MEMBERS of Church Action on Poverty’s Speaking Truth To Power national panel met last week to discuss the UK government’s latest budget. Their response was overall one of disappointment, which they summed up as “some positives, much upset and many missing messages”.

The panel welcomed the extension of free childcare and the removal of excess charges for people on pre-payment utility meters.

There was, however, concern and upset regarding:

  • The unemployment support system becoming even more punishing and inflexible.
  • The charity sector being required to plug even more gaps in vital public services.
  • Pension reforms benefiting the already wealthy rather than wider society.

A selection of the panel’s comments:

They are reinforcing a political ideology on to poor people. It’s a harsher world, to get you into any form of work at all. I’m over 50 and am on Jobseeker’s Allowance, but I am threatened with sanctions for 11 different conditions. I get one month to find work in my profession, then am told to search for 35 hours a week for any work locally.

The assumption behind a lot of the benefit system is that people are lazy or not willing to seek a job, so must be coerced – it is just so unacceptable.

I have a disability, and it’s bad enough, but to then have this real scapegoating of people who cannot contribute more is just something else.

It’s a bit cheeky to claim that uprating benefits with inflation is a good-enough action when they have repeatedly refused to uprate benefits at all in a number of the last 13 years.

There are more disabled people in work because people in work became disabled and stayed in work. That’s not the same as people too sick/disabled to work moving into work.

Argh, no, there is no-one for whom sanctions need to be applied more harshly…Sanctions mean cruelty as a general rule…and cost more to administer than they save.

The childcare change is good news. Childcare costs are such a barrier to going back to work, and even when working you can end up out of pocket. It’s women who are predominantly penalised – and the people making the changes are men, who do not understand the issue as well.

It still overall feels like an ‘us and them’ budget. The people who are poor are clearly seen as ‘them’ by the politicians.

Nothing was said about housing issues, about the rental sector, or young people.

There was anger and concern that disabled people would be treated even worse than at present, with renewed pressure to force those who are unable to work to do so, while removing vital support systems.

Panel member Stef Benstead, whose book Second Class Citizens charts successive Government’s mistreatment of disabled people, spoke about her own experiences and said she was anxious that disabled people could face further cuts in support, and more assessments that do not recognise the reality of their lives and situations.

The panel said it had hoped for the Chancellor to “seize the moment to tackle the unjust systems that hold people and communities back, to ensure that incomes keep pace with soaring living costs, and to invest in the vital public systems that we all require.” They had also hoped for  a budget driven by a desire to create a just society, which truly listens to and heeds people in poverty and on the margins, and which works to support people being swept into deepest difficulty.

* More about the Speaking Truth to Power programme here and Second Class Citizens here.

* Source: Church Action on Poverty