Welfare Reform: 'change is happening but reform must be argued for'

19 Aug 2013
by Michael Leng

Welfare reform is happening and, to be frank, there’s not a huge amount Framework (or any organisation for that matter) can do now to change the direction set by the Coalition.

The debate is over. Change is happening. All we can do now is to continue to offer advice and support to the growing number of people needing our help and to continue to lobby for ‘reform to the reforms' by bringing public attention to consequences unintended and damaging.

Welfare reform is no-longer a political and media argument between left and right. It is cold, hard reality for thousands of vulnerable people in our communities

Michael Leng, Operations Director

Many of the fears and concerns we had about the impact of these changes are coming true. More people are concerned about losing their homes and their livelihoods as they see their incomes squeezed and their sense of security eroded.

Welfare reform is no-longer a political and media argument between left and right. It is cold, hard reality for thousands of vulnerable people in our communities. Here’s just a taster of what they are facing:

  • A cut to most benefit payments (the link between what people receive and the rate of inflation has been abandoned)
  • The “Bedroom Tax”, which is unfairly penalising people for people living in homes judged “too big” for them.
  • The scrapping of Disability Living Allowance and the introduction of the points based Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system.
  • Council tax benefit changes, which give local authorities discretion to charge up-to 20 per cent contributions to vulnerable people

It’s worth mentioning here that additional funding, in the shape of Discretionary Housing Payments, are in place to help people affected by these changes, but the pools of money made available to local authorities to help people in hardship are simply not adequate to meet demand.

Framework’s frontline staff, all of whom have received extra training to cope with an anticipated increase in demand, are reporting a significant increase in cases of hardship directly linked to these changes.

I am often asked by people what I think of these changes. My answer depends greatly on which area of reform we are discussing and is based not on political or ideological objections, but on the real (often unintended) impact such legislation is having on real people.

The Bedroom Tax (or Spare Room Subsidy to give it its proper name) is a good example. Of course, the idea that people should live in accommodation best suited to their needs is not in of itself a bad idea. The problem here is one of implementation in a thoroughly dysfunctional housing market.

The unfortunate truth for many people affected by this reform – who face reductions to Housing Benefit starting at £14 a week – is that they simply don’t have a viable alternative. Take, for example, somebody living in a two bedroom flat. They may very well want to move into a smaller property but they will sure struggle to find a viable and smaller alternative.

Why? Because there are so few of them available in our antiquated housing stock, the majority of which was built to meet the social needs of a very different time; a time where the nuclear family was the norm, the demand for single bedroom accommodation was miniscule and the idea of building more of it made no economic sense. Even now the amount of single bedroom accommodation being built is wholly inadequate to meet demand. 

The result, as mentioned here in a recent article in The Independent, is that we simply do not have enough viable alternatives for people to move into, meaning that they have little option but to swallow a sizeable reduction in their already meagre income. The Government argues time and again that the people affected by the Bedroom Tax are exercising a choice to remain in more expensive accommodation and that nobody is forcing them to do so. However, in reality, what other choice do they have?

The answer, sadly, is very often none.

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