Thumbs down to IDS reforms

Left Foot Forward summarises the concerns being expressed across the devolved nations to Iain Duncan Smith's proposed shake up of the benefits system.

Last Friday, Iain Duncan-Smith published what he described as the coalition government’s plans to “fundamentally change” the Welfare system.

His reforms centred around three options:

• Combining elements of income-related benefits and tax credits.

Bringing the roughly 50 jobless benefits together into a single “universal credit”.

• Supplementing monthly household earnings through credit payments reflecting circumstances such as children, housing and disability.

Left Foot Forward summarises the concerns being expressed across the devolved nations to the proposed shake up.

Scotland

In Scotland, much of the analysis has been made by Rights Advice Scotland in research for the Scottish Local Government Forum Against Poverty (SLGFAP), comprised of councillors across the country. The research has shown that the cumulative loss to the Scottish economy as a result of the loss of Incapacity Benefit and reductions in Disability Living Allowance could be at least £480 million.

The organisation’s chair, Cllr Willie Hogg, explains:  

“By 2013 just two of the changes will together remove more around £480m from the Scottish economy. This will clearly have a devastating impact on the incomes of the individuals and families affected, but the wider impact is no less serious.

“A domino effect will see entitlement to other support and benefits being reduced, leading to further deductions in income. Local businesses will suffer as a result of reduced spending, jobs will be lost and Scotland’s local authorities will see a huge increase in demand for services.

“The changes must no longer be judged in isolation. The collective impact will be dire for Scotland’s councils, businesses and communities.”

Wales

Across Wales there are now serious concerns that there could be an 83 per cent increase in the number of people across the country loosing their jobs as they face a reassessment of their needs under the new employment and support allowance (ESA). Ceredigion alone faces a 135 per cent increase in unemployment.

As a spokesperson for the Citizens Advice Bureau has concluded:

“We have grave concerns about how the Work Capability Assessment for ESA is currently working. Evidence from across our bureau network raises serious questions about the effectiveness and quality of the current testing, resulting in the WCA going badly wrong in far too many cases.”

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, much of the concern over the proposed reforms has come from the SDLP, with its leader, Maragret Ritchie, having expressed her worry that the Westminster government is seeking to push people out of benefit and into work at a time when their policies are reducing the number of jobs available.

Just last month there was a warning that Northern Ireland faced a further 14,000 job losses.

Ms Ritchie’s colleague, SDLP social development minister Alex Attwood continued:  

“The cost of big changes, the stress on the social security system and most important of all, the risks of increasing vulnerability for people in need, are just some of the reasons for my deep concerns.

“Last week I went to London, met the Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud and argued that Northern Ireland had particular circumstances, including high levels of deprivation and the impact of the conflict on people’s lives and experience.

“These factors, the character of proposed reforms and the fact that Northern Ireland will remain in recession until the end of 2012 at least, all means Northern Ireland needs both a ‘time-out’ from yet more welfare reform and maximum flexibility around welfare benefits. I believe Lord Freud gave me a fair hearing.

“This twin track approach is a means to find a path through old Tory welfare attitudes presented as coalition new thinking. At the same time, I intend to push on with the conversation around the NI Executive having more control of our financial affairs.”

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