How many people are falling through the safety net?

By Bernadette Meaden
February 4, 2015

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.

In a blog post @johnnyvoid has highlighted the fact that prior to the Coalition coming to power, the DWP used to publish annual statistics for the numbers of people who were eligible for benefits but did not claim them. They also gave a figure as to what these unclaimed benefits represented in financial terms. For instance, in 2009/10, according to the DWP’s own estimates, between £7.5 billion and £12.3 billion went unclaimed. This dwarfs the amounts lost to fraud or error.

But those figures for 2010 are the most recent we have, because the DWP has not published any figures to show what has happened since then. In 2012, the year his Welfare Reform Act passed into law, Iain Duncan Smith tried to scrap the figures. Faced with strong opposition from civil society he appeared to have relented. But still, we don’t have any figures for the years since 2010. They were expected to be published this month (February 2015), but have now been delayed until May or June. Just after the General Election. As Johnny Void says, "Anyone would think they’d got something to hide."

This morning, as an experiment, I tweeted, "Please RT if you know anyone unemployed, sick or disabled and not claiming the benefits they need because they can't cope with the system." By 10pm there had been 133 Retweets. There were also some disturbing replies;

'I am not claiming anything now because I am too tired to deal with the system. By the end of this month...I will not have enough money to pay my rent and so will be homeless, plus 2 cats... I just want to die.' "My friend applied with mental health issues, got turned down, too afraid to try again. It's a scandal." "Not claiming for my autistic daughter as I wont put her through atos hell." "Me. [I] have early stage ms complicated by trigeminal neuralgia take over 30 pills a day but still work part time." "No-one deserves to be treated like this."

Of course this is totally unscientific, it is all anecdotal. But having lived through a few recessions, it is only in the last few years I have known unemployed people stop claiming Jobseekers Allowance because they found the system humiliating and unbearably stressful. And it is only in the last few years I’ve known a seriously ill person, having been through the Atos mill, give up on getting any help from the Welfare State and become dependent on an elderly parent.

So when or if the figures for unclaimed benefits are eventually published, it will be fascinating to see what they reveal. But unfortunately that won’t happen until after the General Election.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.