‘Social security should be providing an anchor for people when circumstances sweep them into poverty—it shouldn’t be leaving them destitute’
This is the first part of an article by David Leese in BMJ Opinion.
There was news this week that the roll out of the government’s universal credit welfare programme will be delayed amid criticism of its impact on vulnerable people.
It is not right that anyone should have to experience poverty or destitution in the UK. At the end of 2018, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, carried out an investigation of the state of the UK, and highlighted that over 14 million of us live in poverty. He found many examples around the country—parents, children, working people, and disabled people across the North and South of the country, are locked into poverty and unable to break free.
The findings of his report made it clear that the costs of welfare reforms have fallen disproportionately on those on low incomes. The freeze on benefits, in particular, has squeezed those already struggling to make ends meet. Alston spoke to many people affected by changes to the welfare system and heard of the constant stress and anxiety they feel when money won’t stretch far enough, forcing them into impossible situations.
Working families with low earnings rely on tax credits and other benefits, or Universal Credit, to top up their incomes in the face of rising costs of rent and childcare. But these benefits are frozen, not keeping pace with these essentials. Reductions in the support available mean that many parents on low pay find it hard to escape the grip of poverty and build a better life.
Social security should be providing an anchor for people when circumstances sweep them into poverty—it shouldn’t be leaving them destitute. In the UK, 1.5 million people experienced destitution at some point during 2017…
David Leese is analysis manager at the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).