Tories whitewash the millions set to lose from welfare reform

Sue Marsh presents her first thoughts on Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith’s speeches on welfare reform at the Conservative party conference today.

Cooler Heads: IDS and Chris Grayling

Sue Marsh blogs at Diary of a Benefit Scrounger

The Conservatives debated welfare reform at their party conference this morning.

Chris Grayling started by talking of the “dreadful legacy inherited by the Labour government”. No mention of tax credits that lifted millions out of poverty and supported millions in work. Or pension credits that lifted pensioners out of poverty and improved their income by 50 per cent.

As expected, the first attack is on the “incapacity benefit culture” claiming to support those who wish to work, yet no mention of the abject failure of work programmes that are only as likely to ‘help’ people as they are to find work on their own.

He called the work programme a “revolution, unlike anything we’ve seen in this country before.”  Yet according to evidence, it will help at least a third fewer of those out of work than the programmes set up under Labour, and contractors are warning that 90 per cent will not meet targets set by the DWP.  It is a programme in crisis before it has really got off the ground.

Grayling did at least challenge the idea of a vast “benefit dependency culture,” pointing out that most want to work with the right support. This is an important distinction and one I hope to hear Conservatives focus on more than the ‘scroungers’ or ‘workshy’. He also said “there is no-one more important in this than the disabled”.

It may be smoke and mirrors, but it is at least a welcome change. I argue often that the language we use makes a difference to outcomes. Maria Miller, minister for disabilities, pointed out that “the word disability covers so many different conditions,” yet sadly, Conservative welfare reforms all too often ignore those with fluctuating conditions, learning disabilities and mental health conditions.

She claimed that “we are 100 per cent committed to maintaining unconditional support for those unable to work”. Again, a nice distinction to hear, but simply not true on the ground. Re-defining disability to the point where almost no-one qualifies for this support simply leaves the slightly-less-than-totally-vulnerable betrayed and abandoned. Cutting existing DLA claimants by 20 per cent does nothing to improve support and everything to erode it.

Universal credit (UC) actually gets very little coverage as there are so many more pressing and punitive details of welfare reform that campaigners need to focus on. Nonetheless, for those on the right it is the great saviour of welfare that will wave a magic wand to eliminate unfairness, disincentives to work and will, we are endlessly told, “make work pay”.

We are told that it will make everyone better off if they work, and it certainly does go some small way to ironing out some of the highest marginal tax rates. However, if you are the second worker in a family you will, in fact be worse off under UC. Lone parents are the big “winners” but Iain Duncan-Smith is still to confirm how childcare payments will be integrated as well as council tax relief and housing. The lack of detail ought to at least give loyal Conservative members pause for thought.

There are also questions left to answer on carer’s allowance – will it be tied to the new personal independence payments, set to replace disability allowance?

UC is the great, fluffy blanket that ignores any changes made before UC is implemented. Time-limiting contributory employment and support allowance (ESA) to just one year is one of the greatest dis-incentives to work ever written into our welfare system. It penalises 700,000 working families already struggling to support a sick or disabled family member through work, and, with the means test set at just £7,500 per year, will undoubtedly push thousands into full state dependency.

Duncan-Smith actually started his speech by pointing out that it has taken his wife Betsy three years to recover sufficiently from cancer to attend this year’s conference, yet seemingly cannot relate this to the 7,000 cancer sufferers who received letters from his department last week, informing them that their ESA will end after just one year. No three years of support for the masses.

Halving support for profoundly disabled children under UC will undoubtedly make it harder for parents to maintain or afford work and the housing benefit cap is estimated to put 200,000 at risk of homelessness. Conservatives should pause to ask themselves whether UC, set to cost around £3 billion to implement, will pay for itself once these measures come into force.

On balance, I am very pleased to hear inclusive, supportive language, challenging the stereotypes of the ‘feckless, workshy on the sick,’ and if I were a Conservative delegate, I would be reassured and confident. However the devil is in the detail, and unsurprisingly, delegates will hear nothing of the millions set to lose from welfare reform, only of the increasingly few winners.

See also:

Miliband quizzed on disability reforms, apologises for omission from speechShamik Das, September 30th 2011

How disability reforms were whitewashed from Labour’s conferenceDaniel Elton, September 27th 2011

Nomination for most influential left-wing thinker: The disabled rights communityDaniel Elton, September 21st 2011

The shocking impact of Osborne’s heartless cuts on the disabledSue Marsh, June 6th 2011

Society and the media are failing the sick and disabledSue Marsh, May 13th 2011

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  • Sue

    It has ever been the case that there is a tension between payiong welfare and making it less elibible than payments for work. This govt is set on a course which will inevitably drive down wages (it is already in fact with various councils forcing wage reductions on staff). This necessitates that welfare is also driven down and reduced to a point where even a less than minimum wage job will put more food on the table than welfare payments. Years ago my gran was forced (by the means test man) to sell her sewing machine before she could have a little money to buy food for her almost starving children. The sewing machine was the only thing she had which enabled her to sometimes be able to raise a little cash by doing work for people. This does not make sense in my world but it does in the ideological world of the Torys. Fear of poverty and poverty itself are great ways to control people and to ensure an abundant work force (whatever the terms and conditions). People queuing at the metaphorical factory gates begging for work at any wage and competing against others just as hungry. The welfare state is a way of re-distributing some wealth from the richest down to the poorest and the Torys have always been ideologically opposed to this in all forms. No matter how rich the rich get it is never enough in their eyes.

  • DeusExMacintosh

    Nice passing mention to effective marginal tax-rates discouraging people on welfare from earning extra money (whether by working or something simple like taking in a lodger) but no acknowledgement that the solution is NOT a whole new welfare system, just taking less tax – so anyone can keep the first £10,000 they earn – and raising the means-test threshold above £20 a week. This is not difficult and does a great deal more to ‘make work pay’ than IDS’s current delusions of adequacy.

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  • Nick Scott

    Universal Credit will also be completely undermined by the localising of council tax support. The protection of pensioners and the vulnerable in localised council tax support schemes will mean that the majority of working age people will be pulverised by the cuts. The majority of authorities are already predicting an average 25% cut on current support and this will be further exacerbated by additional requirements, such as the need to support the principles of UC in any scheme. The train crash referred to by Margaret Hodge is most definitely on the horizon!

  • fourbanks

    Duncan-Smith actually started his speech by pointing out that it has taken his wife Betsy three years to recover sufficiently from cancer to attend this years conference, yet seemingly cannot relate this to the 7,000 cancer sufferers who received letters from his department last week, informing them that their ESA will end after just one year. No three years of support for the masses.

    IDS is very wealthy so it matters not one dot on if his wife took 3 years to recover
    There are many who never recover fully for the workplace and more focus needs to be addressed in that direction
    I feel sorry for his wife having a clown like him who understands nothing about illness or disability for a husband