Welfare Reform: Nice Idea but More Attention Needed

14/09/2011 22:43 BST | Updated 14/11/2011 10:12 GMT

We at Citizens Advice have consistently supported the aims to make work pay and simplify the benefits system - but we've also said that trying to reform the whole system in a time of spending cuts could seriously undermine those aims.

A good example is childcare: the Government wants to help more people into work, and one of the main barriers for parents wanting to return to work is paying for reliable childcare. To make work pay for everyone, the Government would need to increase the money available for childcare - but there is no more money. Charities including Citizens Advice are working with Government to try and square this circle.

Even more worrying is the impact on people with disabilities: Government has decided to focus help on people in the greatest need - but this comes at the expense of people with severe - but not the most severe - disabilities. As a result, families with disabled children could have the means-tested support for their children cut in half.

In a further problem, the only people eligible for extra help in work because of their disability, are people who have been judged so sick or disabled that they don't have to look for work. Whereas other people with significant disadvantage in the work place - who must still seek work - will not get the extra support currently provided by the disability element of tax credits. Changes to Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance will also mean fewer disabled people will get the support they need.

The reforms include a mixture of carrot and stick, and while we support the principles of incentives and support, we are particularly concerned about the risk of more severe conditions and sanctions being imposed on people who can't fulfil them because their lives don't fit the neat patterns assumed by these new rules.

For example, the Government confirmed yesterday that Universal Credit will be paid on a monthly basis, to reflect the way people live when in work. This is seriously problematic for many of our clients who have difficulties with budgeting, and certainly doesn't reflect the way that all people live when in work.

We also wonder who the Government is thinking of when they say that single people under 35 tend to live in shared accommodation: many young professionals do for sure - but fathers who no longer live with their families need a home where their children can visit: new limits on housing benefit will rule this out for many fathers under 35.

As the Welfare Reform Bill passes into the House of Lords, we must rely on the power of informed and passionate Peers to scrutinise the measures in this Bill, and to challenge the Government on every single clause that will not actually achieve those laudable aims, to simplify the system and to make work pay for everyone.