Brian Dean from Paignton CAB and Nick Dilworth from Totnes came to discuss the changes to housing benefit and housing allowance. We also looked at the implications of the wider changes to a Universal Benefit and the fears that have been raised about the Work Capability Test. CAB now has a legal aid contract to help with housing benefits and debt advice. Their staff and volunteers do an extraordinary job.
There is no doubt that the changes have worried many people, particularly from those on ESA or on IB. I have visited an ATOS centre to see the system for myself and have met with Chris Grayling MP to discuss some of the concerns raised in my surgeries and in correspondence.
A simplification of the benefit rules will be a good move. For years I have witnessed people trapped in the benefits system; better off not taking a job. Often they realise that although it may only be a small amount on paper, as a result of losing other benefits or having to factor in travel costs, work just does not pay. This cannot be right. I accept there are areas of high unemployment and many examples of people trying repeatedly to find work without success, but it is also true that many vacancies, for example in care homes, have to be filled by those from Europe as it is impossible to fill the posts.
In 1996, in the USA, Bill Clinton drastically reformed welfare and within 5 years, the number on benefits halved and by 2007 the Congressional Budget Office found that the incomes of families pushed out of welfare had increased in real terms by 35%.
It is a tragedy that 1.4 million people have been on out of work benefits for at least 9 years in the past decade and benefit payments to out of work households now cost £85 billion per year. It is no longer affordable, but I have no doubt that the transition back to work will be difficult for those who have been abandoned for years by the previous system.