Public policy can be designed to attack poor people rather than to attack poverty itself

The other day I was sent a copy of a poster which read: “Homeless people are not the problem. They are the result of the problem”.

Apart from an unfortunate photograph on the poster which offers a stereotype view of a homeless person the message was spot on.

I read somewhere over the weekend (for the life of me I can’t remember where) that public policy can be designed to attack poor people rather than to attack poverty itself.

There are many aspects of welfare reform but I agree with, not least simplifying the system. However, there seems to be some in-built features that seem unnecessarily cruel. A similar view has been expressed by Frank Field, the chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee who said that the minimum six week payment period face by people claiming Universal Credit for the first time have become a “recruiting sergeant for food banks”.

Such delays are unnecessary and, in my mind, cruel. Frank Field has said that this measure alone leads to reliance on emergency food parcels, triggered debt and rent arrears, and caused health problems.

The welfare system is there to be a safety net. Sadly it has become punitive.

I agree with Field when he says: “This is an unbelievably long time for people at the bottom to survive with no money, and I have received evidence to suggest people have been exposed to hunger and homelessness during this 42 day period”.

The all-party Work and Pensions Select Committee concluded in a report published last December that it was “concerned that the DWP has not properly considered households who have no savings or a final paycheque to fall back on”.

dwp_logoI don’t agree absolutely with the Committee. I think there is ample evidence which the DWP has chosen to ignore. Food banks, housing associations and welfare advisers have reported that they are seeing growing evidence of claimants hit detrimentally by payment delays.

That is why I think that public policy, in this case delays in payment, can sometimes be designed to attack poor people rather than to attack poverty itself.

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