Sunday, 27 October 2013

Benefits cap chaos shows up the weakness of the Tories and Labour.

The government’s cap on benefits will struggle to meet its aim to encourage people back into work, so says a report from the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) examining how a trial of the policy has worked in the London borough of Haringey.

The CIH report shows that just 10% of people living in the 747 households involved in the trial found work and half had to be given extra funding by the council to make up for money lost.

The report also found that 2300 children were affected by the benefits cap with large families being hit hardest. Researchers said that attitudes to work were changing, but many families still faced huge barriers such as the availability of affordable childcare.

Nearly half the families in Haringey involved in the trial claimed help from the council to pay their rent, switching the cost of housing benefit from national to local government and hiding the true impact of the cap.

Grania Long, chief executive of the CIH told the BBC ‘the government said the benefits cap would save money and encourage people into work, but this report shows it is far from achieving those aims,’ adding that ‘unless ministers commit to increasing support for people looking to get back into work and funding for childcare this could be very dangerous.’

Claire Kober, the leader of Haringey council, also speaking to the BBC, said ‘the government may be making some savings; the real costs are just being passed on to councils already under enormous financial pressure.’

Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning, speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme refuted the claims made in the report calling it ‘flawed’ and saying the CIH was looking at data from too small an area to draw valid conclusions.

‘We do not recognise this report as providing a sound or reliable picture of the reforms,’ he said.

As if the shambles surrounding the trial of the benefits cap wasn’t enough it was also announced this week that the government was putting on hold plans to move thousands of disabled people off Disability Living Allowance and onto its new Personal Independence Payments in all but four trial areas. Rumours abound that private companies ATOS and Capita are struggling to cope with their workload of existing claims let alone the extra volumes they would have had to deal with had the move gone ahead.

Just another Whitehall farce, a sad but familiar farrago of inept contractors and out of touch ministers. If there is comedy in this though it is of the blackest sort; lives are at risk of being irreparably ruined here.

What does the government propose to do about a problem it has created with its rushed and ill thought out benefits reforms? Nothing; apart from carping that any organisation that highlights their mistakes hasn’t done its research properly.

What about the opposition then? The Labour Party is still basking in the afterglow of Ed Milliband’s announcement that they would freeze energy bills for two years if elected into office. On the subject of benefits reform they are rather more evasive, talking earnestly about not being able to make any promises until they’ve seen the books; or hanging back to see which way the wind blows if you’ve a cynical cast of mind. My guess is that it will blow in a direction that wafts the ships of fools captained by Red Ed ever further away from Downing Street.

There is no doubt that a cumbersome, slow and bureaucratic benefits system invented in the forties is badly in need of reform. That shouldn’t though mean bashing claimants and making poor people even poorer because it plays well with the sillier tabloids.

We need a reformed benefits system that works with claimants giving them the skills to find work and a sense of personal agency that makes them want to do so. Sadly the chances of even starting the debate that would create such a system in the present political climate are virtually non existent.

Instead we get a sort of mass displacement activity carried out by a political class who are masters at playing the Westminster game and dunces when it comes to understanding life as lived by most Britons. Both main political parties have been hollowed out to the point where the only real difference between the two is one wears blue rosettes and the other red ones.

They say the same things, subscribe to the same prejudices and in extremis resort to roaring like lions at the poor because the poor largely don’t vote. When faced by say the big six energy companies or bankers threatening to go to Wall Street you just see if they don’t if anyone even suggests regulating their activities and the lion promptly turns into a kitten.

The electorate aren’t fools; they know that rising fuel and food bills; never mind nonexistent job security are making us all poorer however much George Osborne says things are getting better. Is it any wonder they are choosing an alternative, even if it is just staying home on polling day, to the tired Tories and lost Labour?

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