Reduction in Universal Credit is the End Point of Years of ‘Welfare’ Cruelty | John harris

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Hbefore he comes. On Wednesday, the Department for Work and Pensions will finally end the £ 20-per-week universal credit ‘hike’ introduced in March 2020. The cut will hit different households at different times, but it will officially come on the same day as Boris Johnson delivering his big Conservative Party conference speech in Manchester, which is sure to be full of thought-provoking speeches on ‘leveling up’, the new global Britain – and, if recent advertisement There is nothing to see, the supposed prospect of a country which cannot currently feed itself becoming a major player in space exploration. On Earth, by contrast, the sudden loss of millions of people £ 86.67 per month will inevitably trigger increases in debt, evictions and silent and overwhelming needs.

The surrounding image only makes the cut more cruel. Last week, the government’s leave scheme ended, sparking fears of further layoffs and more people being burdened into a benefit system that makes basic livelihoods virtually impossible. We all know about rising energy prices and food inflation. What the reduction in universal credit will mean for lives already shattered by the pandemic hardly needs to be explained; among other issues, in the midst of a crisis in children’s mental health, a change that is expected to increase child poverty for nearly 300,000 children seems both reckless and mean.

Yet the machinery of government is accelerating. Last weekend Transport Minister Grant Shapps said the reduction was happening “as we get back to people returning to work and more normal times.” The labor shortage is part of the piped music here, as if an abundance of opportunity awaits anyone fearful of the lifeline, when in reality the sectors short of workers – transportation, agro-food, the hotel industry – are often built around work shifts and schedules that prevail. Most people. And anyway, when 40% of people benefiting from universal credit already have a job, “back to work” is indeed a silly mantra.

In his interview with Andrew Marr today, Johnson insisted the increase was part of a package of Covid measures that “are no longer appropriate”. But behind the public intransigence, concern over the consequences of the cut now swirls around Whitehall. The Department of Work and Pensions is said to be in talks with the Treasury over reducing the so-called progressive universal credit rate (to which benefits are reduced for each additional pound earned through work, meaning that to make up for the 20 £ lost, you have to win at least one more £ 54) from 63p to 60p, which would barely compensate for the impending loss. Last Thursday, the government, responding belatedly to months of warnings about the effects of the reduction, announced a new household support fund, which will apparently be administered by local councils. It is apparently aimed at “those who need it most as we enter the final stages of recovery” and offers assistance for needs such as “food, clothing and utilities”, but its shortcomings are evident. .

The annual impact of the reduction will be around £ 6bn, but the fund totals £ 500m. It replaces a basic right with a rationed and discretionary system, suddenly burdened on local authorities starved for staff and resources. Note also that one of the most ingrained features of social life is the need to endlessly weave your way through large tangles of form filling and phone calls, and the main effect of this movement will be on ‘to augment.

And therefore to the politics of it all. Particularly during the first lockdown, hopes briefly rose for a kinder, less punitive type of welfare state, and the “uprising” seemed to indicate that even at the top of government, some understanding of the impossibility to live for millions of people had sunk. in. Now we see the most horrible kind of rewind. The pandemic has obviously not changed the fundamentals of benefit policy, and we are where we always have been: people who need help all the time get fired, while politicians tout the wonders of the job. build character and present an inhuman, infinitely “conditional” system as simply being what the audience wants.

But I wonder. The idea of ​​the benefit system as a reluctant last resort for people who must be prevented from milking it (“welfare”, as opposed to the post-war idea of ​​social security) is now aging. To some extent, it has its roots in the New Labor years, with Tony Blair’s push on what he called ‘well-being at work’, and the kind of messages spread by his successor (it is good to seeing Gordon Brown say that the cut is “the most morally indefensible thing I have seen in politics”, but it is worth remembering headlines such as “Gordon Brown to quell cheaters in the queen’s speech” ). The stage was thus set for David Cameron and George Osborne’s cynical distinctions between workers and ordinary plaintiffs, and the way in which then Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith introduced universal credit in the middle. a campaign to reduce spending on benefits and a series of brutal changes: the drastically increased end of personal benefits, the arbitrary and stupid cap on benefits, dishonored work capacity assessments, the tax on the bedroom. The system was now inherently punitive: pretty much or taking the relaxation of certain rules as the pandemic took hold, that’s where we’ve been since.

But as cruelties increased – especially for people with disabilities – there was an inevitable setback. A variety of social networks voice and bloggers have done an incredible job bringing to light seemingly endless iniquities and outrages. The number of food banks started to increase dramatically a decade ago: they may be open to claims that they have normalized hunger, but they also give poverty visibility and urgency – and, through things as mundane as public food collection points, a nagging presence in everyday life. The concept – and the terrible reality – of ‘holiday hunger’ began to gain attention around 2014. Last year, the work of footballer Marcus Rashford on the same issue marked a big change; now his strong opposition to cutting universal credit only underscores the fact that, thanks in large part to non-politicians, issues of poverty and benefits can no longer be marginalized.

In a mainstream politics too often dominated by ideas about “well-being”, there is reason to be hopeful. How Keir Starmer talks about a “contribution society”(In which the odds of life will apparently be decided on the basis of“ hard work and how you contribute ”) will manifest itself in politics is something that needs to be watched with vigilance – but his party is committed to replacing universal credit with “a better system”, by changing the progressive “perverse” system and by removing both the limit of two children on family allowances and the ceiling on allowances.

In Brighton last week, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham walked around the sidelines of the conference to advocate for a universal basic income. A repentant Stephen Crabb, the short-lived Tory successor to Duncan Smith at the DWP, said that the idea that “if you can only boost welfare a little … you will get a better engagement in the labor market” has no basis in the evidence; Cameron’s former speechwriter said that the cut to universal credit “will be felt in innumerable domestic catastrophes and indignities”. Maybe, just maybe, the kind of thinking that has ruined so many lives is slowly breaking down, but there is a characteristic cruelty in one inescapable fact – that it’s going to take even more pain and pain to accelerate. his disappearance.



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