Welfare reform: the need for a change in direction

It is generally agreed that the current welfare benefit system is seriously flawed and is not fit for purpose. 

The system is failing both the people it was designed to help and also the tax payer. The Conservative government have in recent years, seen the Welfare System as a burden and have used welfare reform as an excuse to attempt to dismantle the system and in the process have demonised the poor, elderly, disabled and vulnerable.

These attempts have resulted in a system that is both cruel and dehumanising while failing to tackle poverty. Yet the costs of these failings are escalating for the tax payer and is damaging to the economy. The time is right to consider a change in direction on Welfare reform and how we tackle poverty in the United Kingdom.

I believe that we need to move away from a traditional welfare benefits system to a broader approach to tackling poverty that relies not solely on hand outs, but includes practical help that will tackle the causes of poverty. I believe such an approach will not only tackle poverty, but also can be of benefit to the wider economy.  

One of the problems with the current system is that it is extremely complex and difficult to access by those in need. This has led to a situation where people in need of help are not receiving their full entitlement or made aware of the help available to them. It is generally agreed across the political spectrum that the system needs to be simplified and made more accessible. Many on the left are suggesting a system called Unconditional Basic Income (UBI), where every adult and child in the country irrespective of age, ability, employment status or income have access to a basic amount. This is a very attractive proposition, however I feel it does have some serious drawbacks and in its present form would do little to effectively redistribute wealth or tackle poverty, however with some simple amendments it could form the basis of a radical alternative to the current system if it is partnered with some practical measures to tackle poverty. So as Tony Blair once said of Welfare: “Let’s move from a hand out to a hand up culture”.

One of the main problems of many of the current models of UBI is that it advocates the income being paid not just to people on lower incomes but also to those on above average incomes. This means that the available budget is being spread more thinly and thus money which could be going to those on lower incomes would be less. I propose that the income be paid only to those on a lower than average income and average income. The Basic income payments could be triggered by the HMRC information. I believe also that current models of UBI do not recognise the additional costs faced by certain groups in society such as the disabled community, families with children, the elderly and home carers. To redress these costs these groups should  receive a supplement based on referrals made by GPs, social workers and local authority care providers. This would mean that there would be no need for the intrusive work capability  assessments of private agencies such as ATOS and Capita.  It would also mean that if Basic Income was paid automatically as of right, that those entitled would not need to face uncertainty in times of hardship or indignity of waiting for claim decisions.  It would also reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy that the current system is prone to. Thus saving money that can be better used elsewhere. I believe that any such system must not be administered by DWP in its current form or by the Job Centres as the trust between them and service users has broken down to such an extent any involvement in future welfare reforms would be greeted with suspicion. I therefore suggest that welfare management be removed from the Job Centres, and thus the removal of the sanctions culture so endemic in the DWP and Job Centres.  I suggest that we return the centres to the role they were initially set up to perform, that is of a clearing house for available jobs and training opportunities and any powers to sanction or penalise service users be removed.    

As I said initially, I believe welfare reform must change in direction and not just focus on financial help, but broaden out to include practical assistance that will address some of the fundamental causes and effects of poverty in this country.  These like basic income must be focussed on those who are living on a below average income.  I will just outline a couple of examples of such practical help that I believe would make a big difference to addressing poverty in this country and also have a positive effect on our economy. I am sure there are other examples people can think of. But here are just a couple I thought about. 

One of the biggest causes of poverty in the United Kingdom currently is energy poverty.  It is damning that in this day and age we have elderly  and disabled people who are dying of hypothermia because they are scared to heat their homes properly because the fear of the cost. Energy poverty is also a major contributing factor to child poverty in the UK. In order to tackle this problem I would propose a state funded energy efficiency programme for all citizens on a below average income. For example this would include free insulation, and free solar panels.  This would drastically reduce energy costs for the poorest people in society.  It would also create jobs and save the NHS money and resources through the reduction of the number of people having to be admitted to hospital for hypothermia and related illnesses. Thus not only benefitting the less well off but also the economy and in the long term reducing costs to the state.  

Another example of practical welfare in action could be to have a radical social housing construction policy that would focus on building social housing for the disabled, vulnerable young people, and the elderly.  There is an acute shortage of wheelchair accessible housing for the independent disabled community  and supported housing for disabled people  who require support but not full time care, which is meaning that some disabled people are being forced into care homes, which is expensive both for the person with a disability and the local authority.  Vulnerable young people and particularly those coming out of the care system are often put into inappropriate accommodation totally unsupported and at risk of exploitation.  By building supported housing for these young people you will reduce the risks of exploitation and give them a bridge to independent living.  

In conclusion I believe whilst the current welfare system is far from perfect and for a long time has needed reforming.  The current system is failing the very people it was designed to help.  However the current government’s so called reforms of the welfare system are a thinly disguised attack on the poor, the vulnerable and the disabled and consisting of cuts and benefit caps along with draconian and unfair measures such as the bedroom tax is exacerbating the problems of poverty rather than addressing them.  I believe the measures I have proposed offer a radical solution to the problems of poverty through a change of emphasis in welfare from a handout culture to a welfare system that supports people.  I believe the practical elements of the system I propose will not just benefit those in need of welfare support but could benefit the economy, communities, individuals and provide employment.  


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