Category Archives: welfare reform

“The human balance sheet”

Over the last couple of days, three incredibly powerful blogs or reports relating to issues of welfare reform have caught my eye. This short post is intended to highlight and promote them to readers of this blog. All 3 deal with the impact on people of the welfare reforms we are currently experiencing.

In chronological order, we’ll start with Alison Stenning’s blog on the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’. Alison’s short post on the impact of the bedroom tax on relationships ends “It’s a terrible policy, one with a potentially enormous human cost. Relationships matter and we need to take care of them.”

Alison’s post inspired Tom Slater to write ano-holds barred longer blog post drawing on the work of Marc Fried and others that highlights the extensive literature on the effects of ‘displacement’. Bringing to mind the statement that ‘we’re all in it together’, Tom notes that

Once we come to understand – and communicate more effectively – that an involuntary change change of home, like bereavement, can be a devastating disruption of the meaning of life for the person or family affected, only the coldest and cruellest policy elites and government ministers would not reflect on how they might feel if the positions were reversed

Finally, this morning saw the publication of a report called ‘Real life reform’ by the Northern Housing Consortium. This project is tracking the lives of 100 households until 2015, looking at the impact of welfare reform on them as families and individuals. The first page of the report includes the quote below from a respondent:

The pure worry of what’s going to happen has caused me anxiety. I’ve been to see the doctor… I’d rather go hungry than be cold/dark. It feels like that’s where we’re heading… I feel lost

These contributions all reminded me of a powerful section I read a while ago by Professor Mike Miller in the Introduction to ‘The Philosophy of Welfare’, a collection of selected writings by Richard Titmuss. Miller writes

Reducing expenditure on a programme not only collapses its scope but also transforms its character, leading to increased pressure to bar people from gaining access to needed aid or ending rapidly such aid. Inhumanity becomes a social policy because it keeps the costs down …

Challenging reductions in programmes or advocating restorations of some cuts require more than the examination of budgets. The effects of reduced expenditures on daily functioning is the crucial issue. A social programme is what it does daily and how it does it. The political atmosphere of the 1980s is poisoning the character of programmes and eroding their contributions; the Titmuss perspective leads us to examine the delicate processes which shape the on-going experience of those who need services and benefits. The financial balance sheet has to be compared with the human balance sheet of distress, despair, isolation and stigma.

Reading the three articles I have mentioned, it is hard to not to consider and reflect on the ‘human balance sheet’ of many of the welfare reforms. Please read them if you can.

Steve


A responsible approach?

Today sees the publication of a National Audit Office report into Universal Credit. Many of the morning’s newspapers are carrying this story and, earlier this week, the Telegraph featured an interview with Howard Shiplee, the Director-General for Universal Credit in which he acknowledged there had been a number of ‘missteps’ alog the way. This contrasts with earlier public statements by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron who have previously failed to acknowledge any difficulties. The Prime Minister, in November last year, apparently told Parliament that ‘Universal Credit is on time and on budget’.

There is already lots of media coverage around this issue so I’ll try not to repeat much of it, but a couple of lines in an article in The Guardian yesterday caught my attention. Here they are:

The DWP said it was misleading to characterise money already spent as having gone to waste. “No one has said we’re starting again … we’re looking at enhancing not replacing [systems],” it said.

It said it did not recognise the £350m figure being lost in savings due to the slower roll out of the programme.

A DWP spokesperson later added: “The early roll-out of Universal Credit is allowing us to develop the new benefit in a safe and controlled way. This is the responsible approach.

I thought this was really interesting because the current government have always been very quick to dismiss the child poverty approach of the previous government as a waste of money. Look at the following quotes from the foreword,(written by Iain Duncan Smith) to the government’s Child Poverty Strategy:

Good intentions failed to translate into effective policies.

By transferring cash to make good on short-term relative income effects they entrenched benefit dependency, delivering both poor outcomes for society and a poor return for the taxpayer

Limited social returns were delivered despite significant income transfers

With a focus on fairness and personal responsibility, not cash handouts, this is the responsible choice in this fiscal climate.

we believe that the aims of the Child Poverty Act – to dramatically reduce levels of child poverty in the UK – will not be achieved through simply throwing money at the perceived symptoms. This approach has been exhausted, not only failing to turn the tide on income poverty, but worse still, exacerbating the problem by suppressing incentives to work and keeping families in cycles of entrenched deprivation.

It is now more important than ever to secure optimum returns on investment spending.

Just to put things into a bit of context, the last government missed their own target of cutting child poverty by half by 2010-11. However, during their term of office they still managed to reduce the number of children living in poverty by around 1 million, which, as a taxpayer, I would like to suggest was not a ‘poor return’ and nor do I believe that the last government ‘simply threw money’ at the problem. The current government, on the other hand, are likely to preside over an increase in the numbers of children living in poverty to 2015-16, the term of this parliament, of around 300,000, and it is predicted that the ‘direct impact of the current government’s announced reforms to personal tax and benefit policy will be to increase relative poverty among children by 200,000’

The point I’m trying to emphasise is that, when it suits them, this government (perhaps all politicians) are more than happy to characterise something that was making (slower than expected) progress as an ‘exhausted’ approach that failed and actually made things worse. But, when the shoe is on the other foot and something stands accused of not making planned progress, it is characterised as developing in a ‘safe and controlled way’ and the ‘responsible approach’ is to stick with it. In fact, the Press Release of the report by the NAO contains a section which, whilst focusing on Universal Credit, could easily be taken to represent the current approach to tackling poverty

The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.

But then, belief, not evidence, is what it’s all about……

Best wishes,

Steve


“Ways of extending the welfare state to the poor”

‘Words make things, because they make the consensus on the existence and the meaning of things’ said Bourdieu and the language that is often used to discuss the causes of poverty and the circumstances of people in poverty has helped to construct an apparent consensus amongst certain sections of the population that people on low incomes are ‘masters of their own misfortune’ as Bowley noted, way back in 1915.

So, the need to re-frame the debate or change the rhetoric is often discussed at present. Part of the problem, in my view, is the ‘sloganization of social policy’ outside of academia, which leads to politicians framing the discussion as being a problem between ‘shirkers and workers’, ‘strivers and skivers’ and ‘hard-working families’ vs ‘troubled families’. We also have their ‘lackey intellectuals’ talking about ‘dadlessness’, ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘benefit ghettos’. Titmuss argued that:

Generalized slogans rarely induce concentration of thought; more often they prevent us from asking significant questions about reality. Morally satisfied and intellectually dulled, we sink back into our presumptive cosy British world of welfare’

But what if generalized slogans could induce concentration of thought? What if, instead of trying to beat the sloganization of social policy with reasoned arguments, we joined in the fun? Here’s some suggestions (some old and some new) to get the (dumbed-down?) discussion going….

Illth – a term used by Ruskin and others to highlight that much of what passes for ‘wealth’ is actually no such thing and the concentration of economic power in the hands of small number of individuals and families is a social illness, not something to be celebrated:

Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly considered wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the locks of their own strong boxes are, they being inherently and eternally incapable of wealth; and operating for the nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools of dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the stream flows, are useless, or serve only to drown people, but may become of importance in a state of stagnation should the stream dry); or else, as dams in a river, of which the ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller; or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not as wealth, but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) as ‘illth,’ causing various devastation and trouble around them in all directions; or lastly, act not at all, but are merely animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible of anything they have until they are dead,) in which last condition they are nevertheless often useful as delays, and ‘impedimenta (Ruskin, Unto the last, 1860)

Diswelfare – there is much discussion and concern about the use of the word welfare rather than, say social security but there should be no such problems with talking about ‘diswelfare’ and the ‘diswelfare state’, as Titmuss did in 1967:

The emphasis today on ‘welfare’ and the ‘benefits of welfare’ often tends to obscure the fundamental fact that for many consumers the services used are not essentially benefits or increments to welfare at all; they represent partial compensations for disservices, for social costs and social insecurities which are the product of a rapidly changing industrial urban society. They are part of the price we pay to some people for bearing part of the costs of other people’s progress; the obsolescence of skills, redundancies, premature retirements, accidents, many categories of disease and handicap, urban blight and slum clearance, smoke, pollution, and a hundred and one other socially generated disservices. They are the socially caused diswelfares; the losses involved in aggregate welfare gains.

What is also of major importance today is that modern society if finding it increasingly difficult to identify the causal agent or agencies, and thus to allocate the costs of disservices and charge those who are responsible. It is not just a question of benefit allocation – of whose ‘Welfare State’ – but also of loss allocation – whose ‘Diswelfare State’

In the same vein, we could, potentially, begin referring to what many politicians like to call ‘handouts’ as ‘bailouts’ highlighting the fact that people living in poverty are in a precarious, dangerous position. Why do banks get ‘bailouts’ whilst individuals get ‘handouts’?

The Corporate Welfare State – this leads us nicely on to Kevin Farnsworth’s work on ‘corporate welfare’ which deserves far greater coverage in social policy discussions, especially in light of recent announcements regarding Amazon getting more in grants than it pays in taxes. It was also interesting to hear Ed Milliband comparing large corporations to ‘benefits cheats’ recently, although he missed the opportunity to highlight the difference in the scale of the two problems.

Benefit philanthropy – based on the idea of ragged trousered philanthropists helping out the ‘illthy’ people in our society by providing them with cheap labour, we could attempt to turn the argument about benefit ‘cheats’ and ‘fraudsters’ – you know, the ‘scroungers’ – on its head and highlight the substantial amount of money that people on low incomes ‘gift’ back to the state through not taking up the benefits they are entitled to. This is estimated to be between £7billion – £12 billion per year – a substantial contribution to our economy and this, in a time of ‘austerity’ should surely be ‘acknowledged’ appropriately.

Tax evasion/avoidance as a lifestyle choice – George Osborne has suggested that, for some, being on benefits, is a ‘lifestyle choice’ which may be true, but the extent of this is probably greatly exaggerated and the ‘benefits’ to be accrued from any such choice are likely to be relatively small. However, tax evasion or avoidance is most certainly a ‘lifestyle choice’ and one which potentially brings with it much greater benefits.

Tackling the cycle of privilege – we hear a lot about the ‘cycle of poverty’ but a lot less about the ‘cycle of privilege’. The same could also be said about a ‘culture of privilege’ or ‘intergenerational advantage’ for example.

‘Landlord subsidy’ / ‘low-pay subsidy’ – these, again, are not my ideas and readers may be familiar with suggestions to re-name Housing Benefit’ as ‘Landlord Subsidy’ to clarify who it goes to and why. Similarly, calling tax-credits and/or other in-work benefits ‘low pay subsidy’ would be a lot more honest and might lead to some employers reflecting on their business practice. It might also make employees think differently about their relationships with both employer and the state.

A new ‘behaviourist paradigm’ – much of the above links back to Tawney’s suggestion that

‘what thoughtful rich people call the problem of poverty, thoughtful poor people call with equal justice the problem of riches’ and ‘Improve the character of individuals by all means – if you feel competent to do so, especially of those whose excessive incomes expose them to particular temptations’.

I’ve argued before, using Peter Townsend’s work in particular, that, in trying to improve the situation of ‘the poor’, we should spend more time studying the decisions and actions of ‘the rich’. In effect, and in a desperate effort to link this back to academic parlance, I think I’m arguing for a new behaviourist paradigm in poverty research and analysis, partly inspired by John Veit-Wilson who, in a recent e-mail to me, stated that ‘the only behaviours I’m interested in are the behaviours of the rich.’ So, rather than swimming against the current of public opinion which appears to believe that poverty is the result of individual behaviours we should perhaps use the strength of that current to encourage and challenge people to see where such a view ultimately takes them.

*The title of this blog comes from Richard Titmuss who suggested that we needed to look at social security and housing (‘these instruments of change’) ‘with new vision’. He argued that ‘we might then entitle our journey ‘Ways of extending the Welfare State to the poor’.

Please do use the comments facility below to offer your own suggestions…

Best wishes,

Steve


“In search of the scrounger” Plus ca change…

Scrounger

A couple of days ago I got the book ‘In search of the scrounger’ by Alan Deacon out of the library and thought I would share a few of the paragraphs from the Introduction and Conclusions chapters. The book covers the inter-ward period and, more specificially, the 1920’s. Despite the near 100 year difference, the concerns of politicians and administrators in relation to social security sound all too familiar to current discussions around Jobcentre Plus targets, sanctions, tightened  conditionality and, of course, ‘scroungers’. All emphases are mine

express

“Throughout the 1920s discussion of unemployment insurance in Britain became increasingly dominated by the question of abuse. In particular, there developed a bitter controversy over the administration of a series of regulations which were collectively known as the genuinely seeking work test … Between March 1921 and March 1930 nearly three million claims for benefit were refused because the claimant had failed to meet this condition. By 1927, one claim in ten was being disallowed on the grounds that the claimant was not genuinely seeking work, and in some areas the proportion was over one third. At no time in these years did any prominent politician or government official seriously suggest that the work they were supposed to be genuinely seeking actually existed.” (p1)

” … the focus of attention must primarily be upon those who were directly responsible for the formulation of policy in this area: the Ministers and senior officials of the relevant government departments. It was they who demanded that the unemployed repeatedly demonstrate their willingness to work in a period of mass unemployment, and it is their perceptions which have to be understood and their decisions which have to be explained. Those explanations, of course, must be sought in terms of their wider economic and political aims, and the role which they perceived that the test could play in the realisation of those objectives.” (p1)

“Any assessment of the seeking work test must begin by acknowledging that its abolition in March 1930 did enable some claimants to draw benefit even though they were not looking for work at the time of their claim. It is argued, however, that such abuse was largely confined to married women and that even amongst this group the extent of the practice was considerably exaggerated by contemporaries. Certainly, there was no need to impose the test on all groups of claimants, and the campaign to ‘tighten-up’ the administration between 1925 and 1929 was totally unnecessary. The question remains, however, whether that campaign was the result of folly, malice, or both.” (p87)

“In short, the test was a sledgehammer to crack a relatiely small – and often exaggerated – nut. The use of this sledgehammer, moreover, had profound consequences for the administration of benefit, and affords a classic illustration of the impact of departmental pressure upon the ways in which local officers utilise their discretionary powers.” (p88)

“In the case of the test, the Ministry of Labour left its officers in no doubt as to what was expected of them. Their task was to detect and penalise malingering, and the accomplishment of this purpose was to override all other considerations. Olive Stevenson has recently observed that the “very existence” of powers to restrict the supplementary benefits paid to unemployed men or separated wives “tends to arouse suspicion in the minds of officers or to suggest to them that higher authority wants them to be suspicious”. In the 1920s that suspicion was deliberately fostered, and by the end of the decade the staffs of the Echanges were obsessed with the aspectre of abuse.” (pp88-89)

“(A report by John Hilton) found the interviewing officers convinced of their ability to spot a scounger – ‘a groundless and dnagerous faith’ – and often neglecting their duty to help claimants secure work. This, he believed, was a direct result of the pressures put upon them from above.” (p89)

“The seeking work test was as pernicious as it was unnecessary. It led to hundreds of thousands of unemployed men and women being arbitrarily deprived of benefits which they desperately needed, and forced many more to make repeated journeys in search of jobs they knew did not exist.” (p89)

“If the seeking work test was not prompted by malice, it was ‘tightened-up’ with a callous disregard of the hardships and injustices which resulted.” (p91)

church poverty

We have previously blogged about the increase in ‘in-work conditionality’ here and the role of the DWP in arousing suspicion of benefit fraud with their ‘Benefit thieves’ campaign here

Best wishes,

Steve


“Erring on the side of kindness…”

untitled

Yesterday, along with Sara Bryson from Children North East, I presented at a FUSE / ASO conference on school meals, inequality and obesity. The event was called ‘Could I have some more please, sir?’ and the focus of our presentation, which can be found by clicking the image below, was on the administration of Free School Meals (FSM) within the school environment.

Stigmatisation discrimination and the administration of FSM

The main part of the presentation focused on Sara’s work with children and young people, staff and parents from four schools in the North East as part of the ‘poverty proofing the school day’ project they are currently carrying out, with support from the North East Child Poverty Commission. This work has highlighted how children are generally very easily able to identify who receives FSM as a result of the way in which they are administered: some schools administer cash-less systems but when these break down, children receiving FSM are identified by being given a different coloured ticket to their friends who pay for their meals; some schools still collect dinner money with register at the start of the week (those receiving FSM stay in their seats while those that pay give their money to the teacher); and some schools have separate tills for FSM pupils despite having cash-less systems.

The presentation focused on the stigmatizing effect that this has on the children. These are, after all, the children of ‘scroungers’ or ‘shirkers’, the children whose parents are probably still in bed by the time school starts, still ‘sleeping off a life on benefits’. Children in receipt of FSM are easily identifiable as a result of a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive national policy which is often implemented in a stigmatizing, discriminatory and divisive fashion at the school level. Sara’s findings highlight the role of street-level bureaucrats as the ‘ultimate policy makers’. The work with children, involving them in the design and the carrying out of the research, has also highlighted how children are able to negotiate and resist nutritional standards in schools through the provision of alternatives, with a thriving ‘black market’ in ‘non-permitted items’ a consistent feature in secondary schools.

What is unsurprising is that this stigma is nothing new. Other presenters highlighted that the provision of FSM to certain sections of the school population pre-dates the turn of the last century and one of the slides we used in the presentation contained a quote from a study carried out by John Veit-Wilson in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1971:

‘There is no doubt that this stigma is both ascribed by widespread public values and experienced by recipients. It is bad enough to have to admit that one cannot feed one’s own children by one’s own labour – but that indignity can be kept within the family. It is worse to have to apply for public assistance in feeding them – but that indignity could perhaps be kept a secret between the family and the Local Education Authority. However, the greatest indignity is when one’s children are publicly displayed in the classroom or dining room as the children of a financial incompetent – one who cannot even earn enough to pay for their food’

And stigmatisation within public programmes has consequences. Professor Mike Miller, writing in the introduction to a book on Richard Titmuss writes:

‘Stigma threatens the person stimgatized, the programme, and the society which condones stigmatization. The stigmatized person experiences the fact of being separated from the rest of society, of being treated as someone different, marginalized, as less than others, as not worthy of the everyday exchanges and transactions that make up the community. This experience often produces a ‘spoiled identity’, a self-image which is damaged and diminished, impeding the autonomous actions of the individual.’

He goes on to argue that ‘programmes aimed at stigmatized people tend to be of low quality’ and that funding is often inadequate. We know this to be the case for FSM as many children who are living in poverty (including some who, by the DWP’s own estimates, are in the ‘deepest’ poverty) are prevented from receiving FSM as a result of the criteria which largely excludes children who have a working parent in the household. Miller argues that, in cases such as this, ‘Inhumanity becomes a social policy because it keeps the costs down.’ (p16) One might think, as Titmuss himself argued, that ‘the primary purpose of the system and the method of discrimination was, therefore deterrence (it was also an effective rationing device)’ (p153).

schoolmeal

We ended the presentation by suggesting that the best way of addressing this situation was by providing Universal Free School Meals and Universal Breakfast Clubs. Campaigns such as the current Children’s Society ‘Fair and Square’  which aim to extend FSM to all children living in poverty run the risk of simply giving all poor children the opportunity to be singled out and stigmatized at school. Universal Free School Meal pilot projects, started by the last government, in Durham and Cornwall (with an extended FSM programme running in Newham) have suggested that the provision resulted in an increase in uptake of school meals across the board. Evidence from the qualitative case studies indicated that ‘this may be because universal provision decreases the stigma attached to taking free school meals’ (p11). There was also an increase in attainment across the board, with the largest increases being seen by children who would were previously eligible for FSM. The Impact report for the pilot project suggested that, as attendance at the schools had not been affected, ‘the increases in attainment evident in the universal pilot areas must arise as a result of improvements in productivity whilst at school’ (p9) which highlights the crucial role of food in ensuring that children are ready and able to learn.

Titmuss argued that there could be ’no answer to the problems of poverty, ethic integration, and social and educational inequalities without an infrastructure of universalist services. These are the essential foundations’ (p139) Of course, universal FSM provision would also benefit the ‘hard working families’ that the government is fond of talking about and it may also help the ‘welfare system’, which currently divides, become more binding, something which David Cameron has (sort of) expressed concern about in recent days. Universal services may also be the most efficient and cost-effective way of targeting services at those most in need. In a book entitled ‘Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and the Welfare State’, Goodin & Le Grand make the point that:

‘If our concern is primarily with reducing poverty and making sure everyone achieves certain minimum standards, then targeting might simply not be worth the cost. From that perspective, there would be nothing fundamentally wrong with ‘erring on the side of kindness’ and paying benefits to some people who do not strictly need them, if that is the least cost way of guaranteeing that they reach everyone who does need them.’ (pp217-218)

The philosophy of welfare : selected writings of Richard M. Titmuss, London: Allen & Unwin

Goodin, R.E. & LeGrand, J. (1987) Not Only the Poor: The Middle Classes and The Welfare State, London: Unwin Hyman

Those of you on Twitter can see some of the audience comments by searching for clicking here or searching, on Twitter, for #schoolfoodchat

We will provide a link to the FUSE website were all of the presentations can be found once they are uploaded.

We’ll also provide a link to the digital story that one of the young people involved in the project produced, exploring the entreprenurial side of food of schools.


“The first line of defence…..”

“Local government (is) in essence the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies – poverty, sickness, ignorance, isolation, mental derangement and social maladjustment”

I sometimes use the above quote from Winifred Holtby in presentations to local authorities. One local authority director appreciated the quote but stated that, at the present time, it felt like they were fighting with one arm tied behind their back. He obviously wasn’t feeling the ‘freedoms’ that central government have promised to local authorities in the name of localism and de-centralisation.

Last week, we saw evidence of what this ‘first line of defence’ could look like in the region when the Leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, declared that there would be no evictions in Darlington as a result of the bedroom tax’ and he warned that the tax – or spare room subsidy – was ‘in danger of destroying families’. Other local authorities across the country, including Islington and Brighton and Hove have made similar commitments and a campaign group called No Bedroom Tax NE are calling for other local authorities in the region to make similar pledges.

This may appear to be a political (or moral?) position but one could also mount a fairly strong case for adopting this position on financial grounds as well. Evicting people for arrears, especially families, is rarely a progressive or helpful stage in their lives, it isn’t cheap and it can be a fairly lengthy process, with few benefits for anyone. If the tenants evicted are made homeless, the local authority still has certain responsibilities and (re)housing people in temporary accommodation is a lot more expensive each week than the cost of an unpaid ‘spare room subsidy’. Pledging not to evict people because of arrears relating to the ‘bedroom tax’ could even be construed as an ‘efficiency saving’…..

 

 


“People where I live want to work….”

A couple of weeks ago we highlighted the discussions that had taken place in the House of Lords concerning the benefits up-rating bill and the strength of feeling around it. Yesterday, in discussions about the Jobseekers (Back to work schemes) Bill – more commonly understood as being about the ‘Poundland case’ – it was the turn of the MPs. The discussion based around the government’s proposal to introduce emergency legislation which would mean that they would not have to re-pay £130,000,000 that had been withheld  from people whose benefits had been sanctioned illegally.

Two of the strongest interventions came from MPs from the North East – Ian Lavery of Wansbeck and Grahame Morris from Easington. Below are some of the comments that they made in opposing the bill, which went against the wishes and official position of the Labour leadership. Politicians often get a hard time in our country at the present time and are often accused of being ‘out of touch’ with what is happening in ‘real life’. The comments below suggest that this might well be an unfair accusation in some cases. I appreciate that I could be accused of regional – or indeed political – bias in highlighting these contributions to the debate. I fully accept the regional bias charge and would also remind readers that the official Labour position was to abstain from the bill. (For info, 6 North East MPs voted against the bill – the two below, Ian Mearns, Dave Anderson, Mary Glindon & Nick Brown, three voted for the Bill – Guy Opperman, James Wharton and Ian Swales – but I couldn’t find contributions form them. The rest didn’t vote, from what I can gather). However, in order to redress the potential political bias somewhat, I have given the final word to Iain Duncan Smith, and have emphasised some of his comments  as they may be of particular interest….

Ian Lavery

The Bill is being introduced to save the taxpayer up to £130 million, yet it deprives the most vulnerable people who have been on workfare and are looking to better themselves in employment. It has been introduced to deny £130 million compensation to 300,000 people who would like decent employment with decent wages, terms and conditions. The Government have introduced emergency legislation to prevent those people from getting only what the Court of Appeal says they deserve. That is an absolute outrage.

I am certain that the 300,000 people the Court says have a claim because of the illegal actions of the Minister’s Department should receive it—there is no doubt about it. The Bill is being introduced by the DWP and the Government to deprive many hard-working people, and many people who want to be hard-working, of any finance whatever. Is that in the best interests of the economy? It is an absolute disgrace. Those people will spend money in the economy. They might get £50, £100 or £72 a week, but they will spend it, because it is the only money they have. The Minister should not seek to deprive those people and leave them with no finances whatever.

The Bill turns my stomach. The impact assessment states: “A retrospective transfer of public money to this group of claimants would represent poor value to the taxpayer”.

What a disgrace to say such a thing in Government documents with reference to the people I have mentioned 10, 15 or 20 times previously. That will not give them self-esteem. They are doing their very best.

Members of Parliament discuss with constituents, and often people away from the constituency, the merits and otherwise of policies. I often meet people with a very different view from the people the hon. Gentleman has met. That is not to say that that has not been said, but the people I meet want decent jobs. They want the opportunity to get up in the morning and  go to work for a decent wage. They would accept the minimum wage even though, at this point in time, it is not high enough. Where I live, 25 people are after every single job in the jobcentre. That means that 24 are not getting employment for every single opportunity. People want to work for the best intentions and the right reasons. They want self-esteem and finances. People where I live want to work—I am sure that extends throughout the country.

Saying that paying claimants the money that the Court says they should be paid—the result of the ruling means that the £130 million can be paid—does not represent good value for the taxpayer is an absolute disgrace. It is not the type of language we would expect from any Government. It is not right to talk about people as, “This group of claimants.” They are ordinary people with feelings, and many of them want to get on in life.

The impact assessment states: “If the Department cannot make these retrospective changes, then further reductions in benefits might be required in order to find the money to repay the sanctions.”

That is blackmail of the highest order—I make no apology for the strength of my feeling on that. If people are due finances, they should get them, particularly following a court ruling, but the Government are saying, “If we pay these people, we might have to cut benefits for other people as a result because that is where we have to find the money.” That is emotional blackmail. It is totally and utterly bang out of order. They are trying to set people who are looking for work and on benefits against each other. That is absolutely unacceptable.

Some 300,000 people will be denied their legal rights if the Bill is passed. This is just another ideological attack on the unemployed and the less well-off, despite a High Court judgment. Why does the Minister not just accept the court of law? Give these people what they are entitled to. It is the Minister’s mess. Why should they suffer?

Grahame Morris

Members on both sides of the House by saying that, if the funds are not recovered from those who were incorrectly sanctioned, they will have to be recovered from elsewhere in the welfare budget. That is outrageous blackmail; I am sorry if that is not parliamentary language, but I find that deeply offensive. It goes against every grain of fairness in Members on both sides of the House. The view I am expressing is the view that has been unanimously expressed to me. I have received numerous e-mails and messages from my constituents over the past 48 hours, all of them asking me to vote against this Bill as it is unfair and unjust.

The Government, and especially Government Back Benchers, have characterised jobseekers who have been sanctioned as workshy and feckless—the sentiment expressed was “Are you really suggesting these people shouldn’t be sanctioned?” Let us have a look at the Work programme, however. It has gone from chaos to farce. We talk about “workshy”, but what about wage-shy employers who exploit the unemployed, with the connivance, approval and funding of the Government?

I oppose the concept of two nations, as does my party, but what will the consequences of these measures be? The Government are creating two nations. They are seeking to penalise and punish the poor for the mistakes of the rich and powerful, in part of a continuing series of policies that are badged as “austerity”. Those policies are pushing the poorest in society further into poverty.

We need to look at the situation we are in now. This is the wrong thing to do: it is unjust and unfair to give millionaires a £2,000 a week tax cut, at the same time as the right hon. Gentleman’s Government propose to deprive some of the poorest people, who have been illegally sanctioned, of large chunks of their income. It is outrageous, and it is rank hypocrisy for anyone to talk about rights with the emphasis on responsibility when it comes to workfare. If they are willing to undermine the judiciary and the rule of law, and vote for retrospective legislation to cover up the mistakes and failings of the Minister, who is asking that we legislate to place him above the law, that is a dangerous precedent to establish.

I cannot, in all conscience, support this desperate Bill, put forward by a desperate Government who have broken their own laws and now wish to forgo their legal obligations and withhold social security payments of £130 million to some of the poorest people in the country. Why do we not apply that method across the board? If the national emergency is such that it is right to deny access to social security to those who are entitled to it in order to safeguard the national economy, why do we not chase the tax exiles—those powerful individuals who own newspapers and luxury hotels, who pay no corporation tax and who have laid siege to a small Channel Island?

We are in the sorry situation of the Minister blackmailing hon. Members by threatening a collective punishment for all those in receipt of social security and welfare benefits if these changes do not go through, because the Department might have to find the money through further reductions elsewhere in its budget. I thought that it was the Secretary of State for Education and his advisers who were the bullies. It is now obvious that the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to sink to those standards by threatening Members of the House in this way, which is below what we would expect of a responsible Government and a responsible Minister.

 I did not come into Parliament to penalise and punish the vulnerable and the poor for the mistakes of the Government. The Department for Work and Pensions seems to be in a state of chaos. It is trying to save money by issuing unlawful sanctions for a Work programme that is not fit for purpose. It is making arbitrary cuts to disability living allowance and employment and support allowance, and is seeking to reduce the case load by 20%. Through the bedroom tax, it is cutting the incomes of disabled people and families with children. The welfare state under this coalition Government in 2013 is failing at every turn.

What we are seeing today is an abuse of power. This is an appalling Bill. I urge the Minister to take responsibility for his actions, even at this late stage, to put a stop to the Bill and to pay those who were unlawfully sanctioned because of his failings. I will vote against the Bill and I urge other hon. Members to do the same.

Iain Duncan Smith

I am listening carefully to what my right hon. Friend has to say. As the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), has made clear and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will make clear, all of these things are kept constantly under review. We want to improve them and that is what jobcentre staff do. They are brilliant at that, by the way, and they get better and better. My point on mandatory work activity is that it is not just work experience. It is also about changing culture: finding out whether someone is working and not declaring it; and getting people used to the idea of getting out of bed in the morning and attending somewhere where they do what they have been asked to do, because they have so got out of the habit of doing that, that even attending an interview has become a problem for them. This is not just about training; it is about getting people culturally back in line so that they can then be dealt with by advisers.


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