• The WCA is bad – but will scrapping it be better? (part II)

    In the first part of this post, I explained that hundreds of thousands of sick/disabled people with limited work capacity – particularly those with mental health conditions – may end up with less money. In this post I look at other risks and benefits of scrapping the WCA.

    For the Government – and for many others, including policy wonks like Deven Ghelani and Torsten Bell, and international experts like Christian Ståhl and the OECD – the strongest reason for scrapping the WCA is to improve work incentives. For these people, it is self-defeating to ask people to prove that they can’t work before they receive enough money to live on – it’s a clear disincentive to working, and feels pretty awful to boot. Moreover, starting to work part-time then becomes very risky, because it will look like you are able to work; and if you start try and then lose a job, you might be counted as ‘unemployed’ and receive much lower benefits. It makes sense not to even try.

    So how can I possibly think that scrapping the WCA will push people away from work? Well, there’s actually two reasons.

  • The WCA is bad – but will scrapping it be better?

    Is it ever bad to scrap a hated policy? For over a decade, disabled people have feared the ‘brown envelope’ from DWP that might mean that they are being called in for a Work Capability Assessment, or ‘WCA’. They have been worried by the prospect of a process that makes them feel less-than-human, and the prospect of unfair decisions that make their lives impossible.Coroners have blamed the WCA on some individual people’s deaths, backed up by research that suggests the WCA caused 200-1,000 suicides.  It has been condemned by disabled people and almost professional group that deals with it, and nearly every political party at some point said they would abolish it.

    But before being swept along by a wave of relief that the Conservatives have today said they will scrap the WCA, we need to think: what will replace the WCA, and will it really be better?

  • Is there really a ‘glass floor’? Or can the children of the elite be genuinely downwardly mobile?

    In the previous post I explained why, in order to get a full picture of downward mobility in Britain, we need to consider the prestige of people’s occupations. I asked whether people who had apparently been downwardly mobile from advantaged backgrounds might, in many cases, have actually fallen sideways into highly prestigious jobs.

    In this post I use data from the UK Labour Force Survey to try to answer this question.

  • The missing piece of the social mobility puzzle

    This is the first of a pair of posts about a project I’ve been working on looking at downward social mobility. In this first post I’m going to talk about why we should care about downward mobility, and what might be missing from our current understanding of it. You can find the second post here.

    Opportunity hoarding

    When a politician or media commentator talks about improving social mobility, they might say something like ‘we want to make it easier for people from less advantaged backgrounds to succeed’. They usually don’t say ‘we also want to make it easier for children from privileged backgrounds to fail’.

    But you can’t have one without the other. Room at the top is finite. Especially now that the post-industrial expansion of ‘professional’ jobs has largely ground to a halt. So in order to increase the probability that children from poorer backgrounds will rise up the socio-economic ladder, we also have to increase the risk that the children of the rich will fall down it.

  • Should we talk about ‘social security’ instead of ‘welfare’?

    When discussing unemployment and social security benefits, should those of us who believe in a more generous system try to avoid talking about ‘welfare’?

    Many researchers and campaigners believe that that the term ‘welfare’ activates ideas about ‘handouts’ and dependency which reduce public support benefits. For example, at a recent event hosted by the Commission on Social Security, the charity communications expert Nicky Hawkins argued that “talking about the social security system is probably the best way to go, moving away from talking about welfare or benefits” [at 46:20].

    She (and others) make a highly plausible case. Where the terms ‘welfare’ and ‘benefits’ have come to imply ‘handouts’ to ‘dependents’, ‘social security’ draws on an older, more universal idea of protection from uncertainty.

    However, no-one has tested whether these terms actually make any practical difference to how the public think about the benefits system. This is something we therefore decided to do as a small part of a much larger project on the British welfare system during the pandemic.  

  • The cut to Universal Credit is not the real problem

    This week’s cut to Universal Credit is an eye-catching policy, in all the wrong ways.

    It’s the largest overnight cut to the basic rate of benefits since WWII, taking money away from nearly two million people who are already food insecure. To make matters worse, it’s happening at a time when basic costs for low-income families are going up. Claimants’ struggles will come alongside political risks: in nearly 200 Conservative constituencies, this will hit over a third of working-age families with kids. And it’s not even popular among the wider public.

  • The elephant in the room of social security reform

    Lots of smart people on the left are thinking about how to create a better social security system – but I’m worried.

    Most seem to agree that there’s a lot wrong with Universal Credit (UC). The five-week wait, the benefits cap, the two-child limit, the Work Capability Assessment, the generally low levels of payments – and this is far from a comprehensive list. Labour have committed to ‘scrapping’ UC, and in the next few months, we are going to hear a lot of proposals for overhauling it (the Fabians launched something last week, Resolution Foundation gave some early pointers last month, and nearly every think-tank or pressure group on the left or right is gearing up to say something).

    But what worries me is that many seem likely to miss the elephant in the room. They might say, ‘let’s scrap the five-week wait, the benefit cap, the two-child limit, and raise payment levels’ – and stop there. But these policies didn’t come from nowhere. The real question is: what led to these policies? And how do we stop these happening again? And that’s what I want to briefly talk about in this post.

  • Half a million people didn’t take-up Universal Credit at the start of COVID-19 – and why this matters

    In a new report, we estimate that in July/August 2020, about half a million people were eligible for Universal Credit (UC) but didn’t claim it. While the headlines are all about the numbers involved, I here want to deal directly with the argument that we don’t need to worry about non-take-up. Not only does it matter, but it’s also something where different policies can make a difference.

  • The effects of information about inequality in different countries

    There’s been a surge of research seeing if we can change people’s beliefs by telling them the truth about inequality (as we’ve blogged about on the blog several times before). Understanding what’s going on here is tricky, and I was intrigued by a new paper by Jonathan Mijs that adds a further challenge here: that the effects of information will differ in different countries. In this post I want to explain Mijs’ study, sympathetically critique the study itself, and then reflect on a few wider issues that it raises.

  • As you were: How the pandemic failed to change what we think key workers should earn

    This is a guest post by the former co-editor of Inequalities Rob de Vries (in collaboration with me and Tina Haux), which was originally posted on the LSE Social Policy blog.

    At the height of the first UK lockdown, one message came across loud and clear: Keyworkers are heroes. Nurses and care workers yes; but also delivery drivers, supermarket checkout workers, bus drivers, bin-men, and many more. They are all risking their health and lives (often with no or ineffective protection) to do the jobs required to keep society functioning. And what’s more, they are doing so for precious little pay.

    Far more loudly than any deliberate left-wing activism, lockdown seemed to highlight the fundamental injustice of our economic system. Article after article after TV show after radio item – all highlighting how very little we pay people who are suddenly, obviously essential. And how much we pay the bankers, the marketing executives, and the management consultants – whose jobs now seem somewhat superfluous. Posters in every window. Weekly doorstep claps of appreciation. British Vogue, on its July covers, featured not models, but a train driver, a midwife, and a supermarket shop assistant.

    So it’s not surprising that many commentators predicted a dramatic shift in our economic attitudes. This is what we expected too, so we decided to check.