Work is the best route out of poverty, both Tony Blair and David Cameron have proclaimed. But, coincidentally, it's also the best way to reduce the welfare budget. For at least the last five years welfare reform has been the single biggest factor affecting Britain's lower social classes, blamed for trapping people into a cycle of inescapable poverty, especially the vulnerable, the disabled and the unemployed. Here we list the worst of them...
1. Work Capability Assessments
Work capabilityassessments were launched for new claimants by the Labour government in2008. The policy was aimed at cutting the benefits bill by around £1 billion overfive years. The money-saving aspect of the scheme lay in fundamentallyredefining the nature of disability. When people who had been receiving the oldincapacity benefit were retested to see if they were eligible for the newemployment and support allowance, the initial assumption was that 23% ofpeople who went through the test would be found fit for work. But it has ledto large numbers of people previously classified as ill or disabled suddenlyand unexpectedly being told they are well enough to find a job. In 2013,MPs revealed that 1,300 people had died after being told they should start preparing to go back to work.
2. The Bedroom Tax
Despite being offset in Scotland, the Bedroom Tax still remains legislation. The Scottish Government has mitigated against its impact with a £50 million cash injection but not before the policy had a huge impact on housing benefit claimants with spare rooms. Stories about disabled people being evicted and forced to live in single bedroom properties became the norm and still are a daily occurrence in England and Wales where the policy is very much alive. The Bedroom Tax has also been blamed for suicides. In 2014 a coroner concluded that 53 year-old Stephanie Bottrill killed herself because she was forced to downsize from her three bedroom council house in the West Midlands where she had raised her son and daughter.
3. Benefit sanctions
Welfare reform has meant a “get tough” approach for those deemed unwilling to work. As such, more than one million jobseekers had their unemployment benefits stopped last year. The Department of Work and Pensions says benefit sanctions are not new, and are important to encourage people to find work. Campaigners beg to differ. Accusations abound of over-zealous Jobcentre advisers whimsically sanctioning claimants over trivial breaches of rules. Of the better known cases, a man was sanctioned for not completing a work capability assessment, despite having a heart attack during the assessment. Being two minutes late for a routine appointment at Leith Jobcentre in Edinburgh led to a 29 year-old woman being sanctioned for six weeks while a 60 year old man got his benefits halted for failing to apply for a call centre job – despite being registered deaf.
4. Redefining child poverty
Elimination of child poverty has been a government aim set for 2020. But thanks to the brainwaves of senior Conservatives like Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne they’ve ingeniously reduced it, if not pretty much solved it, overnight. Child poverty in the UK is defined as children living in households which have an income less than 60% of the national average wage. But Duncan Smith says this legally-binding benchmark is not relevant. Instead child poverty should be measured by looking at educational attainment and worklessness in households – a new definition that, surprise surprise, won’t be legally binding. The move has been called Orwellian by campaigners who believe that, unable to tackle the problem meaningfully, the Tory government has resorted in redefining its very definition.
5. Scrapping housing benefit for young people
Last month’s budget contained plans to scrap hosing benefit for everyone under 21. The move isseen as being particularly cruel as statistics show that without a stable home, many young people face additional barriers to work that cannot be addressed simply by removing access to benefits. Six in 10 homeless young people experience a range of complex needs (such as mental health problems) and half lack the basic skills to live independently, according to leading homeless charities.