Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Everything’s all right then? Well, No.

Just 12 months ago, I wrote*

“…..word on the street is that Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reform programme is heading towards the rocks. If that results, he will be facing his own interview on the Work Programme in the near future.”

Clearly, I got something wrong. Iain Duncan Smith is still the responsible Secretary of State. 

In fact, the government simply denied the evidence that was accumulating. Pilot programmes – meant to test proposals and identify unanticipated problems - were simply ditched in order to keep to timetable.  Those of us asking challenging questions were just dismissed.

So, presumably, everything is all right with the government’s welfare reform agenda?

Make up your own mind:
  • the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is descending into chaos, with key programmes behind schedule and over-budget.
  • after spending £612 million, including £131 million written off or written down, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule, with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.
  • the Work Capability Assessment process is in “virtual collapse”.
  • the introduction of Personal Independence Payment has been described as “nothing short of a fiasco”. 
  • the Work Programme and Youth Contract have failed to meet their targets
  • the unfair Bedroom Tax risks costing more than it saves,
  • other related DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray
  • the Minister of State for Disabled People admits that more than 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and
  • the Office for Budget Responsibility has found that projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £812m, instead of falling.
So, everything’s all right then? Well, no.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Behind the rhetoric

This government has presided over the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s. The government’s Help to Buy scheme is fueling house-price inflation, with Ministers claiming this isn’t a problem because house prices (other than in London) haven’t yet returned to 2008 prices. Do they not understand that 2008 prices were unsustainable and had been fueled by easy credit and corrupted sub-prime lending?

The failure to tackle the housing shortage means the cost of housing is rising out of reach of low-to-middle-income earners. There has been a significant increase in private renting, with buy-to-let purchasers outbidding potential owners, particularly at the lower end of the market. And private rents have increased well above inflation.

Meanwhile, the government has been cutting housing benefit and introduced the bedroom tax, creating an impression that the total housing benefit bill has been falling. Nothing could be further from the rhetoric.

There has been a huge increase in the number of people who are in work but who need to claim housing benefit to help pay their rent. It’s a direct result of the government’s failure to make work pay, tackle the cost-of-living crisis and build the new homes we need.

Now it has been revealed that, in England, there has been a 60% increase in the number of working people needing to claim housing benefit to pay their rent since 2010. 400,000 more working people are claiming housing benefit costing the taxpayer an estimated extra £4.8bn in housing benefit over the course of this Parliament.

This isn’t just a problem in some areas. Every single council in the UK has seen an increase in the number of people in work claiming housing benefit. In fact, Sheffield has seen a 93% increase and Rotherham a 92% increase, since 2010.

The number of households in South Yorkshire reliant on housing benefit to help pay their housing bill has now increased to more than 120,000. This rather undermines the headline claims of economic recovery and increasing employment.