The Work and Pensions Committee has published its report into local welfare safety nets. The report calls for both local and central government to work together to ensure that current welfare reforms and budgetary pressures are not diminishing the capacity of local safety nets to help those facing severe hardship and destitution.
The committee repeats that the continuing welfare reforms and reductions to benefit entitlements have left people much more vulnerable to short-term financial problems, increasing people’s reliance on the local welfare safety net and at a time that it too is facing considerable pressure.
The report is particularly focused on ensuring those facing severe hardship are able to access the support and services they need, stating:
•Integration between local and national government should be encouraged to prevent the increased localisation of service leaving some users in a no-man’s land with no one to turn to at times of crises.
•The Government must address the lack of any cross-departmental evaluation into the efficacy of the welfare safety net in helping those most in need, whilst ensuring that their programme of reforms are working to prevent people falling into hardship.
•Central and local government should also work together to ensure that an effective local government funding system is established which will protect essential local services during times of hardship.
•Time-limited Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) constitute an insufficient form of protection for people who have unintentionally felt the repercussions of government policy, such as the “bedroom tax” and welfare cap. As a result, the committee calls for such groups to be exempt from such changes.
•The Department for Work and Pensions should bolster its guidance to disabled people relating to the use of DHPs.
•The review of Council Tax support schemes, recently launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government, should investigate the use of bailiffs being used to raise revenue.
Committee member Karen Buck MP commented:
"In effect the minimum amount of disposable income on which the State believes it reasonable and fair to expect the poorest in society to live has been significantly reduced. This risks vulnerable people falling through the safety net into severe hardship and destitution. The Government has an obligation to undertake a proper evaluation of the welfare safety net, and ensure that it affords reliable protection against financial crises, to which people on the lowest incomes are now more vulnerable."