CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Means-testing means the ‘benefit trap’ but there is a better way

20 April, 2017

• FURTHER to Alan Wheatley’s letter (Means-tests of no benefit, April 13), while it seems fairer on the surface, means-testing, is actually what’s responsible for the “benefit trap”.

That is, people who struggle to get work see 65 to 98 per cent of each pound they make on top of any benefits disappear. With the added complications of the online process and sanctions, the take-up rate of unemployment benefits is dropping rapidly while many fall into debt and/or dependence on family rather than claim what they are entitled to.

With the benefit cap, sanctions, the sadistic harassment of disabled people who lose everything after failing a tick-box Work Capability Assessment (WCA) while challenging these judgments (the central problem in I, Daniel Blake), the cuts both in terms of actual benefits under Universal Credit and the lack of uprating in line with inflation for other entitlements, we have a terrible onslaught threatening the economy and diversity of Camden.

This situation also costs our already hard-pressed NHS untold millions in terms of increased mental and physical ill-health, time doctors have to spend writing letters to defend their patients’ entitlements, NHS-trained staff syphoned off to do tick-box work for the WCA.

Then there is the cost of tribunals, which are won by 35 per cent of claimants without outside help, and some 65 per cent or more with help.

And yet there are no sanctions, fines, or any other penalties for either the companies who run WCA or the Department for Work and Pensions for faulty judgments.

A far better and fairer alternative mentioned by Mr Wheatley, is Universal Basic Income (UBI), a regular payment made to each individual without means-test or work requirement.

Where it has been piloted in Canada, Namibia and India, excellent effects were seen with reductions of hospital visits and crime while economic activity increased. UBI is now being piloted in Finland and the Netherlands with other pilots on the way in many other places.

With UBI, work on top always pays more, which is really not the case with UC or other benefits, and disabled people aren’t starved while they defend their right to the extra help they might need.

Despite the wealth of the city just down the road, people in Camden, as elsewhere in the UK, are struggling too hard for survival, whether we have a job or not.

The NHS saw the principle of universality established, but we need to look after people before they get sick.

BARB JACOBSON
Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association

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