Today marks the beginning of the fourth year of the benefit freeze.
Like many of the UK government’s failures – the Windrush Scandal, the shambolic implementation and rollout of Universal Credit, the appalling neglect child refugees – if Brexit wasn’t happening, the disastrous impact of the benefit freeze would be plastered across the front-pages on an almost daily basis.
The benefit freeze was introduced by the Welfare Reform and Work Act in 2016, and freezes most working-age benefits at the same value as in 2015/16. In practice, what this means is that while Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 6.6% since the freeze was brought in, the benefits that many working-age people rely on have not increased at all.
This Tory government has implemented a massive real-terms cut to people’s income, and it’s having a catastrophic impact on people’s lives. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation have said the benefit freeze will have affected more than 27 million people across the UK and will have pushed 400,000 people into poverty by 2020.
On top of this, with Brexit pushing up inflation, the benefit freeze will cut another £4.4 billion this year – nearly a billion more than intended out of the pockets of those least able to bear it.
The freeze includes benefits for children, as well as support for disabled people looking for work. Targeting austerity at disadvantaged children and disabled people is nothing short of a moral outrage and this Tory government should hang their heads in shame.
Theresa May and her government have taken almost no action to boost support for people who rely on social security. In one year, the benefit freeze cut will more than wipe out the total investment in the Work Allowance boost up to 2022 that was announced in the 2018 Budget.
Advance payments of Universal Credit which are meant to help people during the five week wait are, in fact, just loans that have to be paid back to DWP. And the two-child cap on Child Tax Credit is taking thousands away from families with more than two children.
Moreover, the revolving office-door of the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is both a tragedy and a farce.
The idea that the Department chiefly responsible for the wellbeing of poor, elderly and vulnerable people is being used as a platform from which Tory MPs can hop, skip or jump depending on which way the political wind blows is indicative of the contempt the UK government has for the disadvantaged and the marginalised.
The benefit freeze represents one of the biggest cuts to social security we have seen in recent times, yet Labour didn’t even bother to mention it in their last manifesto and the current DWP Secretary has shown nothing but apathy towards evidence of its terrible impact.
The cuts imposed by the UK government have and will further entrench poverty across the UK.
This is a political choice, not a necessity. One of the quickest ways this Government could put money back into people’s pockets would be to lift the freeze immediately and up-rate benefits with inflation.