Inquiry launched on effectiveness of social security system

By agency reporter
November 16, 2018

The cross-party Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry 'to consider how effectively our welfare system works to protect against hardship and chronic deprivation.'

Launching the inquiry, the Committee released the following statement:

"The UK’s welfare system is currently undergoing fundamental reform, in the transition to Universal Credit alongside other major and largely untested reforms like Benefit sanctions and the Benefit cap.  The Committee’s latest work on Universal Credit looks at how Government will safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our society as it implements this huge programme of change. After the recent Budget Members from across the House expressed concerns on this issue, including some senior MPs telling Government that continuing the freeze on benefits in place since 2010 was 'immoral'.

"The previous Work and Pensions Committee inquired into the Local welfare safety net in response to changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 – which replaced several centrally administered schemes with locally run provision – and further changes in the Summer 2015 Budget.

"It looked at whether these changes represented 'localism in action' or rather created a postcode lottery of service provision, with people falling through the gaps or 'holes' in the welfare safety net and the costs shunted on to local authorities, services and charities.

"The Committee concluded that Welfare reforms risk leading people into severe hardship and called on Government to:

  • Ensure reforms such as the benefit cap do not inadvertently penalise groups who cannot actually adapt to it or offset its effects, and that appropriate mitigation strategies are in place.
    For example, some claimants cannot find or move to cheaper housing, because none is available, or cannot move in to work because they are a single parent and there is no appropriate childcare in their area.
  • Conduct robust, cross-departmental evaluation on the impact of local schemes on the most vulnerable households
  • Co-ordinate with local government better to ensure more consistent quality of provision
    Since then indicators suggest chronic deprivation is on the rise. These include numbers of households in temporary accommodation, rough sleepers, and people referred to foodbanks."

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: "We are now seeing the grim, if unintended, consequences of the Government’s massive welfare reforms across several major inquiries. Policy decision after policy decision has piled the risks of major changes onto the shoulders of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and then onto local authorities, services and charities scrambling to catch them if and when they fall.

"The welfare safety net ought to be catching people before they are plunged into debt, hardship and hunger. Instead it appears to be unravelling before our very eyes. The Committee now wants to find out whether the Government’s policies are sufficient to save people from destitution and, if not, what more needs to be done."

The Committee is now inviting evidence, from individuals, groups or organisations, on any or all of the following questions: 

  • How should hardship and chronic deprivation be measured?
  • What do we know about chronic deprivation and hardship in the UK?
  • Is it changing? How?
  • Why do some households fall into poverty and deprivation?
  • What factors best explain the reported increases in indicators of deprivation like homelessness, rough sleeping and increased food bank use? 
  • What about the local variations in these markers of deprivation?
  • Do Jobcentre Plus procedures and benefit delays play a role?
  • What role does Universal Credit play in in relation to deprivation, or could it play in tackling it?
  • Is our welfare safety net working to prevent people falling into deprivation?
  • If not, how could it better do so?
  • What progress has been made on addressing the issues identified in the Committee’s 2016
  • What are the remaining weaknesses, how should these now be addressed?

* Views and evidence should be submitted to the inquiry by 14 December 2018. The online form to send a written submission is here

* Read the Committee's 2016 report The local welfare safety net here

* Work and Pensions Committee


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