15 September 2011
The Welfare Reform Bill was debated in the House of Lords yesterday.
Work and Pensions Minister Lord Freud said, “Welfare reform is first and foremost about refocusing the resources we have to help the people who need it most” and that the introduction of a single universal credit “bridges the gulf that has opened up between unemployment and work, and delivers a benefits system that is about people not process, one that is flexible and responsive.”
Baroness Hayter said the Bill fails, partly because “it is taking place alongside a commitment to cut benefit expenditure and partly because it is work in progress, with far too many unanswered questions.”
The baroness quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury in describing “a quiet resurgence in the seductive language of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor,” saying the Government “seem to suggest that there is a ‘them and us’ - taxpayers and the rest.
“I see it differently,” she continued, “We are all taxpayers, if only through VAT, and we are all potential recipients. Yes, the welfare state should reward work, but it must be there in times of crisis, where there is illness, unemployment or disability.
“We want to see a welfare system that is fair and straightforward, without the need for specialist help from hard-pressed Citizens Advice, especially with the threat to legal aid for welfare advice. We want a system that does the job, provides what is needed when it is needed and, yes, a system that is affordable.
“The Bill fails those tests. It is not fair or transparent, it does not help some of those most in need and it will not be affordable if it leads to homelessness, poverty, disincentives to save or family break-up.”
The Bill now moves to Committee Stage.