Tag Archives: poverty

Surviving on a shoestring? Stuck in the benefits trap? Why not share your experiences with the world

From our experience, the assumption that people living on benefits don’t want to work simply isn’t true. We know that trying to survive on a very low income in the UK is a tricky business. Which is why we are working with OXFAM to find people who would be willing to share their experiences and frustrations on what it’s really like trying to survive in the system.

We’d like to hear from women and men who’d be up for taking part in a blog to record your experiences, tips and ideas as the Government makes decisions that affect your lives. We also want people who are happy to talk to the media. We think it’s time that the public and politicians see what it’s really like to survive in Britain today.

If you are struggling with the system, whether in work or on JSA, receiving housing benefit, incapacity benefits, are a single parent finding it hard to get by or have recently lost your job and can commit to volunteering with us as a blogger for the next few months, please send an email to sdransfield@oxfam.org.uk

Dynamic Meetings and Benefit Blogging

On Monday I met with Deven Ghelani (Centre for Social Justice) and Chris Goulden (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), to talk about the Community Allowance and the Dynamic Benefits report. For years the CREATE Consortium has campaigned against the benefit trap and for a community solution to unemployment.  The current benefit system acts a trap – stopping people from working and creating serious financial penalties for anyone on benefits who takes on a job for under 16 hours (you earn a pound….you lose a pound). The Dynamic Benefits report from Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank – sets out a new approach – recognising the need to let people take up work opportunities for under 16 hours without making people worse off. The main objection to these plans has historically come from the Treasury and if you believe the reports in the papers the argument is still ongoing….

However, at Monday’s meeting I decided to be optimistic: IDS is going to win the argument on earning disregards – so that people can take up part-time jobs or flexible job opportunities – without risking being unable to buy food or pay the rent because our benefit system is so broken.

As we talked about the current consultation on Welfare Reform – 21st Century Welfare, I raised the importance of the links between people and the places they live. If we don’t recognise the high concentrations of unemployment and what this does to local communities, we miss out on an important part of the problem and the solution. We need to make sure that the current consultation on benefits and decisions on The Work Programme take into account the importance of understanding the “community dimension” and seeks to involve local people and communities in shaping one of the largest areas of Government spending – benefits and employment support programmes.

So how do we make sure that the people with the most knowledge of the benefit system and employment support – the people with direct experience are involved? We are going to be working with Oxfam to highlight people’s real experiences and we are also looking for people who are interested in becoming a benefit blogger – if you want to know more email me at L.winterburn@dta.org.uk

And for those people who like responding to consultations please remember the Community Allowance in your submission

Best wishes

Louise

Responsibility, freedom and fairness?

The Emergency Budget reinforces the importance of ensuring that the voices of the people and communities affected by changes to the benefits system and communities solutions to the “tough choices” ahead, are heard.

We welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to make work pay – we have long campaigned on the the impact of the benefit trap. We are also looking forward to further proposals in the autumn to ensure that the benefit system becomes a “tool to support work”, rather then trapping people, while also supporting the most vulnerable.

The emergency budget provides more information on the challenges ahead with large cuts in the Welfare Budget, the speeding up of reassessment of Incapacity Benefit claimants and changes focusing on lone parents. Currently lone parents  get income support until their youngest child reaches 10. Once their child is 10 they have to start looking for employment in order to claim jobseekers’ allowance. Lone parents will now be expected to look for work once their youngest child goes to school.The government estimate that up to 15,000 lone parents could move into employment with these changes. Many will have been out of the labour market for a long time and will need support, advice, training and real work experience to successfully enter the world of work. If the context of  responsibility and fairness, we need a clear message from the government about how it will ensure that the right level of support will be provided for all these new jobseekers, especially as many organisations including Joseph Rowntree Foundation have raised serious concerns about the impact of the budget on people in poverty.

The coming weeks and months will be critical in ensuring that the development of The Work Programme and the wider welfare reform debate, includes community solutions at the heart of the government’s approach. We know communities can develop their own tools – including stepping stones to employment – if given the opportunity. Now we just need to make sure that when the government talks about responsibility, freedom and fairness that community organisations are able to share their experiences. If you would like to find out more or to add your support please visit our website.

Cameron’s difficult decisions

Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech today, warned of “difficult decisions” on pay, pensions and benefits as he set out the case for “painful” cuts ahead. He said dealing with the deficit would be “unavoidably tough” and affect “our whole way of life”. While no new details were given on what will be cut, we were offered some reassurance that he would not cut the deficit “in a way that hurts those we most need to help”.

The Department for Work and Pensions spent £87 billon on benefits last year. For many deprived areas spending on benefits payments and welfare to work programmes is the largest public investment they receive, yet has limited positive impact. It is clear that there are going to be fundamental changes to the benefit system as proposed by the Welfare Reform Bill and more support for local councils and communities to develop solutions to local issues, in the Decentralisation and Localism Bill.

Yet we know that any discussions about making the benefit system “fairer and simpler” or giving communities more power, take place against a backdrop of large scale cuts. If we are to ensure that policy discussions are not simply dominated by calls for cuts in benefit payments and sanctions, we need to make sure that positive approaches that do give power back to communities – such as the Community Allowance – are known about and understood. Developed by local community organisations and people on benefits, the Community Allowance enables people on benefits to be paid to work in their local community – a step up into employment for people on benefit and a step up for local communities.

Last week we wrote to Ministers responsible for the Welfare Reform Bill and the Decentralisation and Localism Bill asking for meetings to discuss the Community Allowance. Both these Bills provide an important opportunity to radically change the benefit system and the role of people on benefits in transforming their local communities. The Community Allowance is supported by over 300 individuals and 100 community organisations. We would like to increase the number of people who know about the benefit trap and solutions such as the Community Allowance and need your help – Is your organisation or group signed up as a supporter of the Community Allowance? – Can you help us increase the number of people who know about the benefit trap and the Community Allowance through your website, blog or newsletter? We know that if we want to make sure any “difficult decisions” the government makes includes fair, community owned and developed solutions, we need your help to be heard. Please sign up at our website or email me at L.Winterburn@dta.org.uk

Guest Blog – Will Hutton

Over the next two or three years unemployment is going to climb to three million, and the likelihood is that it will fall only very slowly afterwards. There is a risk it could rise even higher if the Conservative party is as serious about cutting the budget deficit as quickly and as deeply as it says. Worse unemployment disproportionately hits disadvantaged communities most.

This is a calamity. There is a famous study of what happened in the village of Marienthal, not far from Vienna, when the main factory shut its gates in the depression of the early 1930s. The unemployed  do not tend to take up the violin, read more books, or enjoy quality time with their families. Indeed, researchers found that although people had enough to eat, use of the library dropped by a third, clubs closed down and wives complained that formerly energetic men took extraordinary amounts of time to accomplish simple tasks. People stood on street corners, waiting. Time weighed heavy but people talked to each other less.

The reason, argued the psychologist Marie Jahoda whose 1980s research is still pathbreaking , is  that work provides people with a fundamental “sense of reality”, which can not be obtained through any other activity or institution. Employment of any kind has a number of key benefits. It gives structure to the day; it compels contact and shared experience with others; it demonstrates goals and purpose beyond the individual; it gives status; it forces people to be active. Take those away and people quickly became dysfunctional.

Jahoda returned to her theme in the very different period of high unemployment in the UK during the 1980s. The poverty in question was now relative rather than absolute but she argued that purposelessness loomed as large as ever. The phrases used to describe the feelings were the same: on the scrapheap, useless, not needed by anybody. The loss of work followed by prolonged joblessness entailed a sequence of psychological states – fear and distress, resignation, adaptation, and finally, if unsuccessful in the search for work, blank apathy and withdrawal. The psychological need for work goes deep.

Hard Labour, a paper I recently co-wrote with colleagues from The Work Foundation, sets out today’s evidence  on the health affects of unemployment.

  • There is a positive association between mortality and unemployment for all age groups, with suicide increasing within a year of job loss.
  • Cardiovascular mortality accelerates after 2 or 3 years, continuing for the next 10–15 years.
  • There is an estimated 20 per cent excess risk of death for both men actively seeking work and their wives, with the possibility that this may be higher still in areas of higher unemployment.
  • Upon re-employment there appears to be a reversal of these effects. While the direction of causality is difficult to determine unemployment is considered to be a significant cause of psychological distress in itself.
  • Studies indicated a positive association between unemployed people and a higher  prevalence of common mental disorders.
  • Those with a more negative outlook on life tend to be more damaged by unemployment while those who are unemployed but have more positive and goal-oriented outlooks fare better.

In the light of the unemployment calamity about to hit the country we have to be as flexible and imaginative as we possibly can about engaging people with work any which we way we can – and we must recognise the fears of those on Incapacity Benefit especially who believe that if they show the slightest ability to work it will be understood as a complete ability to work . I strongly support the Community Allowance. It could improve the well-being of hundreds of thousands of people – and improve the look and feel of our communities.

Will Hutton

The Inverse Care Law – Guest Blog from Lord Adebowale

We need a welfare state that is fit for the 21st century. We need to redesign it away from a post war vision of a very different society to what we live in today. There are gaps in the welfare state through which people fall because it’s not personalized enough. It is of great concern to me that for too long we appear to have been suffering from the inverse care law—the more you need, the less you are likely to get.

What worries me about some of the language around welfare reform at the moment is the idea that people on benefits are enjoying a nice lifestyle paid for by the taxpayer. They’re not. We need to get away from a punitive element in welfare reform that believes that if you treat people harshly, that will improve their ability to move up the ladder.

I have always argued that the welfare state should be about providing a step up for people.

The Community Allowance would create a step up for people and some of the poorest places in the UK, which have seen a lack of change over the last 10-20 years. If you are born in a place with high crime, low educational outcomes and poor health, there is an expectation that you will die under the same circumstances.

In my work on the Aylesbury estate in south London I realized one of the problems on estates like this is that the myth becomes the reality, and anyone from the estate could be written off.

The Community Allowance would create job opportunities for people in areas like Aylesbury. The jobs would simultaneously benefit the community and enable the individual to take small manageable steps towards sustainable employment. The New Economics Foundation’s recent work showing the Social Return on Investment of the Community Allowance clearly shows the economic argument for this.

And yet small organisations dedicated to delivering welfare-to-work services in disadvantaged areas will struggle to win contracts to deliver the Flexible New Deal and other areas of the welfare to work agenda because there is no mechanism to recognise and reward the work they do. Although some people are ready to get straight back to full-time work, for others this would be too great a leap. It wouldn’t work for employers, and would be likely to push people back into drugs and crime. This approach threatens to raise the cost to the public purse in the long-term, not only through benefits but also through other health, social care and criminal justice costs.

There needs to be a mechanism to reward the work that is done to prepare those most in need of the support to get work, rather than just job entries. 

It must not just be about getting people into a job, but also about measuring the progress people have made towards getting into work. That distance travelled can be measured and must be.  The Community Allowance could provide an ideal first step up onto the ladder of progress and opportunities for people who have been out of work for a long time, cycling on and off benefits.

Real life involves people failing and going around the cycle of trying to improve their lives on more than one occasion. A civilized society allows for that to happen.

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point

A tale of two cities

On my way from a meeting at the Institute of Fiscal Studies to the Department of Work and Pensions yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Evening Standard on the tube. The headline rang ‘The Dispossessed’: London is a shameful tale of two cities. In the richest capital in Europe almost half our children live below the poverty line.

It was refreshing to see a mainstream media outfit deal with the issue of poverty in London. This is something one of the CREATE Consortium’s members, Community Links, has been blogging about recently.

Reading Joe Murphy’s How politics turned its back on the dispossessed, was particularly interesting given the conversation I had just had with the Institute of Fiscal Studies’ Mike Brewer. We were discussing the difference in attitude that both politicians and the public have towards benefits payments and tax credits. Both are tax payer’s money and yet benefits are seen as a drain on the public purse, something to be minimised at all costs, while tax credits are seen as a positive intervention.

It left me wondering from a campaigning point of view what we could do to change this attitude. It goes to the heart of why there is a need for a Community Allowance. If you are on Job Seekers Allowance and try to work for under 16 hours a week you have penny for penny taken away; the earnings disregard still being only £5 a week – less than an hours work on the minimum wage, unchanged since 1988! Yet if you take a job of 16 hours, tax credits protect your income and you are better off in work.

What kind of message does this send to people who want to get themselves out of poverty by taking some part time work? Why did the Government decide that 16 hours is good but 8 hours is bad? It’s an illogical distinction, only made logical by the pervsersity of the difference between the benefits system and tax credits. It has to change.

Interestingly, I am noticing that there seems to be a growing understanding of the necessity of this change, across the political spectrum. This marked change in attitude has come about in the last two years through a wealth of campaigning about the earnings disregard and influential reports such as the Centre for Social Justices’ Dynamic Benefits.

On Saturday I was on a panel with Tim Loughton MP (of Tower Block of Commons fame)  Shadow Minister for Children, at the Conservative Party Spring Forum. He seemed to get it. So did Terry Rooney MP, Chair of the DWP Select Committee, who I met yesterday after I’d been to the DWP.

The question is, what are politicians going to do about it? In a new era of austerity and public spending cuts, how do we tackle poverty? We think the Community Allowance is part of the answer to that question. For a change in the benefits regulations you get a win-win-win: for the person on benefits, earning a bit of money and gaining real work experience, for the community having socially valuable work done locally and for the tax payer every £1 spent on a Community Allowance would create £10.20 worth of social value.

We’re still waiting to hear from DWP about whether we can pilot the Community Allowance. The pace of the discussions in response to our Right to Bid proposal originally submitted in January 2009 is making us question the depth and sincerity of their commitment to pilot it in the 2008 White Paper. We’ll be blogging soon about what we’re thinking of doing next and how you can get involved.