Too Much Too Soon?

By: G.F.

In an attempt to understand social deprivation Ian Duncan Smith (IDS) visited Easterhouse in Glasgow some time ago. One can only imagine it was part of a bigger strategy to tackle U.K. long term unemployment (reduce the welfare budget). It seems obvious that when a leviathan like the welfare state needs changing this will take time and should be thoroughly planned.

Although I can agree that everyone should have to “tighten their belts” in times of austerity I do not agree that those with the least should be hit the hardest. In 2008 the last Labour government introduced a new benefit – Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to replace Incapacity Benefit.

This new benefit was coupled with a far stricter eligibility regime embodied in the Work Capability Assessment. These assessments have not been carried out by Department of Work and Pension (DWP) doctors as was the case in years past with Incapacity Benefit. Instead the government tried to save money by awarding the multi million pound contract for this work to Atos Origin.

To try and change one welfare benefit was ambitious on its own but since 2010 the Coalition Government have gone much further than that. IDS has overseen a major overhaul of the benefits system all with the intention of reducing the welfare bill. Further to the new ESA, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is gradually being replaced with Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

In an effort to allegedly simplify the benefits system IDS went even further with a grand plan merging several benefits together into one overall payment to benefit claimants. This includes benefits like Jobseekers Allowance, ESA, PIP, Housing Benefit and Income Support and is called Universal Credit (UC). In theory this sounds like a good idea but in practice it has been a shambles.

One valuable source of information regarding changes to the benefits system is www.benefitsandwork.co.uk . Regarding ESA they allege that –

“The BBC has obtained DWP internal memos which says that ESA is worse than incapacity benefit at helping people back into work and now poses one of the biggest financial risks faced by the government.”

Regarding PIP they allege that –

“The public accounts committee has issued a damning report on the introduction of personal independence payment. Margaret Hodge, chair of the committee, has called PIP a ‘fiasco’ which has ‘let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society’. In its report, the committee states that the Department’s failure to pilot the scheme has caused unnecessary distress for claimants.”

Regarding UC the website alleges that –

“Iain Duncan Smith’s latest effort to prevent the publication of documents warning of the dangers of universal credit has been dismissed by a judge. The judge has ordered the release of documents about the progress of universal credit. Unfortunately IDS can probably drag the legal process out for years yet or simply use his ministerial veto to stop publication.”

It is my personal opinion that it suited previous governments of all colours to have a percentage of the population claiming the old Incapacity Benefit. That way they were not included in official unemployment statistics and therefore gave a distorted representation of the number of people in the UK not in work.

I do not believe, however, that recent welfare benefit changes including the so called “bedroom tax” have been the answer in these times of austerity. For all the above reasons I believe the government cuts are too much too soon.

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