From April 2013 the living standards of the poorest people in the UK will be placed under renewed strain as unprecedented cuts are made to our social security system. For all the unpleasant talk about ‘skivers’ and ‘shirkers’, these will hit everyone who needs support to meet the basic costs of daily life; from single mothers balancing childcare with multiple jobs, to young people facing redundancy, or disabled parents struggling to pay their rent.
Amongst the most potentially devastating changes coming into force is a £500 weekly cap on the combined benefits that any family can receive, regardless of their housing costs or how many children they have. To give some idea of its impact, this measure is set to leave roughly 36 000 households in London alone worse-off by an average of £105 per week. Equally significant is the first ever cap on up-rating, which means that benefits including Child Tax Credits, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Income Support will no longer rise broadly in line with food and fuel prices, but will instead be increased by just 1% per year, hitting families in the pocket as basic costs continue to climb at least twice as fast.
On top of this Council Tax Benefit will be slashed, whilst Community Care Grants and Crisis Loans will be abolished, removing key sources of emergency support for those who are unable to make ends meet once these measures start to bite.
This wave of changes follows two years of already intense welfare reductions, including significant cuts to Local Housing Allowance, a freeze on Child Benefit rates, time limits on support for people who are too ill to work, and a radical withdrawal of legal aid for welfare-related cases. The breakneck pace of change means that fresh burdens are being placed on vulnerable individuals and families before the effects of previous measures have even been assessed, and in all too many cases this has been nothing short of devastating.
Archbishop Nichols recently called on parliamentarians to “ensure a safety net is always in place to protect essentials such as food and shelter for those who fall on hard times” , yet it is painfully clear that under the weight of rapid and deep benefit cuts this safety net is quickly disappearing. Across the UK last year we witnessed a 44% rise in the number of families relying on emergency Bed and Breakfast accommodation after losing their homes, bringing the total to almost 4000; and a staggering 79% increase in the number of people visiting volunteer-run food banks, with some 230 000 expected by the end of 2013. Ever more frequently people are also turning to high interest Payday Loans, with more than one million now using them to cover essential outgoings such as monthly utility bills.
This represents not only a catastrophic human cost but also a considerable economic burden that must be faced further down the line. Increased homelessness, debt and undernourishment stemming from the government’s squeeze on social security will ultimately require more costly intervention, offsetting the short-term financial savings currently being made. The changes coming this April therefore, are not only unjust but short-sighted and unwise.
CSAN Public Affairs Officer