Whitehaven News column – 7th August 2014

Social Insecurity

It is clearer than ever that most people are not feeling the current economic recovery.  It is still a recovery for the few.  The vast majority of people throughout West Cumbria, and the country as a whole, are seeing their living standards under increasing pressure.  In fact, we haven’t seen such a decline in living standards since the 1870s.


At a time when an economic recovery is built on the back of low paid workers, in insecure jobs, social security becomes critical. 


Social security is a large part of Government spending and it is right that we do what we can help people into work, but also support those who can’t.  The current economic growth, being built on low wages has meant a rise in the working poor.  Those in work are being hit by ever increasing housing costs, childcare costs, food cost, energy costs and more.  People are having to work harder for less.  This has meant that in-work benefits are rising.  By 2018, the number of working people having to claim housing benefit will be double what it was in 2010 which will cost the taxpayer around £12.9 billion.


The Government are presiding over spiralling costs, crises, chaos and waste.  The pernicious Bedroom Tax has had a devastating impact on many families including those with disabled relatives.  Their ham-fisted approach just isn’t working.


I recently secured a debate on the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms on West Cumbria following on from the amazing work conducted by the Cumbrian Welfare Reform Commission.  The Bishop of Carlisle, James Newcome, chaired the commission and the report is available on their website.  I would encourage everyone to read it.


The report touches on zero hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax and other issues that have either been introduced or been made worse by this Government’s haphazard and chaotic approach to welfare reform.


Referring to people on zero hour contracts, the report states: “At present their wages plus benefits still leave many unable to pay the basics such as food and shelter.  In particular there is a risk of a vicious circle whereby people on a zero hours contract can have their benefits cut if they can’t demonstrate they can look for other work, but not only does uncertainty about hours required to work in these contracts make this availability difficult, some employers use exclusivity clauses in their own contracts preventing employees from taking on other work in the rest of their time”.


This paints a desperate picture, yet the Government haven’t acted.  Instead of trying to solve this problem, the Government have sought to penalise and sanction current claimants.  Action must be taken to tackle the small amount of benefit fraud that takes place, but the Government are failing and it is vulnerable people that are suffering.  The Department for Work and Pensions told the Cumbrian Commission that sanctions “make the vulnerable more vulnerable”.  This cannot continue.  Punishing vulnerable people and pushing them further into financial hardship cannot be tolerated.


The Government promised a new approach to social security in 2010, but they have failed.  Their record is one of the working poor, spiralling costs and chaotic implementation of complex new systems.  The price of the Government’s failure has been footed by the taxpayer to the tune of £13 billion more than planned in this Parliament.


By raising the minimum wage, and encouraging companies to pay the Living wage, working families’ incomes would rise and reduce the need for in-work benefits thus reducing costs.  The Government need to change course and back Labour’s plans to make the recovery work for everyone rather than just a few at the top.

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