Taking the good with the bad
This week I have been taken up with doing my first graduations as Chancellor of Northumbria University (which was a massive celebration of achievement and a lot of fun), and then debating the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. It has gone from being really enjoyable to feeling that I am hitting my head in to a brick wall.
The roll out of Universal Credit has been complicated and in many cases there have been huge consequences. The Citizens Advice Service released a report called ‘Waiting for Credit’ which highlighted some of the problems that people are facing and that really need to be sorted before it goes wider. This week another report has been launched called ‘Halving the Gap’ which is about the implications of changing the Work Related Activity Group. Claimants from 2017 will receive £30 less than those on the system now.
The Governments view is that it will incentivise people to get in to work, and would aid their very welcome aim of halving the disability employment gap which was set out in the Conservative manifesto. The review shows that the current ESA WRAG rate is already not enough to work as an income replacement considering that ESA WRAG claimants are likely to spend around two years out of work.
So far what we have heard is that this is going to be for new claimants as if that suddenly makes it OK. Because they are new (and won’t be used to the old amount of money) they will somehow be better able to cope with the lower level. My concern is that this is going to push people further in to debt and increase stress levels.
One of the areas that we are going to be debating is what practical support people can have to get into work. The area that I have am going to be talking about is also around the Work Capability Assessment and that it doesn’t really equate to what you can do if you get offered a job. I want people to be working and have written before about the availability of jobs. However the system for judging whether you can work or not has to be more practical. Potentially there are people who are able to do some work, but don’t because the WCA doesn’t give them a clear picture of what they can do. Or, you may be able to walk 100m, but what happens if you live half a mile from a bus stop?
The are several more stages for the Bill to go through before it becomes law, but while this one doesn’t have the media coverage the last one did, the impact will be significant