12th January 2016
MPs have called on the Government to offer better protection for people adversely affected by the benefits cap, bedroom tax and other welfare reforms.
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee says central and local government must co-ordinate better to fill gaps in the welfare safety net and prevent severe hardship and destitution.
It says the Government must also act to protect people from unintended effects of national welfare reforms such as the Benefit Cap and the removal of the spare room subsidy (sometimes known as the “Bedroom Tax”).
It warns that giving local authorities more powers of discretion at a time of budgetary pressures, has given rise to concerns about a “postcode lottery” in relation to the coverage and adequacy of the safety net, particularly in England.
The Committee says: “Localisation risks blurring the lines of national and local responsibility, leading to confusion among vulnerable people about where to turn in a financial crisis: closer joint-working and sharing of national and local data must be prioritised.”
It adds: “The lack of any cross-departmental evaluation of the adequacy and effectiveness of the welfare safety net in preventing severe hardship and destitution must be addressed: the Government must ensure that its reforms are working as intended to prevent vulnerable people falling into severe hardship and destitution.”
Rt Hon Frank Field MP, chair of the Committee, says: “As the old saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine: emergencies that are not dealt with early will escalate.
“Some councils are doing great work and realising the potential of localised emergency welfare—tackling the underlying causes of their residents’ needs, where possible promoting self-sufficiency and ultimately saving public money.
“But localisation of welfare is the most radical departure in welfare since the Attlee government laid down a minimum income throughout the entire country for what would otherwise be the destitute poor. “Inevitably some local authorities are not yet achieving a national minimum. Local and central government must take joint responsibly for closing the gaps in the safety net and minimising both the human and financial costs.
“Welfare reforms such as the Benefit Cap and the Bedroom Tax, and an expansion of discretion in deciding who receives welfare, mean that the principle of a state-guaranteed minimum income to prevent hardship and destitution, which has been the cornerstone of our system certainly since the time of the Attlee government, is under threat.”
Karen Buck MP, Committee Member, says: “In effect the minimum amount of disposable income on which the State believes it reasonable and fair to expect the poorest in society to live has been significantly reduced.
“This risks vulnerable people falling through the safety net into severe hardship and destitution. The Government has an obligation to undertake a proper evaluation of the welfare safety net, and ensure that it affords reliable protection against financial crises, to which people on the lowest incomes are now more vulnerable.”