Welfare cuts

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2013 National Delegate Conference
1 January 2013

The Coalition government’s attempt to cut billions from the welfare budget will have a devastating impact on low income households across the UK in the period ahead and in so doing, create a divided society in which Victorian themes of the deserving and undeserving poor are used.

Conference notes in particular that:

1) the provisions of the Welfare Reform Act, recently passed by the ConDem government, will lead to increasing poverty amongst disabled persons, homelessness and debt;

2) in reality, the impact of cuts to welfare will fall heavily on many working families – for example, 60% of the real term cuts made by the impact of the Welfare Uprating Bill will fall on working families, leaving households £165 a year worse off. However, this figure rises to £215 per year for those households with no one in work, meaning that the poorest families in society, and those most vulnerable to food and fuel price rises will suffer even further;

3) the one per cent cap on increases in tax credits and working age benefits at a time when inflation is predicted to remain at more than two per cent will be the first time the incomes of the poorest have been reduced as a deliberate act of government policy since the 1930s;

4) the comments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, in the wake of the Philpot convictions on the potential capping of child benefit to large families. The modern family is diverse and complex and this should be reflected in the benefits system. A cap on child benefit at two children would disadvantage large families and blended families and could potentially put children at risk. We believe that Child Benefit should be a universal benefit which should not be capped at the number of children that government deems is acceptable;

5) the next tranche of changes to the housing benefit system, including the bedroom tax and cuts to housing benefit for under 25s, coupled with £500 weekly benefit cap, will see more families forced to move out of areas where they work and have put down roots, disrupting family life, destroying communities and placing huge strain on local authorities, schools and other public services;

6) Housing Benefit changes will cause landlords to more readily use eviction as a way of managing arrears and lead to vulnerable people being put at risk through the need to share accommodation;

7) the replacement of council tax benefit with the reduced council tax support, which comes with a 10 per cent funding cut, has the potential to see many low income households who are currently exempt pursued through the courts for non payment;

8) at the same time that those seeking work will receive a rise in benefits of 72p per week millionaires will receive a tax cut worth £2058 per week and that the 1000 wealthiest people in the UK have between them an estimated wealth of £414bn;

9) the likely impact on members in local authorities and elsewhere of these changes in welfare and terms of the impact on jobs and the work they undertake with the public;

Conference believes that

a) coupled with welfare reform and the roll out of universal credit, these measures demonstrate the government’s callous determination to put its own ideology ahead of the well-being of ordinary families. To make matters worse, the government, and their friends in the right wing press, continue to demonise recipients of benefits as skivers and scroungers;

b) the UK in the 21st century we collectively have the means to ensure that everyone lives in a decent home, has the opportunity to work and earn enough to live on, and where people unable to work are able to live with dignity.

We also reject the claim by the government that it is unfair for benefits to rise higher than earnings. The value of unemployment benefit has fallen consistently since 1979, when it was worth 22% of average weekly earnings and is worth 15% of average weekly earnings today. ‘Tough Choices’ could be made by this government to condemn poverty pay, support a Living Wage across the public and private sector and reverse the pay freeze, bringing much needed demand into our stagnant economy.

Conference recognises that the fairest and most effective way for any Government to reduce spending on benefits is to ensure that there is a job available for all who have the capacity to take one up.

Conference agrees that it is morally wrong to make the least well off pay for a crisis that they did not cause, which force families to choose whether to eat, heat or pay their rent and which the Coalition’s policies continue to make worse. It is abhorrent that repeated messages are used to encourage the public to believe that their real enemies are those too sick to work or unable to find work.

Conference therefore calls on the National Executive Council to:

i) work with relevant partners, in alliance with other unions, disability, older people, children and families organisations and other groups of people in the welfare reform consortium to build an alternative vision of welfare provision for the 21st century providing genuine solutions. This should include making housing affordable by building significant numbers of genuinely affordable homes, promoting decent wages to end in-work poverty, providing universal childcare, and underpinning this approach with an economic policy that prioritises jobs and growth. This alternative should then be promoted through Labour Link;

ii) continue to make arguments for an economic alternative, which includes the provision of welfare and makes the case for growth, the provision of jobs and a Living Wage;

iii) continue to support the welfare support services and information and advice provided by UNISON Welfare – There for You – to members;

iv) work with branches and activists, educate our own members on the facts of welfare reform, the damaging impact on our economy and the alternatives promoting branch guidance and negotiation advice with employers on the impact of welfare changes on frontline jobs particularly in health, local government and community services;

v) promote successful UNISON local community campaign stories with case studies of good practice in welfare provision being delivered through local public services;

vi) work through appropriate channels and organisations to lobby the government to resource local authorities appropriately so that they can:

A) help with the local impacts of housing benefit changes;

B) increase frontline staff in service areas where increased service demand and workload will occur as it becomes necessary to provide safety net services to fill in the gaps left as a consequence of the reform changes.

vii) promote the need for an integrated and ‘people based’ local delivery housing benefits advice service, for people to meet benefits officers face to face locally in addition to any national ‘online’ arrangements;

viii) work with housing advocacy bodies such as the National Housing Federation (NHF), Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH), Crisis and Shelter who highlight the impact of the changes on tenants and the knock-on consequences for housing associations and local authorities;

ix) develop strong links with campaigning organisations such as Child Poverty Action Group and Shelter to present a united front and message on the impact of austerity measures on the most vulnerable in our society;

x) work with the National Campaign for Benefit Justice.