Despite all the talk about the necessity for cuts in welfare provision there are certain very significant facts that are rarely raised. In the UK benefit levels for able-bodied citizens have declined significantly from 2001 to 2010 in real terms. This is in contrast to most other European countries where they have increased over the same period. This is clearly shown in research from the IZA at Bonn University and other academic studies. As Professor Van Mechelen of the University of Antwerp sums up ‘although benefit level for families have increased for others they have declined and for both households with and without children UK benefit levels are highly inadequate.’
Related research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation confirms these facts , as does data published by the Minimum Income Standards Organisation and The Campaign Against Child Poverty. All have proven conclusively that in the UK benefits are highly inadequate, leave its citizens in poverty and have been declining in real terms to their current historical low. See the links to their published information below.
The JRF research used representative samples of the population and asked them what the minimum list of necessities were that no one should be without. This was a methodically conducted investigation in the real world not the inner sanctum of a government department but it has been dismissed as ‘subjective’ by politicians none of whom could imagine the very real strain of trying to subsist on £65.45 a week, the maximum for a single person.
This is at an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings. Yet Steve Webb, Pensions Minister, recently accepted that the higher rated basic pension of £87.65 a week ‘ was not enough to live on.’ The privatised utility companies can make direct deductions, further lowering the amount left to live on.
This is combined with increasing conditionality and means testing. Thus even this inadequate and diminishing amount is far less secure and can be withdrawn at a stroke for a variety of reasons.
The coalition has announced further effective reductions in this inadequate provision which clearly goes against countless Declarations, Covenants and Charters to which the UK is a signatory at European and International level. The Labour government ignored these agreements with equal ease, the citizens effected having no coherent voice or influence. Despite there being millions of unemployed at any given time in the ’economic cycle’ and there never has been, and there never will be, full employment, there is no representative body, no Union of the Unemployed. Charities attempt to pick up the pieces of the consequences of this deliberate refusal to improve what is no longer even called a Social Security system, the term has disappeared, and try to draw attention to our government’s obligations which are clearly intended to give the right to all citizens of this country to have sufficient resources to live in dignity not effective poverty.
The problem is that these vitally important objectives seeking to enable social inclusion and provide the resources to do so are not judicially enforceable. What is ’adequate’ is left to individual states to calculate and, although any fair minded person would agree that £65.45 a week is clearly not ‘adequate‘, there is no way of challenging this in law.
It can surely be contended that Human Rights are being breached, poverty being a violation of human dignity. Human Rights agreements to which this country is a signatory may be a stronger way to challenge this unjustifiable situation and create momentum for positive change. Yet the UK Government has refused to incorporate the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights into UK Law, contrary to the recommendation from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
So when successive UK governments wilfully ignore these agreements to which they are a party and with a coalition that is actively countermanding their principles, how will any social progress be made ? It will not arise from academic papers and reports no matter how well researched and proven.
As more and more citizens in the UK come up against the reality that our benefit system, as it stands, does not provide a remotely adequate income and the resulting stresses that this places on individuals and their ability to participate in a grossly unequal society, there will have to be significant changes or there will be increasingly serious consequences both in individual casualties and ultimately in the potential for social disorder.