It seems inevitable that there will be a growing chorus of bad publicity about the welfare reforms. It has already started. The cuts to housing benefit and the tightening of tests for incapacity benefit are the the first in line. At some point there will be hard luck stories that really get the attention of the public. There will be a ‘Cathy Come Home’ moment. (‘Cathy Come Home’ was a TV programme about a young homeless mother. She was shown in a pitiable condition and I believe it probably influenced social policy for years.)
I hope that Iain Duncan Smith and his advisers are thinking carefully about this.
There are undoubtedly some people who are going to lose out in the benefits changes. It is important that the reasons for the changes are kept to the fore.
Here are some of the stories about how people could lose out:
The National Housing Federation warning about homelessness as reported by BBC Online.
The Times had an article on Friday headlined ‘Housing benefit cut by £1,0000 per family’ and then, in quotation marks, ‘Osborne is hitting 600,000 poor households’. Unfortunately I cannot link to it as Times Online now has a paywall. The material came from an analysis by the Chartered Institute of Housing. Here, though, is an earlier article in the Telegraph headlined ‘thousands could be evicted because of 80 per cent cut to housing benefit’ which also quotes the same institute.
On Incapacity Benefit, the Times again had a story about what could go wrong (in this case, he seemed to be projecting forward what the Labour government had already done.) Here is a report of the Times report(!) by the Press Association:
The architect of a new benefits system has said radical changes must be made to avert serious problems for vulnerable people, according to reports.
Paul Gregg, Professor of Economics at the University of Bristol, told The Times serious adjustments are necessary before 2.5 million incapacity benefit claimants are moved onto the new employment and support allowance (ESA) in October.
In its current form, the system leaves large numbers of failed claimants to languish on jobseeker’s allowance with no prospect of work, he said.
Reflecting on perceived errors in the process, he told the paper: “To go ahead with these problems is not just ridiculous. It is, in fact, scary.”
Such reports are building up a background of impressions of welfare cuts that are likely to hurt a lot of people. It is very likely that sooner or later, a concrete case of a decent person being hurt through no fault of his or her own will hit the headlines. Then it will be the usual thing: BBC interviewers will take a righteous, angry tone with ministers when talking about welfare cuts; uninformed comedians on television and radio (one of the most potent and irritating sources of propaganda combined with ignorance) will make ‘jokes’ about the cruelty of the government; the defence of the reforms by certain newspapers will get more cautious and the attacks from the Guardian and the Times will get more aggressive.
This is when the reform process will get really difficult.