and 2) a lower lump sum of 5,000 with a monthly allowance of 400.00 payable for one year to people with children.

Absent parents will have to pay more

T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 2nd 2011, p. 2

Under plans to reform the child maintenance system, from 2012 child support officers would check the incomes declared by non-resident parents against their tax records to make it more difficult for them to lie about their earnings and avoid their responsibilities. Absent parents on low incomes would have more money deducted from their benefits to help their children. It is envisaged that payments by non-resident parents on benefits or low incomes would rise from 5.00 a week to 7.00. Cases would be reviewed annually to ensure that payments were keeping pace with earnings.

'Back to work' test plan for cancer patients

R. Ramesh

The Guardian, Dec. 7th 2011, p. 1

Thousands of seriously ill cancer patients will be forced to take medical tests and face 'back to work' interviews, despite assurances from ministers that they would not make it harder for the sick to get welfare, charities have warned. Buried in a report to ministers by Prof Malcolm Harrington, the government adviser on testing welfare recipients, are proposals to force cancer patients who are undergoing intravenous chemotherapy to prove they are too ill to work. At present, patients who are unable to work because of cancer and the side-effects of treatments are allowed to claim the highest rate of employment support allowance (ESA), worth up to 100 a week. More than 9,000 cancer patients were placed automatically on the welfare payment from October 2008 to June 2010. However, the expert report says this 'automatic entitlement' has encouraged dependency on benefits, 'encouraging wrong behaviours from employers and stigmatising cancer as something that can lead to unemployment or worklessness'

Bounty hunters called in to target benefit fraudsters

T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 6th 2011, p. 6

In a crackdown expected to save the taxpayer 800m in fraudulent welfare payments, this article reports that experts from private credit checking agencies were identifying cheats by trawling through their household bills, credit card applications and employment records. The drive was targeted on claimants who said they were living alone but who had undeclared partners living at the same address. The private agencies were paid by results.

Changes on tax credits and retirement unfair to women, Cameron warned

R. Mason

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 2nd 2011, p. 4

Following the public spending cuts announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement, there were concerns that women would be hit twice as hard as men. Government figures showed that almost 12 million women would be impacted by changes to tax credits and public sector pensions, compared with just 5.3 million men. An analysis also showed that women would lose 1.7bn, compared with just 640m lost by men.

Comprehensive performance assessment and public services improvement in England? A case study of the benefits administration service in local government

P. Murphy, K. Greenhalgh and M. Jones

Local Government Studies, vol. 37, 2011, p. 579-599

Between 2002 and 2009 the performance of all English local authorities was regularly externally assessed by the Audit Commission working collaboratively with other external inspectorates under a performance management regime known as Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA). The purpose of this paper is to independently evaluate the impact of CPA on council tax and housing benefit administration between 2002 and 2009. Benefits administration was represented in every iteration of the CPA methodologies and the definition of the key performance indicator, the means of collection and the public reporting of results remained the same throughout. Results show that there were considerable and consistent improvements in benefits administration nationally within England and across all of its regions. This improvement occurred irrespective of the size or type of authority, the nature of political control of authorities, or the urban or rural nature of the administrative areas. The improvement was mirrored by general improvement in local government services throughout the CPA period, which shows that the improvement in benefits administration was not achieved at the expense of other services.

Disability campaigners hail U-turn over plan to axe transport benefit

A. Gentleman

The Guardian, Dec. 2nd 2011, p. 19

Disability campaigners have welcomed a government U-turn on a decision to abolish a transport benefit for care home residents, which would have severely limited their ability to travel beyond the confines of the home. The government triggered widespread outrage when it revealed in the 2010 spending review that it wanted to remove the mobility component of the disability living allowance (DLA) for about 80,000 disabled people living in care homes from 2012. It planned to save 160m by removing the 50-a-week benefit. Disability charities were so shocked by the decision that they questioned whether ministers fully understood its significance. They spent the following year lobbying the government, explaining that for recipients the benefit represented the difference between being institutionalised within a care home and being able to participate in society more widely, enabling them to travel outside to see family and friends.

Donate winter fuel cash, elderly urged

T. Ross

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 20th 2011, p. 1 + 2

Figures revealed that the number of former UK residents living in Europe but claiming winter fuel allowance had risen to 72, 840, with half living in Spain and another 5,300 in Cyprus. In a Lords debate, Lord Freud said there were no plans to tax the payments, but encouraged wealthy pensioners to donate the money to charity.

Incentive to work has been cut, says IDS

J. Kirkup

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 5th 2011, p. 4

In Dec. 2011 the work and pensions secretary pointed out that the decision announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement to increase welfare benefits by more than 5% and cut working tax credits would reduce recipients' motivation to work. After taking office in 2010, Iain Duncan Smith made repeated promises to reform the welfare system to ensure that claimants had a greater financial incentive to work. He had made no secret of his disappointment over the decision to raise benefits in line with inflation, which was apparently driven by Liberal Democrat insistence that cash transfers to the poorest should not be cut.

(For comments by Mr Duncan Smith on the impact of raising benefits on child poverty, see Daily Telegraph, Dec. 2nd 2011, p. 1)

The low road to basic income? Tax-benefit integration in the UK

B. Jordan

Journal of Social Policy, vol. 41, 2012, p. 1-17

The idea of giving all citizens an unconditional, tax-free basic income or capital lump sum before they enter the labour market or make household arrangements with others is claimed to be the most promising basis for freedom and equality in citizenship. However, a necessary technical first step to the implementation of a basic income scheme in the UK is the ending of the distinction between benefits and tax credits. New policies developed by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith propose the integration of benefits into the tax system. This opens up the way to gradually destigmatising all state payments and ultimately removing all the conditions that surround them. Tax-benefit integration and the removal of conditionality would also promote the participation of all citizens in the wide range of associational, mutual and co-operative activities envisaged under the Big Society agenda.

Passing the buck

S. Phillips

Public Finance, Dec. 2011, p.38-42

Council Tax Benefit is currently paid to 4.9 million means-tested recipients across England. In 2013, the national benefit will be abolished and the budget will be cut by 10% and distributed to local authorities to allocate by local formulae. There is a national guarantee to maintain support to pensioners, so local authorities will have the unenviable task of deciding how to distribute the reduced funds among working-age claimants. The inevitable outcome will be a big reduction in support for single claimants.

Pensioners' benefits under threat

J. Kirkup

Daily Telegraph, Dec. 5th 2011, p. 1 + 2

Following the 2011 Autumn Statement, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister Nick Clegg argued that universal benefits for pensioners, such as free bus passes and TV licences, should be means tested to help reduce the national debt. In the Autumn Statement, the Treasury announced plans for a further two years of austerity from 2015, amounting to 30bn in additional cuts, but ministers had not then agreed where they should fall.

Volunteer in the community or risk losing benefits, warns Westminster

P. Butler

The Guardian, Dec. 12th 2011, p. 14

Unemployed people would have to prove they are actively volunteering in the community in order to qualify for certain welfare benefits and social housing under 'civic contract' proposals drawn up by a Conservative local authority. In measures aimed at ending what it calls the 'something for nothing culture', Westminster City Council also proposed that working families who 'play by the rules' should get priority for social housing, while existing tenants who fall foul of the law should be evicted. The central London council said it wanted to draw up rules governing residents' entitlements to locally controlled benefit payments, social housing and public services to ensure that decisions about how to deploy shrinking welfare resources were guided by the principles of 'responsibility, fairness and opportunity'.

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