On 16 February the government set out their welfare reforms. They promise to “revolutionise” and simplify the system and make sure people coming off benefits are always better off in work. But the details as they emerge are far from benign.
The over-riding concern is to save money (£88 billion was spent on all welfare benefits in 2010). Simplifying the system by introducing a single benefit, Universal Credit, to cover many benefits is a key part of the package. But many allowances will simply be cut.
The real sting will be a new barrage of “claimant responsibilities”.
One of the most affected groups will be single parents and “main carers” who currently claim JSA or Income Support — mostly they are women. They will be expected to be much more “actively seeking work”. Formal “job seeker interviews” etc start from when a youngest child is one years old.
Evelyn from Merseyside explained how the pressures are bound to get worse.
“I work as a school lunchtime supervisor. For seven and a half hours a week term time, my take home pay is £178 a month. After deductions from my benefits I am about £10 a week better off. Perhaps I will get just another £5 a week with the changes. This is a job I do in the hope it could lead to more work.
“These kinds of jobs are becoming the norm for women with kids. One other supervisor pays out more for childcare than she earns. Two women at my school are working as Teaching Assistants for nothing. There is a union here but it is so underorganised it tolerates this kind of thing.
“At my Job Centre there are people who “volunteer” for a year or more. But still they have not found work.
“The signing on rules are going to get even tougher. My worry is that the dole will make me give up my current (secure) job for some temporary job with more hours.
“I don’t let myself be bullied, but one woman I work with is terrified everytime she goes to sign on.
“Changes in housing benefit rules will mean we will not be able to afford to live where we do. None of it makes sense except as a brutal cost-cutting exercise.
“Wirral council are about to cut 1,000 “proper” paid jobs, and these are mainly women workers. At the same time they are trying to herd women into “work”; but jobs that will now only become available if they are unpaid,
“Making us better off? They are having a laugh!”