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‘Failing’ welfare state needs investment, reports think tank

28 May 2020

Stones, not bread, for too many, says IPPR


Painted stones in support of the NHS in Swanage, Dorset, photographed on Saturday

Painted stones in support of the NHS in Swanage, Dorset, photographed on Saturday

THE Covid-19 crisis has exposed “deep failings” in the UK’s welfare system, which is equally unprepared to deal with “decades of disruption” ahead, a report from a left-wing think tank warns.

The think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has launched a year-long review of the welfare state, which, it says, must be reformed to deal with the impending threats of climate and environmental breakdown, further pandemics, and a rapidly ageing population. The task group is to be led by the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and the former Conservative Cabinet minister Lord Heseltine.

The IPPR report, Decades of Disruption: New social risks and the future of the welfare state, published on Monday, states that the Government was too slow to introduce emergency measures to the welfare system and had excluded key groups such as people on zero-hours contracts, who are not entitled to sick pay. The Government should have increased the base Universal Credit payments, and failed to reward unpaid care hours provided during the crisis, it says.

The lead author and IPPR Senior Research Fellow, Harry Quilter-Pinner, said: “Covid-19 is just one of many shocks our society faces in the decades to come. . . The lesson from Covid-19 is clear: we cannot wait for shocks to overwhelm us but must instead ‘future-proof’ our welfare state so we are ready next time.

“Government must deliver on its promise to increase investment in order to ‘level up’, not just in infrastructure, but also social investments, like health, education, and welfare. These services will play a crucial part in our economic, as well as our social, recovery from Covid-19.”

A separate report from Christians Against Poverty, Life in Lockdown, published on Tuesday, states that the economic shock caused by the restrictions has disproportionately harmed people who were already poor.

Household costs such as electricity are higher; devices, books, and broadband to aid home-schooling are unaffordable to people who are living in poverty; and families entitled to free school meals have reported difficulties redeeming their vouchers and getting to the supermarket. The minimum spend for food delivery has also proved unaffordable for many with poor health, it states.

While the report commends government support for the people most severely affected by Covid-19, it warns that “the financial ramifications of the pandemic will soon outlive the support on offer.”

Last week, the Salvation Army joined a virtual “Hidden Harms Summit” with the Prime Minister and representatives from the police, victims’ charities, frontline workers, and the private sector to address the rise in reported domestic and sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation, and modern slavery during the pandemic.

The Salvation Army’s Anti-Trafficking and Modern Slavery director, Major Kathy Betteridge, said: “As lockdown measures are eased and the economic impact of coronavirus is felt, we need to ensure that more at-risk people in our society are not trapped in this and other forms of exploitation.”

Schools are preparing to reopen on 1 June. The Prime Minister announced this week that outdoor markets, garden centres, and car showrooms would also be able to reopen from this date, provided that they could comply with the guidelines. All other parts of the retail sector deemed non-essential, including shops selling clothes, toys, furniture, books, and electronics, as well as tailors, auction houses, photography studios, and indoor markets, are expected to reopen from 15 June.

Spain announced this week that it would be welcoming tourists from 1 July without the requirement to stay in quarantine for two weeks.

Major Betteridge continued: “As transport networks reopen — both across the UK and internationally — there will be an urgent need to remain vigilant as criminal gangs will once again be looking to exploit and move victims between communities, regions, and across borders.

“The likely destitution created by coronavirus in developing countries will lead to poverty and debt bondage, two of the key drivers which make people vulnerable to coercion or risking human traffickers’ fake promises of legitimate work.

“The Salvation Army is urging the Government to work collaboratively with other agencies, including police and border staff, and NGOs across international borders, to ensure that we limit these push factors of victims of modern slavery being exploited overseas and here in the UK.”

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