Frank words on welfare reform

Getting the same criticism from different people is usually a sign you’ve got something wrong. How about for IDS and the DWP?

Three different reports published this morning amplify earlier warnings about the implementation of the bedroom tax, the wider impact of welfare reform on tenants and landlords and the prospects for universal credit. But it would surprise nobody if the work and pensions secretary saw them as yet more evidence that his reforms are a success.

Two of them come from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). Steve Wilcox finds that what he neutrally calls the ‘housing benefit size criteria’ has affected fewer people than expected but that half of those are in arrears and 100,000 who want to downsize are trapped and unable to move. Anne Power concludes that welfare reforms may end up making tenants more, rather than less, dependent and are making them more vulnerable.

The third is from the work and pensions committee and warns that it is still not clear that universal credit will work. The MPs on the all-party committee think that implementation will be delayed even further and have some strong words about Iain Duncan Smith’s attitude towards their scrutiny.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Benefits Street, The Spongers and welfare reality

This week’s final episode of Benefits Street made me go back and rewatch another programme with a provocative title about life on social security.

I was 17 when The Spongers was first transmitted in January 1978 and I still remember it as the single most stunning and harrowing piece of television I have ever seen. The 90-minute programme was a Play for Today – the famous series of one-off dramas that ran on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s – and tells the story of Pauline, a single mother from a council estate near Manchester. It opens with the bailiffs arriving to seize her furniture because she is in rent arrears and upsetting her eldest daughter, Paula, who has Down’s Syndrome. That’s swiftly followed by a scene outside where workers are erecting giant heads of the Queen and Prince Philip ready for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Cue the opening titles. You can watch it here:

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Going hungry

It’s shocking but sadly not surprising to see the impact of changes to benefits on the soaring number of people relying on food banks.

Shocking because this is happening only two months in to cuts such as the bedroom tax and four weeks into the start of the benefit cap in four London boroughs, not surprising because the pressure has been building for months. This is the start of the ‘decade of destitution’ that Julia Unwin of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has been warning about.

Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam, the two organisations behind the Walking the Breadline report, are calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the relationship between benefit delays and the rising numbers.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Red flags

As the slow motion train crash of welfare reform continues, the driver is ignoring a succession of people desperately waving as he passes them.

Heedless of the big red flags they are holding, Iain Duncan Smith and his conductor Lord Freud sometimes even wave back and blow the whistle of their sleekly designed train in acknowledgement of what they see as the congratulations of the crowd.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Victorian values

Octavia Hill retains an extraordinary ability to inspire and infuriate. The ideas of this pioneer of housing management, social work and environmental protection almost seem more influential (and more contradictory) now than they did when she died 100 years ago this week.

She was a high-achieving woman in a society dominated by men but she was not by an stretch of the imagination a feminist. Her housing managers were women because, ‘ladies must do it, for it is detailed work; ladies must do it, for it is household work; it needs, moreover, persistent patience, gentleness, hope’. Yet she was opposed to women’s suffrage on the grounds that, as Kathryn Hughes puts it, ‘women were unsuited to thinking about the big issues of finance and foreign policy’.

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More trouble with troubled families

John Humphrys succeeded in the impossible this morning and left me feeling more generous towards the Troubled Families Programme – until I remembered all the problems with it.

Last month I blogged about the way that the government’s flagship programme was born out of a dodgy statistic and even dodgier assumptions about ‘problem families’. Today Louise Casey, head of troubled families policy at the DCLG, published a report comprising interviews with 16 families about the problems they face. They are powerful stories of abuse, care, problems at school, problems with drugs and alcohol, risks of eviction and more that illustrate the scale of the challenge and also the value of the work done by family intervention projects.

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Mind the gap

Everywhere I’ve been in Manchester this week it’s hard to avoid falling into the gap between good intentions and cold reality.

It’s there in the underlying theme of the CIH conference (a decade of sector-led solutions) and attempts to find ways forward under continuing austerity as outside the conference chamber the underlying problems just keep getting worse.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing.


The trouble with troubled families

Behind the launch of the troubled families programme by Eric Pickles lies a sorry story of the systematic abuse and distortion of research evidence with an added bit of John Wayne.

Billed as part of ‘counter-attack Sunday’ by the Conservative Home website, the launch was trailed by Pickles in an interview in the Independent. The main point will be to end the ‘it’s not my fault culture’ that has allegedly enabled 120,000 troubled families to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. Pickles said he would be ‘a little less understanding’ to families ‘fluent in social work’ who are responsible for ‘chaos that costs the country £9 billion every year’.

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Dodgy maths, lazy assertions

One of the more obvious hostages in fortune in the coalition agreement was always going to be the pledge to stick to the commitment to end child poverty by 2020.

Abandoning the legally-binding targets set by the Labour government would have sent out all the wrong signals (especially for the Lib Dems) from the outset of the coalition. Yet even as the pledge was being made it was obvious that the government’s austerity measures were going to make child poverty worse rather than better.

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