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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Social data and analysis are not the most important issues at the moment (to put it mildly!), but for those of us who aren’t key workers, this is where we can contribute. And data are genuinely important: good decision-making and political accountability require an understanding of the social consequences of the pandemic, the effectiveness of the social policy response, and a debate about what we can do better.
With this in mind, I’ve put together an open Google Doc on COVID-19 social data – please do use / contribute / share, so this becomes a collective resource! (And thanks to those whose contributions helped me write the first draft). But as well as this, I wanted to reflect on the need for MORE data than we currently have. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Lizzie Flew – who works for the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) – in response to Elizabeth Clery’s blog post here.
In a blog for Inequalities, Elizabeth Clery argues that trends in poverty have remained stable while public perceptions that there is ‘quite a lot’ of poverty (as measured by the British Social Attitudes Survey) have risen.
But when it comes to child poverty, trends have not remained stable. Concerted government action in the 2000s brought child poverty down significantly, and in 2010 there was cross-party support for action to end child poverty by 2020. Tragically, in recent years child poverty has been rising, and so it’s no surprise to us that perceptions of poverty have also been rising. Continue reading
This is a guest post by Elizabeth Clery (@liz_clery), who works with the amazing NatCen team that are responsible for the British Social Attitudes Survey.
The latest British Social Attitudes report came out in July, and it pointed out a puzzle in public attitudes to poverty:
- Trends in poverty have remained relatively stable over the last 12 years (at least using HBAI, and at the population level).
- However, the proportion of the public thinking that there is “quite a lot” of poverty in Britain has increased markedly over the same period, from 52% in 2006 to 65% now.
Our chapter in the BSA report sought to identify the reasons for this divergence – and in this blog post, I both summarise our findings and probe this slightly further.
It’s been a while since a DWP Secretary of State made a major speech on disability assessments – and given the WCA’s continuing failures (not to mention those of PIP), we should be grateful that Amber Rudd has devoted her speech to it today. Her announcement has been mainly positively received so far (at least in the BBC, Sky, Daily Mail, Mirror, though with more reservations by the Graun and Indie), but in this post I want to ask: how far should we welcome Amber Rudd’s policy changes today? Continue reading