It isn’t often that the Telegraph and the Morning Star take the same view of a news story, but they concurred in how they reported Wednesday’s Work and Pensions Committee report on Changes to Housing Benefit. The Telegraph‘s headline was “Housing Benefit cuts risk social segregation, MPs warn”; the Morning Star went with “A Big Gamble With Our Benefits.”
They both got the sense of risk and uncertainty right. Ever since they were announced in the Budget, we have warned that the changes to Housing Benefit will force people out of their communities and penalise unemployed people unfairly without increasing their chances of getting jobs.
The report addresses both these issues and the section on “Potential risk of evictions and homelessness” is remarkable for how risky it says the plans are. Remember that this is a Select Committee with a government majority, reporting less than a year after the election. Although the tone is measured, the conclusion that the Government is advancing beyond its evidence is not dodged:
While the Department acknowledges that some households may have to move, evidence suggests that these numbers may be much greater than the Government expects.
The worried tone is apparent in their concern that “we would not like to see Britain reduced to exclusively affluent and deprived neighbourhoods.” It is hard to see how that is going to be avoided.
The section on “barriers to work” grants the government’s contention that the 10 per cent cut in HB for people unemployed over a year “may provide an improved incentive to work” but they conclude by asking for
a more nuanced approach, using targeted sanctions for those who refuse to engage in the process of finding employment, rather than a blanket approach for all JSA claimants.
“Targeted sanctions for those who refuse to engage” is precisely what is demanded by those of us who condemn this change. The HB reforms’ “blanket approach” makes no distinction between that group and those who do everything they can to engage but simply fail to get a jobs.
I can’t think of many things a recent British government has done that is as bad as to sentence people to increased debt, stress and insecurity for the crime of trying to get a job but failing. It doesn’t take a particularly acute moral sense to see how unfair this is: unemployed people were not responsible for the financial crisis, the recession or the faltering labour market; they did not make the economic and business decisions that forced them out of work.
There are a number of names for people who punish the weak for being victims. The only one that is printable is “bully.”