Mr Bean criticizes Government? The tricky path of welfare reform

Posted: 29th June 2011

Mr Bean criticizes Government? The tricky path of welfare reform

In an effort to encourage an interest in current affairs, I sometimes throw out general knowledge questions to my teenage daughter whilst I am reading the newspaper. “Who is the Archbishop of Canterbury?. Silence. “Give me a clue!” “OK. His first name is Rowan”. Light bulb moment – “Rowan Atkinson?”

An interesting thought and probably testimony to the decline of the influence of the church in an increasingly secular society dominated by the media. However, despite what you think about the position of the church in modern society it still wields enormous influence and Rowan Williams’s broadside against the Government for introducing (welfare) reforms that no-one voted for, was nothing but damaging.

Welfare reform is always a difficult policy path and there is still some way to go for this government’s welfare reform programme. No doubt there will be more knocks and adjustments on the way. Within a few days of the Archbishop’s critique, announcements emerged from Government that the £26k upper limit on Universal Credit would not be fixed and exceptions would need to be considered.

It has always been my view that there is no “silver bullet” tackling multiple layers of deprivation in our inner cities (and in our rural areas for that matter), but employment is the nearest to it. Those in employment are healthier, educational achievement of children in working families is greater, diet is better and usually they have more money. The focus on Welfare to Work has unquestionable merits. And whilst earned income is a key to quality of life affordability, there are other areas that local authorities and social housing landlords can work on.

LB Islington published the findings of its Fairness Commission a couple of weeks ago. I recommend it as essential reading for all of us engaged in social housing. The Commission was chaired by Richard Wilkinson (author of The Spirit Level) and the basic premise is that the narrower the gap between rich and poor, the better the society. A lofty idea? Well the Commission turned the idea into a set of pragmatic proposals for narrowing the gap e.g.

  • The council and its stakeholder partners should pay a minimum of the London living wage.
  • The council should consider passing by-laws to outlaw “pay-day” loan companies (which seem to have flourished in poor parts of London recently – with annualized interest rates of over 1000%)
  • GPs should prescribe exercise.

How is your organization narrowing the gap?

Chris Wood is a Partner with Altair

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