As the UK’s leading experts on social policy and the welfare state, we urge the government to reconsider the benefit cuts scheduled for 1 April and to ensure that no further public spending cuts are targeted on the poorest in our society. We have two major concerns.
First, as the government’s own impact assessment has demonstrated, the 1% uprating in the Welfare Benefits Up-rating Act will have a disproportionate effect on the poorest. Families with children will be particularly hard hit, pushing a further 200,000 children into poverty. In addition, those with low to middle earnings and single-earner households will be caught by the 1% limit on tax credit rates. These new cuts come on top of the cumulative impact of previous tax, benefit and public expenditure cuts which have already meant the equivalent to a loss of around 38% of net income for the poorest tenth of households and only 5% for the richest tenth.
Second, the welfare state is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society. All developed countries have them and the less developed ones are striving to establish their own. Welfare states depend on a fair collection and redistribution of resources, which in turn rests upon the maintenance of trust between different sections of society and across generations. Misleading rhetoric concerning those who have to seek support from the welfare state, such as the contrast between “strivers” and “shirkers”, risks undermining that trust and, with it, one of the key foundations of modern Britain.
In fact the divisions are not so simple. For example, the borderline between low and no pay is fluid. Families move in and out of work and in and out of poverty. Around one in six of economically active people have claimed jobseeker’s allowance at least once in the last two years (almost 5 million people). The record level of youth unemployment accounts for most of those households where no one has ever worked. Around 6.5 million people are underemployed and want to work more. The 50% rise in families receiving working tax credits since 2003 reflects the 20% increase in the working poor, as one in five women and one in seven men earn less than £7 per hour. Now the majority of children and working-age adults in poverty live in working, not workless, households.
In the interests of fairness and to protect the poorest, as well as to avoid the risk of undermining the consensus on the British welfare state, the government should increase taxation progressively on the better off, those who can afford to pay (including ourselves), rather than cutting benefits for the poorest.
Professor Peter Alcock University of Birmingham
Professor SJ Banks University of Durham
Professor Marion Barnes University of Brighton
Professor Saul Becker University of Nottingham
Professor Tim Blackman Open University
Professor Hugh Bochel University of Lincoln
Professor John Clarke Open University
Professor Gary Craig University of Durham
Professor Guy Daly Derby University
Professor Alan Deacon University of Leeds
Professor Bob Deacon University of Sheffield
Professor Nicholas Deakin
Professor V Drennan Kingston University
Professor Hartley Dean LSE
Professor Simon Duncan University of Bradford
Professor Peter Dwyer University of Salford
Professor RS Edwards University of Southampton
Professor Nick Ellison University of Leeds
Professor Norman Ginsburg London Metropolitan University
Professor Ian Gough LSE
Professor Caroline Glendinning University of York
Professor Paul Higgs UCL
Professor Michael Hill
Professor Julian LeGrand LSE
Professor Ruth Lister University of Loughborough
Professor Linda McKie University of Durham
Professor John Macnicol LSE
Professor Nigel Malin University of Sunderland
Professor Nicholas Mayes London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Professor Jane Millar University of Bath
Professor Michael Noble University of Oxford
Professor JS O’Connor University of Ulster
Professor Jan Pahl University of Kent
Professor J Parker University of Bournemouth
Professor S Peckham University of Kent
Professor Lucinda Platt Institute of Education
Professor Randall Smith University of Bristol
Professor Tess Ridge University of Bath
Professor D Robinson Sheffield Hallam University
Professor Karen Rowlingson University of Birmingham
Professor Kirstein Rummery Stirling University
Professor Adrian Sinfield University of Edinburgh
Professor Peter Taylor-Gooby University of Kent
Professor Alan Walker University of Sheffield
Professor Carol Walker University of Lincoln
Professor Robert Walker University of Oxford
Professor Jane Wheelock University of Newcastle
Professor John Veit-Wilson University of Newcastle
Professor Fiona Williams University of Leeds
Professor Nicola Yeates Open University
• I was very worried to read that some councils in England will be replacing crisis loans for people experiencing a financial emergency with food vouchers (Report, 27 March). Not only is this deeply stigmatising for people who are already extremely vulnerable, it also doesn’t take into account why they might need the emergency funds. A broken boiler or higher than expected fuel bill are often enough to push people into poverty, and forcing them to go to charity-run food banks for handouts is a Dickensian act.
Oxfam works in many of the world’s poorest countries, where cash transfers are forming the basis of an increasing volume of humanitarian aid. In some countries that face chronic food shortages, cash transfer programmes have proven to be more efficient and effective than repeated emergency food aid. It is astounding that we would take such a backward step here in the UK and pick apart the safety net that the social fund was designed to provide.
We commend the scheme Manchester city council is running, to offer people low-interest loans through a credit union rather than food vouchers, and believe all councils should be taking this more humane approach.
Director of UK poverty, Oxfam