Tory work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith's new welfare plan—“Universal Credit: welfare that works”—claims to be about raising people out of poverty and encouraging people into work.
But in reality his plans are a brutal class attack on the most vulnerable people in society and sets out to force the unemployed into low paid or unpaid work. And it comes with a punitive range of sanctions for any who do not comply.
The white paper Duncan Smith put before parliament today outlines plans for a new Universal Credit (UC) to combine a host of existing benefits into a single package.
It will cover those in work on low pay who claim benefits and well as those who are unemployed. The amount a claimant receives will be reduced as the amount of income they earn increases.
But the devil is in the detail.
People who are disabled will be forced to attend “work preparation” programmes and then expected to find work.
Lone parents with children under five will be expected to attend “keeping in touch” interviews and show that they are preparing themselves to work.
Those who are fit to work and currently on Job Seekers Allowance will be forced to accept any job going.
And if there are no jobs they will be forced onto a draconian Mandatory Work Activity programme—forced to do unpaid, menial, demeaning work in return for measly benefits.
The sanctions for failure to comply with measures range from having your benefit stopped for a week to a three-year benefits freeze—much worse than any of the press predicted last week.
Duncan Smith also said he plans to reassess the existing hardship payment, which people who lose their benefits can apply for. This is often the only means for families to survive, and removing it would plunge many children into poverty.
There is also a threat to force people who currently work part time or a few hours a week, because that is all they can manage, to increase their hours.
Anyone claiming benefits will be forced to attend a local job centre more often—currently claimants are required to attend every two weeks. And claimants will be forced to broaden their job search—a wider area, different work to that you are hoping to do and so on.
You will be forced to undertake training to do other work if you are unable to find a job within your current area of expertise or interest.
The new system will incorporate the existing working tax credit, child tax credit, housing benefit, income support, income-based JSA and income-based Employment and Support Allowance. It will be introduced from 2013 for new claimants and for everyone by 2017.
For many there are real concerns about the amalgamation of existing benefits into one new benefit.
For example, the white paper proposes to restructure the system of tax credits.
Currently for every £1,000 increase in a household’s income, the amount cut from their tax credit is £390
Under Duncan Smith’s plans that could rise to a cut of £650 for every extra £1,000 you earn.
When combined with the other cuts already introduced, a working couple family with two children will see their tax credit entitlement fall by more than £4,500.
Duncan Smith claims that the poorest families will be able to keep more of what they earn when they get work.
But the white paper itself suggest that the average gain per week for poorest 10 percent of households will be just £2.40 per week, rising to just under £4 a week for those on slightly higher incomes.
But this goes nowhere near compensating for the cuts made by the comprehensive spending review last month.
For example, the ending of £500 Sure Start Maternity Grant, the freeze in Child Benefit, the axing of the £190 Health in Pregnancy Grant, the 10 percent cut in Council Tax Benefit and the huge cuts to Housing Benefit.
Duncan Smith said that failure to take up work was a “sin”.
But the real sin is the record levels of unemployment.
There 2.5 million out of work with another 1.3 million part time workers who are looking for full time work to earn enough o make ends meet.
Over five people are chasing every job going.
And there are no plans in the white paper to make jobs, only to punish, penalise and brutalise the poor.
It is designed to drive people into low paid, appalling jobs with terrible working conditions in order to survive.
We shouldn’t be surprised—this white paper comes out of a Tory millionaire cabinet only interested in protecting their rich friends. It belongs in the bin, and we will need a massive, militant campaign of resistance to defeat it.