Tag Archives: social security

Susan Kramer says that Government must unfreeze benefits

Back in July, I told a panel on social security at the Social Liberal Forum conference that in the wake of Brexit, a benefits freeze for four years, which was never a good idea, was entirely inappropriate and we should be opposing it loudly.

Analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirms that Brexit is going to hit those on benefits and low incomes particularly hard:

Normally many of those on the lowest incomes would be at least partially protected from the impact of higher prices by the rules that govern the annual uprating of benefits and tax credits. By default, benefit and tax credit rates are (with some exceptions, most notably the state pension) increased each April in line with the annual CPI inflation rate of the previous September – higher prices lead to higher benefit rates (albeit with a lag). However, in the July 2015 Budget the Government announced that, as part of its attempt to cut annual social security spending by £12 billion, most working-age benefit and tax credit rates would be frozen in cash terms until March 2020. This policy represented a significant takeaway from a large number of working age households. But it also represented a shifting of risk from the Government to benefit recipients. Previously, higher inflation was a risk to the public finances, increasing cash spending on benefits. Now the risk is borne by low-income households: unless policy changes higher inflation will reduce their real incomes.

I am glad to see that our shadow Chancellor, Susan Kramer, has now said that the Government must reverse its unfair benefits freeze plans:

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A Liberal idea to empower claimants

 

At Conference we agreed a policy motion, “Mending the safety net”, on ways of stopping people from falling into poverty caused by problems with social security nets. Leaving aside the heated arguments for how this would best work, how about involving those we are talking about in having a needle and thread too ?

Whatever the ways we have of mending the safety net, those who need it must be able to understand the letters that they are sent from the officials concerned.

I am not blaming the officials, they don’t necessarily know how what is written is perceived, but what can be done is listen to the recipients.  I was a volunteer advisor with CAB for 40 years, and know how many people just do not understand what they are being told.

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What party members think about a universal basic income and benefits sanctions

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

The social security debate at Conference this afternoon will be dominated by two major arguments. George Potter recommended rejection of the motion as a whole because it chose not to endorse a universal basic income and because it supports the use, albeit much restricted, of sanctions. Supporters of the UBI may well support an amendment calling for a negative income tax from Calderdale while an amendment signed by members opposes the use of benefits sanctions in any circumstances. We asked our members what they thought of the idea of UBI and sanctions.

Are you in favour of a universal basic income?

Yes 60.32%

No  39.68%

Here are some of the comments made:

It would be a clear, distinct policy and place the Party firmly on the “Left” (which, as Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown proved) is the only place it can survive.

The nature of work is changing and society needs to catch up. The markets can no longer be a funnel for the rich to build up their wealth. Redistribution needs to be far more aggressive.

No. It is fundementally wrong as it discriminates against the most vulnerable in society. Common denominators always end up being the lowest.

Posted in Conference and LDV Members poll | Also tagged and | 31 Comments

Social security paper has practical suggestions for helping the vulnerable

I reckon that I’ve been to over 30 Lib Dem conferences in my years as a member, so missing the odd one usually isn’t a hardship. But I am absolutely gutted that I am missing this one in Brighton. I really wanted to be there to support the excellent Mending the Safety Net motion that stems from the policy working group I was a member of.

It was a first time for me to make the commitment and apply to join a working group but as someone who has spent my whole professional career working with people in hardship, for the last eight years at Citizens Advice, I felt I could add something to the party’s thinking. It was a great experience and I would recommend people to put themselves forward if they think they can add something to these things.

The group, under Jenny Willow’s great chairmanship, was far more involved than I imagined. We met almost weekly for months, took direct evidence from 22 experts in the field, read through 786 pages of written evidence, ran an amazing consultative session at York with 80 delegates and received over 500 online responses from members. The report is a large, detailed and costed proposal on how practically we could turn around the lives of the most vulnerable in society.

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Why the social security policy paper should be rejected

On Monday at Liberal Democrat conference, party members will have the chance to debate policy motion F31 which endorses a new Liberal Democrat welfare policy paper, Mending the safety net.

However, as one of the members of the working group which wrote the paper, I strongly urge all members at conference to vote against the motion.

My reasons for saying this are simple: although the policy paper is called ‘Mending the Safety Net’, what it proposes is nothing of the sort. In fact, it actively endorses the current welfare system which is failing so badly that over a million people in the UK don’t just live in poverty but are actively destitute.

This is undoubtedly one of the greatest social challenges facing our country – even if you set aside the human suffering it creates, poverty costs the UK £78 billion a year, blighting our national prosperity.

When set against that backdrop, the welfare policy motion is a failure.

In my opinion it lets down some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society by failing to offer real solutions to the problems they face, it spectacularly misses the opportunity to define a real and distinctive alternative approach to welfare for the Liberal Democrats, and, crucially, it cannot be made fit for purpose even if all the amendments to it on the agenda are passed.

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Reversing Conservative cuts remains the big social security challenge

The conference policy paper on “Mending the Safety Net” contains lots of good stuff on a wide range of welfare policy, even if I say so as a member of its working group. But, at Conference and beyond, I think it’s important not to get distracted from the big issue of the £13bn of cuts planned by the Conservatives. Reversing these – and indeed going further – is what will make the biggest difference to people’s lives, to UK inequality and even to the economy (and hopefully win a few votes in the process). Within this, here are three goals that the party should be fighting for.

Increasing working-age benefits in line with inflation – and ultimately earnings

George Osborne announced that most non-pensioner benefits would be frozen at their 2015 levels for 4 more years. Even before the Brexit vote, this was expected to be a massive drag on living standards. But inflation over the next few years is now expected to be higher than previously predicted – driven by rising import prices due to the weaker pound – and unemployment is predicted to rise too. This means the freeze will be even harsher than Osborne intended. And if the economy at any point needs a boost through fiscal policy, cutting the incomes of poorer households would be just about the worst policy you can think of, as The Economist recently noted.

So the party should be pressuring the new Chancellor to scrap the freeze and increase working-age benefits in line with inflation. But the policy paper goes further and argues that benefits should ultimately rise in line with average earnings – alongside a return to some form of housing cost link for Housing Benefit (soon to be part of UC). This would help ensure that when the economy and tax receipts are growing, everyone shares in that and inequality doesn’t widen. It may sound boring, but choices about benefit uprating in the long-term can compound to be more important than almost any other welfare or tax choice for poverty and inequality.

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Jenny Willott writes: Is Citizens’ Income the answer to the failures of our social security system?

I recently wrote a piece for Lib Dem Voice about “Mending the Safety Net”, the policy paper on social security which will be discussed at conference in Brighton.  One of the issues raised in the comment on the piece was, understandably, why the group ended up not supporting a move to a Citizen’s Income.  Rather than a long comment on the original piece, I thought it would be helpful to explain the groups view in a separate post.

In a nutshell, the Citizen’s Income pays the same amount to every resident, regardless of whether they are in work or not.  There is no means testing and no conditions apply to those receiving the payment.  Every citizen receives the same amount, although in some schemes there are different amounts for children, working age adults and pensioners.  There are a number of different monikers and different ways of doing similar things, such as Negative Income Tax and Universal Basic Income, most of which we looked into, but for simplicity I’m just going to refer to ‘Citizen’s Income’ throughout.

At first glance it seems simple and easy to administer, and could help put an end to the divisive ‘them versus us’ narrative that has infected the debate on welfare.

That is why I and many others on the social security group were initially very attracted to the idea. We read a lot about it and invited a number of people who have advocated the policy to give evidence to the group. 

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Jenny Willott writes…Mending the Safety Net – our proposals for reforming working age social security

Since last October, I have been chairing the Social Security Working Group, which has been taking a fresh look at party policy in this area.  We had a wide ranging remit covering all aspects of working age social security, from supporting people with disabilities to tackling child poverty.  We have now published our policy recommendations: it has been a big challenge, but thanks to a working group of passionate, talented people, ranging from experienced policy makers to new enthusiastic party members, I think we’ve produced a paper of which Lib Dems can be proud. You can find Mending the Safety Net here.

I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the key things we are proposing.  We heard a lot of different ideas and proposals from party members, experts and NGOs, and have sought to propose policy that is liberal and distinctive, but which, crucially, could make a real and practical difference to people’s lives.

Reducing child poverty

From the outset the group agreed that reducing child poverty should be our priority. We know that a child growing up in poverty will already be attaining less than their better off peers by the time they start school, they will be bullied more, have poorer health and are less likely to leave school with five A* – C GCSE passes. We felt strongly that it should be a real priority to tackle the barriers created for children that grow up in poverty.

Unlike when Labour first came to power, the majority of children growing up in poverty now do so in households where at least one person works. That’s why one of our key recommendations is to introduce a second earner’s allowance to Universal Credit. This could transform the lives of many children by dramatically increasing the amount of money going to some of the lowest paid families in our country. We also want to see an increase of £5 a week to the child element of Universal Credit for the first child in a family to help new families afford the high costs associated with a first child.

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Last chance to shape Lib Dem policy on liberty and security and social security

When should the state be able to collect data about you? Should you be able to be tried in a secret court and not informed of the evidence against you? How can we make sure that our social security system is sustainable and needs-based?

The party is currently trying to answer these questions with two consultations, one on liberty and security and another on social security. They have been seeking input for some time from party members, charities and NGOs and members of the public.

Today is the last day that you can give your opinion before the two working groups draw up their final proposals which will be debated at Conference in Brighton in September.

Each will take you 10 minutes. It is worth it to have a say on these important issues.

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An end to benefit fraud – the Liberal way

…the plan we are advocating amounts essentially to this: that a certain small income, sufficient for necessaries, should be secured to all, whether they work or not…

Bertrand Russell, Proposed Roads To Freedom, 1918

There are two types of benefit fraud going on. There’s the sort that the Daily Mail and various populist TV shows enjoy making a song-and-dance about. Then there’s the more prevalent fraud, with targets to deny people the money they and their families need to live, to “sanction” them on flimsy pretexts, to require people with mental and physical disabilities to undergo lengthy and stressful appeals processes.

Providing a small unconditional income to everyone in society addresses both of these frauds – and incidentally means that much of the demeaning, embarassing, arbitrary, and extremely costly assessments can be scrapped.

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Towards a Liberal Democrat policy on social security

 

When I mention to friends that I have recently visited a Jobcentre, Citizens Advice Bureau, and interviewed the homeless it tends to raise a few eyebrows. However, all these visits and interviews have been fieldwork for the Liberal Democrat Working-age Social Security Working Group which recently published its consultation paper. Chaired by Jenny Willott, and comprised of a cross-section of LD members, our FPC remit has been clear: ‘The group will take evidence and consult widely from both within and outside the party’.

Fieldwork has proven enormously helpful to us in terms of understanding the nuances of the benefits system. For example, interviews with homeless people reveal the difficulties associated with applying for Universal Credit without the benefit of a bank account (needs a permanent address). These problems are not insurmountable but they do introduce additional difficulties which need to be considered when formulating policy.

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Is the Basic Income Guarantee an idea whose time has come?

Way back when I was first involved in politics, the ideas that everyone should have a basic income and that tax and national insurance should be integrated were mainstream SDP/Liberal Alliance ideas.

The Greens have in recent years been the only party to advocate such a change but during the General Election, Natalie Bennett was unable to convince people that it was affordable.

This week, think-tank Reform Scotland has come up with a costed scheme to give every adult a basic income of £100 per week and every child £50. The authors, Liberal Democrat Siobhan Mathers and Scottish Green candidate James Mackenzie, acknowledge that there would be a cost, around £2 billion in Scotland, £12 billion across the whole UK and that personal taxation rates would have to rise by about 8%, but that nobody earning under £26,000 a year would be worse off. However, with 2 children, a £100k household would be over £1200 a year better off

It’s certainly radical, with those on lowest incomes gaining and those on £100,000 without children being around £2,200 a year worse off, but isn’t that what a progressive tax system is supposed to do? There is a question, though, around whether a £100k household needs to be mae £1200 a year better off courtesy of the state.

The report argues that there are seven big advantages of such a scheme:

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Why IDS is still in his job is revealing of Conservative attitudes to social security

Iain Duncan SmithWhen Andrew Lansley’s health reforms ran into trouble – and his inability to take with him the public or those working in the NHS proved toxic – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Jeremy Hunt was brought in to make nice to the health sector and patients.

When Michael Gove’s education reforms started to run before they could walk – and his inability to take with him the public or the teachers proved toxic, especially in marginal constituencies – David Cameron reshuffled him out of harm’s way. Nicky …

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Challenging the myths about benefits claimant – an inspiring video from an Oxford charity

Liberal Democrats generally despair about the attitudes in the media towards people who claim benefits.

I’m sure that most of you reading this will be inspired by this fantastic video from an Oxford self advocacy charity run by and for people with learning disabilities. My Life My Choice got some people to share their stories and challenging some of the myths people have about people on benefits. It’s very moving. Please share it all over social media. I think we probably all have friends who believe the myths and they need to see it.

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Tribunal justice – do our Parliamentary Parties ‘get’ it?

Brighton Spring Conference unanimously supported a motion on justice in social security tribunals – a critical issue as welfare reform begins recalibrating everyone’s social security rights and entitlement, and specialist legal aid advice to challenge decisions disappears. This is the fifth time Conference has debated and challenged the Government’s legal aid reforms. In Sheffield 2011, I summated an access to justice motion criticising the Ministry of Justice’s outline proposals, in Birmingham, autumn 2011 and again in Brighton 2012 I proposed amendments to welfare reform motions calling to reinstate legal aid for welfare rights, whilst in Gateshead an amendment

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Daily View 2×2: 17 September 2009

Good morning. Today we remember the deaths of Hildegard von Bingen, and, centuries later, Laura Ashley; and today’s birthday girl is Tessa Jowell.

Two big stories

A surprising number of newspapers seem to be leading with a story about how soon, we will all have the right to register with any GP we choose. I struggle to see why that’s made so many front pages.

Instead, my picks are the Independent’s story about racism in the US, with President Carter weighing in on opposition to President Obama’s current policy platform:

After lurking near the surface of political discourse in America

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