Welfare reform - from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm

By Bernadette Meaden
January 27, 2016

Winston Churchill said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." This would seem to describe perfectly the government's approach to welfare reform. 

This morning the Court of Appeal ruled that the bedroom tax is unlawful in the way it discriminates against victims of domestic violence and disabled children. One would have hoped that a government found guilty of such discrimination, against the family of a severely disabled teenager and a mother and child living in fear, would show some contrition, shame, or humility. But sadly not. The Department for Work and Pensions said, "We have already been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court".

This judgement is only the latest in a long litany of such defeats for the government, in which welfare reform policies have been found to be discriminatory towards our most disadvantaged friends and neighbours.  Only two months ago, a court ruled that the government’s decision to apply the benefit cap to full-time carers for adult relatives had created serious financial hardship, forcing many to give up caring for loved ones, and loading extra costs on to the NHS and care services.

In March 2015 the Supreme Court found that the effect of the benefit cap was not compatible with the government’s obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child, as it was  leaving claimants unable to house, feed or clothe their family.

The Work Capability Assessment has been linked with 590 additional suicides and worsening mental health for those affected by it, whilst to create this misery and harm is actually costing the public purse more than it saves. 

The change from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) is seeing hundreds of disabled people a week lose their independence as their support is removed. Yet the government is looking for ways to tighten the criteria further, meaning fewer people will qualify for help. When the government said  it would target help to those who need it most, what it forgot to explain was that it intended to remove help from all but the most severely disabled, abandoning people with significant difficulties.

Benefit sanctions have been called 'Britain's secret penal system'  and are linked to the growing need for emergency food provision in our communities. It was recently revealed that benefit sanctions against people with mental health problems had increased by 600 per cent over the last four years. 

Universal Credit, sold as the great panacea which would make the benefits system fairer and simpler, is now seen to be driving people into debt, as they wait seven weeks for their first payment. How are people supposed to live for seven weeks with no income?

The failures of welfare reform are now so numerous that it is impossible to quantify the harm they have done, even in purely financial terms. The harm in terms of deaths, human misery and deteriorating mental health can never be quantified, but is a scar on our society.

And yet, the Secretary of State continues to bounce from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, and his supporters still insist that welfare reform has been a success. Are they unaware of the terrible consequences for some of our most disadvantaged neighbours? Are their lives, blighted or prematurely ended, collateral damage, a price worth paying in the drive for a 'low welfare, low tax' state? 


* If these issues affect you and you need to talk to somebody, please call the Samaritans helpline on 116 123. Calls are FREE and the helpline is open 24 hours a day.


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden


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