Compassionate, careless or conniving?

Today I posted over at Dale & Co:

In the run up to the Parliamentary recess the country was transfixed by a scandal involving the Conservative contingent of the Government, the media, powerful private companies and a Select Committee exerting itself. The scandal gained momentum when it was clear that particularly vulnerable people were being affected by unacceptable or underhand practice.

There is another scandal brewing which has the same cocktail of ingredients. I am talking about the changes to Incapacity Benefit and the implementation of Employment Support Allowance. The rhetoric of reform here is positive. Some might even say unexceptional. But the practice is, by comparison, looking decidedly ropey. As so often turns out to be the case.

You can read the full post here.

Policy, evidence and dogma – the homelessness episode

A leaked memo from Communities & Local Government exposed in today’s Observer has already generated considerable comment. The memo, written by a senior civil servant at the start of the year, sets out perfectly clearly not only that the Government’s welfare reforms ran the risk of making an additional 40,000 households homeless and reduce the number of new homes constructed, but also that – taking these knock-on effects into account – the “reforms” won’t save any money. On the contrary, they are likely to impose an increased burden on the public purse.

A lot of attention has focused upon the former point. It raises important questions about whether David Cameron misled Parliament in statements about the downside risks of the policy. The memo suggests that statements may have been made in Parliament that contradicted the best available evidence and advice to Ministers. The memo also gives some indication of what sort of costs the Prime Minister considers worth paying to drive this policy through. There is a callousness there that many will no doubt find extremely distasteful.

It has been asserted today that Mr Pickles has distanced himself from the memo and is fully behind the Government’s welfare reform agenda. I’d expect nothing less. Or more.

The suspicion of Government hypocrisy is bad enough, but I think it is the second component of the memo is more revealing. Read more of this post

Access denied

Yesterday saw Ken Clarke present the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to Parliament. While the focus has been on the sentencing U-turns, that is a bit of a sideshow. Any liberal with a concern for rights, and in particular the rights of the relatively less powerful in society, should be deeply concerned. The proposals for reform of legal aid are, by any standard, alarming. David Allen Green has described them as ‘horrific and wrong-headed’. That isn’t hyperbole. Read more of this post

Up to the task? Dealing with housing market volatility

It does not take great insight to realise the UK housing market is in a mess. Recently we’ve witnessed significant nominal house price declines and consequent negative equity, a massive contraction in the supply of credit, a private sector construction collapse, and social house building as a victim of austerity. Repossessions have risen. And that affects not just owner occupation but also ripples out to the private rented sector as Buy to Let landlords fall behind with their payments and tenants lose their homes. Demand for both social and private rented housing has increased as ownership becomes unaffordable or inaccessible for many.

Layered on top of all this we’ve had a series of policy initiatives around housing allowances in the private rented sector, support for independent living, and rents and tenure in the social sector that are not obviously going to improve the situation. Indeed, critics argue forcefully that these policy manoeuvres are only going to exacerbate the problems.

The dimensions of the problem are not generally contested. The question is what we do about it. The latest attempt to chart a course out of the jam we’re in is the final report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Housing Market Taskforce Tackling Housing Market Volatility in the UK, published today. Read more of this post

“Fit to work” ergo a scrounger

Quite a few media outlets (for example, here and here) are this morning reporting figures produced by the Department for Work and Pensions that show four out of ten applicants for Employment and Support Allowance failed to qualify for assistance and, hence, are ‘fit to work’. This is taken by Employment Minister Chris Grayling as further evidence of the need to reassess everyone on the old Incapacity Benefit because, by implication, there must be tens of thousands of people receiving IB when they shouldn’t be. They are, in fact, ‘fit to work’. Scroungers.

The BBC reports Mr Grayling as adding:

“We will, of course, carry on providing unconditional support to those who cannot work, but for those who can it’s right and proper that they start back on the road to employment.”

Read more of this post

Tricky business down the job centre

So it appears that the Department of Work and Pensions may not have been entirely correct. The Department initially denied that Jobcentre Plus employees were tricking vulnerable people in order to sanction them and stop their benefits, as reported in the Guardian last weekend. The Guardian yesterday continued the story with the news that:

The DWP has backtracked and released a statement confirming the practice had been going on in some offices due to a misunderstanding between the department and some jobcentre managers. It insisted this was no longer the case. Read more of this post

Welfare reform in the dark

Today saw the introduction of the Welfare Reform bill to the House of Commons. Initial Impact Assessments were also published. This piece of legislation has been trailed for many months, but it will nonetheless take quite a while to fathom the detail of what is being proposed across the wide range of areas it touches on. And it will take just as long to explore how it interacts with policy developments in other areas. Much of the early buzz about the Bill was the news that the Government had dropped the proposal to cut Housing Benefit for those receiving JSA for more than 12 months. This is clearly an unusual outbreak of good sense. Many are claiming it as a victory for the Lib Dems, and Nick Clegg in particular. Later in the day we were being reminded not to get carried away with this change – important though it is – because the Bill continues to embody a range of contentious proposals for seismic change to welfare provision (see here at Left Foot Forward, for example).

As those who have read previous posts will know, I am very keen on summing the parts and trying to understand the big picture (see, for example, Piecing together the housing policy jigsaw). It is something that many government are not good at. This government seems particularly poor at it. But in an era of rapid and radical change it is all the more important. Read more of this post

Is a two-tier service a good thing?

I must have been looking the other way. An article in today’s Observer (which appears online under a different title here) mentions that back in December the Government withdrew the so-called Two-tier code for public service employment (as notified here).  The code is designed to stop the emergence of a two-tier workforce. It regulates the benefits that employers providing outsourced public services should offer their employees. Basically it says that they should offer employees terms and conditions, including pension provision, similar to those available to employees in the public sector. It has been replaced by a more flexible voluntary guide called Principles of Good Employment Practice. The logic is that the Government wants to have a more diverse landscape of provision and the two-tier code is considered a barrier to small or mutual or charitable providers entering the market.

Is this a good or a bad thing? Read more of this post

Short-term and short-sighted: ‘Cuts’ to deliver less independence

Various organisations are collating information about the incidence of the Coalition’s programme of spending cuts as it emerges. Following the publication of the local government settlement, attention has recently switched to the impact on services provided by local authorities. A recent article posted at Guardian Society provides some insight into how local authorities are dealing with the need to prune budgets. The answer is not looking good for diverse groups of vulnerable households.  But things are playing out as, perhaps, might be anticipated.

The Government’s approach is politically cute. They are getting enough flak for cuts in other sectors, without being seen as culpable in cutting local services as well. A classic gambit identified in the literature on policy implementation is to hand a politically contentious problem on to someone else to sort out – typically the implementing organisations. The hope is that they get the blame and none of the mud sticks to you. I’m not sure it’s going to work in this case. Read more of this post

Sign of the times

If you have a blog then you’ve probably got access to a host of usage statistics for your site, information on links to and from your blog, and the search terms that people used to lead them to your words of wisdom.

I’ve just noticed that someone found their way to this blog today by entering the following search terms:

losing home waiting for social security

That brought me up short. It was truly affecting. A clear sign of the times.

One can only speculate on the combination of circumstances, the concatenation of events, that placed someone in such a precarious position. And on the absence of accessible local help that led someone to search the web for assistance on such a serious matter.

I may well write about housing and housing policy – as I have recently here and here – but I feel distinctly inadequate in being completely unable to offer anything sensible to assist someone with such a pressing and enormously important problem. Read more of this post

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