The furore has only just begun, Universal Credit is happening, the Disability Alliance has produced the clearest explanation I have see so far here. [http://warriet.com/ provides a running collection of URLs] Please note the dates, Universal Credit is not a coalition invention but something that was in process before the 2010 election. No-one could disagree that the current system is over complex, or that an individual should be better of in work than sitting at home watching daytime TV, but the ramifications of putting an undisguised Tory spin (albeit one hopefully softened and humanised by the Liberal Democrats) are only slowly becoming clear. From February 2011, over two million people will be ‘migrated’ off incapacity benefits. The DWP plans to assess 10,000 people each week to establish their capability for work and entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance. This raises an immediate concern, who (and how) will be doing all the assessing? The DWP is currently running its own staff reduction programme and is already making extensive use of Atos who will be making a fortune out of fitness for work assessments. [Has anyone followed the money and investigated whether there are any politicians or other public employees who will materially benefit from this particular outsourcing? I wish I had a substantial share-holding!] One consequence of all this assessing will of course be the migration of millions Incapacity benefit but to where? The unlucky claimants will have their benefit reduced but will still need to eat and shelter but the jobs just don’t exist or when they do, are not where the claimants live. Successful structural reform of the welfare system cannot happen in a social vacuum, the Big Society is a laudable concept but cannot magically create jobs or housing. One likely consequence will be an increase in crime and more general social unrest as people feed and shelter themselves by doing whatever it takes and/or ease the pain of their uncertain poverty by seeking solace in booze and so-called recreational drugs. Oh, but the police have been told to cut back too! Will the Big Society mind set be somehow morphing the Neighbourhood Watch groups into Neighbourhood Action groups with gangs of citizens assuming what are currently police roles in the maintenance of law and order?
The BBC is doing its best to publicise the likely impact of welfare room as ministers give up their Sundays to queue up to be seen and heard, Gordon Alexander seems to have drawn the short straw, explaining the coalition’s reforms. [are Liberal Democrats be used as the the public face of the Coalition reforms? Are they being set up to take the blame for anything they would otherwise would become David Cameron‘s poll tax moment?]
“Job advisers would be given powers to require tens of thousands of claimants to take part in community work for charities or local councils.” Hang on a minute, are they intending to recreate the STEP and related job creation programmes of the late 70s? Even back then the Unemployment Benefit Office could invoke the “Refusing Suitable Employment” clause and stop unemployment benefit, the DHSS would then stop or reduce the payment of Supplementary Benefit. I was a benefit office manager at the time, very occasionally a claimant might be threatened with “RSE” by the Jobcentre, then an entity separate from the Unemployment Benefit Office, but the whole concept was risible in an area where the unemployed were almost a third of the working age population and there was not even a supply of cash only jobs on the side let alone tax and NI paying jobs.
Keeping on eye on the press, the Daily Mail‘s headline of “£1 an hour to clear rubbish…new IDS blitz on the workshy” is wholly predictable as is The Guardian‘s “Unemployed told: do four weeks of unpaid work or lose your benefits” Note the difference between the headlines even though the two newspapers are citing the same Iain Duncan-Smith announcement.
A cursory glance at the news shows local authorities implementing massive job cuts, the Tory counties in particular are rushing to cut services, have they forgotten what they are there for? Farage might claim that UKIP is the UK version of the Tea Party But did it in fact covertly infiltrate local authorities back in Margaret Thatcher‘s time and are now seizing the day?
What’s to be done?