Speaking up for the most vulnerable in Britain is not out of touch

Food & livelihoods, Inequality, Poverty in the UK

Katherine TrebeckThe April Fool’s Day welfare changes are no joke. They are a serious threat to those living in poverty in the UK. Katherine Trebeck, Research and Policy Adviser for Oxfam’s UK Poverty programme, dismantles the Chancellor’s claim that charities, churches and commentators are spreading “ill-informed
rubbish”, showing it to be based on little more than easy fictions and broad stereotypes.

The media have devoted many a column inch to the April Fool’s Day welfare changes, including:

  • The ‘bedroom tax‘ which penalises people in receipt of Housing Benefit deemed to have a room spare (when there aren’t enough single bedroom houses for people to move into)
  • The Universal Credit cap (when people on benefits receiving more than the average income are few and far between); and
  • The freeze on benefit uprating in a few weeks (when the cost of basic goods such as food and fuel has risen by more than inflation in recent years).

While reform of the system was undoubtedly necessary, charities, churches and commentators have highlighted the pain many of these changes will inflict. Not only the divisions they’ll create in our communities, but the costs they’ll incur for the tax payer by shifting demand on public services to other parts of the state.

The bedroom tax, which came into effect last Monday, will affect around 660,000 working-age social tenants in the UK.

It is not charities and churches who ignore the weight of evidence from GPs showing the impact of welfare changes on people’s mental and physical health (not to mention doctor’s case loads).

They are informed by the reality of people’s lives.

They are informed by the evidence they gather from working with communities day in, day out and witnessing the impacts of bad policy decisions.

To call it ‘ill-informed’ to speak out is to dismiss the humanity of many, many individuals in the UK.

And speaking of ill-informed…

It is not charities and churches who ignore the stark reality that fraud and official error in the welfare system are but a tiny proportion of overall spend. And it is not us who ignore the fact that this pales in comparison to the scale of tax evasion and tax avoidance by our biggest companies and wealthiest individuals

Last year the TUC showed that when people have welfare reality explained to them, they very quickly change their opinions about what changes should be made and what support should be offered.

It is not charities and churches who base policies on such misconceptions and stereotypes, choosing to disregard evidence that fictions such as ‘welfare dependency’ and ‘multigenerational unemployment’ are just that, fictions.

And rather than being permanently ill-informed, late last year the TUC showed that when people have welfare reality explained to them, when they see the real numbers, they very quickly change their opinions about what changes should be made and what support should be offered.

Yes, the feelings of people – ‘working families’ and ‘tax payers’ that the Chancellor so heralds – do matter. Of course they do, this is about a social contract. But we owe it to them to have an evidence-based debate about how to improve our social security system. Not one based on myths, hyperbole and misinformation, deliberate or otherwise.

Read more

Oxfam’s work on UK poverty

Oxfam’s briefing, The Perfect Storm: Economic stagnation, the rising cost of living, public spending cuts, and the impact on UK poverty

More blogs by Katherine:

A new era begins when work doesn’t end poverty anymore

Slash tax avoidance, not benefits

Author: Katherine Trebeck
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.