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New CAP report finds holes in safety net

26 June 2015


The state of welfare: the report by the five Churches calls for an independent review of the benefits sanctions system

The state of welfare: the report by the five Churches calls for an independent review of the benefits sanctions system

THE welfare state no longer pro-vides an adequate safety net for those on hard times, a new report from Church Action on Poverty suggests.

A combination of bad management, inefficiency, and a focus on cutting the benefits bill has meant that the social-security system fails to protect people from severe poverty, it says.

Restoring Faith in the Safety Net, which was published last week, calls on the new Government to ensure that people can rely on the state to provide the money they are due; and demands that MPs from the Work and Pensions Select Committee urgently examine how to fix the "holes in the safety net" that it claims to have uncovered.

In a foreword, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, said: "For far too many people, instead of providing security against hunger, the 'welfare safety net' is itself a contributory factor in creating insecurity and destitution."

Bishop Thornton, who co-chaired a parliamentary inquiry into food poverty last year ( News, 8 December), said that it was unacceptable for the sixth-wealthiest nation on earth to rely on food handouts from charities to plug the gaps left by the creaking benefits system.

Long waits on premium phone lines, queues at Jobcentres, confusing forms, and contradictory advice make applying for benefits very difficult, the report says. And even after a successful application for benefits, it can take up to 16 days before any money is received.

Of particular concern to Church Action on Poverty was Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which is designed for people who are unable to work because of illness or disability. Restoring Faith quotes statistics that show that in June 2014, almost 300,000 people were waiting for an ESA assessment, 224,600 of whom had been waiting three months or more.

Benefit sanctions mean that in the 12 months to September 2014, 605,000 people receiving Jobseekers' Allowance had their benefits temporarily cut or withdrawn as a punishment. But 61 per cent of those applying to have the sanction reviewed, had it overturned.

The report also recommends that the switch to Universal Credit, which is being phased in gradually, is examined to ensure that no one can be too sick to claim Jobseekers' Allowance but too well to receive ESA.

In place of language such as "handouts", Christians should see the welfare system as embodying a vision of a "better world", the report argues.


Back to the land


A CHURCH-RUN project in north Durham is helping some of those who have become homeless because of the "bedroom tax".

The Breath­ing Space project, at St Michael & All Angels, Witton Gilbert, involves the church in partnership with Changing Lives, an organisation that works with home­less people. Through the collab­oration, homeless people have been given the opportunity to work on the church's nature reserve.

Joe Turner, who is 60, lost his home 18 months ago, when the housing-benefit changes came in. He now lives in Changing Lives accommodation. He said: "I could not afford the bedroom tax, so I ended up losing my home.

"When I became homeless, I could not take in what had hap­pened. I had worked as a landscape gardener for 25 years, and suddenly there I was without a home. I went first to the Salvation Army for help, then to Changing Lives, and started working at the church in February 2014.

"Being involved in the work has made such a big difference to my life. It has given me confidence after what happened to me"

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