With the dust settling on the General Election and the confirmation of a majority Conservative government in the new Parliament, thoughts turn to policy and what changes we might see over the next five years.
One of the Conservative's headline pledges is to make £12bn of welfare cuts and Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday announced that Iain Duncan Smith is returning to the cabinet to oversee the implementation of Universal Credit and further welfare cuts as work and pensions secretary.We are still awaiting more detail on how an extra £12bn of welfare cuts will be implemented.
The Conservative's manifesto mentions lowering the benefits cap and freezing working age benefits for two years, but more detail is expected to be announced shortly. The IFS have speculated where the cuts may fall but at present it is probably best to await further details before jumping to any conclusions. What we do know is that it is full steam ahead for Universal Credit and the bedroom tax is here to stay.
Whatever cuts are made, IncomeMAX hope the government think carefully about the impact on those with lower incomes and those in genuine need. The issues of poverty and inequality are always there - at least they have been in my 21 years experience of helping and advising people - but I do think it is time to look at how we can find new and pioneering solutions to help people out of poverty. Universal Credit alone will not achieve this. The fear is that another five years will pass by without any real change in the lives of many lower income and vulnerable households, especially those that are disabled, indebted or struggling on low wages.
IncomeMAX would call on the government to: 1) Modernise Jobcentres with a focus on support not benefit administration This would include creating community partnerships, improving internal culture and staff training, enabling customer service and communication improvements, listening and talking to claimants and fostering an ethos of making correct benefit decisions. At present there are too many failed medicals, poor/incorrect benefit decisions, appeals, bad customer service and unfair sanctions. Jobcentre staff are under resourced and under pressure, and Universal Credit will mean DWP supporting even more people, because don't forget, UC keeps people IN the system. This excellent blog from JRF's Chris Goulden highlights why reforming and improving Jobcentres is vitally important. 2) Support welfare advice Advice works. It helps people to know their rights and deal with their problems. It is great that The Money Advice Service are providing extensive funding for debt advice, but what about welfare advice? Not everyone that needs welfare advice needs debt advice, and welfare advice, when delivered correctly and early enough, can save people from tipping into a problem debt situation. IncomeMAX will be campaigning strongly for the government to take welfare advice seriously, so that people can get the help they need to maximise their income, claim Universal Credit smoothly, avoid sanctions and move into work on a sustainable financial footing. 3) Avoid divisive language We need to work together as a society to move forward. Divisive language, especially from government is unhelpful. We're all people at the end of the day and no-one asks to be poor. We need positive and compassionate language and solutions. Most people accept that difficult choices need to be made on the economy and we all agree work and saving for retirement is the best way out of poverty. But life doesn't always run smooth. People are from disadvantaged backgrounds, they become unwell, have disabilities, issues or problems. It should be about finding solutions to help EVERYONE, whilst respecting people too.
Lee Healey MIMA (Cert) IncomeMAX Managing Director
What do you think the government need to do to help people that are struggling financially?