From the TUC

Making people wait longer for their benefits: The government admits it’s going to hurt vulnerable people, but are they bothered?

04 Sep 2014, by in Society & Welfare

The government has just published their statutory advisory committee’s comments on their plans to increase the waiting days for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance. I’m not surprised that the Social Security Advisory Committee is worried that vulnerable people are likely to face extra hardship – as I pointed out in July, the Department for Work and Pensions produced a briefing note on these plans for the Committee, which admits that more than a quarter of a million claimants will be “at risk of suffering financial hardship”. But what does surprise me is that the government admit that they aren’t going to make anyone exempt because it would reduce the savings they hope to make.

At the moment, when you get Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), you have to serve three waiting days before you qualify for benefit. Under the government’s plans, from October, this will be more than doubled, to seven waiting days. This is to prepare for the big expansion in Universal Credit (UC), planned for next April – when the government plans to extend the waiting days not just to the elements of UC that replace JSA and ESA, but to the other elements, including those for housing costs and for children. Together with the extended waiting delays, the administrative arrangements for UC will mean that most claimants will have to wait at least five weeks for their first cash.

Regular readers will know that we are worried that the delays people face in the current system – just because of administrative problems – cause real hardship, debt and heartache. Adding delays that are deliberately designed in can only make this worse. That’s why our Saving Our Safety Net campaign has begun by calling on people to Say No to the Five Week Wait.

The delays the government asked the SSAC to report on are the worst part of the five week wait. At least, for the other four weeks, you eventually get your money. But this is a week you’ll never have any income for.

The Committee – which was established by Mrs Thatcher (!) in the 1980s to make sure the government got independent expert advice on social security regulations – asked charities and civil society organisations to send in comments on these plans. I sat up straight when I read their stark summary of these submissions:

The overwhelming majority of respondents were of the view that this measure would cause financial hardship.     

The government’s two main justifications for these plans are that most people will have savings or a final pay cheque from their old job, and that they want to encourage people to move on to a new job as quickly as possible. But, as the Committee notes, these justifications don’t apply to people on ESA – many didn’t have a job before they began their claim and it is likely to take them significantly longer to get a job. Unsurprisingly, the SSAC has recommended that ESA claimants should be exempted from the new regulations.

And they have highlighted other groups who are at risk of being thrown into really serious hardship:

  • Young people – probably won’t have savings or a last job,
  • People who have just left prison won’t have a final pay cheque to fall back on,
  • Care leavers, especially young people brought up in care, who usually won’t have any resources,
  • Cancer patients, facing extra costs because of their illness and treatment.

Now, as I say, I’m not surprised that a group of benefit experts who care about poverty and exclusion have raised these concerns (though I do want to pay tribute to the persuasive case they have made). But what does surprise me is the blasé government response. Take for instance, this response to the case for exempting disabled people:

While people with disabilities are more likely to have lower average incomes, this is because they are likely to be receiving benefits for long periods.

The government seems not to understand that this is a very good reason for exempting them, as is the fact that “ESA claimants tend to have earned less on average in the period before their claim”. In fact, the government response accepts in several places that increasing waiting days “may result in hardship in some cases” but still doesn’t agree with exemptions for vulnerable groups.

Why not? Well, the response gives the game away:

To introduce exemptions would reduce the financial savings from the change.

So far, the government has won popular support because they’ve managed to persuade the public that the benefit system is broken and is paying benefits to people who don’t deserve them and that their cuts are about addressing this problem, not about saving money.

With these regulations, the mask is starting to slip.

9 Responses to Making people wait longer for their benefits: The government admits it’s going to hurt vulnerable people, but are they bothered?

  1. Les Mondry-Flesch
    Sep 4th 2014, 9:27 pm

    You say that you are surprised at the Government’s blasé response to the idea that many will suffer hardship as a result of the increase in waiting days.

    After 4 1/2 years of the coalition, how deliciously naïve………..

  2. Jayne Linney
    Sep 5th 2014, 5:49 am

    As I asked Peter on his blog today –

    I wonder if the TUC ought not to be taking a key role in enabling all the oppressed groups to come together in our struggles as surely this how we’re more likely to gain success?

  3. Richard Exell

    Sep 5th 2014, 9:23 am

    Thanks for the comments Jayne. We are trying to take some steps – there’s the Saving Our Safety Net campaign I mention above, and on 18 October there the “Britain Needs a Payrise” national demonstration – There’s lots more to do, but these are a start.

  4. Kay Murphy
    Sep 5th 2014, 9:46 am

    Perhaps all unions could be encouraged to have a Community Branch with minimal fees (see Unite’s example). This could enable those most affected by welfare cuts to have a voice, rather than having people speaking for them.

    Sep 18th 2014, 6:07 pm

    All the government are bothered about is saving money and punishing people for being at the bottom of society. As far as they are concerned the more people who die by one means or another that’s good less people to claim. A country and it’s people are judge on how well they care for the weakest WE FAIL COMPLETELY. this government only care for the richest and there friends. I have 2 sons who are autistic these change will effect them at some point in there life when they will have nobody to care or help them.

  6. Elaine Wilkinson
    Sep 18th 2014, 6:14 pm

    all the government want to do is stop all benefits completely as soon as they can, so they are making itso difficult, people won’t bother…. then they can say look no unemployed… our policies have worked ! lets pat ourselves on the back, and give ourselves more money for being so clever !

  7. Helen Weston
    Sep 18th 2014, 7:15 pm

    During the week we get NO money for, will we also get NO housing or council tax benefit either? If not, how are we supposed to pay if we have no savings?

  8. John Marriott
    Sep 18th 2014, 8:17 pm

    So what do we live on for those five weeks………………fresh air????

  9. Rebecca Devitt
    Sep 21st 2014, 4:16 pm

    The words you so carefully use are sadly, however well meant, a rose tinted prettified version of reality. Let’s take one that jumps out at those of use who have experienced the harsh realities of life without an income ‘heartache’. I would suggest terror, extreme anxiety and emotional distress. Real hunger is not just the discomfort of one missed meal, over a period of days without food, your empty stomach fills with acid and the pain can be extreme. It took 3 1/2 months for me to receive carer’s allowance and income support when my husband left me and my severely disabled son without an income. Between Christmas and New Year I went 4 days without food after months of surviving on an income of £54 a week shared with my son. Indeed it was his ESA, the only benefit either of us could get for 3 1/2 months. On receiving Notice to Quit 2 days before Christmas neither of us suffered anything so pretty as ‘heartache’, sounds like something a well fed comfortably off Victorian lady might suffer, pass the smelling salts Maud!!! Oh to be so fortunate as to live in your world.