I’m with you 100% in your battle with the Treasury over the next few weeks.
I can’t think of a better person to go the distance with the Chancellor, in seeking to ensure the Government sticks with its commitment to protecting the poorest and most vulnerable in the forthcoming Spending Review. I wish you every luck, as I don’t get the impression that the Chancellor has much of an idea what it means to struggle to make ends meet.
Stick to your guns. Your bold ideas for radically simplifying the benefits system are amongst the best to have come out of any Government in the past ten years. Your proposals are not only timely but should be welcomed by all those find the current benefits system too complicated. They are a once in a generation opportunity to tackle one of the root causes of poverty. Don’t let Gideon ruin them!
More than 10 years ago, the Labour Government raised – and then dashed – the prospects of a major reform of the welfare system – but the need has never gone away. Ten years ago, Church Action on Poverty produced very similar proposals to those you published in July.
Ten years ago, when we brought together a group of people with personal experience of living on benefits, to come up with their own proposals for welfare reform, they concluded:
“The current system of benefits gives every appearance of being designed by and for experts and it is certainly impossible for the majority of its users to understand. Claimants are often unclear of the effect that taking work will have on their benefits – many assume that this will result in their losing all benefits entitlements. Certainly many have no means of knowing how much benefit they would be entitled too before accepting the offer of a job. The existence of so many different benefits, each with a separate regulatory regime may make bureaucratic sense, but it makes absolutely no sense to claimants.
The tax and benefits system is unfair and traps people in poverty and unemployment. It is not possible to reform the system as it currently stands. It may be possible to reduce some of its worst aspects by tinkering with starting rates of tax and benefit tapers, but the inherent inequality in the way that tax-payers and benefits recipients are treated will remain. Policy-makers and politicians must take this opportunity to consider a total reconfiguring of the tax and benefits syste. Without this, it is impossible to imagine that any changes will do more than transform an awful system into a bad one.”
So, I’m with you 100% of the way in your battle with the Treasury, to make the funds available to put these proposals into effect.
But, please, please, rethink your reforms of Housing Benefit. You went on record earlier in the year encouraging unemployed people to up sticks and move to find work. But your cuts to Housing Benefit will make this almost impossible.
I’m sure by now you must realize that the changes in Housing Benefit are going to price people in low paid work out of many of the wealthiest parts of the country – precisely the places where you want them to find work.
According to your own Department, families in London will lose on average £22 a week – with many – especially those in inner London loosing much much more. In Westminster 1,360 households in two-bedroom properties will see their contribution to rent reduced by an average of £140 a week or £998 a month.
I’m sure you don’t want to price poor families out of Central London, or other parts of the country – but this seems to be the effect of your policies. So please, please think again.
More than anyone else in Government, you understand how poverty blights the lives of families and whole communities. Your personal commitment to improving the quality of life for the worst off in Britain is beyond question.
And I’m sure you take heart from the words of the Prime Minister, just before the Election, when he wrote that “In these difficult times, a Conservative government will tackle inequality, tear down the barriers to progress and social mobility, and we will ensure that fairness is at the heart of our approach to tackling the deficit.”
Our Christian faith means our first thought is for the poorest and most vulnerable. So when you go out to bat against the Chancellor over the coming weeks, we’ll be there with you – in spirit – if not in person.