Cuts to Benefits and Welfare

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2011 National Delegate Conference
28 February 2011
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that the Conservative led government seems determined to embark on wholesale attempts to dismantle the welfare and benefits system. These deep and rapid cuts to benefits weren’t in any election manifestos. And now, nearly a year in, there are few people left who don’t know that these cuts are unfair and will hit the most vulnerable the hardest. The speed and scale of the cuts are not an economic necessity, but a political choice and one that Conference believes needs to be challenge at every level.

Conference notes that the Spending Review outlined an additional £7.5bn worth of cuts to welfare spending on top of the £11bn already revealed in the June 2010 ‘Emergency Budget’.

It is no surprise to conference that the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) were clear that the tax and benefit changes announced in the budget and spending review were regressive and would adversely affect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.

Furthermore, TUC analysis also showed that nearly two thirds of the welfare and benefit cuts announced in the emergency budget and spending review will hit working families, undermining government claims that they are ‘making work pay’.

Conference is particularly concerned about:

1)Women – The Fawcett Society figures show that benefits typically make up 1/5th of a woman’s income compared to 1/10th for men. This would make benefit cuts particularly pertinent for many UNISON members – two thirds of whom are women, many have caring responsibilities and almost half of whom work part-time. The majority are low-paid. Taking the cap on housing benefit alone makes the effect on women clear as more than 1 million women currently claim this benefit;

2)Carers – Carers save the UK £87bn every year in services that otherwise would have to be picked up by the state – a cut in benefits for people who have often given up or reduced their paid work to care for others is counterproductive in both social and economic terms. Currently 3 in 5 people will end up caring for someone at some point in their working lives, with 2 million people moving in and out of caring every year. In a recent survey it was found that 1 in 3 carers do not want to wake up in the morning because of “dire financial circumstances”;

3)Children – A cap on total benefits package will almost certainly add to child poverty figures by 2020 leading to higher public spending for future generations. Already the UK has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world with nearly four million of our children living poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculates that child poverty costs around £25bn a year in terms of poor health, educational inequalities, social exclusion and worklessness;

4)Housing – The reforms to housing benefit, including caps on the benefit that claimants can receive, a shift to up-rating benefit in line with consumer prices index, instead of retail price index, and reducing the value of local housing allowance risks driving thousands of vulnerable people from their homes in areas where housing costs are high. The cuts will also mean higher rents for many low paid workers and the recently unemployed, who along with pensioner claimants, make up the majority of households claiming Local Housing Allowance (housing benefit for the private sector). The housing charity, Shelter has warned that if housing benefit support is taken away, this will push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness;

5)Disability – conference has many grave concerns about the government’s plans to reform Disability Living allowance into a ‘Personal Independence Payment’ (PIP) and cut the future budget by 20 per cent by 2013/14. Over 3 million people currently receive DLA (1.8 are people of working age) with the total amount spent on the benefit this year forecast to be £12 billion. Just some of the concerns about the proposals are:

a)extra conditionality and the doubling of the eligibility lead in time before someone is able to claim DLA will result in an increase in disability related poverty for many disabled people;

b)there will no longer be automatic qualification for certain conditions and the proposed approach to assessments, necessitating regular face to face meetings, is problematic as it fails to recognise that society is still largely inaccessible to disabled people, including those with less complex impairments and barriers;

c)the proposal intends to withdraw the mobility aspect of DLA funding if an individual is in hospital or a residential home 28 days, 84 days for children; the right to control independence and offset the institutionalisation of disabled adults and children will become even more critical and place additional, unnecessary strain on both health and social care workforces.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

i)continue to actively oppose cuts in the Welfare State;

ii)encourage branches to affiliate to Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

iii)highlight, regularly, the significant impact on our members and their families, using resources such as ‘U’ magazine and ‘Focus’, to particularly counter myths about ‘scroungers’;

iv)make child poverty a key campaigning issue and monitor the impact of cuts to benefits and welfare and public service cuts on children in the UK, as part of the Million Voices and Public Works Campaigns;

v)continue to work with the widest alliance, including groups combating child poverty, not just to oppose cuts but to plan for improvements to the benefit system and for the political implementation of these;

vi)ensure that UNISON’s Alternative Budget includes our alternatives to welfare cuts and is regularly promoted;

vii)liaise with the TUC, claimant groups and other progressive organisations to consider organising a demonstration in the autumn against the cuts in the welfare state.