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Welfare Reform on the Web (February 2005): Social Security - UK

CHILD SUPPORT AGENCY 'SHOULD BE SCRAPPED UNLESS IT IMPROVES'

N. Timmins

Financial Times, Jan. 26th 2005, p.3

The Commons Work and Pensions committee declared that the Child Support Agency - set up to raise maintenance from absent parents to pay those looking after children - was not only in crisis but "has failed". It should scrapped if a way to improve its services cannot be found "within weeks", the MPs said. Though computer errors were in part to blame, the Committee said there were deeper problems including the design of the child support system, the agency's use of the enforcement powers, along with issues of staff morale, sickness and training.

THE DOLEFUL MARCH OF BENEFIT FRAUD AND ERROR

D. Hencke

The Guardian, Jan. 19th 2005, p.5

Benefit fraud and mistakes by Department for Work and Pensions staff have cost taxpayers £3bn a year since Tony Blair won the last general election, according to government figures. There has been no reduction in fraud and error in the past three years, despite ministers' efforts to stop swindling: the combined cost has remained constant at an annual £3bn.

HELPING THOSE IN FINANCIAL HARDSHIP: THE RUNNING OF THE SOCIAL FUND

National Audit Office

London: TSO, 2005 (House of Commons papers, session 2004/05; HC179)

Around one-fifth of people in the UK live in low-income households and over a quarter of households have no savings. However, only 47% of people on low incomes responding to a NAO survey were aware of the Social Fund. Lone parent families and disabled people benefit most from the Social Fund, while take-up is low amongst pensioners and some ethnic minorities. Even when customers know about the Social Fund, they are not well informed about the different types of award. The quality of decision making is a concern for some types of Social Fund award. There is a need to improve decision-making by introducing up-to-date centrally co-ordinated Social Fund training for staff. A high proportion of loans paid out are recovered, mainly through automatic deduction from customers' benefit payments.

WELFARE OVERHAUL TO TARGET INCAPACITY BENEFIT

B. Hall

Financial Times, Jan. 26th 2005, p.1

Benefits for people claiming to be too sick to work are due to be cut under a government overhaul of the welfare state. Tony Blair is seeking to cut incapacity benefit, which costs the Treasury £7bn a year, by pushing claimants to look for a job. The Department for Work and Pensions' five-year plan due in the next few days will include proposals to set claimants' incapacity benefit at £56 a week - the same as the Jobseeker's Allowance - to encourage them to swiftly back into the labour market.

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