Welfare Reform must be Realistic
Just as we go into the brave new world of Universal Credit, we also hear about devolution of Council Tax Benefits, bedroom taxes, and more recently a suggestion that the road ahead includes removal of Housing benefit from anyone under 25. Sorting out what all this means is a challenge for any institution: for people on the receiving end of benefits and work assessments, it must be terrifying.
Political kite flying has its place – and no one should get unduly exercised about ideas that are still only in draft form. But it exposes some challenging questions.
We know that the current system of Welfare Reform does nothing to get people out of poverty. People on benefits can be trapped, unable to move into work and discouraged from taking opportunities. So reform is needed.
But reform needs to take account of the realities of both the labour market and the housing market. The bottom end of the labour market is a murky place, with neither certainty nor progression. Jobs come and go, and in the current climate they mostly go. Any system that claims that work is the best route out of poverty needs to address the fact that work actually traps many people in poverty from which there is no escape. The fact that more than one in five (22%) working-age housing benefit claimants are in work and the numbers have nearly doubled in the last 3 years is testament to the fact that people who are working hard are also dependent on benefits.
Working hard, paying very high rents in a climate in which there are very few new jobs – this adds up to a picture which is rather different from the one presented in speeches and presentations.
Julia Unwin is Chief Executive of Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust.
This post was originally published on the JRF Blog on 25th June 2012
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