More than 70 leading Catholics have written to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who is Catholic, to tell him they fear the impact of his welfare reform policies.
In an open letter the group, led by the thinktanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform, calls on Duncan Smith to redraft his policies “in a way that is more compatible with Catholic and Christian values.”
They highlight benefit sanctions, work capability assessments, the benefits cap and the scheme to incorporate all benefits in a single system of universal credit as policies that are worsening the situation of poor families up and down the country.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives,” the letter says.
“However, we believe that [your policies] are in fact doing the reverse. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
Duncan Smith was the first Catholic leader of the Conservative party between 2001 and 2003. In 2010 he was named one of Britain’s most influential Catholics. Since his appointment at the head of the Department for Work and Pensions that year, he has led a radical reorganisation of Britain’s benefits system to ensure “work always pays more”.
But he has faced criticism from campaigners who say that cuts to benefits have led to suicides, an increase in poverty and the social cleansing of wealthier areas, particularly in London and the south-east.
Business groups have warned David Cameron that he cannot expect companies to automatically raise wages to compensate for cuts in tax credits that are likely to be unveiled in the summer budget.
Industry organisations, including the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) and Institute of Directors (IoD), spoke out after Cameron gave a speech criticising what he claimed was a “welfare merry-go-round” and suggested higher pay should replace tax credits.
There has been speculation that Downing Street could unveil a plan to encourage companies to pay their workers more at the same time as the government announces £12bn of welfare cuts, including reductions to tax credits, next month.
Steve Hilton, Cameron’s former adviser, claimed in a Daily Mail article this week that it was a “complete travesty” that giant retailers like Tesco and Sainsbury’s are making billions of pounds in profits while they are “subsidised by the taxpayer so they can pay their workers a pittance”.
More than half of North East families will be affected by planned tax credit cuts, making us one of the hardest hit region’s in the country, it has been claimed.
The Government is set to carry out £12bn worth of benefits cuts which it will detail at its next Budget. Tax credits is predicted to be one of the areas where the axe will fall heaviest.
It is reportedly being considered that they will be cut back to the 2003 level, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated would reduce entitlements for about 3.7m low-income families with children by an average of £1,400 a year, reducing spending by about £5bn.
Labour says that 148,000 North East families – or 56% of the total – benefit from tax credits.
House of Commons figures also show that 70% per cent of those claiming them in the region are in work.
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck said:
“David Cameron and George Osborne must come clean about their proposals to cut tax credits. Their plans clearly put over half of the families with children in the region in the firing line.
“Many families have suffered greatly under the first five years of the Tories, with their incomes falling and bills rising, making life a real struggle already.
“Time after time, during the election campaign and in the first month of this government, they have ducked and weaved to avoid revealing the true nature of their plans. It’s not fair and it’s causing great distress for many. It’s time for the Prime Minister to spell out just what he has in store for families across the region and let the public decide whether his cuts are fair.”
According to campaign groups and charities, the welfare cuts will see the already high level of child poverty in the North East spread even to some affluent areas.
There are growing indications from the government that the way child poverty is measured will be changed in order to allow tax credits to be cut, as part of the plan to reduce the benefits bill by £12 billion.
David Cameron dropped heavy hints in a speech on Monday that he plans to cut tax credits available to low paid workers. He said he wanted to see:
“A welfare system that encourages work – well paid work.”
However, he went on to add:
“The wrong track though, is to ignore the causes, and simply treat the symptoms of the social and economic problems we face.
“Take for example the complacency in how we approach the crucial issue of low pay. There is what I would call a merry-go-round.
“People working on the minimum wage having that money taxed by the government and then the government giving them that money back – and more – in welfare.
“Again, it’s dealing with the symptoms of the problem – topping up low pay rather than extending the drivers of opportunity – helping to create well paid jobs in the first place.”
If tax credits are cut, however, this is likely to plunge more low paid families with children into poverty.
The Green Party has slammed the Conservatives for waging “war on welfare”, describing planned £12bn in welfare cuts as “kicking people when they are down”.
Green Party Work and Pensions spokesperson, Jonathan Bartley, said the Tories are threatening the future existence of the welfare state and criticised controversial benefit sanctions for making it “harder, not easier, to find a job”.
Mr Bartley added that David Cameron’s hint of an assault on tax credits “would take away a crucial lifeline which enables many people to stay in work”.
Responding to David Cameron’s speech on welfare earlier today, Mr Bartley said: “The Conservative war on welfare is incoherent, misguided and based on ideology rather than reality.
“Welfare is an investment which helps people to build a decent life, not something that ‘papers over the cracks with a veneer of fairness’.
“The social security of millions is being threatened in a way we haven’t seen since the modern welfare state was set up.
“The best way to help people into work is to support them, not kick them when they are down.
“Conservative sanctions are creating barriers and making it harder, not easier, to find a job. These sanctions should be scrapped, not extended to those claiming tax credits.
“Cutting tax credits would take away a crucial lifeline which enables many people to stay in work, while the shambolic new Universal Credit system also has an in-built disincentive to work. For every £100 someone on Universal Credit earns, £65 of support is lost.
“If the government wants to make work pay it should make the minimum wage a Living Wage. Not only would this save £2.4bn in tax credits, it would also raise £1.5bn in tax revenues.”
The North-East has lost public sector jobs at nearly five times the rate of London, the TUC says.
Austerity measures have resulted in an unequal impact on UK regions with 36,000 public sector jobs having been cut in the region since 2010.
Between 2010 and this year public sector employment in the North-East fell by 13.4 per cent – the biggest drop of any UK region – from 268,000 to 232,000 at the start of this year.
In contrast public sector employment fell by three per cent in London and by 2.5 per cent in the South-East over the same period, analysis of Office for National Statistics data revealed.
Treasury officials have asked the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to find even deeper cuts to welfare spending, according to reports.
BBC Newsnight’s Political Editor, Allegra Stratton, has reported that treasury officials have asked Iain Duncan Smith to find £15bn of welfare cuts, rather than the £12bn originally promised in the Tory manifesto.
A treasury source allegedly told Stratton that both child tax credits and working tax credit could be in the firing line for £8bn in cuts.
Almost £17m has been spent on making staff at Middlesbrough Council redundant in the past six years.
A report to be presented to the council’s Executive tomorrow shows that 869 staff have been made redundant since 2009/2010.
Of the £16,977,600 the authority has paid out, around £15.75m was spent on voluntary redundancy or early retirement schemes.
These schemes, according to the report, have been an “effective mechanism to avoid compulsory redundancy sitatuations arising” – with 84% of all redundancies since 2011 being on a voluntary basis.
Reposted from Politics.co. UK
A few days after the draft psychoactive substances bill was published, its full ramifications are still becoming clear. It is one of the weirdest pieces of law ever proposed by a British government. And at a stroke, it seems to criminalise the majority of households in the UK.
I’ve written the following using accepted common definitions of the phrases involved, a close reading of the key passages of the draft bill and a little bit of logic. Anyone who can see how these items aren’t criminalised using a strict reading of the bill is very welcome to let me know. We’re all in uncharted legislative water here.
The psychoactive substances bill bans the production or supply of any psychoactive substance unless it is granted a specific exception, such as tobacco…
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With a further £12bn in welfare cuts in the pipeline, what evidence is there to show that reforms to the welfare system are helping people into work and cutting costs?
The head of Housing and Communities at the London School of Economics (LSE) believes that savings are lower and costs are higher than planned.
Anne Power says:
“In 2013 and 2014, LSE Housing and Communities carried out a survey of 200 social housing tenants across the South West of England to find out whether welfare reform, introduced by the coalition government, was in practice helping tenants into jobs and making them better off.
“We found that the impact was direct, harsh and in most cases not leading directly to work. We have also talked to 150 social landlords and their tenants all over the country to understand the impact of cuts in benefits on the way landlords and tenants are managing.
“Our findings are striking. Welfare reform isn’t working as planned. Government savings are lower and costs are higher, particularly disability payments due to mismanagement.
“The ‘Bedroom Tax’, was introduced to make social housing tenants with one spare bedroom move home or pay more rent. This has led to empty homes in some parts of the country as many social landlords in the North and the Midlands have surplus larger properties which they have under-let to small households. Tenants now compete to downsize, leaving a costly supply of empty, larger units. Often tenants simply can’t find a smaller unit to move too.
“Sanctions, government-imposed penalties on job seekers who fail to meet Job Centre requirements, suspend all benefits with no notice. Many appeals have over-turned the job centre sanctions but often too late to prevent deep and sometimes tragic hardship. Housing benefit payments are also rising because evictions have forced tenants to pay higher rents in the private rented sector.
“Welfare reform is directed at getting a job. But older working age bands struggle because, after a long gap, skills may no longer be usable and jobs requiring IT require considerable retraining. Former manual workers often suffer serious injuries at work and can no longer do hard labour.
“Benefit cuts create longer term social costs too. For example, carers and their dependents may need a spare bedroom for a foster child or sick relative or night-time carer.
“The government is playing to popular attitudes. Spending on welfare, when austerity hits everyone, is not popular. There is a common belief that far more people cheat than actually do, whereas bureaucratic errors are far more common and cost more.
“There is general belief that people should work, whatever the job and certainly tenants we spoke to want to work. Tenants like working. But “booting” people into standing on their own feet can cut vital support lines without jolting them into a job. It can incapacitate them.
“Welfare reform is underpinned by a strong belief in the value of the market; if things don’t pay, they will stop happening, so if benefits don’t pay, people will stop depending on them. This over-simplified view has led to unintended and unnecessarily harsh consequences. As tenants feel less certain that they can rely on benefits, they find job centre interviews and the threat of sanctions too painful and too humiliating, so some just disappear off the unemployment register.
“The number of people actually finding work through job centre action is far smaller than claimed.
“On the other hand, tenants want to work whenever possible, even when pay is poor, so in that sense the strong work focus of welfare reform is positive. Tenants also like training and learning – and job centres send claimants on courses.
“Tenants are adjusting to lower incomes, although paying bills is a constant juggling act and it is no longer possible to take basic support for granted. The adjustment tenants are making would be far more painful if it wasn’t for advice organisations like CAB, churches and charities that offer emergency support. Food banks help in extreme circumstances.
“Social landlords are responding to welfare reform and the wider cuts they face with considerable anxiety. They know the vast majority of their 4 million tenant households are hard hit.
“Collecting rents becomes even more important, but far more challenging. Welfare reform has forced social landlords to recognise the need for more direct, face-to-face, front-line contact with tenants to ensure payments and help resolve problems. They develop opportunities for training and accessing jobs to help welfare reform work.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 26 May 2015