welfareThe coalition government’s radical welfare reforms seem to be all anyone can talk about. Across April, changes have been rolled out across the UK, and these changes can be summarised into six brackets, each with far-reaching consequences.

Council Tax Benefit (CTB) will now be geographically localised; the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) will become the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP); there will be changes to the housing benefit system with the introduction of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’; Universal Credit will replace several current welfare systems; there will be a benefit cap on the amount of money any one individual can receive; and for the next three years, benefits will be uprated below the rate of inflation.

As you would imagine, there are countless criticisms being levelled against these reforms, and many are profound and legitimate. There are others, however, which require little refuting. The Universal Credit, for example, has been rashly criticised for over-complicating a system with which benefit-receivers were already perfectly comfortable. It is little different from the latest computer package or supermarket layout; at first its novelty is bound to appear foreboding. Nevertheless, just because it initially seems more complicated, that does not mean that it will not prove to be a better, or even simpler, system in the long run. The government estimates that 300,000 more households will be positively affected than negatively affected by the change, with an average household gain of £16 per month across the UK.

In a publication by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the localisation of CTB was also attacked, claiming that it would “create inconsistencies in neighbouring areas”. This, too, exposes a basic fallacy. Inconsistencies in neighbouring areas already exist; this new system will merely acknowledge their influence. Why, then, is the Department for Communities and Local Government estimating that over 3 million families will lose an average of £137 a year? The answer is simple: because the total funding for CTB (whether localised or not) is being reduced by 10%.

This particular misunderstanding is a microcosm of how dissatisfaction with cuts to the welfare bill has been confused for disapproval of the specific system reforms. The benefit uprating, the disability allowance reform, even the benefit cap (to an extent); they are controversial by virtue of their cuts more than by virtue of their functional alterations.

We complain that the government is doing nothing to reduce the country’s deficit, and then we complain about the damage of the very methodologies we encourage them to employ! We critique the ministers for their nimbyism, and then exhibit it ourselves. I am not suggesting that cuts to the welfare system are vital, or even necessarily morally defensible, but cuts are necessary, and someone will be affected. Is it so shocking that the government looks to the welfare bill? In 2011-12, benefit spending in the UK increased to £159bn; costing the taxpayer more than healthcare, transport and defence combined.

The welfare reform will do nothing to rectify the vast imbalance of distributed wealth, and criticism will come thick and fast for ministers who ignore those farther down the financial ladder, but this characteristic is not exclusive to the very rich. We are quick to demand more charity from those wealthier than we are, but reticent to give it to those in greater need. Wealthy citizens should see the trials of those trapped in poverty and give generously, but forcing them to do so will achieve nothing. Nor, ultimately, will encouraging those in poverty not to work. Admittedly, there are those who will never be able to support themselves, but for those who one day could, the welfare system as it stands has trapped them. They survive to poke their heads above the poverty line, but there they will stay, unless something changes.

Christian Guy, managing director of the Centre for Social Justice, laments the “betrayal” of William Beveridge, on whose shoulders the basis of British social security arguably rests:

“In too many cases his welfare state is now sponsoring the very ‘giant evil’ – idleness – that it was designed to eradicate.”

Beveridge’s aim was to produce a healthier, wealthier population with the intention that they would be a better motivated and therefore more productive workforce. Financial stability is an integral part of his system, and flaws in this area of the new welfare system will likely become apparent. However, whilst they are formed on predictably conservative and consequentially naive principals, these changes at least acknowledge that Beveridge’s solution does not lie in throwing money indiscriminately at those in poverty.

The conservative vote may live or die on the success of the changes, and the results of the next election will be the pudding-proof. It disappoints me, then, that few will see past the immediate difficulties of the reform. The necessary steps towards a more productive, economically stable Britain were always going to be painful, and the country will not be rebuilt overnight. This overhaul of the welfare system may eventually prove prudent, or it may not. Either way, we cannot expect immediate results. If the public is demanding the coalition to bring us out of recession before the next election, I am convinced that their votes will be forced elsewhere, and that there, too, they will be left disappointed.

BY: David Salisbury

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