We must ensure our social security system is providing a safety net for everyone who needs it
There is still much more to be done to ensure the damage from the pandemic is minimised, writes Stephen Timms MP. | PA Images
The Chancellor’s spending review is a missed opportunity to end agonising uncertainty for millions this Christmas. There is still much the DWP can to do to help people get back into work.
This week’s Spending Review has focused minds on how the government intends to rise to the extraordinary challenge of helping the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
With responsibility for helping those who find themselves out of a job and ensuring that people have the support needed to get back into work, the Department for Work and Pensions has been—and will continue to be—at the centre of the government’s response.
That is why, since the virus changed the lives of everyone, our Committee’s work has been dominated by keeping a close eye on the DWP’s work during the pandemic.
It is now five months since we published our report on the Department’s response and there is still much the government needs to do. While DWP staff at the frontline should be congratulated for their incredible efforts in providing financial support to millions of people through the benefits system, there are plenty of changes Ministers could and should make to ensure that our social security system is providing a safety net for everyone who needs it.
Good decisions were made at the start of the crisis. The £20 per week increase in the rate of Universal Credit and Working Tax Credit, and the increase in the Local Housing Allowance, re-connecting it with actual rents in each area, were key to enabling many to survive the crisis.
But it is the unanimous view of the Committee, along with that of many others across the political spectrum, that the increase must not be axed in April as planned. The Chancellor’s spending review is indeed a missed opportunity to end the agonising uncertainty for millions this Christmas and to give them comfort that their incomes will not be cruelly cut in the spring.
No destitute family should have to wait a month for a government department to decide whether they can be allowed to submit an application for benefits
The Chancellor also missed the chance to offer some comfort to people claiming older benefits, who have seen no increases directly related to coronavirus. As our report made clear, it is absurd that people in otherwise identical circumstances but claiming two different benefits because of an accident related to the pattern of rolling out Universal Credit, are receiving sharply differing amounts of support.
Our report also highlights the very real difficulties faced during the pandemic by people with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), many of whom have children who are British citizens, because of their immigration status. Some of these hard-working and law-abiding people have had to face the invidious choice between staying at home and facing financial ruin, for themselves and their children, or going to work and risking spreading the disease.
We called on the government to be clearer about what support local authorities could offer. Despite raising this with the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee in May, the process for exempting people from the condition remains far too complex and long winded. No destitute family should have to wait a month for a government department to decide whether they can be allowed to submit an application for benefits.
As a Committee, we will continue to press Ministers on our recommendations, while also looking closely at the latest announcements in the Spending Review—not least the government’s new Restart programme to support people back into work.
There is still much more to be done to ensure the damage from the pandemic is minimised. We have identified changes that could make a real difference: now it’s time for the Government to act.
Stephen Timms is the Labour MP for East Ham and chair of the Work and Pensions Committee.