‘Punitive’ benefit policies will cause ‘significant suffering’, charities say

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he Government has been urged to increase benefits earlier and invest in skills training and more affordable childcare as it has put in place measures to get people into work Universal credit work more hours.

Chancellor Quasi Quarteng has confirmed plans to have about 120,000 more part-time workers receiving the benefit take active steps to seek more and better-paid work, otherwise their payments will be reduced.

Charities said the “punitive policies” will strain people’s mental and physical health and make winter more difficult for those with precarious jobs.

They also said the government urgently needs to increase benefits in line with inflation so that those who are struggling have increased their payments to help them through the winter.

Poverty charity, Turn2us, said the measures “didn’t help much in putting money in the pockets of those who need it most”.

head of information programs, Michael Clarkesaid: “We know that action on energy bills this winter will bring some reassurance to people, but the lack of targeted support in this announcement is something you can’t ignore.

“In addition, the introduction of a new penal policy targeting part-time workers on benefits will undoubtedly cause great suffering and have an impact on the mental and physical well-being of people in an already difficult time.

“Helping people find stable and secure work that is suitable should be a positive step.

“However, the government needs to implement more effective policies, such as affordable and accessible childcare, to remove the barriers that disproportionately prevent people – disproportionately women and carers – from returning to work full-time.”

Ben Harrison, director of the Work Foundation think tank at Lancaster University, called the plan “a big gamble…with the living standards of millions of people.”

He said: “The government is betting that substantial tax cuts targeting businesses and those who are relatively well off – while putting pressure on workers who receive Universal Credit to earn more money – will boost investment and growth.

“They are also betting that existing support for those most vulnerable to inflation and the cost of living crisis will be enough to get through the winter.

“But the evidence is far from clear that this will work. And while confirmation of the energy price freeze is welcome for employers, the fact remains that nearly half of households already report struggling to pay their bills.

“The Chancellor has also chosen to introduce tougher sanctions for low-paid, part-time jobs, which will make this winter more difficult for the six million people in highly precarious jobs.

“Instead, the government should bring forward the planned increase in Universal Credit payments from April 2023 to reflect the rising costs people are now facing.”

The government’s leveling agenda now lies in the dustbin of history. The new cabinet seems to have replaced it with a survival of the fittest agenda

Each year, the Employment and Pensions Secretary must review benefits and pensions and increase certain benefits by at least the increase in prices or earnings as measured in September, effective the following April.

They could also increase other benefits “where appropriate, taking into account the national economic situation and other matters,” Conservative MP David Rutley told parliament in July.

The changes will be announced in November.

Disability Rights UK said it was disappointed not to see an increase in benefits for those unable or limited to work due to disabilities.

It is “seriously concerned” that people with disabilities will be lost this winter.

Chief executive Kamran Mallick said: “Changes in Universal Credit will increase the pressure on those who are able to work to work harder to increase their income.

“Anyone who cannot work and is dependent on benefits will face a harsh, harsh winter.

“The government’s leveling agenda now lies in the dustbin of history. The new cabinet seems to have replaced it with a survival of the fittest agenda.”

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: “Government can and must make a big difference to low-income people who want to work more.

“But sanctions make people poor, not to get a job.”

She called for investment in skills training and more affordable childcare.

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