The Committee’s new inquiry, launched as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty makes an investigative visit to the UK, will consider how effectively our welfare system works to protect against hardship and chronic deprivation.
The UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform, in the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like Benefit sanctions and the Benefit cap. The Committee’s latest work on Universal Credit looks at how Government will safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society as it implements this huge programme of change. After the recent Budget Members from across the House expressed concerns on this issue, including some senior MPs telling Government that continuing the freeze on benefits in place since 2010 was “immoral”.
The previous Work and Pensions Committee inquired into the Local welfare safety net in response to changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012—which replaced several centrally administered schemes with locally run provision—and further changes in the Summer 2015 Budget.
It looked at whether these changes represented “localism in action” or rather created a postcode lottery of service provision, with people falling through the gaps or “holes” in the welfare safety net and the costs shunted on to local authorities, services and charities.
The Committee concluded that Welfare reforms risk leading people into severe hardship and called on Government to:
- Ensure reforms such as the benefit cap do not inadvertently penalise groups who cannot actually adapt to it or offset its effects, and that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.
For example, some claimants cannot find or move to cheaper housing, because none is available, or cannot move in to work because they are a single parent and there is no appropriate childcare in their area.
- Conduct robust, cross-departmental evaluation on the impact of local schemes on the most vulnerable households
- Co-ordinate with local government better to ensure more consistent quality of provision
Since then indicators suggest chronic deprivation is on the rise. These include numbers of households in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, and people referred to foodbanks.
Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
"We are now seeing the grim, if unintended, consequences of the Government’s massive welfare reforms across several major inquiries. Policy decision after policy decision has piled the risks of major changes onto the shoulders of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and then onto local authorities, services and charities scrambling to catch them if and when they fall.
The welfare safety net ought to be catching people before they are plunged into debt, hardship and hunger. Instead it appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Committee now wants to find out whether the Government’s policies are sufficient to save people from destitution—and, if not, what more needs to be done."