The Coalition Government’s Welfare Reform agenda has never been very far from our thoughts over recent months (see previous blog posts on this subject).
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 finally passed into law in February after a short rear-guard action by members of the House of Lords, who sought to mitigate some of it’s more controversial elements. We’ll start to see more of the detail involved in the ‘flagship’ policy areas of Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment over coming months as the regulations which put the meat on the bones of the primary legislation start to roll out.
In the meantime the steady stream of less dramatic tinkering with the welfare system goes on.
At the start of this year the Single Shared Accommodation Rate of Local Housing Allowance was extended to people under the age of 35 (from 25: see our EHAP service website for details). The effect of this for most of the 150 – 180 tenants affected in Edinburgh is that they will need to move from their current accommodation into a shared flat – or run up unsustainable rent arrears, and face eviction.
The start of the new financial year – 6 April – saw another financial blow to thousands of working families with a change in the Working Tax Credit rules, requiring working couples to now work a minimum of 24 hours per week between them (up from 16 hours). This change will force couples to either find an additional 8 hours of work, or risk losing a significant chunk of their household income. The timing of this particular change is unfortunate – and baffling. On the one hand, of course, it could hardly be a worse time, economically, for hard-pressed couples to be trying to find those crucial extra 8 hours. On the other hand, the proposed Universal Credit – which will replace Working Tax Credit from October next year – will quite deliberately not have these same restrictions in terms of hours worked. It seems politically odd, therefore, to bring this change in at this point, when all it may achieve is to apply 18 months of financial pain to those adversely affected.
While those changes are now with us, another one that is perhaps yet to come was flagged up by the Policy Unit at Number 10 just before Easter: the withdrawal of Housing Benefit from Under-25’s (see Guardian article).
Hopefully this will prove to have been only a piece of ‘kite flying’ to test reaction – however, nothing surprises anymore when it comes to this Government’s Welfare Reform plans. The LHA changes referred to above have effectively meant that, up until the age of 35, the State’s expectation is that if you are a single person you should flat-share. This new suggestion would imply that the Government feels that ‘young people’ should remain in the parental home until they are 25 years old (when, presumably, they can then join together and share a flat until they are 35). Most concerning, though, would be the impact of this on those already living independently – and particularly on those for whom ‘going home’ is simply not a realistic option.
The underlying narrative of the Government’s Welfare Reform agenda is that people who can work, should work – and that unemployment is not to be rewarded. Fair enough – assuming that the jobs, and support to get them, is out there. However, these most recent changes – and this most recent ‘kite flying’ exercise over Housing Benefit for under-25’s – impact equally on those who are in-work, but who still require income and housing cost support because – for all too many – work simply doesn’t pay enough. Eroding and, in some cases, completely removing these supports is counter-productive and lacks coherence and will only lead to increased hardship for those affected.
No doubt this is a theme we will return to in the months ahead …
~ ~ ~ If you think you are affected by any of these issues you can get advice from CHAI’s Advice Service (0131 453 6410) or Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (0845 302 4607)