Monthly Archives: February 2012

Children’s Rights, Social Wrongs

On the 25thMarch 2010 the Child Poverty Act became law.  Brought into statute with cross-party support, it committed Britain to lifting all children out of poverty by 2020. Almost two years on, rather than being closer to that aim we are getting further away. Eradicating poverty in a society riven with structural inequalities was always going to be a challenge. However the challenge continues to grow, at least in part, because we continue to ignore the most obvious solution: children themselves.

What is persistently absent from contemporary debates on childhood poverty are the views and lived experiences of children and young people themselves.  Children and young people have been a driving force in every significant movement resulting in social change in modern society. They may live in the same dire conditions as their adult counterparts but are not bound by the same shackles of responsibility and fear. They are at the forefront of movements that encourage society to think differently.

The American civil rights movement, with its dramatic social impacts, was steeled by youth action. In many cases the actions of progressive young people were a response to the conditions of poverty, as much as to institutional racism. When, in spring 1951, black students refused to abide by Virginia State’s segregated schools policy they were also protesting at overcrowded classrooms and crumbling buildings. The result was the famous Brown v. Board of Education legal case that led to the phasing out of segregated schools from 1954.

We could also cite the courage and actions of the young lions in South Africa, who played a central role in the fall of apartheid in the early 1990s.  Today too, young people have been instrumental in the fall of dictatorships throughout the Arab Spring. Close to home, the Occupy movement in New York, London and countless other locations, has been led by young people.  Whilst some commentators have dismissed the movement as a left-wing spat, it is the first grass roots challenge to the orthodox ideology that “we’re all in this together”. It is also genuinely international, using viral communication to link together what the Occupy Together web site describes as “over 600 communities” in 95 cities, over 82 countries.

Even if you do not accept the notion that young people are central to processes of social change, the voice of children in current debates about childhood poverty is glaringly absent.  This seems fundamentally mistaken given that they are increasingly asked to shoulder the burden of the economic crisis.

The removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the rise in the costs of tuition fees has taken significant numbers of young people out of education, with UCAS application down 12% in 2011. Analysis of the cuts so far also reveals that youth services have been disproportionately affected.  Meanwhile, January 19th marked the first anniversary of Britain’s high water mark for youth unemployment, when a figure of 20.7% was reached for the first time. Or, to put it another way, nearly 1million 16-17 year olds were out of work. All of this paints a bleak future for the country’s younger generations, and what happens if their concerns – their possible solutions – are not accounted for by the nation’s decision makers?

The events of summer 2011 provided the answer, as riots spread across major cities.Unlike most major media outlets, which recycled chaotic images of theft and violence, The Children’s Society spoke with young people and adults about what led to the riots and what needs to be done to prevent further acts.  The majority of respondents blamed poverty for the actions, believing that young people took part to get goods that they couldn’t otherwise afford to buy.

It is, perhaps, unsurprising that young people are driven to dramatic action, whatever its rights and wrongs.  Even policy makers are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem of childhood poverty, as each new piece of research suggests numbers are likely to continue to rise.  Alan Milburn, the Independent Reviewer ofChild Poverty & Social Mobility,suggested in December 2011 that the 2020 Child Poverty Targets are not going to be met. He went further to argue that figures are going in reverse.  The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that the changes to welfare reforms coming from 2013 are going to see a further 800,000 children living in poverty.

Such findings have generated many column inches in the press and academia, analysing and theorising about what is to be done.  However, research the backgrounds of the average academic, MP, policy advisor or journalist and you will struggle to find many who have lived through childhood poverty themselves. Like the civil rights protestors, who understands how to shift the heavy weight that is poverty better than those who carry it daily in all that they do?  Indeed, any type of childhood will be a distant memory to the majority of those charged with addressing the growing social problem of childhood poverty during an age of austerity and economic crisis.

The current failure to come anywhere close to the ambitions of the 2010 Child Poverty Act has prompted numerous concerned responses.  Some commentators have suggested that, if we are going to see a reversal in child poverty rates, then what is required is a radical shift in policy. There are whispers that we need changes of a scale unseen since the foundation of the welfare state.  That would require a real movement in our society, rooted in the lived experience and action of those to whom it would matter most. The welfare state was not created in abstract, but with the people who benefitted most from it. Those very people, in housing estates around the country, became the nurses, midwives, teachers, housing officers and employment advisors that brought Britain into recovery from the devastation of the Second World War.

If such a shift in thinking and action is necessary, then so is a new approach to involving children in ending poverty.  That approach must see young people as part of the solution rather than the passive recipients of the problem.

Sara Bryson works as the Policy and Business Development Officer at Children North East, a regional children’s charity that has just completed a participatory photography project exploring the experiences of poverty amongst children and young people in the North East. More information on the project – and a national conference that was held to disseminate and discuss the findings – can be found here. The two photographs included in this post were taken by young people as part of the project.

Sara will also be posting again in the near future on how this project is developing and how it will continue to involve children and young people.

A slightly longer version of this post can be found in the current edition (24th Feb 2012) of The New Statesman. The magazine features a special pull out section on Child Poverty produced in association with the Webb Memorial Trust


Weekly Round up 24/02/2012

News in Brief

Lots of new developments on the Welfare reform front again this week and the issues surrounding various work related programmes and the allegations regarding A4E are well documented elsewhere so we’ll try and leave these well alone. There’s plenty of other things of interest.

The DWP issued statistics on the amount of money lost through fraud and error this week, choosing to issue a press release which focused on fraud despite error costing 1.5 times as much. DWP also published information on the amount of benefits unclaimed during 2009/10 . No press release accompanied this information despite an estimated £7-£12 billion worth of benefits going unclaimed. Fraud was estimated to cost only £1.2 billion.

At the top of this post is an image from a campaign to crack down on ‘benefit thieves’. I couldn’t find an image or a campaign relating to unclaimed benefits – maybe we could start one around ‘benefit philanthropy’?

Child benefit changes were back in the news with a Conservative MP claiming the policy to withdraw the benefit from higher rate taxpayers is ‘in serious trouble’   whilst Janet Daley, in The Telegraph, questioned the planning behind the policy

Local firm Greggs have made the news on a couple of occasions recently, firstly as a result of a considered response to a letter regarding their participation in the voluntary Work Experience scheme and then when the Chief Executive Sir Ken McMeikan voiced some concerns over elements of the programmes. The former Chief Exec of Greggs, Sir Mike Darrington, also made the news when he spoke out against executive pay

Employment

Sunderland was identified as the 3rd worst city in which to find a job this week and whilst most attention has been focused on work experience, placement programmes and ‘jobsnobs’, Daniel Knowles identified a broken training system as the real problem and Jeremy Warner suggested firms would hire more workers if we ‘make it easier to fire them’

Campaigns

Newcastle CVS and VONNE published the findings from their Surviving not Thriving survey focussing on Newcastle’s voluntary sector. The report highlighted that 20% of respondents thought that they may close within 12 months

General comment

The Mirror highlighted a Barnardo’s report which demonstrated the choices people on low incomes are forced to make

A very interesting BBC report highlighted the ‘history of distrust of disability’

Two articles in The Guardian – one by Suzanne Moore on how we, as a society, appear to be disgusted by poor people, rather than poverty and one by Barbara Ellen which suggested that today, poverty not had only to be proved but also had to ‘be highly visible and in an almost theatrical way’

Finally, Neil Davenport suggested that ‘maybe the jobless should get on their bikes’ on Spiked Online

Signpost(s) of the week

The ever excellent Inequalities Blog have posted a number of interesting articles recently but this one in particular caught my eye – disspelling the myth of families that have never worked

Graphic of the week

The number of part time workers who can’t find a full-time job is at its highest leevvl since records began. This is particularly worrying given what we already know about in-work poverty, forthcoming changes to the tax-credit system and the potential to extend conditionality to those people already in work. The chart below is from The New Statesman blog and was compiled using stats from the Labour Force Survey


Inequalities

Inspired by Ben’s recent batch of posts on the benefits system, I wanted to spend some time talking a bit more about how people on benefits are perceived, and how and why that might have changed over time.

In his detailed discussion of conditionality and deservingness, Ben drew attention to the pretty steep decline in people’s support for unemployment benefits. His graph of data from the British Social Attitudes survey (reproduced below) show that, since the mid-90’s, the proportion of people agreeing that “Unemployment benefits are too high and discourage work” has gone from around 40% to almost 60%. I’m interested in why that should be. What has been going on over the last 15 years or so to result in so dramatic a drop in support for these benefits?

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Women and Children Last?

“What is Right for the Family is Right for Britain” – Margaret Thatcher, 1975

“I want to make this the most family-friendly government the country has ever seen” – David Cameron, 2011

A few weeks ago, I picked up a book called ‘Punishing the Poor: Poverty under Thatcher’ from the University library. When I started reading it, I was struck by the apparent similarities between the language used and policies pursued by the Thatcher government and those of the current Coalition government. The criticisms of the Thatcher administration (and there are many of them in the book) are, in my opinion, very similar to the criticisms that are being voiced today about a wide range of issues and groups affected by welfare reform and ‘austerity measures’.

This may come as no surprise to many readers but I believe it is noteworthy given that David Cameron has made much of his ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ approach and has sought to distance himself from Thatchers ‘controversial approach’. He is also currently leading a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats that has suggested that their hands are forced in certain policy areas as a result of the current fiscal climate. This post highlights some of the main perceived similarities between the policies directed towards families and children, despite the differences listed above.

Rationale for welfare reform

The rationale for welfare reform outlined by both governments is strikingly similar. Britain had become lazy, the welfare state had ‘trapped’ people into a cycle of dependency and a new focus on responsibility and independence was necessary:

“I came to office with one deliberate intent: to change Britain from a dependent to a self-reliant society; from a give-it-to-me to a do-it-yourself nation; a get-up-and-go instead of a sit-back-and-wait-for-it Britain”

Margaret Thatcher, 8 February 1984

“Let’s bring on the can-do optimism. Let’s summon the energy and the appetite to fight for a better future for our country, Great Britain.

Frankly, there’s too much ‘can’t do’ sogginess around. We need to be a sharp, focused, can-do country.

Let’s turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity. Not sitting around, watching things happen and wondering why. But standing up, making things happen and asking why not.”

David Cameron, 5 October 2011

“The level and scope of benefits have been improved in anticipation of a growth in output which has not been achieved. It is a striking example of the nation’s capacity for spending money before it has been earned”

Sir Geoffrey Howe, March 1980

“The previous Government attempted to hit poverty targets by paying out more and more in welfare payments so as expenditure grew poverty for working-age adults increased and mobility failed to improve. Vast sums of cash were spent but the rungs on the ladder to prosperity didn’t move any closer together. Limited social returns were delivered despite significant income transfers leaving the taxpayer with an unmanageable level of debt.”

Iain Duncan Smith, April 2011

The Green Paper on the Reform of Social Security published in 1985 stated that ‘We want to give greater responsibility and greater independence to the individual’ whilst a ‘Policy Green Paper’ produced by the Conservatives in 2008 (when they were in opposition) states that their plans ‘will give some of our most deprived citizens the opportunity to live independent and fulfilling lives’ and ‘will help more people contribute to the responsible society I want to achieve’

Women

The Coalition Government have received criticism as a result of the impact of their policies and their budget on women and David Cameron has also come under fire for his perceived attitude towards women and has recently appointed a policy advisor to specifically address this issue. Support for the Conservatives amongst women is particularly low. Margaret Thatcher was also criticised for undermining the position of women in society and, in 1982, famously said:

“The battle for women’s rights has largely been won. “The days when they were demanded and discussed in strident tones should be gone forever. I hate those strident tones we hear from some Women’s Libbers.”

In a chapter called ‘Women and Children Last’, the authors of Punishing the Poor highlight that:

“Government policies, which have reduced the employment rights of women at work, restricted their opportunities to retrain and enter the labour market, and ignored the need for childcare, help to ensure that they have no choice but to stay at home”

Andrews & Jacobs, p51

These concerns are similar to the current employment situation facing women and, interestingly, in a review of the Green Paper of 1985, the Equal Opportunities Commission stated that it ‘does not at any point, in discussing the shape of future state provision, address the particular needs of women’. This echoes concerns raised more recently by the Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone that government departments ‘will be in breach of equality laws if they do not examine the potential for cuts to fall disproportionately on women’ and the legal challenge by The Fawcett Society to the Emergency Budget in 2010.

Child Benefit

The similarities between the two governments continue in their approaches to child benefit. Andrews & Jacobs suggest that:

“The importance of ‘the family’ in the iconography of Thatcherism gives Conservative policies towards child benefit particular significance. More than that, however, it commands the high ground in the political battle between universal benefits and selective (‘targeted’) benefits. It represents the crucial divide between those that argue that there should be positive policies for families … and those that feel that the welfare state and family policy should be confined to relieving poverty.”

It notes that ‘child benefit could not be taken for granted. As part of the first tranche of public expenditure cuts it was frozen at its April 1979 value of £4 until November 1980’ (It was also frozen again in 1988). George Osborne, in the 2010 Budget, froze child benefit for 3 years from April 2011. Osborne, however, has also withdrawn child benefit from higher tax-rate payers which was something that the Thatcher government considered doing but never fully pursued. It should also be noted that Gordon Brown, whilst Chancellor, considered means-testing Child Benefit, but again didn’t implement this proposal.

Child tax credits have also been cut by the Coalition Government (prompting a suggestion that the fight against child poverty had been abandoned) and government contributions to Child Trust Funds have also been withdrawn.

However, Conservative politicians have suggested that families shouldn’t have been overly concerned about the financial implications of these policies. In 1987, Michael Portillo suggested that the equivalent of 4p per day was not worth worrying about and that ‘The help that the Conservative Party gives to the family is much more than cash support. We give vigorous moral support.’ Iain Duncan Smith, echoing these words 24 years later wrote that ‘Whereas the previous decade saw increased welfare payments achieve little but marginal changes in income our focus … brings lasting improvements for children as they benefit from a positive role model, a healthier and happier family, and a more stable home life.’

Maternity

Andrews & Jacobs note that the Green Paper of 1985 proposed the abolition of the universal maternity grant of £25 and also introduced stricter eligibility conditions for the maternity allowance. They claim that ‘The key criticism of both proposals is that they underlined the complete and historic failure of government to take seriously the need to support mothers during and after pregnancy’. The current government have also withdrawn a range of maternity and baby related benefits including the Sure Start Maternity Grant, the Health in Pregnancy Grant and the Baby Element of the Child Tax Credit – on top of the other changes already highlighted. This led the Daily Mirror to announce that babies were paying for bust Britain and they calculated that the potential loss to families as a result of these changes was £1735

Summary

There are other areas of welfare reform and efforts to tackle poverty where there are also striking similarities between the two governments, including policies and language targeting young people entering the labour market, people with disabilities, welfare fraud and differentiating between ‘claimants’ and ‘taxpayers’. The focus here has been on policies related to families and children.

Some readers may wonder what all the fuss is about. Two governments with strong Conservative influence pursue similar policies and use similar language to articulate them. So what? I would, however, reiterate the points I made in the opening couple of paragraphs that suggest there should, perhaps, be a more discernible difference in approach between the two administrations for a number of reasons including recent public pronouncements that the ‘Conservatives have changed’, the emphasis on the constraints imposed by the current economic situation and the potential influence of the Lib Dems.

It should also be of interest to poverty campaigners and workers in the field as the % of children living in poverty grew from around 14% in 1979 to around 26% in 1989. Current child poverty projections are heading in the same direction.

It would, of course, also be interesting to examine the language used by the intervening Labour administration, who certainly talked of responsibilities as well, and who also received criticism for ‘failing family policies’ but that will have to wait for another post….


Child Poverty in the North East

A few weeks ago, the Campaign to End Child Poverty published their Child Poverty Map of the UK, along with spreadsheets for child poverty levels in every local authority ward in the UK (North East figures can be found here). The figures were obtained using HMRC data and are for mid 2011. A note on the method is available as an appendix to the report. This post takes a quick look at some of the interesting figures for the North East region.

Before we begin on the stats and charts, the Introduction to the report is worth taking a quick look at. It notes that:

Between 1998 and 2010, the number of children living in poverty was reduced by 900,000. The task that the new government has accepted is to continue this progress. If a similar reduction was made between 2010 and 2020, child poverty would be at its lowest point for 40 years.

However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has forecast that present policies will cause a further rise in child poverty. Far from it being eradicated by 2020, on the coalition’s present policies it will have returned to close to its peak in the 1990s, wiping out the progress that has been made.

It goes on to say:

While it is fully accepted that the nation now faces incredible challenges reducing the deficit, this cannot excuse the regressive nature of the path the coalition has chosen. It is a political choice whether the cost of balancing the budget falls most heavily on the poorest or the wealthiest.

The picture in the North East

There are, according to the report, 100 wards in the whole of the UK where the majority of children live in poverty. Twelve of these are in the North East.

LA Area Ward

% children in poverty

Hartlepool Dyke House 51
Stranton 57
Middlesbrough Gresham 51
Middlehaven 51
North Ormesby & Brambles Farm 52
Park End 51
Thorntree 60
Newcastle upon Tyne Byker 52
Walker 55
Westgate 57
Redcar & Cleveland Grangetown 60
Stockton Stockton Town Centre 51

No wards increased to above the 50% threshold from the previous report and only one (Elswick, in Newcastle) fell below the 50% threshold from last year.

Year-on-year change

As one might expect, most Local Authority areas showed not much change from the previous report, a year earlier. However, Newcastle City Council, as can be seen from the chart below, bucked this trend and showed a number of reductions, especially in wards with high levels of poverty, which is particularly interesting. Whilst most of the wards in the city showed minor movements between 1% and -1%, the three wards with the highest levels of child poverty in 2010 (Byker, Walker and Westgate) showed reductions of 4%, 3% and 4% respectively.

Distribution of child poverty

Across the region, child poverty, as one might expect, is fairly evenly spread with Northumberland being the only LA area that falls below the national average of 20.9% Newcastle and Middlesbrough have the highest levels of child poverty in the region and Middlesbrough, with 34% of children living in poverty, is one of the 20 highest LA area in the UK.

Within LA areas, the distribution of child poverty can look remarkably different. Using Stockton and Sunderland as examples here, we can see that in Stockton, the difference between certain wards is striking. Eleven wards have child poverty levels of 11% or below and the remaining thirteen wards have CP levels of 23% or more, with CP levels in nine of these wards at over 30%. No wards have levels of CP between 11% and 23%

In Sunderland, however, with the exception of Fulwell, every ward has child poverty levels over 14% with poverty being far more evenly distributed across the area. This obviously have implications for the delivery of local services for dealing with child poverty and, where poverty is more widespread as in Sunderland’s case, it potentially raises questions about the effectiveness of targetting services at the most vulnerable if thery are spread geographically across the local authority area.

In 2009, one of the predessors of the North East Child Poverty Commission funded a report by Sir Jonathan Bradshaw which looked at the ‘prevalence, characteristics and distribution’ of child poverty in the North East in more detail. The report can be accessed here

If anyone would like to discuss the North East’s figures in more detail, please feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly.

Many thanks,

Steve

s.j.crossley@durham.ac.uk

 


Weekly Round up 10/02/2012

News in Brief

The impact and implications of Welfare reform have again dominated the news. The week began with a number of national disability charities warning that ‘benefits cuts are fuelling abuse of disabled people’. The Guardian also published the views of four disabled people who had experienced abuse and Ian Birrell wrote a typically strong piece claiming that disabled people were ‘at the mercy of ministers and the media’. Emma Harrison, the Chief Executive of A4E and who also heads up the Working Families Everywhere project warned the Prime Minister that the benefit cap ‘could be too crude a tool’ especially for some of the most vulnerable families

Northumberland County Council highlighted the effects of some of the reforms on their residents and highlighted how they could access help if people were affected by the changes.

Meanwhile, both the New Statesman and the Huffington Post, among others, highlighted that HMRC had written off £10.9 billion in unpaid tax last year, according to the Public Accounts Committee. Many readers will be aware that benefit fraud is estimated at around £1.5 billion per year.

The Work Programme

The Guardian produced a video looking for jobs in response to Maria Miller’s suggestion that ‘there isn’t a shortage of jobs’. Action 4 Employment, who are one of the firms delivering the Work Programme, were slammed for their ‘abysmal record’ by the Public Accounts Committee, who appear to have been quite busy this week.

Childcare

The Social Market Foundation called for a ‘use now, pay later’ scheme for childcare, which received extensive coverage in the media, including this supportive article in The Telegraph. IPPR produced these two graphs showing the role of childcare in Nordic countries while The Daily Mail argued that it might ‘make more economic sense to pay families to look after their own children instead, during their early years at least’ . On Friday morning, it was reported that David Cameron, speaking at a Nordic summit, was ‘examining the idea of tax breaks for people who hire cleaning or other household services, as a way of generating extra jobs and freeing more women so they can join the workforce’

Education

When the schools performance data was released a couple of weeks ago, we highlighted that some of the language in the accompanying press release was quite robust. The New Policy Initiative blog this week picked up on this and analysed some of the data that was released in relation to pupils eligible for Free School Meals.

An excellent couple of resources from Schools North East were also produced – a Special Update and an analysis of secondary schools by Local Authority area in the region

Also in education this week, The Guardian covered a report that suggested that a ‘quarter of children were performing poorly at school due to problems at home’, the OECD produced a report which ‘put the UK 25th out of 35 developed nations in terms of the numbers of 25 to 34-year-olds who did not stay in education up to the age of 18’, a Barnardo’s report called ‘Staying the course’ suggested that the Bursary Fund, the replacement for Educational Maintenance Allowance had been ‘disastrous’ and Channel 4 reported that child poverty was behind a ‘Breakfast Club boom’ in primary schools

Campaigns

The Northern Echo’s ‘Foundation for Jobs’ campaign was hailed by David Cameron as ‘a brilliant initiative’

Friday 10th February 2012 is Fuel Poverty Awareness Day

Signpost(s) of the week

The ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment, headed by David Miliband published their report ‘the crisis we can’t afford’ this week

An interview with an OECD analyst warned that ‘income inequalities have reached a level not seen for the past 30 years’

JRF have appointed Kate Bell as a new Child Poverty Consultant and are now sending out monthly updates. You can subscribe to these here

And here is JRF’s Chief Exec Julia Unwin arguing that the ‘welfare reform debate ignores the facts about poverty’

Northumberland County Council have set up a website looking at parenting, poverty, prevention and participation which is worth a look

Graphic of the week

Our blog post next week will be a summary of the child poverty figures for the North East from the recently produced ‘Child Poverty Map of the UK’. Here, by way of a quick taster, is the map of the region by Local Authority area.


The end of the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor?

A couple of weeks ago, The Guardian ran an editorial noting that attempts to distinguish between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor were ‘almost as old as the modern British state.’

And yet, with the introduction of Universal Credit ending the difference between in and out of work benefits and the potential extension of conditionality within the benefits system to those that are in-work, the distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor may be coming to an end. So far, the focus of the welfare reform bill has been on changes to disability benefits and also on the issue of benefit ‘caps’ of different types. The potential to compel people working part-time to find extra work with their employers or find a new job(s) has, to my knowledge, received little media coverage, with the exception of this article in The Guardian by Jonathan Rutherford. This post draws heavily on that article and the links within it.

The Coalition Government’s Child Poverty Strategy states that ‘The Universal Credit will support those who do the right thing, who take a full time job, to have an income which lifts them out of poverty’ and a Universal Credit Policy Briefing Note states:

Under Universal Credit, we will remove the separation between in work and out of work benefits, and we believe we should also extend conditionality so as to encourage or push Universal Credit claimants who are earning over £70 a week to work more and reduce their dependency on benefits

and

Our intention in extending conditionality is to continue this historic trend to increase activation within the benefits system. Setting the threshold higher up the income spectrum will enable us to encourage or push claimants, including some of those working a few hours a week, to work more and reduce their dependency on benefits. This will enable us to apply full work-related conditionality, where we consider that appropriate.

(my emphases)

The earnings threshold will be set at 35hrs x National Minimum Wage (currently equivalent to £212.80 per week). Anyone earning over this threshold will ‘fall into the no conditionality group’. Anyone earning below this threshold could be subject to conditionality which could require them to seek full time work within 90 minutes travel time from their home. The population will, in theory, be split between those that earn enough to warrant no intervention from the state and those that earn too little and require state help to ‘do the right thing’ and find full-time work. The ‘poor’, whether in work or not, will be ‘managed’ using the same tool, with ‘conditionality focused on those not earning as much as we might expect them to’.

This policy proposal appears to be built on the belief that those who are working part-time are doing so because they are lazy and in Lord Freud’s words ‘are clearly capable of working or earning more’. However, when the latest employment figures suggest that 1.3 million people are currently working part time because they cannot find full time work (the highest since figures began in 1992), and JRF suggest that ‘in the first half of 2011, some 6 million people were underemployed’, a fairly coherent argument could be made that perhaps ‘laziness’ is not the main problem within the current system.

To the best of my knowledge, these proposals are not fully worked up at present and one of the briefing notes suggest that the DWP ‘will in due course provide further details of the regime we will implement under this framework’. Lord Freud has stated that;

It is worth stressing that although we will be able to impose conditionality on those in work, we will not be obliged to do so. Clearly, that is important. Although we believe conditionality can play a key role in getting in-work claimants to progress, we do not yet have a final view as to how or when this is best done…. However, I am clear that the Bill needs to provide us with the powers to apply conditionality to in-work claimants

So, it’s not altogether clear what may or may not happen in relation to this, so we’ll have to wait and see. There is also no guarantee that any such move to extend conditionality to working people will prove as popular with the general public as reforms aimed at unemployed people appear to be, which is something Jonathan Rutherford highlighted in his article.

The picture at the top of the post formed part of the Conservative campaign leading up to the last General Election. It is maybe worth considering how popular the slogan would be if it read ‘Let’s cut benefits for those who refuse to work longer (or harder)’. It is also perhaps worth considering if certain sections of the media’s coverage of benefit recipients will, in time, move from the ‘scroungers’ to the ‘skivers’….


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