A new era in welfare for Britain

By Rochelle Sampy

© The Prime Minister’s office

After 60 years of battle with the House of Lords, the Welfare Reform Bill was finally signed off by Parliament on 29 February 2012 and will soon become law.

The main objections to the Bill came from a group of Church of England bishops in the House of Lords who believed that the reforms would adversely affect cancer patients and families with a larger number of children that received monetary payments.

On Tuesday, the Government managed to surpass the objections from the House of Lords, by securing the backing of Labour and some Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as by using the rule of ‘financial privilege’, under which the Lords does not defy the Commons on financial legislation. David Cameron has argued that this historical change will ensure that the “benefits culture” will stop, encouraging more people to seek employment.

One of the two main facets of this bill is a £26,000 cap on the total amount of benefits that any family can claim in a year. The other feature, is that all benefits will be merged into a single universal credit so as to ensure that families get more from working as opposed to being on the dole.

Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has been praised by the Prime Minister for his effort and it would seem that he is also strongly supported by the public. An important survey published in Prospect Magazine and conducted by YouGov has demonstrated that 74% of the public believe that the Government pays out too much in benefits, and that overall welfare provision should be reduced. In addition, 55% of Britons feel that they receive less in public services and benefits than they pay in taxes.

But the aforementioned survey also shows sympathy for giving more help to disabled and older people in relation to taxes and benefits. The disabled and disability campaigners have been left disappointed with one of the initiatives, which is to scrap the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replace it with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). While DLA allowed a sick or disabled person to be cared for while being in employment, PIP will offer no care to such a person meaning that sick or disabled people could eventually lose their jobs due to not receiving their much needed care and support.

Moreover the savings gained from this Bill when it comes into force in 2013, will only amount to £300 million a year, which is in fact a small amount compared with the size of the total welfare budget. Therefore, one could say that the bigger motivation behind this change is to get people back into employment rather than to cut on spending.

Current February figures from YouGov’s Household Economic Activity Tracker (HEAT) show that there has been a large increase in consumer confidence and business activity at work, thus indicating that the Government could have made a great move in helping Britain towards prosperity and away from dependency. However, worrying figures such as 57% of British workers revealing that they are more stressed due to higher unpaid workloads, suggest that the Government’s work on solving the unemployment situation is not yet over.

Finally, just because the reform has been passed does not mean that the government’s work on this issue is now over. In order for the system to work, individuals need to report their earnings in real time meaning that Government computer systems would need to work properly so that data can be processed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

In the recent Telegraph article commenting on the ‘Tackling Fraud and Error in Government’ report, it was stated that around £9.6 billion is lost through mistakes, some of them made by officials. Whatever the case, no one expects a straight, easy route to a better welfare system, and all we can do now is to wait for it to begin. We may not all like the current changes but they needed to happen in some sort of form in order to aid Britain in these difficult times.


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