Wednesday 26 June 2013

Government Spending Review 2013

Well, what fun. The country is still in trouble, and it's time to round up the usual suspects. We may all be in this together, but you're a bit more 'in this' if you're a benefit claimant. Gasps of surprise all round.

But what's actually changing? And who's going to get hit the hardest? Let's have a look.

Here's where you can find the government's actual document:

People over pensionable age

People over pensionable age who live in some European Countries will no longer get the Winter Fuel Payment (worth up to £300 in some circumstances): the countries where this right will be removed are Cyprus, France, Gibralter, Greece, Malta, Portugal, and Spain.

This is likely to be the least controversial: very few people are going to feel sorry for ex-pats in the Costa del Sol losing heating money they don't really need. But it's not quite that simple: what if you live in Northern France, for example?


If you're a jobseeker, look out. 
  • You will not be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance until you have been out of work for seven days. 
  • You may have to sign on every week, not every fortnight as at present, if they don't think you're trying hard enough, and you will have to provide a CV before you can claim benefit. 
  • If you don't speak English well enough, you will be required to attend English language courses until you do.
Waiting seven days doesn't seem that bad (especially as you already have to wait 3 days), but is likely to cause hardship for people leaving low pay jobs who are already struggling, especially if they are in a pattern of short-term, insecure employment. And don't forget that when Universal Credit is rolled out, claimants will get paid benefit monthly in arrears, so will  have no income for 37 or 38 days: that's nearly 40 days in the wilderness. How fortunate there are pay day loan companies ready to help...

The CV issue isn't quite as bad as it sounds. According to the government, the claimant isn't actually expected to write the CV before turning up at the Jobcentre Plus: it will be drawn up at their first interview. I can't imagine they'll be very good CVs though: it's more likely to end up a check box exercise.

The requirement to attend English language courses is interesting: on the face of it it seems a sensible - I expect some claimants would welcome it - but who's going to provide the training? The government's spent the last few years whittling down the resources available to ESOL teaching.

Single Parents

This one doesn't seem to have been picked up in the media. At the moment lone parents are entitled to Income Support until their youngest child is 5. This will not change, but they will now be required to 'prepare for work' once the child is 3. This will involve 'regularly attending the Jobcentre Plus regularly, gaining qualifications, and taking other steps to improve their readiness to work'.  

Welfare Cap

A Cap will be placed on some parts of welfare spending: in other words, there will be a limit on how much money is in the pot for some benefits. This will start in 2015

Note that it won't apply to all benefits: the state pension will not be included, nor will Jobseeker's Allowance or any benefits that result from getting Jobseeker's Allowance (like Housing Benefit, but only with Jobseeker's Allowance).

What worries me is how this will work out in practice. Say more people start becoming sick, and it looks like spending on sickness benefits is increasing so that the cap is getting nearer. What happens? I presume the goalposts will be moved, and you will have to be sicker to qualify. The goalposts have already been moved many times: how much closer can they get?

Final thoughts

I'm intrigued by all the extra things claimants, especially jobseekers, are being asked to do at the Jobcentre Plus. How are the Jobcentre Plus staff going to do all this extra work?

Newspeak has, of course, raised its head again. The section with all the new demands for jobseekers is called 'Supporting people into work'. 'Supporting'? Mmm...

Finally finally, what saddens me is how being hard on benefit claimants is automatically seen as a good thing, by all the main parties. How disturbing it is that George Osbourne calls Labour 'the welfare party', and mean it as a term of abuse.