Over the last few weeks the Department for Work and Pensions has come under fire from leading experts and organisations over it’s handling of, and reporting on, the latest changes to the UK benefits system.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, faced fresh criticism this week for his use of “unsupported” statistics to promote the effectiveness of the newly implemented benefit cap.
In April of this year the new benefit cap was trialled in Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley with a view to roll the scheme out nationwide within the year.
In an interview with the Daily Mail last month, supporting the national implementation of the trialled changes to the benefits system, Iain Duncan Smith was quoted saying “already we’ve seen 8,000 people who would have been affected by the cap move into jobs. This clearly demonstrates that the cap is having the desired impact”.
However, a complaint made by Nicola Smith from the Trades Union Congress to the UK Statistics Authority about the legitimacy of these claims lead to an investigation into the statistics used. The complaint was upheld when Andrew Dilnot of the UKSA wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State stating that they had found the statement to be “unsupported by the official statistics published by the department.”
This is not the first time that the DWP has been it hot water with the UKSA over it’s use of unsupported statistics. Making a Point of Order in the Commons last Monday, Debbie Abrahams, the Oldham East and Saddleworth MP, said that this incident followed “similar issues regarding the Child Support Agency statistics in February, and also extends to the Secretary of State for Health and his health funding claims last December”.
The latest criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions comes fresh off the back of two controversial court rulings against the department in recent weeks. The first ruling was against their attempt to conceal the identities of companies that have signed up to their widely condemned Workfare scheme – due to the possible financial and reputational damage it could cause. The second was the case brought against the Work Capability Assessment – which judges have ruled “substantially disadvantages people with mental health conditions”.
The reason for the cap, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, is to “encourage people to work”. Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the employment minister Mark Hoban said the best way for people to avoid the controversial benefits cap was to “move in to work”, however as the case of the Work Capability Assessment shows – this isn’t always possible for some.
In real terms the changes will mean that for single parent families, or families where neither parents are working, the total amount of benefits they can claim is set at £500 a week – including rent – and for people living alone this has been set at £350 a week.
To top off a bad month for the DWP a new storm could be about to break. On Thursday last week a judge gave permission for a full judicial review of claims that involve four vulnerable families who rely on welfare payments to provide for their children.
The cases involve victims of domestic abuse. According the the Guardian two of the families “face a stark choice between descending further into poverty and risking losing their homes, or returning to their abusers in order to escape the imposition of the cap”.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor at Hopkin Murray Beskine who acts for all of the claimants, warned in The Guardian: “This is a cruel and misguided policy. It will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. They face street homelessness and starvation.
“A year ago the children’s commissioner warned the government that these changes would result in a sharp increase in child poverty and homelessness, with a disproportionate impact upon disabled children and children of disabled parents, and some BME groups.
“The difficulties now faced by my clients were predictable and avoidable. The reason for the policy is said to be to encourage people to obtain work but my clients face difficulties in securing employment because they are lone parents with caring responsibilities for babies and toddlers, and disabled adults who have already been recognised as unable to work due to their disabilities.”
The DWP’s key aim, according to their site, is to “help its customers become financially independent and to help reduce child poverty.” However, their recent actions and reforms seem to be having the opposite effect on the people they are meant to protect. And we have a feeling there is more to come….