The draft regulations for Universal Credit, the Government’s new scheme to fuck up the Welfare State, have just been released (PDF). They are so full of holes, omissions, contradictions and casual brutality, that it is difficult to know where to start.
What will be unsurprising to anyone who has been following Iain Duncan Smith’s and Lord Fraud’s bungling attempts at welfare reform is just how much these regulations will have the opposite impact to those intended. As well as forcing hundreds of thousands of people into poverty, benefit sanctions, homelessness or workfare, it is quite likely that many of the measures will cost more money than is currently spent on the benefits system.
Government ministers often talk of the importance of families staying together to raise children. Swivel eyed right wingers insist that families need fathers such is their fear of women’s independence. Yet the new regulations seem almost designed to drive some of the poorest families apart as parents separate under the harsh new regime.
Benefits are to be capped at £500 a week for both single and dual parent families alike. The Government has insisted that no family should receive more in benefits than if they were working. What ministers have neglected to point out is that families in work on £500 a week are also entitled to Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit and if they are in a high rent area, Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit) .
Whilst £500 a week may sound a lot, when rents in London and other city centres are taken into account, this will leave tens, or possibly hundreds of thousands of families facing poverty or homelessness.
For an unemployed couple with no health problems and three children,they would need to find a property which costs around £175 a week (for a three bedroom flat/house) to maintain their current income levels. A cursory search on the internet reveals no such properties exist in Greater London. For those diminishing few who qualify for sickness benefits or carers allowance the situation will be even more acute.
Financial pressure and the threat of homelessness alone are enough to put on strain on many relationships. However for some couples there may be one way to ease the grinding poverty. Families facing homelessness due to being unable to meet rent payments will quickly realise that perhaps it would be better if just one parent leaves. That parent can then apply for Local Housing Allowance independently whilst the families income will remain unaffected.
Instead of facing homelessness they will now have two homes, and two benefit claims, all at a far greater cost to the state. Of course the emotional upheaval for families will be traumatic, especially for the children. However if Dad (or Mum) does the decent thing and leaves home it is likely to be far less traumatic then the entire family facing homelessness and the children being uprooted from their school and community.
This will not be a solution for all families, some of whom will have rent liabilities which are still unaffordable. But for tens of thousands of families, whether out of work due to unemployment, sickness, or disability, the sensible option will be to split.
The new sanctions regime will add further pressure to relationships. Under the new rules it will be the household, not the individual who will face any sanctions to benefits. In worst case scenarios sanctions will be applied for up to three years. Should one parent evoke a sanctions then there will be an understandable pressure on them to leave, so the remaining parent can make a new claim and start to put food back on the table.
Of course Iain Duncan Smith will claim that one, or both of the parents should get a job. The new requirement for work related activity (job seeking as it used to be called) is to be extended to single and dual parents alike, along with sick and disabled claimants. This could swell the job market by up to 3 million people, who will join the almost 2 million who currently have to satisfy job seeking requirements to claim Job Seekers Allowance.
Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Fraud can play around with the benefits system as much as they like, but nothing they do will magic 5 million full time jobs out of thin air.
Possibly hundreds of thousands of families will be faced with the choice of splitting up or being plunged into homelessness or sub-standard temporary accommodation should they fail to find one of these non-existent jobs. Couples won’t be splitting up to get rich or ‘milk’ the benefits system. They will be doing it to survive. Like the all good parents they will be acting in the best interests of their children.
This is only a taste of what’s in store under the misconceived new benefit regime. The proposed regulations are shambolic and it gets worse so stay tuned.
The regulations will now be passed to the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) who have launched a public consultation. The final regulations are set to go before Parliament in the Autumn. If you have the time and inclination to send the Government comments on the proposals which they will ignore then you can find details on how at: http://ssac.independent.gov.uk/consult.shtml