A trio of damning reports on impact of Government’s welfare reforms

Joseph Rowntree FoundationThree reports published today on the impacts of the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms should concern anyone who is interested in creating a fairer society.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation publishes two reports on wider welfare reform in general and the Bedroom Tax in particular which should inform those who are responsible for the Liberal Democrat manifesto as well as our ministers.

On the Bedroom Tax, we know that Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander secured extra funds for Councils to issue in discretionary housing payments to mitigate its effects, but more needs to be done. Last week, Tim Farron suggested that the party should no longer support it. The JRF report, using current, available data, draws the conclusions that:

  • DWP is likely to save £330 million in the policy’s first year, £115 million below its initial target and a figure which will decline in future years. This is net of £55 million Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) spent to mitigate the policy’s effect on vulnerable people, a figure which will increase next year due to higher expected demand.

  • Fewer people are paying the charge: 498,000 have been affected by the policy – lower than the 660,000 estimate by DWP. Half are in arrears in the first six months of the policy due to the average £14 per week cut.

  • Over 100,000 people are trapped in larger homes and are subject to the cut despite wanting to move, while six per cent have moved to avoid paying.

So, it’s neither saving the money required nor freeing up larger properties for those who are trapped in properties that are too small for them.  The report recommends a number of solutions to help disabled people or those with responsibility for children and requiring an offer of an alternative property before implementing the charge.

The second report looks at the wider impact of welfare reform on tenants and social landlords. Amongst its most worrying recommendations are that housing associations are rejecting the poorest applicants over concerns that they won’t be able to pay the rent. Increased living costs and greater use of benefits sanctions are making people, in work our out, “more vulnerable to debt, risk of eviction and shortage of necessities.” Those necessities include food. Worries are also expressed about the roll-out and impact of Universal Credit. Another issue is the drive towards digital access of benefits when 1 in 5 tenants don’t use or have access to the internet.

Finally, the Spartacus Network, an online community of sick and disabled people, publishes their Beyond the Barriers report which looks particularly on the Employment and Support Allowance and Work Programme.  It highlights the problems with the Work Capability Assessment and Work Programme and suggests, based on international research, ways of creating “a system that works for sick and disabled people, while also creating value for taxpayers.” The report has been welcomed by charities such as MIND and Scope as a useful contribution to the debate.

If we as Liberal Democrats believe in evidence based policy making, we need to look very carefully at these very real experiences of the impact of welfare reforms that our ministers have been responsible for implementing. Time and again our Conference has passed policy that is not a million miles from the conclusions of these reports. Now our ministers need to act on them. They should start by looking at the impact of benefit sanctions. I have heard reports of people being sanctioned for being 15 minutes late for an appointment because of public transport delays. They should also completely overhaul the Work Capability Assessment to make sure that it actually reflects fitness to carry out a full time job.

These three reports should be carefully considered by Liberal Democrat ministers. They contribute to a growing body of evidence drawing the same conclusions about the impact of welfare reforms. Changes are needed.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Peter Watson 9th Apr '14 - 12:04pm

    “we know that Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander secured extra discretionary housing payments to mitigate its effects”
    Is it possible to secure a discretionary payment?

  • Matt (Bristol) 9th Apr '14 - 12:21pm

    @ Peter Watson – I think you can secure the principle that the discretionary payment should be allowed to exist.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Apr '14 - 12:22pm

    That should read extra funds for DHPs. Will amend.

  • Caron, thank you for highlighting these reports. As you say —
    “…If we as Liberal Democrats believe in evidence based policy making, we need to look very carefully at these very real experiences of the impact of welfare reforms that our ministers have been responsible for implementing. Time and again our Conference has passed policy that is not a million miles from the conclusions of these reports. Now our ministers need to act on them.”

    I do not have much hope that our insiders will act. Anyone who saw the dismal yet patronising performance by Ian Duncan Smith on the Marr programme on Sunday morning will not hold out much hope of anything changing as a result of these reports whilst he and his chums are in power. Similarly I doubt that you will get much from the new book by Jeremy Browne on bread and butter realities such as those flagged by Rowntree.

  • Kelly-Marie Blundell 9th Apr '14 - 2:09pm

    This underpins why I asked the Parliamentary Party at Conference to tell us when we would have a Commons co-chair on welfare.
    In effect, we have no welfare spokesperson in the Commons who is not constrained by Coalition/Ministerial responsibility. Steve Webb and Mike German do a great job, but where are our MPs standing up for Lib Dem legacy, of Beveridge and beyond?

  • Tony Dawson 9th Apr '14 - 2:33pm

    Steve Webb is doing great things at Pensions but we cannot expect him to sort out everything which is going askew in the Welfare Reform area as well. When it comes to the nitty gritty, IDS hides behind Lord (David) Freud who does not necessarily appear to have the greatest concern for the individuals affected by the change programme. 🙁

    We are, whether we like it or not, through being in Coalition, responsible for the way all this stuff is being brought in: PIP delays, ATOS scandals; work programmes; daft phone lies; loony interpretations of habitual residence tests and more. So, who in the Party is crawling all over these changes before and immediately after they come in, rather than waiting for the inevitable media ‘roasting’?

  • It’s still not too late for the Liberal Democrats to resign from the Coalition, call an election and end this policy for good as Labour also oppose it.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Apr '14 - 4:44pm

    Caron, I agree sanctions are a bit too tough. I don’t believe getting rid of them will pay for themselves, but if we have enough money for middle class and business freebies then we have enough money to get rid of or cut sanctions.


  • “Changes are needed.”

    What’s the point of saying that? The Lib Dems have agreed to these measures, and they are now powerless to change them, unless they can persuade the Tories they need changing.

    They should have foreseen the damage before the measures were agreed – heaven knows it was easy enough to foresee. It’s too late now, and a Lib Dem manifesto pledge next year will only make people shake their heads in disbelief.

  • Nick Collins 10th Apr '14 - 10:21am

    Is it not sad that this thread has attracted far fewer comments than any of the THREE threads on Jeremy Browne’s book? Does that tell us something about the interests, and values, of current members of the Liberal Democrats?

  • Robert Wootton 10th Apr '14 - 10:28am

    Since it is obvious to any (systems) thinking person that the social problems that are the subject of Welfare measures are created by the man made economic structure that has existed and evolved through history, it follows that a new economic structure needs to be constructed where the need for welfare is minimised or eliminated.

  • I would like to join John Tilley in thanking Caron for highlighting these reports. I have now read the Spartacus Network report – “Beyond the Barriers”. It sets out a different scheme for how to manage sick people and help them back into work, while pointing out the Employment and Support Allowance, Work Capability Assessment and Work Programme are less successful in getting sick and disabled people into work than the previous system. They propose –

    • Assessment and support should occur early on;
    • Medical evidence should be obtained in all cases. It may be appropriate for the assessor or the DWP to take responsibility for obtaining this.
    • Sections 29 and 35 of the regulations should be considered in all initial cases to filter for unacceptable risk.
    • The assessment should take into account all holistic factors that may limit capacity for work, not just medical factors;
    • The assessment interview may work better if conducted over several meetings, and if an inquisitorial rather than adversarial approach is used;
    • The assessor should have the appropriate knowledge and experience to understand the impact of the claimant’s health condition(s) on his or her ability to work;
    • Support should include professionals from a range of relevant fields and include access to social support, DLA/PIP, Access to Work and all other avenues of support that might be available, as these can all increase the capacity for work;
    • There should be early and appropriate access to medical treatment and vocational rehabilitation for all people, whether currently employed or not;
    • Support should be evidence based to ensure that all case workers know and utilise best practice;
    • Support should recognise the additional effort and time that disability imposes on daily life, and that this necessarily limits the remaining time and energy for work compared to a non-disabled person.
    • Support should include modifying the work-place as a pre-emptive measure, not just attempting to modify the employability of the disabled person. The DWP should put in place measures that increase the accessibility of work-places to disabled people as pre-emptive measures;
    • Avoid the use of sanctions wherever possible. Focus instead on a more relational approach.

    Their interim recommendations for the immediate reform of the current system to “mitigate the very worst failing of the current system” should be adopted as party policy –

    • Continuing to pay Employment and Support Allowance at the rate a person was already on whilst mandatory reconsideration is carried out, and setting a time limit for mandatory reconsideration to be completed.
    • For all assessment centres to be made accessible and home visits to be offered where appropriate when this is not immediately possible.
    • Setting minimum time limits on reassessments of two years for those in Work Related Group and three years for those in the Support Group.
    • Ensure that Mental Health Champions are in every assessment centre as recommended in the Harrington report and not just in the 60 organised regionally.
    • Removing the current division between mental and physical assessment so all points are totalled together.
    • Audio Recording of Assessments (unless the claimant does not want it) as recommended in the Harrington report and called for by me in another thread.
    • Detailed consideration of the consequences of having a relevant specialist carry out the assessment and decision making (in particular for mental health and fluctuating conditions), in light of the findings from the Evidence Based Review.
    • Have new descriptors that are not so rigid and inflexible and that adequately cover variable conditions.
    • Have a requirement that the claimant’s health professional is always contacted and asked about the risks of going to work or having to carry out work related activities would have on the claimant’s health and to give a view on the claimant’s likely performance on all the descriptors.
    • Ending the 1 year limit to contributory ESA for those in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

  • Caron reminds us that Tim Farron has suggested the party should no longer support the ‘bedroom tax’. Since the conference at Glasgow it has been clear that we do not support it; it is our MPs who need to be told they should not support it and should have been saying much more against coalition policies than they have done. Our MPs are all confusing the public as to where we really stand as a party and it is loosing us support !!

  • Helen Dudden 12th Apr '14 - 10:39pm

    The last post has said it all. Your MP’s did not listen.

  • Perhaps Lib Dem MP’s will start to listen if the latest polls are confirmed in the euro elections. Nothing like the fear of losing theirs seats to make them take notice.

    Two new polls tonight (YouGov/Sunday Times is still to come) and both showing six point Labour leads and UKIP increasing their support.

    The online ComRes poll in the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror has topline figures of CON 29%(-3), LAB 35%(nc), LDEM 7%(-2), UKIP 20%(+4). The 20% for UKIP is the highest that ComRes have shown to date, the 7 for the Lib Dems the lowest.

    Meanwhile Opinium in the Observer have topline figures of CON 30%(-2), LAB 36%(+3), LDEM 7%(-3), UKIP 18%(+3). Opinium tend to show higher UKIP scores anyway, so this isn’t as record-breaking as the ComRes figure, they’ve shown UKIP at 20 and 21 in the past.

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