Who doesn’t empathize with people who have had to face a crisis with literally no money? Someone who’s been mugged or their home has burned down and they haven’t got a penny to live on? Lots of us will have witnessed the instinctive sympathy of working people for a colleague in this position – as soon as it’s known, there’ll be a collection and even people who’ve never heard of the worker in distress will be eager to donate.
Some people don’t have a supportive network at times like this, which is why we have a part of the benefit system that’s designed to help: Social Fund Crisis Loans. They aren’t particularly generous, but they help people get through difficult times.
You know what’s coming next. The government is ‘localising’ the Social Fund and aims to reduce the bill for this benefit by more than 50 per cent, so last year they cut the maximum rate paid for Crisis Loan for Living Expenses from 75 per cent down to 60 per cent of the personal allowance in means-tested benefits.
Apparently, that wasn’t enough and an item on the DWP website today directs us to an announcement by Steve Webb, Minister for Pensions, last Friday. At short notice, he has decided that, from 9 April:
For non-householders facing an emergency or disaster situation, the maximum crisis loan award in relation to living expenses will be based upon 30% of the appropriate benefit personal allowance rate, rather than the current rate of 60%. … A person who does not have to maintain their own dwelling because they are living in the dwelling of someone else (who is liable for costs such as housing costs, council tax and mains fuel) does not need the same level of crisis loan award to mitigate a serious risk to their health or safety.
Bear in mind what we are talking about here: the personal allowance for an adult is £67.50 a week; 30 per cent of that is £20.25 (for under-25s the equivalent figure is £16.05, 30 per cent of £53.45.) Webb is plainly channelling the spirit of Thomas Gradgrind,
A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over.
In the end, Gradgrind saw the error of his ways. Unfortunately, he was just a fictional character.