A user-led commission has called for a “transformational” reboot of the social security system to replace the current “inadequate, demeaning, inefficient” structure that “deliberately scapegoats” unemployed and disabled people.
In its final proposals, following more than three years of work, the Commission on Social Security says it wants to see a new system that puts an end to the “hostile environment” claimants face when they deal with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and instead has “dignity, respect and trust” at its core.
Its proposals for a “streamlined and much simpler system” have been shaped from thousands of contributions, most of which came from people with lived experience of the current social security system.
The report says it offers “a hopeful vision of the future and a way of setting the agenda on social security”.
Among its proposals, the commission would scrap universal credit and replace it with a new guaranteed decent income (GDI) of £163.50 a week, the equivalent of half the minimum wage, with an extra 20 per cent of the minimum wage for a single householder.
Child benefit would be paid at £50 a week per child.
Personal independence payment would be replaced with support for disability-related costs that would range from £83.70 to £230.77 a week (£1,000 a month) for those disabled people facing the highest extra costs.
One of the commission’s “fundamental” principles is that no disabled person would be worse off under its plans than they are currently.
There would be no job-search or work-related conditions for those on GDI and all benefit sanctions would be scrapped.
The commission has also made clear this week that introducing such a system would mean scrapping the “toxic” DWP, although it has not produced proposals for how it would be replaced.
Although the commission did not have the resources to produce figures for how much its proposals would cost and how they could be funded, it stressed this week that “social security is an investment and there is more than enough money to ensure social security for all”.
It says in the report that the government “can borrow money, make money or set higher taxes for rich people or businesses” and that “social security helps the whole country to do better”.
More than 1,000 individuals and organisations submitted evidence to the commission, through a public call for solutions, 17 workshops across the UK, a public consultation on its draft proposals – which secured widespread approval – and other activity.
Disabled activist Ellen Morrison, co-chair of the commission and co-author of the report, said: “This is not a system fit for purpose.
“How can I be assessed as eligible for a higher rate of employment and support allowance but now I’m in a relationship, the government expects me to rely on my partner’s income.
“It’s incredibly regressive to take away disabled people’s independence and autonomy in this way.”
Another commissioner, Mike Tighe, said: “The public are unaware of the truth about how the benefit system works.
“People are treated with suspicion and distrust. It leads to frustration, anxiety and hurt for ordinary people.
“It’s not that the people working for the DWP are monsters, but the system they are being asked to enforce is definitely monstrous.
“Everyone is entitled to dignity, including with social security.”
Trust for London awarded funding for the project in 2018 and the commission began meeting later that year, with a brief to develop a new social security system in which claimants would be treated with dignity, trust and respect.
Every one of the commissioners has been or is on benefits, and all of them represent grassroots, user-led organisations that fight for the rights of benefit claimants and disabled people.
The idea for a grassroots, user-led project on the future of social security was first suggested by Dr Michael Orton, the commission’s secretary and the report’s co-author, a researcher at the University of Warwick and himself a disabled person with experience of claiming benefits.
He said: “The pandemic showed that when times were tough it was unpaid carers, supermarket workers and others on low incomes who kept our society going.
“It also showed that if we choose to, we can provide social security for everyone.
“However, the recent cut to universal credit means the government is headed in the wrong direction.
“With a cost-of-living crisis looming in 2022, it doesn’t have to be like this.”
A report on the project, also released this week, found that the commission’s work “debunks” the view that the work of “experts by experience” like its commissioners is only relevant to “describing and understanding one’s own biographical situation”.
Instead, the report says, the project demonstrates “that when the voices of those who are usually excluded from debate are heard, it leads to new insights, ideas and solutions”.
Picture: Mike Tighe and Ellen Morrison
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