The rise in demand for food banks is partly related to changes to the benefits system. One of these changes is the toughening of sanctions faced by people who fail to meet one of the conditions for receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (a benefit for the unemployed) or Employment and Support Allowance (a benefit for the inactive). Sanctions are a necessary part of any welfare-to-work system but as currently designed they are leading to unnecessary suffering in return for no obvious benefit.
In the year from September 2012 – October 2013, 874,850 sanctions were applied to JSA claimants, a 16 per cent increase from the previous year, and more than double from five years previously. This could have reflected rising numbers of JSA claimants after the recession. But on Monday, a report released by Policy Exchange, a centre-right think tank not renowned for its love of cushy welfare, suggests that a growing share of sanctions are also issued in error.
David Cameron, prime minister, has described his government’s “welfare” reforms as a “moral mission”. I support much of what the coalition is trying to do; for example, the effective marginal tax rate for people such as Natalie should come down under Universal Credit. (It could also have come down without a massive project but that is for another post.) Any government taking power in 2010 would have had to cut the social security budget.
But the government’s haughty self-righteousness is risible in the face of evidence of unnecessary suffering. The rhetoric around benefits and the millions who receive them is already toxic. We could do without the idea that pointing out problems is somehow treacherous. If you look at what the Christian leaders are saying, as this atheist has, they are careful to focus on the practical consequences of specific decisions. There was only one side talking the language of crusade last week and it was not the ones whose job it is to promote the idea of ascension. Read more
One of the many popular myths about immigration is that politicians ignore the issue. On the contrary, they cannot talk enough about how they Share Your Concerns. In this morning’s FT, David Cameron Shares His Concern in a 1000 word op-ed. It has been met with the predictable fiery reactions from all sides of the debate. Read more
In 1894, Mark Oldroyd, a Liberal MP with a fondness for mill girls and justice, published a pamphlet about the living wage. The textiles factory owner from Dewsbury, Yorkshire wrote that: “A living wage must be sufficient to maintain the worker in the highest state of industrial efficiency, with decent surroundings and sufficient leisure”. It was the first formal call for a wage which met the basic needs of a worker and his family. Notably, it was also a deliberate effort to preserve the value and moral worth of work itself. Read more
Help to Work is a both familiar and unfamiliar. Familiar in the sense that it will comprise a relatively small group, mostly men, many in post-industrial towns. It is unfamiliar in that we know too little about why the very long-term unemployed leave JSA, and what makes them do so in the first place. Read more
There might be better ways to spend the money. The policy is also subject to political considerations. (Obviously.) But to see universal free school meals as only a political ploy is to ignore evidence suggesting otherwise. Read more
Universal Credit is the government’s flagship reform to the benefits system. It is also in complete disarray, according to a National Audit Office report released on Thursday. The document is perhaps the most scathing NAO verdict I have read on a large public project. Read more