Oxfam's Moussa Haddad responds to "Working-age 'welfare': who gets it, why, and what it costs"
This research is a timely reminder, as the government contemplates much-needed welfare reform, of how low benefit levels actually are. Unemployment benefit is only a tenth of average income, compared with a fifth thirty years ago. Benefits paid to working age adults are on average about half of the Minimum Income Standard – what is needed for a decent standard of living.
Trying to live on an income that’s so far below the norm has implications. Financial worries can escalate into more serious mental (or even physical) health problems, and also contribute to family breakdown. Then there’s the stigma of living in poverty, particularly in a rich country like the UK, where both government and media are guilty have pushing negative stereotypes. As it knocks people’s self esteem, so it further undermines the steps they try to make towards retraining or getting a job.
Living in poverty means its much harder to bounce back from even a minor crisis. Many families have no option but to turn to doorstep lenders as they struggle to pay household bills or deal with what for most of us would be everyday problems like paying to fix a cooker, or for a child’s school trip.
Oxfam are among the organisations calling for the government to subject all decisions on deficit reduction to a 'Fairness Test'. Further cutting benefit levels would impact disproportionately on the poorest and most vulnerable. And, as the report demonstrates, income-replacement benefits only account for 4% of public spending anyway. In these times more than ever, it is crucial that our basic safety net is maintained.
Moussa Haddad, Policy Officer (Sustainable Livelihoods), Oxfam