Coping with Welfare Reform Anxiety Syndrome

30 Jan 2013
by Michael Leng

Welfare Reform Anxiety Syndrome (WRAS for short) is sweeping the land. You may have avoided a dose so far but I can assure you that it is more widespread than winter flu and Norovirus put together – and at least as contagious. 

We certainly have been infected (so too many of the various statutory and non-statutory agencies we work with) and I can assure you that is it pretty debilitating – particularly when the search for a remedy remains ongoing.

For us this search has included a plan to train our entire workforce on the forthcoming Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the changes to housing benefit and the implementation of the main course – Universal Credit. This will ensure that we have workforce armed with the necessary knowledge to advise and support those they are supporting. But in the grand scheme of things this is akin to trying to put out a burning building with a bucket.

As a nation – led by the Government – we need to do something beyond of our usual approaches if we are to give the millions affected a chance in being informed and prepared.

Michael Leng, Framework Operations Director

WRAS (like all other epidemics) is being fanned by the media, from trade press though to the Beeb, and a forthcoming inferno is predicted. This coverage is, of course, intended to ‘raise awareness’ and for some this may well be the case, but from where I am sat it seems to be doing a good job of raising the volume of the WRAS alarm bells.

So many of the discussions I find myself in on this matter offer so little hope that anything can be done to assist those who will be impacted and the work that is being undertaken is largely ineffective or greeted by an ‘ostrich in the sand’ response.

The problem with the present awareness raising approaches is that it is only reaching small numbers. What we need is an approach that reaches the majority of those who will be affected by the changes. For guidance here we could do a lot worse than to look to the big public health exercises like the campaign to introduce fluoride into our drinking water.

So enter the remedy that is ‘Enders, Corra’ and Rupert (Murdoch not bear). The soaps and Rupert’s newspaper empire are viewed and read by in excess of 12m people each week. Incorporating welfare reform into soap storylines backed up by large spreads in the Rupert press (surely he owes us this) will, I would argue, reach a large number of those impacted by welfare reform in a way which would be more palatable than leaflets on doormats and knocks on the door by well intentioned housing officers!

That is, of course, a firmly tongue in cheek suggestion. Yet the more I think about the better it sounds. As a nation – led by the Government – we need to do something beyond of our usual approaches if we are to give the millions affected a chance in being informed and prepared. Taking over the popular media is of course unlikely, but something needs to be done soon if we are to successfully mitigate the impact of these changes.

*On a completely different matter can I express my disgust at the decision of Derby City Council to cut 81 per cent of its Supporting People budget over the next three years.

Times are indeed hard but that does not make it okay for members of elected bodies to ignore their responsibilities to the most vulnerable members of their community or to cause considerable economic damage to their communities – damage that will surely be felt in the coming years by the health service, the police, the probation service, local authorities and others.

Such short term savings will, I fear, bring considerable long term costs.

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