In a day of debates highlighting the effects the Government’s changes to the welfare system are having, Aberdeen South MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, Dame Anne Begg delivered a statement on the Committee’s recently published Fourth Report from the Work and Pensions Committee on support for housing costs, highlighted the need for a second independent review into the use of sanctions by Jobcentre Plus and she spoke about the specialist employment support which is being wrongly targeted at individuals closer to the employment market.
During the statement on the Select Committee’s recent report, Dame Anne called reforms such as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and the Household Benefit Cap a “blunt instrument”. Dame Anne mentioned that although the reforms were originally intended to make better use of housing stock and reduce welfare expenditure, they are instead causing financial hardship to vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reforms and are unlikely to be able to change their circumstances in response.
Amongst a number of issues raised by Dame Anne, she called on the Government to exempt disabled people living in adapted homes or who have a legitimate reason for requiring a spare room and to disregard disability benefits when considering eligibility for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP).
Following on from the statement Dame Anne took part in a Backbench Business Committee Debate on the sanctions regime being used by Jobcentre Plus, Dame Anne called on the Government to launch a second independent review on the workings of sanctions to assess whether the increased use of sanctions is leading to more people finding work or whether they are purely punitive.
Dame Anne said
“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”
Dame Anne also spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Dame Anne highlighted a constituent who hadn’t worked for ten years but was able to find a job with specialised employment support. Dame Anne raised concerns that this is specialised help is lacking in the new areas the Government has introduced and called for a well funded, specialised support system to enable people who have the highest barriers to work to find employment.
After the debates Dame Anne said
“These debates are vital to holding the government to account for their welfare changes. The government has launched wholescale changes to a vast number of benefits in a very short timescale. My recent Select Committee report, approved by Conservative and LibDem members on my committee, attacks the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ as hurting the most vulnerable most. Backbench Government MPs often say ‘Disabled people are exempt’ but it simply isn’t true.”
“There are a lot of myths surrounding the Government’s welfare changes and speaking in these debates is an important way to set the record straight, and raise the many problems which are being caused by the Government’s welfare reforms. I hope the government heeds my calls and helps alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.”