Changes to welfare benefits are "cruel and irresponsible"

By Mike Barrett

16 September 2014

Aside from the dramatic headlines on the Scottish referendum and the atrocities in the Middle East, the government is rolling out some further changes to welfare benefits that are likely to have a detrimental effect on vulnerable groups of people.

One example is a pilot scheme that extends the initial waiting time for Job Seekers or Employment Support allowance from three to seven days. So what, you may ask? The problem is that there are no exemptions for the sick or vulnerable. This simply puts more pressure on food banks and individuals who may already be suffering high levels of anxiety and depression.

Again we see the government pushing ahead with welfare reform whilst ignoring the sector’s attempt at a constructive discourse about poverty, mental ill-health and how these problems lead many to become homeless. It’s as if the Department for Work and Pensions is actually trying to engineer a policy paradox or has at least borrowed the line from Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Ho: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail better”.

To simply ignore the warnings, the evidence, the pain that a further withdrawal of the safety net will inflict upon our more vulnerable fellow citizens and continue to forge ahead, regardless of someone’s circumstances, is criminally irresponsible.

The government, and indeed the opposition, are clearly not interested in creating a fairer society – in fact all that appears to be on their minds is next year’s election and the break-up of the UK. Understandable, of course, if you are a Westminster politician but the plight of the poor, homeless and vulnerable is, again, not so much on the back burner but spread across the kitchen floor!

Why is it so difficult for those in power to listen to those who are suffering? What drives successive governments to take the seemingly inhuman, one size fits all approach of cutting funding and leaving those without a voice to struggle, and ultimately fail, in their attempts to achieve their aspirations?

It’s true that the welfare benefit reforms were long overdue but – come on – introduced with all of the damaging rhetoric of the previous four years aimed at those on benefits, regardless of their employment status?

Yes, people need to have a reason to get out of bed in the morning and people need motivation. But when fear, degrading health worsening and downright cruel political reforms are used to beat those already in the gutter (some literally) then surely it’s time for a referendum on what type of society we all want to live in? Fair, just and compassionate or cruel, unjust and divided.