For a few weeks I’ve been trying to write a general critique of welfare reform, addressing each policy point by point, looking at the assumptions on which it was based, what it aimed to achieve, and the effect it has had in practise. It’s been a disturbing and depressing experience.
“Remember your responsibilities as a citizen for the conduct of local, national and international affairs. Do not shrink from the time and effort your involvement may demand.” This is one of 42 challenges and questions posed to members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) by the rather quaintly named 'Advices and Queries'.
People unable to work because of obesity, drug or alcohol problems may have their social security payments cut if they do not undergo treatment, UK prime minister David Cameron has threatened. He has asked Professor Dame Carol Black, an adviser to the Department of Health, to carry out a review.
Whoever we decide to vote for in May, we need an election campaign fought on the basis of truth, not spin. In the past, charities would have spoken out if a politician tried to give a false picture of reality, but many now feel gagged by the Lobbying Act passed last year. Happily, one charity exists solely to check facts, but it needs our help to meet the challenge of the election campaign.
The latest scandal to hit HSBC, Britain’s biggest bank, again throws a spotlight on the enormous failings of the finance sector. It is also a source of embarrassment for governments present and past – but also for the Church of England.
Nick Dilworth is a welfare rights adviser who has seen the full impact of welfare reform on the lives of his clients. He is also skilled at analysing statistics issued by the Department for Work and Pensions, and believes that one number, which lies buried in the data tables, should be revealed and widely publicised.
An MP’s defence of benefit sanctions left many other UK parliamentarians stunned. It also showed how common magical thinking has become among those wanting tougher treatment of people receiving social security.
People often suspect that the purpose of recent welfare reforms was not to make the system more efficient or more fair, but to make the system so hostile, punitive and humiliating that people would be deterred from claiming. A decision by the DWP has just fuelled this suspicion.