Welfare reform in the 2015 election

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With the 2015 General Election fast approaching, we’re hearing lots of the usual promises from all of the parties about what they’ll do if they make it into government post May 7. From the standard commitments to the NHS, through the enduring promises of sorting out the economy, down to pledges to deal with immigration and look after the elderly, the party manifestos and messages contain many common themes. There is one huge area of public spending, though, that seems to have attracted relatively little comment or commitment to date, at least in the public debates and that is social security.

Remember, it’s the single biggest area of spending from government and one would have thought its place would be centre stage.

Thankfully, if one does take the time to sit down and read through the actual manifestos, we do find that there are various welfare policies and promises laid out. From the Conservatives, there is the pledge, which has been discussed without any detail, to cut £12 billion more from welfare spending. From their Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, we see commitments to reform the assessments for Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments, as well as evaluating the merits of a public sector provider. Labour’s high-profile pledge is the long-standing promise to scrap the “Bedroom Tax”.

And as we dig further, into the above parties and the other competing party manifestos, we find many promises to review the operation and effect of benefit sanctions, something CPAG has been calling for as a priority. Reforms to the benefit cap are flagged up - to review its operation or even to lower the cap, something CPAG strongly opposes. Similarly, we hear that universal credit could be paused, or it may be implemented, or it could be accelerated, depending on the political hue. In a nutshell, it’s a very confusing picture at the moment. Whoever is elected is expected to be looking to implement some high profile Bills in a short space of time, with a Welfare Reform Bill thought to be very likely to feature.

So spare a thought for the poor benefit claimant (as well as benefits advisers) who are trying to stay on top what is already a complex and confusing system, let alone starting to try to deal with a raft of new changes sometime later this year. Universal credit was promised to simply the system but there have been well noted problems of delays in implementation, with relatively small numbers claiming currently. In actual fact, this has led to a much more difficult system of statutory financial support being available for poor families across the country. We’re also concerned that the more stringent regime of conditionality that has accompanied universal credit is undermining the ability of low income households to care for their children and to move and stay out of poverty.

As well as drafting a six-point programme for the new government, CPAG is hoping that the publication of our new best-selling Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook will help in the short term. As ever, the Handbook has been fully updated to reflect all of the myriad changes to legislation and policy that have happened over the last 12 months. Described by many frontline advisers as their “Bible”, we feel that it’s an invaluable resource for anyone who needs to understand, inform, and advise on the benefits system in the UK. If you want to know more about this, or any of the above, then please get in touch with us, and we’re hoping that our collective efforts can help reduce poverty amongst the children and families in this country, whichever political party (or parties) we find ourselves with after May 7.