It’s said that the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members. The Conservative and Lib Dem record on this over the past decade has been disgraceful.
For nearly a decade, the social security system has borne the brunt of the brutal austerity agenda. By 2020, £36 billion will be cut from the social security budget with a further £2 billion due to be cut by 2023. The effects of these cuts have been devastating: 14 million people are in poverty – nearly half of whom live with a disabled family member – and a staggering 4 million children live in poverty. Shockingly, the number of foodbank parcels handed out by the Trussel Trust alone over the past five years has rocketed by 73%. This a record that should shame the Government of the sixth richest nation on earth.
Those who rely on the welfare state have seen their misery intensified by the disastrous rollout of Universal Credit (UC). The five-week wait, the benefit cap, the two-child limit and the punitive sanctions regime have all contributed to make UC a hellscape for claimants that plunges them into destitution. In places where UC has been rolled out, foodbank use, rent arrears and evictions have all soared. The Tory Government even spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a now-banned advertising campaign that mislead the public on the success of UC.
The social security system is in such dire straits that tinkering around the edges simply won’t do. What’s needed is the transformative change that my union, PCS, has long called for and we have been working closely with Labour to ensure they pledge to carry out the fundamental reforms needed.
PCS members who work in the DWP are at the sharp end of delivering social security and are dealing with complex cases and unmanageable workloads. They want to work in a system that best serves claimants just as much as anybody else but are hamstrung by government policies that are hell-bent on inflicting more and more misery onto claimants.
Our members are dedicated and hardworking, they know what is best for claimants but their voices have been ignored for far too long. It’s hugely encouraging that Labour are now listening to those voices and they’ve committed to ending the cruelty of the current social security system that not only affects claimants but staff too.
The commitments from Labour so far are extremely welcome. Alongside a set of short-term reforms to address the worst excesses of UC, Labour has pledged to scrap it altogether and completely overhaul the whole system and replace it with one that is underpinned by the principles that drove the creation of the welfare state over seventy years ago.
This includes a day-one promise to replace the Department for Work and Pensions with a Department for Social Security. This is sure to be welcome news for staff who will finally be able to do the main things they want to do, which is supporting claimants and getting the best possible outcomes for them. There needs to be a massive culture shift that means we consign to history a system that has sanctions targets plastered all over staff-room notice boards.
One man who has been at the heart of the dismantling of the welfare state in the past decade is Ian Duncan-Smith. He was the architect of the catastrophic Universal Credit and has been a vocal supporter of massive cuts to social security. I’m delighted to see him finally being challenged.
With less than a month to go until election day, it’s clear that only a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government can provide the radical change that our social security system so desperately needs.
By Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary.