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MPs publish report that aims "to take an axe to the root causes of destitution" in the UK

11 July 2019

Two members of the Work and Pensions Committee, MPs Heidi Allen and Frank Field, today set out the beginnings of a reform programme that aims to take “an axe to the root causes of destitution” in the UK.

Their interim report, The Other Britain and the failure of the welfare state, follows a series of visits to food banks and community projectswhere one support worker told them, “I don’t meet a single person now who isn’t cold and hungry”.

The MPs recommend that: 

  • Universal Credit payments should begin within a week of registering for the benefit. Greater flexibility is also required in the calculation and payment of Universal Credit, to prevent working households’ budgets being thrown into chaos by substantial fluctuations in wages and benefits.
  • The freeze on family benefits and tax credits should end immediately and, in future, these benefits should be uprated at least in line with the cost of living. Ideally, to help reverse the cuts that have been made since 2010, benefit payments should be calculated so that they allow households to purchase food that would satisfy the Government’s nutritional guidelines and heat a home.
  • A National Fuel Fund should be established to support households who struggle to afford gas and electricity. The Department for Work and Pensions could kick-start this fund by referencing the scheme in their letter to recipients of the winter fuel allowance and giving them the option of donating their allowance if they do not have a need for it.
  • A Yellow Card system should be rolled out nationally to allow people at risk of sanctions a second chance in case of genuine mistakes or unavoidable missed opportunities, or time to provide additional information that demonstrates the reason for an infraction before a sanction is applied. Sanctions should be banned for particularly vulnerable people where they could lead to homelessness, worsening health outcomes, or where children or dependents are involved.
  • People undergoing assessments for sickness and disability benefits should be seen, wherever possible, by health care professionals with specific knowledge or expertise on their medical condition. Mandatory reconsiderations should be beefed up and function as an actual check rather than an administrative hurdle before an appeals process, as many very vulnerable people do not have the income or the capacity to handle the more onerous appeals process.  

Frank Field said:

“Hunger was described to us as an injustice which extends well beyond the individual and has lasting impacts on children, extended families, entire communities and across generations.

While there were countless harrowing stories of painful decisions that people made just to get by, we also encountered uplifting stories of communities and individuals developing resilience in the face of destitution.

While this community response undoubtedly represents the better nature of human beings, an emergency response adopted by the general public and voluntary organisations must never be confused with a properly functioning welfare safety net.”

The interim report, The Other Britain and the failure of the welfare state is available @ www.frankfield.co.uk

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