Welfare Reform Ideas

Universalised welfare, bringing all benefits into one. Each pre-existing benefit would instead become a contributor to a single payable sum, with the rent portion of the housing component paid directly to the landlord. Claimants should be able to easily access a statement showing exactly how much they get, itemised by which components (currently separate benefits) contribute to it. The itemisation is for the purposes of ease of reading by the DWP and by the claimant, so that changes in rates can be clearly discerned and investigated by either party. This statement would encompass a weekly, monthly and annual rate, for ease of quantifying how much is received, which would be useful to place on virtually anything that asks for your financial status. Housing benefit would be factored in, but as previously stated, paid to the landlord.

Housing component

The housing component replaces housing benefit and council tax benefit. The amount paid to the landlord would reflect what the rent is on the property. Unlike currently, this rate would not be dictated by the landlord alone, but by agreement between the landlord and the local authority, after having had the property valued by the local authority. While claiming benefits, specifically the housing component, the claimant effectively defers tenancy of the property to the local authority, although must agree with the local authority to act within the terms of the tenancy. This would mean that the claimant, although responsible for their actions on the premises, are not responsible for rent. That responsibility falls to the tenant, nominally the local authority. As a consequence of being the tenant of the property, the local authority has the responsibility to ensure the claimant does not jeopardise the tenancy agreement in any way. Upon entering/leaving the benefits system, new tenancy agreements between claimant/local authority/landlord must be made. The main reason for all this is to ensure benefit claimants are not placed in substandard housing or mistreated by their landlords, to ensure the government has some control over the amount of rent it pays to private landlords, and to ensure that landlords can be secured a guarantee that rent will be paid properly and on time, with accountability being on those responsible for paying it.

Example: Pete lives in a privately rented one bedroom flat. He agreed to the rent rate when he moved in, and has been keeping up with his rent since. Unfortunately, he loses his job, and has to claim benefits. The DWP accepts his claim, and notifies the local authority immediately. The local authority send a housing agent to meet with Pete and assess the property he lives in. If the agent believes the property is not up to standard, this is noted and the landlord is notified at a later stage. During the meeting, the housing agent explains the situation to Pete, and arranges an appointment with Pete and his landlord at the council offices to negotiate rent and tenancy terms, to discuss potential issues noted in the initial assessment, and to draw up a new tenancy agreement, in which the local authority is listed as the tenant, with Pete as an authorised occupant. The landlord signs a separate agreement listing himself as the recipient of the agreed rent, and can thus be paid directly, starting the day Pete lost his job. Several months later, Pete notices damp on the walls inside his home. Instead of calling the landlord, he notifies the local authority, who send an agent round to assess the issue. If the agent is not satisfied, they then notify the landlord and ask for repairs to be made. Emergency repairs would bypass the assessment stage, and if the landlord cannot be contacted, the local authority might carry out the repairs and then bill the landlord afterwards. Soon afterwards, Pete gets a job, and closes his benefit claim. The DWP automatically pay Pete’s landlord a full month’s rent, and notifies the local authority. Another tenancy terms meeting is held, in which tenancy is negotiated and signed back over to Pete directly.

There are several ways in which it can go wrong. For example, Pete’s landlord might not wish to let to the local authority, even though his trusted tenant, Pete, is still the only one occupying his property. This would result in the local authority, on behalf of Pete, having to look for somewhere else for Pete to live. Being directly involved in the negotiations ensures the local authority is aware of the circumstances in which Pete became homeless, and their duty to rehouse him would be affirmed without the need for lengthy application processes. If Pete were to breach his responsibilities as an authorised occupant under the tenancy agreement, the landlord would have to lodge a complaint with the local authority, who would have to investigate, or indeed evict the local authority operating on Pete’s behalf. If the latter happens without the local authority’s agreement, their duty to rehouse Pete remains, although if a local authority investigation finds Pete to be in the wrong, the local authority is able to cease housing support for him, as is currently already the case with such matters.

Employment component

The employment component replaces employment and support allowance, working tax credits and jobseekers allowance. All unemployed recipients of the employment component would undergo a full initial assessment of their capabilities and their incapacities. This would be carried out by a panel of doctors, careers advisors, mentors and job coaches. The point would be to identify which kinds of work would be unsuitable for the claimant, and which kinds of work would be best suited to the claimant. Full medical history would be sought, and an in-depth series of tests would be carried out. The medical history would be assessed by the doctors, supported by the assessment itself. Meanwhile the testing would be to ascertain where the claimant should be heading with regard to work. If the claimant’s medical history shows the claimant to be unable to work, the assessment results in the claimant not being required to show availability or that they are actively seeking work. If the assessment shows the claimant to be best suited for a job they do not yet have the relevant qualifications or experience for, the claimant is sent for relevant training and receives the employment component without the ‘actively seeking work’ requirement, until they are qualified for that work. The suitability rating for various types of work stems from qualifications already gained, health conditions, experience, personality profiling, transferable skills, learning styles and interests, among many other factors.

These assessments would hopefully fix the benefit trap by sourcing up training for claimants to progress into work that they not only can do, but that would enhance their mental and physical wellbeing, by recognising an individual’s aspirations and natural skill set. By propelling people forward into a fulfilling working life, the extra costs associated with full time education, and in-depth assessments would be outweighed by the lowering of costs associated with people having long gaps in employment and few short term jobs. The assessments would also be fair to people with sicknesses and disabilities by identifying with them how much and what they are capable, and indeed incapable, of. People with illnesses would no longer be left forgotten, with no hope of finding work, but crucially they would also not be pushed into looking for work they would suffer from having. Instead of asking if someone’s fit for work, the assessments would ask what work, specifically, someone is fit for. Under this system, the available job pool would be continuously surveyed as well, and the results of surveying factored into the assessment results, meaning that not everyone is going to get trained towards their ideal job if that job is not likely to be obtainable (for example if there are few or no vacancies projected). Instead, the claimant would be handled appropriately towards the next best suited roles.

Workfare would remain, but certainly not in its current form. Instead, the DWP would open a sizable ‘Creative Employment and Skills Centre’, which would essentially just be wild land at first. Jobseekers who choose (they would be asked if they’d like to and given the option to volunteer, rather than being mandated to) to join the Work Program would be assigned roles according to their assessment results, and given work to do on a voluntary basis. Between all of them, the jobseekers would be given first hand experience in an ongoing project to build, maintain, run, organize and administrate a large centre focused solely on work and training. The DWP’s role would merely be to oversee and fund the project, which would be wholly ‘community’ led. Essentially, it would be a kind of camp where people without formal employment can support each other into finding work. Or it might not be a camp, with residential facilities. It might just be a type of school. Depends what the volunteers decide.

The employment component would also incorporate what is currently disability living allowance, although the current criteria for disability living allowance and the way it works would remain unchanged. It would still be independent of employment status and would still be an addition to other components. However, it would no longer be paid four-weekly, but weekly, along with all other components. In short, there would be no separate ‘disability component’, although disability costs would be added to the employment component rather than factored in as part of it.

Age component

The age component would replace the current child benefits, child tax credits, state pension and other age-related state income.

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