British government announces welfare overhaul
The reforms will initially cost more money but in the long term are aimed at reducing welfare spending, which now stands at 192 billion pounds a year, to help tackle a record budget deficit.
However, the swingeing cuts could foster a public backlash, with rioting marring a student protest against higher tuition fees on Wednesday.
The welfare plans are designed to simplify a complex web of benefits to reduce inefficiencies, and to ensure people in work benefit by keeping more of their earnings. The plans would also cut benefits to those who do not seek work or turn down jobs.
Critics say the plans punish the poor and unemployed, will force many people to take arbitrary jobs without taking into account their personal circumstances, and fail to address the problem of a lack of suitable employment opportunities.
“The message is clear. If you can work, then a life on benefits will no longer be an option,” said Prime Minister David Cameron, who is attending the Group of 20 summit of world leaders in South Korea.
A YouGov poll for Channel 4 news found that the majority of the public supported the reforms, and that 66 percent supported plans to punish those who turn down jobs or interviews.
Aid group Oxfam, the Public and Commercial Services union and other groups criticised the plans.
“The proposals to force people to do unpaid work are based on stigma,” Oxfam said in a statement, referring to part of the welfare reforms that would make community service compulsory.
“Most people receiving benefits do want to work, and punishing them as if they are criminals repaying a debt to society is not a fair way to treat someone entitled to support.”
Anyone on benefit who turns down a job, fails to apply for work when asked to do so or does not complete a four-week community work scheme will initially lose their 65 pound a week benefit for three months.
A second offence will result in six months’ exclusion and a third will see that increase to three years.
The new plans will also see separate benefits such as housing, income or incapacity support replaced by a “universal credit” whereby households get a single welfare payment.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said it was estimated the measures, which will be introduced from 2012-3 and brought in over the following five years, would mean 700,000 low-earning workers would be better off.
Some 2.5 million households would get higher entitlements through the universal credit and 350,000 children and 500,000 adults would be lifted out of poverty, he said.
“Almost 1.5 million people have been out of work and on benefits for nine of the last 10 years,” Duncan Smith said. “During the longest period of sustained economic growth, this group of people never worked at all.”