“The great benefits robbery” could be a more accurate description of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Pensions Act 2011 writes councillor George Barratt. Although the legislation purports to tidy up a variety of different welfare payments which have accumulated over many years, there is an underlying purpose of reducing state expenditure. The Great Benefit Robbery penalises people who have fallen victim to health problems or a failing economy. Such events are obviously beyond the control of the individual, and fall disproportionately upon the low-paid or disabled.
The legislation will take effect from April 2013 and deal with Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Universal Credit, State Pension Age, Pension Credit, Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans. There will also be a Total Benefits Cap on benefit payable.
HOUSING BENEFIT AND COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT (BEDROOM TAX)
The rent subsidy for private tenants will be reduced. Tenants in council or association housing will also have their benefit reduced if they are deemed to “under-occupy” their home. If there is one more bedroom than the Government says they need, their housing benefit will be cut by 14%. If there are two or more bedrooms, it will be cut by 25%.
EMPLOYMENT AND SUPPORT ALLOWANCE. (ESA)
For disabled people, Incapacity Benefit is to be replaced by Employment and Support Allowance. But you will only get ESA if you have a test called a Work Capability Assessment. If the test says that you are not disabled enough to get a full ESA, you could be found fit for work and put on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA). The government wants to take a million people off ESA and say they are fit for work. A recent television documentary revealed that the medical testing company ATOS had a target for doctors which instructed them to fail 14% of the disabled people attending their tests.
DISABILITY LIVING ALLOWANCE. (DLA)
DLA was introduced to help disabled people with their extra costs of living. But now the government wants to reduce the cost of DLA by replacing it with another allowance called a Personal Independence Payment (PIP). To get PIP you have to take a test which will say whether you can cope with daily living activities.
To get JSA you have to actively look for work to get your benefits. A leaked email from a jobcentre adviser manager in Walthamstow revealed that managers would be disciplined unless they increased the number of claimants placed on a reduced benefits regime. There was a league table of jobcentres ranking them in order of the success of the “stricter benefit regime” (Guardian, 22 March 2013)
If you lose your job and have to claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA), you may be sent to do workfare. You could be forced to work unpaid for the multinational companies Asda or Tesco. You might even be forced to do your old public sector job for no wages. A recent law case ruled that stopping JSA payments on refusal to perform workfare was “unlawful”. But new Government legislation was been rushed through Parliament in March 2013 to prevent retrospective claims for non-payment of JSA. On 19 March only about forty Labour MPs voted against this amendment to the legislation.
At present there are more than 30 different types of benefit. But the government wants to combine these into one payment called Universal Credit. This will reduce the cost of administration because it will need fewer staff. It will also place a total limit on how much anyone can claim.
STATE PENSION AGE
The retirement age for men is to be increased to 66 in 2018 and 67 in 2034. The retirement age for women is to be gradually equalised to achieve parity with men.
The Great Benefit Robbery penalises people who have fallen victim to health problems or a failing economy. Such events are obviously beyond the control of the individual, and fall disproportionately upon the low-paid or disabled. Meanwhile, bankers walk away with telephone number salaries and bonuses. Are we all in it together?