This article was written by Patrick Butler, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd December 2014
The Coalition’s “indiscriminate” welfare cuts have created a climate of fear among benefit recipients, reducing rather than improving their chances of moving into work, a study has found.
The latest instalment of a two-year qualitative research programme finds that rather than providing an incentive for unemployed individuals to find a job, the squeeze on benefits is more likely force them to retreat into day-to-day “survival mode”, unable to seize opportunities to find employment.
Even those who were in work felt trapped in poverty as a result of low wages, zero hours contracts and cuts to housing benefit and tax credits. Many felt that they did not feel financially better off as a result of having a job.
The study concludes:
Our research found that the changes brought about by welfare reform did not have a considerable impact on respondent’s attitudes to work, or indeed the likelihood of them finding work.
Work did not seem to enable people to escape the negative impacts of welfare reform or poverty.
It warns that many families are “living on a cliff edge” financially and are affected by increased anxiety and stress. The study argues that current welfare reforms will lead to increased costs to the state as it picks up the bill for poverty-related ill-health and homelessness
The study, by the charity Community Links, is based on in-depth interviews with 20 people in the London borough of Newham. It aims to assess the impact of welfare reform on individuals, in particular whether it can change “behaviour” and get people into work.
The cohort is divided between those in part-time or low paid work and those on benefits. Monthly income ranged from £200 a month to £1,500. All were affected by at least one cut, and most were hit by a combination, including the bedroom tax and reductions in tax credits.
Although the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has claimed that his reforms provide an incentive to unemployed people to move into work, only one interviewee, a mother who was threatened with the benefit cap, said the prospect of losing income had motivated her to get a job.
The majority of unemployed interviewees reported that the cuts had overwhelmingly negative consequences for them, making them feel stressed and insecure and vulnerable to even tiny changes in income. Some had defaulted on rent and bills and had been threatened with eviction, while others “coped” by cutting back on food and heating, or going into debt.
The study reports a “culture of fear”, especially among those with serious disability or illness who were unable to work and so felt powerless to escape or offset the financial losses causes by welfare cuts.
The continued squeeze on incomes is forcing people into survival mode: having to deal with incredibly stressful situations day-to-day and unable to focus on the longer-term. People feed their children and go without themselves; wash clothes by hand if their washing machine breaks; walk miles to work in the early hours of the morning; they just about get by. But only just.
The sheer scale and speed of the cuts to state support left interviewees with “almost no flexibility to live with any comfort”. It meant some of those interviewed were barely surviving
Most people told researchers they both wanted to work and saw benefit in working. It calls on ministers to provide more help in getting people into work, and criticises the “lack of compassion” in the implementation of the reforms.
Some of those who were keeping their head above water could only do so because they received transitional support from the local authority in the form of Discretionary Housing Payments. But these were temporary, the study points out, and:
It is highly likely that as Local Authority budgets reduce and thus become naturally more restrictive, that many people who have been temporarily protected from hardship will find themselves suffering again
Community Links is a pioneering and respected charity based in Newham, east London, once praised by the prime minister David Cameron as “one of Britain’s most inspiring community organisations.”
The charity was co-founded by David Robinson, a social activist who abandoned his initial support for the Coalition’s Big Society project in protest at the damage inflicted on the UK’s poorest neighbourhoods by what he called the government’s “barrage of unsustainable cuts”.
It is likely that the Department for Work and Pensions will draw attention to the small size and geographical reach of the research and suggest that it is not a representative analysis. But the study points out:
In the absence of an official cumulative impact assessment, this report makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of the impacts of the Coalition’s welfare reforms.
> Well ? Does anyone feel these conclusions are not representive of the UK as a whole ?
Source – Weekly Welfare, 02 Dec 2014