Posts Tagged 'benefits'

What effect do sanctions & conditionality have on disabled people?

Guest editor Ben Baumberg Geiger introduces the new Journal of Poverty and Social Justice special issue, focusing on disability and conditional social security benefits.

 

Ben Baumberg Geiger

“There are times that policy runs ahead of academic knowledge.

Indeed, this is often the case, for policies must first be introduced before social scientists can study them – and if policy makers were restricted to policies that had been tried and tested, then policy innovation would be impossible.

Yet such innovation can come with considerable risks, as new policies can be introduced and widely imitated, only for social scientists – after some delay – to show that such policies are difficult to implement, can fail to achieve some of their aims, and may even have unforeseen and harmful consequences.

In a new special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, we focus on one area where this might be happening: conditionality for sick and disabled social security claimants. While, historically, disabled benefit claimants were largely exempt from seeking work, high-income countries from Australia to Norway have increasingly required disabled claimants to take steps towards finding work, under the threat of financial penalties.

“…high-income countries from Australia to Norway have increasingly required disabled claimants to take steps towards finding work, under the threat of financial penalties.”

The conventional wisdom repeated by bodies such as the OECD is that this is a necessary step towards reducing high benefit claim rates, and, moreover, helps improve the finances, health, and social inclusion of disabled people themselves.

However, there are several challenges to this story. By any principle of justice, claimants cannot reasonably be required to perform actions that they are incapable of doing, but it is difficult for benefits agencies to know exactly what someone can or can’t do. If they get this wrong, conditionality for disabled people can create injustices, and inflict considerable stress on disabled people. Moreover, conditionality may move disabled people further away from work, by both undermining their relationship with their employment support caseworker, and making them less willing to take risks in performing tasks that they are not sure they are capable of doing.

 

Two conflicting stories – but what does the evidence say?

Until now, there has been very little published research trying to establish which of these accounts is correct. This is the aim of the special issue, which includes four research papers looking at experiences from around the world. In the UK, Aaron Reeves looks at on the impacts of conditionality for disabled people claiming unemployment benefit. In Denmark and Sweden, Sara Hultqvist & Iben Nørup look at the different forms of conditionality implemented for young disability benefit claimants. In Germany, Patrizia Aurich-Beerheide & Martin Brussig look at the (failed) implementation of conditionality for disabled people in Germany. And my own paper (see below) brings together these papers with a wider review of evidence and practice, to come to some initial conclusions about what we know so far.

“It is crucial for the wellbeing of disabled people around the world that deeper knowledge and more informed policy go hand-in-hand.”

The special issue also includes four further, slightly more unusual papers about the UK, perhaps the country where these issues have become most hotly contested. Indeed, conditionality for disabled people has been the subject of an award-winning film (I, Daniel Blake) and an award-winning play (Wish List), both of which are reviewed in the special issue (by Alison Wilde and Kim Allen respectively). Jed Meers covers a recent Supreme Court judgement about the ‘bedroom tax’ in the Supreme Court. And we felt it was important to convey the lived experience of conditionality, so a team from the Welfare Conditionality project describe two real-life stories of people who took part in their research.

So at the end of this, what do we know? In my (open access) review paper, I summarise the evidence into four ‘stylized facts’:

1. Requirements for disability benefit claimants are common, but sanctioning is rare (particularly outside of the UK and Australia).

2. Assessment and support are critical in making conditionality work on the ground, and can be combined into ‘passive’, ‘supportive’, ‘demanding’ or ‘compliance-based’ systems.

3. The limited but robust existing evidence suggests that sanctioning may have zero or even negative impacts on work-related outcomes for disabled people.

4. Individual case studies in ‘compliance-based’ systems suggest that sanctioning in the absence of other support can lead to destitution, and that conditionality can harm mental health.

While we need to know more, it is already clear that we cannot assume that conditionality for disabled benefit claimants is easy to implement, nor that it will have purely positive consequences. Policy may have run ahead, but research is now starting to catch up. It is crucial for the wellbeing of disabled people around the world that deeper knowledge and more informed policy go hand-in-hand from this point.

This is an edited version of the (free) introduction to the special issue, and is simultaneously being posted on the Policy Press blog and my own Rethinking Incapacity blog. The full special issue can be accessed here.

 

You can read the Disability and Conditional Social Security Benefits’ special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice here. 

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Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect

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Ruth Patrick

In this blog post, part of our Election Focus series, Ruth Patrick offers suggestions for what should be included in party manifestos on welfare reform, based on the six years of research into individuals’ experiences of social security and welfare reform in her book, For whose benefit?

Too often General Election campaigns seem – yet another – opportunity for politicians to talk ‘tough’ on ‘welfare’ as they compete to be seen as the party who will finally rid Britain of its supposed problem of ‘welfare dependency’. 2010 featured billboards with David Cameron finger pointing as he pledged: ‘let’s cut benefits for those who refuse work’.

In the run up to the 2015 election, Rachel Reeves, then shadowing the Department for Work and Pensions brief, was quoted saying: “we are not the party of people on benefits” disowning millions of potential voters.

And now another election. With the dominance of Brexit, as yet we have not heard much on ‘welfare’ and it may well be crowded out by policy debates in other areas. Corbyn’s Labour can be expected to offer up a more egalitarian social security agenda but the scope for this to gain traction and support from the public may be limited.

Continue reading ‘Election focus: Manifestos on welfare should be about engagement, dignity and respect’

The truth about benefits sanctions

300,000 people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat.

On today’s National Day of Action Against Sanctions, Ruth Patrick highlights the reality of welfare reform as laid out in her new book, For whose benefit? The truth is that our punitive welfare reform agenda leaves people further away rather than closer to the paid labour market.

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Ruth Patrick

“While Cameron and Osborne may no longer be in charge, their welfare reform agenda continues apace. This month sees the implementation of another wave of reforms, which will further weaken Britain’s social security system.

Over recent years, politicians have robustly defended successive rounds of welfare reform. They argue that reform is needed to end supposed cultures of ‘welfare dependency’ and prevent people from being able to ‘choose’ benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’. In making their case, politicians draw upon simplistic but powerful demarcations between ‘hard working families’ and ‘welfare dependants’, and suggest that welfare reform will help those on out-of-work benefits join the ranks of the hard working majority.

As David Cameron put it back in 2014:

“Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right. Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up: building a country where people aren’t trapped in a cycle of dependency but are able to get on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves and their family.”

But does Cameron’s moral case stand up? And has welfare reform actually helped people make transitions from ‘welfare’ and into work?

Continue reading ‘The truth about benefits sanctions’

Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty

In her speech from The future of social justice event we held on Monday, Kayleigh Garthwaite, author of Hunger Pains, talks about her experience of volunteering at foodbanks and how we can harness and express the collective shame that should be felt over the existence of emergency food aid.

kayleigh-garthwaite“For the last three years, I’ve been a volunteer and a researcher at a Trussell Trust foodbank in central Stockton, North East England, finding out how a foodbank works, who uses them, and why.

Every week, I prepared the three days’ worth of food that goes into each food parcel. I dealt with the administration of the red vouchers required to receive food, making sure that anyone who needed further support was told where it could be obtained. I volunteered at food collections at Tesco supermarkets, asking people to add an extra tin to their weekly shop. Most importantly, I sat and listened to the stories of the hundreds of people who came through the food bank doors for emergency food.

Continue reading ‘Foodbanks, social justice and why we need a new conversation about poverty’

Why it’s the right time for a Citizen’s Income

Malcolm Torry

Malcolm Torry

By Malcolm Torry, author of Money for everyone, new this month

A Citizen’s Income is an unconditional, nonwithdrawable income for every individual as a right of citizenship. It’s unconditional: that is, any two working age adults would receive exactly the same amount, no matter how different the amounts they earn, the assets they own, or the households in which they live. Every person over retirement age would receive the same larger amount. And every child would receive the same as any other child. A Citizen’s Income is nonwithdrawable: that is, if you earn additional income, your Citizen’s Income remains the same. And it’s for every individual: so it’s not reduced if you’re living with someone else, or the person you’re living with earns some additional income.

In all of these respects a Citizen’s Income is the opposite of our current means-tested benefits. Means-tested benefits are conditional: on looking for work, or on being ill, on how much you earn, on who you’re living with, and on how much they earn. Means-tested benefits are withdrawable: so if you earn some additional income then your benefits are reduced – and you will often receive only 15p of any extra £1 you earn, or sometimes only 5p. And means-tested benefits are not always paid to the individual, because for a couple living together only one of them receives the means-tested benefit, whether that’s Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance, so-called Tax Credits, or, in the future, so-called Universal Credit.

Is Citizen’s Income affordable? Details of costs can be found at http://www.citizensincome.org. For example, the FAQs on the website include a report on a feasible revenue-neutral Citizen’s Income scheme that grants a Citizen’s Income of £51.85 weekly to every child and every adult up to the age of 24, £65.45 to adults older than 24 and younger than 65, and £132.60 to everyone over 65 years old (a Citizen’s Pension).

Several recent books have suggested that a Citizen’s Income would be an important part of the answer to the growing inequality and other problems that our society faces today: but the last book to offer anything like an exploration of the subject as a whole, and of the arguments for and against a Citizen’s Income for the UK, was published over ten years ago. Money for everyone fills a significant gap. It argues for a Citizen’s Income on the basis that this is the kind of benefits system that we would invent if we were starting from scratch, and on the basis that a Citizen’s Income would solve many of the problems facing our society and our economy. It would provide a greater incentive to seek additional earned income (because it wouldn’t be withdrawn as earned income rises); it would be efficient and cheap to administer, it could attract almost no fraud, and there would be almost no errors in its payment (unlike our current benefits system); no stigma would attach to receiving it (because everybody would receive it); it would increase social cohesion (unlike our present tax and benefits structure, which divides us into benefits recipients and tax-payers); it would set us free from bureaucratic intrusion (whereas the present benefits system imposes cohabitation rules on us, meaning that civil servants need to know who is living with whom); and the radical simplicity of a Citizen’s Income would future-proof it (unlike our present benefits system, which belongs in the 1930s).

Money for everyone surveys the history of our benefits system, and of attempts at reforming it, and it suggests different ways of implementing a Citizen’s Income. It describes the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, Iran’s new Citizen’s Income paid to households, and pilot projects in Namibia and India. It constructs a list of criteria for an ideal benefits system, and finds that a Citizen’s Income would satisfy them but that our current largely means-tested system does not. The book asks the important question: Would people still work if they received a Citizen’s Income? – and finds that they would. Further chapters describe a Citizen’s Income as an answer to poverty, inequality, and injustice; ask who should receive a Citizen’s Income; study financial feasibility; discuss political feasibility; and ask which problems a Citizen’s Income would not solve.

Changing society and changing economy need a Citizen’s Income; Money for everyone shows that a Citizen’s Income is both desirable and feasible.

Money for everyone is available to buy with 20% discount at www.policypress.co.uk

 


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