FRIDAY 17 AUGUST 2012
DWP oblivious to
hardship caused by
The radical reform of welfare provision led by
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith
is intended to redress anomalies in the system
and "make work pay".
But, as others who have embarked on the mission
for social justice have discovered, it is impossible to
reduce overall the cost without replacing one form of
unfairness with another.
Cuts to housing benefit, which will start to be
replaced by a single Universal Credit payment from
April next year, and fitness for work assessments for
long-term claimants are but the latest examples.
By definition, tenants in social housing are at the low
end on the income scale; almost all are dependent
on housing benefit to meet the cost of the rent. The
Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
forecasts that by 2017, when the reforms take full
effect, working age tenants of housing associations
and co-operatives in Scotland will lose between
£123 million and £228m in housing benefit and
around £90m in other payments.
It is not just individual and family budgets that will be
hit. Housing associations will lose an immediate
£33.47m in income but will also face a potentially
catastrophic loss of tens of millions of pounds more
in rent defaults, increased administration costs and
higher bank charges for renegotiated loans.
Housing associations have been one of the most
successful agencies in raising standards of living. In
appointing tenants to the management boards, they
have also inspired a sense of community ownership
in many areas. Yet their future now looks bleak. To
encourage people in bigger houses to move
somewhere smaller and free up accommodation for
families, tenants with spare bedrooms will lose up to
25% of housing benefit. But unless more small
houses can be built in the neighbourhood, it will
amount to the forcible uprooting of people with an
inevitable dilution of community spirit.
Mr Smith's decree that it's not right that some
people on benefits have been able to live in homes
that most working people could not afford may be
relevant in central London but, as he should surely
know from his Easterhouse epiphany, it hardly
applies to areas of former council housing on the
outskirts of Glasgow.
An equally heavy-handed rush to achieve a
theoretical fairness with scant regard for consequent
hardship is evident in the administration of "fit for
work" tests of people claiming disability benefits.
Almost four in 10 of the decisions by Atos
Healthcare, contracted by the Government to
administer the tests at a cost of £110m a year, have
been overturned on appeal. Despite this
unacceptable level of incompetence, with the bill for
appeals reaching £40m last year, the company was
awarded a further contract, although it did not
establish why Atos was failing until last month.
The National Audit Office has now ruled that the
DWP failed to seek adequate compensation from
Atos, confirming what has long been obvious to
claimants suffering from chronic disabling conditions
and their families: that the Government, intent on
trimming £16bn from the welfare bill, has been
oblivious both to the cost to the taxpayer and the
real hardship to individuals. True reform must
transcend crude political dogma.