- Chapter 4 briefly presents the findings from the first year of the study.
- Participants with a health condition or a disability, and those who were lone parents, reported that they wanted to be in work, but faced considerable barriers to doing so, which were unlikely to be addressed by increasing conditionality.
- Those expected to seek work did not feel that they received sufficient support from their Jobcentre Plus or Work Programme advisors. Some have been helped by external organisations, but these services are not always signposted by Jobcentre Plus.
- DLA recipients had not yet been reassessed for PIP, but reported some concern about whether they would continue to be eligible for support under the new system.
- Participants noted the rising costs of essential items such as food and utilities, which added further pressure to already stretched household budgets.
- The bedroom tax had caused problems for some participants, but this has been effectively mitigated through DHPs in most cases.
- There was a lack of clarity regarding the way in which changes to benefits have been communicated to recipients, and this has created a great deal of confusion, anxiety, and in some cases financial difficulties.
4.1. This chapter presents the findings of the study as they relate to the key aims of welfare reform. It focuses on two major elements of welfare reform: getting people into work, and managing expenditure on welfare. There are also cross cutting themes presented in the chapter: the communication of the rationale and detail of the reforms by the UK Government and relevant agencies such as the DWP; and the differential impacts of the reforms on different groups and/or individuals in receipt of welfare benefits.
Getting people into work
4.2. A central aim of the UK Government's welfare reforms is to get more people into work, and a number of measures have been introduced as a result. These include more personalised and intensive support to help individuals find work (especially the long-term unemployed), and adjustments to the benefits system that are designed to incentivise employment by ensuring that it pays more to be in work than claiming out of work benefits. New conditionality rules have also intensified the requirements upon certain recipients of out of work benefits, including lone parents, and those out of work due to a health condition or disability.
Tightening conditionality for lone parents
4.3. Of the lone parents in this study who were not in employment, most claimed JSA as their income replacement benefit, and were therefore obliged to seek and be available for work as a condition of claiming this benefit. Lone parents are entitled to some flexibility with these conditions, such as the ability to restrict their search to part-time or term-time positions. However, the lone parents in this study did not feel that there were many job opportunities that fitted such criteria:
"…..there are limited hours when I can work, I can't work evenings and weekends. And it is £25 a day for [out of school] childcare for both boys. There are not many jobs I can do around school hours." Female, 32, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 2).
"I search for [retail] jobs and they're all full-time positions. I can't do a full-time position because of the children, I can only work from 10 till 2, so even part-time I can only do it four days a week, it's practically impossible for me to get a job." Male, 59, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 2).
4.4. The interim report of this study (Lister et al., 2014) established that, in general, lone parents felt that their interactions with the Jobcentre were not particularly helpful, and created a punitive atmosphere that was not conducive to making them feel positive or confident about returning to work. Participants perceived that Jobcentre Plus advisors had little understanding of the difficulties of adhering to the JSA regime for those with childcare responsibilities. For example, one female participant found it difficult attending appointments with her Jobcentre Plus advisor as she could not bring her children along with her:
"[I've tried] to get them to allow me to take my kids in, I've said to them this is the only way I can get to appointments, and they've said they will help me make up a CV and things but I'm not allowed to bring the kids in." Female, 24, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 1).
4.5. The perceived attitude of Jobcentre staff led to the lone parents feeling unfairly characterised as lazy, when in fact they wanted to be in work, so that they could be positive role models for their children, and because being in work increased their self-esteem:
"I have always worked, and I all I want to do is to be able to take care of my daughter and be a role model for her." Female, 45, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 1).
"The first thing people do…when you meet somebody, 'what do you do?' - and it's not enough to say you're a mother. I've never been about money, it's always been about status - whatever your job is…you feel good about yourself… [when I was in work] I did have a status, I felt amazing. It's degrading, I hate people asking me 'what do you do?'" Female, 40, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 1).
4.6. However, there was also a feeling amongst the lone parent participants that the rules they were subject to should take into account the traumatic events (such as domestic violence, substance abuse or ill health) that can precipitate, and continue into, lone parenthood, and the impact of these on the children. Some wanted to work, but felt that that being in work may not be the best thing for a family still in recovery:
"My youngest daughter is five but I am not emotionally ready to go back to work, I am not mentally fit to go back to work... it's only now that we have got a full week of [younger daughter] going to school because she couldn't cope with it, with me on courses and not always being there. Even my mum picking her up unsettled her. She wasn't ready for me to not be there… Being a mother is the most important job and it's really important for children to give them stability. The school was concerned about her not settling and she wouldn't sleep at night, and I am expected to job search then. I think how am I going to hold down a job?" Female, 43, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 1).
"[I can't get a job] unless I put the children into some kind of after school club or childcare, and I've told them I'm not prepared to do that because they've been through enough. They're only six and five, and this is the fourth house we've lived in." Male, 59, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 2).
4.7. Three of the lone parents in the study had moved into work between the two sweeps of data collection; two moved into part-time positions and one into a full-time (30 hour) position. All three had previously been claiming JSA, and expressed considerable relief at no longer being subject to the JSA regime, which had been a source of stress when they were unemployed:
"It's just such a relief [to be off JSA], a huge, huge relief, that you don't need to fill in a diary, you don't need to explain yourself, you don't need to explain your whereabouts, what you're doing for job searching. Having a child's quite full on as well, and having to do everything at night time, then worrying that you've not done enough, not sleeping the night before because you're thinking about sanctions, just being on edge about it all the time. So that's the biggest relief, that it's gone." Female, 31, lone parent, employed
4.8. Those who had moved into work had found that the impact on household finances was modest (see section below on making work pay), but reported a huge improvement in well-being:
"My self-esteem has just soared. I never thought I could feel this good." Female, 45, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
"I was really depressed and down about things a few months back, but now I've got so much going on, a busier head, just thinking about new things… I'm in a wee happy bubble at the moment!" Female, 31, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.9. All of the lone parents in employment relied on some form of childcare; either formal childcare, informal care from relatives or friends, or a mixture. The issue of childcare was particularly pertinent during school holidays, when more childcare is required. These arrangements often relied on intense organisation and co-operation between family members:
"I juggled [during the Easter holidays]. My mum and dad had her, my sister had her, nan and papa, one of her school friends as well." Female, 40, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.10. It was not just lone parents who reported difficulties in finding suitable childcare. One participant, who had no recourse to informal support, found it difficult to make suitable arrangements if she or her husband were required to work outside standard hours:
"Holidays are a nightmare, and bank holidays are worse because everything's shut, and [employer is] not…Basically if I'm at work and she's not at school, [husband] has to be off work, and vice versa. So we very seldom have the three of us together as a family. Trying to find childcare on standard nine to five days off is just about impossible, nobody did Christmas week last year, and [husband] had to close [small business]." Female, 37, married with one child in the household, employed (Sweep 2).
Moving those with a health condition or disability into work
4.11. One objective of welfare reform has been to improve the way that people are assessed for disability benefits, so that this assessment is better at distinguishing between people who cannot work due to a health condition or disability, and those that can work (or might be able to at some point in the future). This latter group can then be kept closer to the labour market and given more support to move into employment.
4.12. The interim report of this study suggested that the WCA for ESA placed a considerable strain on participants. There was a general feeling among participants that the process was neither dignified nor fair, and that the criteria used in the assessment failed to truly encapsulate a person's ability to work, particularly for those with fluctuating or 'invisible' conditions. The process itself, and the time spent waiting for assessments, judgements and tribunals, was also considered very stressful.
4.13. The reassessment of IB recipients for ESA was a relatively straightforward process in some cases, but more of a struggle in others. Several of the study participants were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), despite what they perceived as their clear unfitness for work. Some participants were puzzled by the positive prognosis of the WCA, which was at odds with the views of their own health care professionals:
"Atos assessed me in absentia because I couldn't get to their office and they decided I should be working in 18 months. They used GP reports, but I wasn't there, I wasn't fit enough to get there. I have thirty years of psychiatric reports. But Atos said there has been some psychiatric improvement in the past and so they decided I could work in 18 months." Male, 42, mental health condition (Sweep 1).
"I went to Atos [because I had a long-term nervous system condition] and got an orthopaedic examination… They said I would get better in a year." Female, 61, nervous system condition (Sweep 1).
4.14. One participant was placed in the WRAG by the DWP decision maker, despite the conclusion of the WCA that he was unlikely to be able to work:
"I looked at my medical report…from Atos and I was quite shocked because she had stated 'work unlikely' and 'improvement unlikely'. So the nurse had said to the decision maker that I'm not fit for work, but the decision maker is saying no we'll put him into the WRAG." Male, 43, sight disorder (Sweep 1).
4.15. One participant with a mental health condition was initially awarded no points after a distressing WCA that she did not feel adequately took on board the impact that her condition has on her:
"For the medical for the ESA they should offer support to go with you because going alone is really quite horrible and some of them have no sympathy and they look down on you…I thought it was an invasion of privacy. And you can't see panic attacks." Female, 24, mental health condition (Sweep 1).
4.16. This idea of the WCA failing to account for the impact of 'hidden' conditions arose in other participants' accounts of their experiences:
"[I lost my entitlement] because I have mental health illness. It's not recognised. [Mental health condition] doesn't come under their points schedule. No matter how much you say I might be fine, I might be articulate but you don't see me in the house. You get your year, they review you and that is that unless you are in [psychiatric unit]." Male, 38, mental health condition (Sweep 1).
"I think [not being placed in Support Group] has got a lot to do with the invisibility of the condition." Female, 60, nervous system condition (Sweep 2).
4.17. Several of those who had initially been declared fit for work, or placed in the ESA WRAG, subsequently appealed these decisions, and in the majority of cases this was successful. In some cases the process was relatively straightforward:
"[I appealed] and to be fair the DWP were absolutely great and out of the blue they said they had reconsidered it and I was in the Support Group and that I wasn't to be bothered for another two years." Male, 42, mental health condition (Sweep 1).
"The doctor just asked me three questions about my eyesight and then he just looked at the judge as if to say 'he shouldn't be here' and the judge was really nice, he calmed me down a wee bit. He said if there is anything you can't understand we'll help you understand it. That took three minutes and I was out the door again. And then it took two minutes and my representative went back in [to get the verdict]… and he looked at me and started laughing and said 'You've won! You're in the Support Group'." Male, 43, sight disorder (Sweep 1).
4.18. However, even those who had found the appeal itself relatively straightforward noted the stress created by the initial decision, and the time spent waiting to see whether it would be overturned. Some participants found the appeal experience more daunting. One participant was asked to describe her symptoms, some of which she found extremely embarrassing to talk about, in great detail, but the judge ruled that she was lying about them, and her appeal was unsuccessful. Another participant had a successful outcome, but found the process to be a traumatic experience:
"It was a nightmare, a total nightmare… going to [appeal venue], sitting in front of two people, feeling that low. Luckily I had someone from welfare rights with me… it was like being back at school, two people bombard you with question after question… it lasted about 40 minutes, [the decision took] about five minutes… and I passed it, I don't know how." Male, 49, mental health condition (Sweep 2).
4.19. Many participants who have been through this process expressed anger at the DWP's approach to assessing and awarding ESA; they felt disbelieved, under attack, and that it had put them through unnecessary stress. And those who had a negative experience were apprehensive about having to repeat the experience when they are reassessed:
"People should not have to be constantly reassessed if your condition is not going to improve…People should not be constantly put through this cycle. It's more taxpayer's money. When you are in the support group you get three years…I think it should be seven or eight years. But the way they do it is brutal, as if they don't believe you." Male, 43, sight disorder (Sweep 2).
"I don't want to think about going through that process again." Male, 49, mental health condition (Sweep 2).
4.20. There was little evidence that those with a health condition or disability needed reforms to the system to encourage them into work. Participants were in general very frustrated about not being able to work, but felt that it simply was not possible. As one participant said:
"I still feel that work would be doable, and I'd want to do it, but it'd have to be really flexible… Sometimes I just think, stuff it, come off all these benefits and don't fight anymore and just try and get a job, almost going into it out of sheer pig-headedness. But I know I'd probably end up quite ill if I did that…But I don't like it, and I don't like the way people treat me." Female, 26, nervous system condition (Sweep 2).
4.21. Similar sentiments were expressed by participants who were not disabled themselves, but were carers for disabled children:
"You are judged by other people, they think 'oh well we are working to take care of you lot'. Some people would say you are parents to these kids so you should look after them anyway. But we would love to work. We were doing alright when we were younger and we were both working but I had no other option [but to give up work]." Female, 39, full-time carer (Sweep 2).
4.22. However, despite wanting to work, most saw their health condition or disability as the main, and in some cases only, barrier to employment. They did not see themselves as a suitable target for being encouraged into employment, because of the constraints that their condition placed upon their ability to work. The nature of these constraints depended on the particular condition or disability. For some, pain and fatigue (as a result of the condition itself, or due to the condition causing a lack of sleep) interfered with the ability to carry out tasks:
"I couldn't cope with work now. My sleep pattern is difficult, I just don't sleep well. I'm still up during the night just to go to the toilet I mean I'm not in a situation where I feel I am capable of going back to work." Male, 60, nervous system disorder (Sweep 2).
"Pain and fatigue [are the main barriers]…I have to have a nap when [daughter] is at nursery." Female, 34, musculoskeletal disorder (Sweep 2).
4.23. Some conditions necessitated frequent and/or urgent visits to the toilet, and needing to be near a toilet at all times. Although the Equality Act (2010) would forbid discrimination against an employee who had issues with incontinence, and an employer would be required to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace for this, not all occupations could be suitably adjusted. One participant felt that this would pose a significant barrier to her employment opportunities:
"I think part of what my illness does to me causes problems, there's toileting problems, and there's times when I have to go to the toilet. If I'm sitting on a till, and I have to go to the toilet, I have to go instantly, I can't hang on five minutes." Female, 52, nervous system disorder (Sweep 2).
4.24. Issues with sight or mobility can make it impossible to get around, and to use standard equipment, and even adapted equipment is not suitable for all sight conditions. One participant who was able to manage in her own home with the help of adapted equipment and a guide dog expressed concern that the DWP would expect her to be able to do these tasks in the context of employment:
"I am worried that they might think because I can cook in my kitchen I could also cook in a hotel. But I have scales that talk in my kitchen, it is within my own limitations." Female, 58, sight disorder (Sweep 2).
4.25. Even for those who might be capable of work on a 'good' day, they felt that the fluctuating nature of their condition made it impossible to be a reliable employee:
"It's really quite difficult, because you're expected to be there certain days, on a regular basis, and I can't guarantee how I am from day to day. I can have good spells, for a good few weeks, when there's nothing wrong at all, and then I'm hellish again. It drives me nuts!" Female, 52, nervous system disorder (Sweep 2).
More support to move into work
4.26. Overall, study participants who were on JSA or in the ESA WRAG reported that they did not find their interactions with Jobcentre Plus particularly helpful in finding work. None of those who had moved into work between the two sweeps of data collection cited these interactions as being helpful in getting them into work. The role of the Jobcentre Plus advisor was perceived as limited:
"When I was unemployed I went to [the Jobcentre]…the girl that looked after me was lovely, and there was another chap, they were both really nice, quite understanding, but at the end of the day there's only so much they can do." Female, 45, lone parent (Sweep 2)
4.27. Those with a health condition or disability felt that Jobcentre staff lacked knowledge about what these conditions or disabilities were, and how they might impact a person's life and ability to work. As a result, participants felt that the staff did not know how to help them, and saw them primarily in terms of their disability:
"They didn't ask me what jobs I would want to do, they didn't ask me what my skills were, they didn't even ask me what I had done at uni. All they focused on was my disability and how it affected me." Female, 26, nervous system condition (Sweep 1).
4.28. A visually impaired participant struggled to explain the impact of his condition to Jobcentre staff:
"The Jobcentre said we have people who are visually impaired who work, they have these adaptations…but none of these are any use to me [because they don't work for people with my specific condition]. There's a lot of people with visual impairments who can't adapt to these adaptations. But it's as if they don't want to hear it." Male, 43 sight disorder (Sweep 1).
4.29. The UK Government's flagship policy on increasing support, particularly for the long term unemployed, to find work is the Work Programme, which is mandated for those who have been on JSA for a certain period of time (usually a year, or nine months for those under 25), and also for some ESA recipients who are deemed to be close to work. A few of the study participants had been on the Work Programme, but did not find it particularly helpful:
"I go along, and I tell them what I've told you, and they nod their heads and say yes we understand, and they ask what you've been doing, which is the same as at the Jobcentre, so I describe all that and they say very good…it wasn't that they were bad or lazy, there were some very nice people there and I had some very interesting interviews and conversations, I just didn't know what they could do. They don't have any more of a magic key than I do!" Male, 56, unemployed (Sweep 1).
4.30. One participant on the Work Programme said that one useful thing their Work Programme provider had done was to facilitate some voluntary work, which was in a similar area to the kind of job she would like. Voluntary work had also played a role in helping two of the participants who had moved into work between the two sweeps, by helping them to gain relevant skills and knowledge. One participant also felt that it gave her a boost in confidence, which had been lacking while she was unemployed. However, she stressed that this volunteering was useful particularly because it was something she had done of her own volition - because it was of interest to her - in contrast to activities that had been mandated as part of her JSA agreement:
"I think even just doing the volunteering was a huge leap towards getting back into the workplace, and changing my focus, getting up earlier, getting out, just doing stuff. Before it was all very humdrum and same old… It's one thing the Jobcentre sending you for voluntary work, but it's on their terms. If you get into something that you're interested in and you want to do, that was the way forward for me definitely." Female, 31, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.31. One participant had found a job through the Universal Jobmatch website, but most participants who had used this site complained that it was unreliable, and that the adverts were often for jobs that did not exist, or were possibly a 'scam' (for example bogus adverts posted with the intent of harvesting applicants' details). Those who had moved into work had found out about the job opportunity either through other internet sites, or through their own networks. Other employability services run by third sector organisations were also highlighted as playing a key role in helping participants to move into work. One participant highlighted the role of a confidence-building course she had done through a third sector organisation in helping her to stay positive whilst looking for work:
"It was very non-judgemental, they were great listeners, but at the same time they would give you food for thought… made you realise a lot of things about yourself… 'cause I was getting to that point, that downward spiral that would have been pretty hard to crawl out of if that hadn't come along at that point." Female, 43, lone parent, employed. (Sweep 2).
4.32. As well as supporting the search for work, third sector organisations were also cited as useful sources of advice on the transition to work; specifically the financial implications and the process of applying for tax credits and finding childcare. In some cases, participants had been referred to relevant external organisations by the Jobcentre, but this was very ad hoc, and most had found out about relevant support elsewhere:
"The Jobcentre didn't even mention Remploy." Female, 26, nervous system condition (Sweep 1).
"The Jobcentre say they are there to help but they don't disclose anything unless you already know about it, they don't tell you what you are entitled to so I don't know where you would go. I found this course on my own, the Jobcentre didn't tell me about it." Female, 24, lone parent (Sweep 1).
The incentive: making work pay
4.33. Part of helping those out of work to escape the 'benefits trap' is ensuring that they are financially better off in work than on out of work benefits. For those who had moved into work between the two sweeps, it was too early to say whether the household was better off; participants generally had a sense that they were, but only slightly. However their recent experiences of being on JSA and living on a very low income meant that they were still extremely cautious about money. In some cases this anxiety was in part because they had moved into a temporary contract; only one of the participants had moved into a job on a permanent contract, and for those on temporary contracts, their relief was tempered by concern about the future. There was also an element of their previous mindset of caution with regard to money requiring some time to shift:
"It's just weird, you can get a taxi and think 'oh my God I've just spent on that and I'm not skint', it's great. Don't get me wrong, you can't just blow it here there and everywhere…I'm still being dead careful. I want another mobile phone but I'm keeping to my £7 a month contract. I'm being so thrifty and that's just not me, I've always tried to help people out but being skint is always on the back of my mind. I have to be careful." Female, 40, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
"In my head I'm still on Jobseeker's, I'm just keeping that mentality of living on nothing, and anything else is a bonus." Female, 31, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.34. Those not in work did not necessarily perceive that they would be better off if they found employment. One participant questioned if being in work (particularly at around the National Minimum Wage) would make him better off than remaining on benefits:
"If I do 16 hours, it's going to be at minimum wage, and it means I'd be working for 16 hours, 16 hours of my time that I use to maintain the house, do the shopping, stuff like that, at the end of it I'd only be £20 richer than if I was on benefits. So where's the incentive?" Male, 49, lone parent, unemployed (Sweep 2).
4.35. However, the same participant also stressed his desire to be in work, and the negative impact of not being in work on his well-being and self-esteem. It is important to take these financial considerations about the benefits of work in the context of a general desire to be in work, as outlined above. Despite a limited improvement in household finances, those who had moved into work reported a large improvement in household well-being.
4.36. The impact on benefit or other entitlements of moving into work was a concern for some out of work participants. For example, one participant wanted to be in work, but was worried how this might affect her entitlement to legal aid, which she was receiving as she was going through divorce proceedings. Another participant, who was a carer for several people and also a part-time student, also questioned whether she would be able to find employment that would make her better off, given the high rate at which any earnings would be deducted from her benefits, and the knock-on impact on her entitlement to housing support:
"Because I'm on a combination of Carer's Allowance and Income Support, you're allowed to earn £20 a week before your money is affected. Even dropping the Income Support, which is £45, you'd have to be earning quite a bit to make up that loss, but you can't go over the £100 [earnings limit for Carers Allowance]…and it could affect the Housing Benefit and the Council Tax Benefit." Female, 56, carer (Sweep 2).
4.37. The income of those in low-paid jobs is enhanced through the tax credit system, so that even taking a relatively poorly paid job should be more financially rewarding than out of work benefits. This was certainly the case for one of the participants who had moved into work, who found it easier to manage financially as a result of working 16 hours a week and receiving tax credits. This put her in a better financial situation than she was in Sweep 1, when she was in receipt of JSA:
"I did feel that the Jobseeker's Allowance was a bit of an unfair system. It was a very difficult situation, I'd never been unemployed before, and to be given £140 a fortnight, how is a person meant to survive on that with a child? It's impossible. I'm lucky to have parents that could buy me food... [now] I get [amount], I couldn't ask for any better than that, I think that amount for one person and a child is enough." Female, 43, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.38. However, the transition period from out of work benefits to an income of wages supplemented by tax credits caused difficulty for some:
"[Moving from JSA to WTC was] hellish, it was a month [before any money was received]. Before that it was Christmas time and I was lucky, I got some money back from [selling] my couch and I got £200 for something else so I exhausted those savings and I struggled like mad, and then [I got a Crisis Grant] to tide me over till I got paid."
Female, 40, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
"It's quite daunting [moving from JSA to WTC] to be honest, I can understand people who get to that stage and just go 'no it's too much to take that leap', because trying to figure it all out is quite a minefield of where you're at and what you're entitled to, so it can be difficult to take that leap… I signed off JSA and that's it, you're just sort of left in limbo, you just have to wait for your first wage and the tax credits will kick in." Female, 32, lone parent, employed (Sweep 2).
4.39. One participant found that the way in which tax credits respond to changes in income - i.e. the changes are made for the following tax year - makes it difficult to budget:
"It's odd, you phone them and say they're not going to drop it until the new tax year, when they claw it back…so I'll be getting less this tax year than I would otherwise have got, and I'm still not quite sure how all that works, and I'm good at maths!" Female, 37, married with one child in the household, employed (Sweep 2).
4.40. The complexity of tax credits, and negative experiences in the past, put some off applying altogether:
"I probably should [apply for Working Tax Credits], but my experience of Working Tax Credits [in the past] has not been a good one. Some years ago I worked for six months part-time and got Working Tax Credit, and then I received a letter telling me I have to pay it all back again, without explanation. When I phoned them up I was told there was an error and they'd sort it, but then I got another demand. I phoned them again, they said it hadn't been passed to the right team, and then about two years later I got a letter from a debt collector company demanding I pay the full amount." Male, 58, self-employed (Sweep 2).
4.41. Many of these issues are intended to be addressed through the move to Universal Credit. People should always be better off in work, and the move to one single payment rather than multiple benefits and tax credits is supposed to make this clearer. The monthly payment is also supposed to reduce the difference between being in work or not. None of the participants in this study had been moved onto Universal Credit. In Sweep 1 there was a high degree of uncertainty among participants about what the changes will mean for them, and there was some trepidation about the move to a monthly payment and a fully online system. Sweep 2 found similar uncertainty about what Universal Credit entails:
"I think the Universal Credit thing is getting closer - that worries me, I think they are going to change it so you have to look for work all the time." Female, 32, JSA recipient (Sweep 2).
Managing expenditure on welfare
4.42. As well as moving people into work, a central aim of welfare reform has been to reduce overall expenditure on the welfare budget. Participants in the study were affected by a number of measures taken to limit expenditure: changes to disability benefits such as the replacement of DLA with PIP; the restriction in uprating of certain benefits and tax credits; and the removal of the spare room subsidy for social housing tenants.
The replacement of DLA with PIP
4.43. PIP has been introduced with the objective of better focusing support for disabled people on the basis of how a disability or condition affects a person's life. However, there is an explicit target of a 20 per cent cut in expenditure included in this reform, which suggests that some current DLA recipients will experience a loss or reduction of entitlement when they are reassessed for PIP. This was a source of concern for DLA recipients in this study. None had been reassessed yet, although one participant was in the process of applying as a new claimant. Participants expressed a great deal of uncertainty about how the move to PIP would affect them:
"I don't know how PIP is going to work, what the criteria and rates will be….don't know where to go for advice on this, and advice lines are expensive, a lot of these phone numbers are quite high rates, which I think is terrible, people who haven't got a lot of money and they have to phone them, and they have you on the phone for ages." Female, 39, carer for disabled child (Sweep 2).
"From what I heard on the news last night, it seems like everything's so shambolic that the timetable [for PIP reassessment] might not work." Female, 58, DLA recipient (Sweep 2).
"At the moment people who are called up to PIP, their DLA is being stopped and they don't get any money until that is sorted out…they are saying it is not going to be rolled up here till October  so I don't know what's happening with it but that is a bit of a worry." Male, 43, DLA recipient (Sweep 2).
4.44. Poor health also makes it harder to seek answers and resolve issues around benefits and impending changes. As one participant put it:
"Someone who is relatively well can focus on the issues ahead, PIP for example, I would probably have been more proactive but I feel that currently my focus is on my health rather than benefits which I will hopefully continue to receive but may not." Male, 60, nervous system condition (Sweep 2).
The limiting of contributory ESA for those in the WRAG to one year
4.45. Greater means testing of ESA was introduced with the intention of reducing expenditure on the benefit. However, the findings of this study suggested that the difference between contributory and income based was poorly understood, and a poorly managed transition between the two could be chaotic.
4.46. One participant found that her benefits were stopped in the transition between contribution and income based ESA, and she struggled to get any explanation as to why this had happened:
"[My benefits] were stopped between changing from income related to contribution based. And I phoned up and asked DWP what's the difference and they said they didn't know, so why did they stop the money?" Female, 26, nervous system condition (Sweep 1).
4.47. Another participant found the transition from contributory to income-based ESA hugely complicated. The household had a number of income streams, including Incapacity Benefit for the participant's husband (who was himself currently undergoing reassessment for ESA), a small pension, and Carer's Allowance, which had been suddenly stopped without explanation. She received many conflicting letters from the DWP informing her of changes to her entitlements, but was unable to obtain a definitive answer from the DWP - via telephone or in person at the Jobcentre - regarding what she should be receiving. The delay and uncertainty left the household in an extremely difficult financial situation.
4.48. The freezing of benefit rates, or a restriction in their increase below the rate of inflation, implies a drop in their value in real terms, making it potentially more difficult to meet household expenses. Most participants in the study reported struggling financially, with the majority reporting that they found it difficult to meet basic living expenses (Table 4.1).
Table 4.1: How easy participants find it to pay for basic living expenses (e.g. rent, food, bills)
4.49. Many participants were concerned about the rising costs of living, and felt that the annual increments in benefit rates did not adequately reflect this rise:
"I would say things are actually getting harder…The costs of living are rising and the benefit rates aren't, and it is becoming more difficult." Female, 39, full-time carer, rural (Sweep 2).
"Everything gets more expensive. It doesn't sound like much, but [supermarket] have put their milk up by 10p, and it all adds up." Female, 37, employed, urban (Sweep 2).
"[My household income is] the same, it's just harder to make the money stretch." Female, 43, unemployed, urban (Sweep 2).
4.50. One participant noted that the small annual increment in his disability benefits was more than negated by the much larger increase in the amount that his local authority required him to contribute towards his personal care, leaving him much worse off.
4.51. At the second sweep of interviews, participants were asked about the impact of additional costs imposed over winter by greater heating requirements and Christmas. The cost of utility bills was something that came up as a particular source of rising costs:
"Well you're not getting as much as you used to for your gas and electricity. £10 could have done me well over a week, whereas now it's not lasting, so the fuel charges have definitely affected [me]…I've seen a definite increase in monies outgoing for that..." Female, 56, full-time carer (Sweep 2).
"The prices going up, it's so frustrating. I was reading this morning about the 'big six' energy companies, and their cost of gas have gone down, but they've not passed any of that along to the customer." Male, 58, ESA Work Related Activity Group (Sweep 2).
4.52. However, several remarked that the costs over the colder months had not been as high as they had expected, due to the mild winter in 2013/14. One participant noted that she coped well with winter fuel bills because her Housing Association accommodation was well insulated. This, she argued, was the reason the family were able to escape high energy bills:
"I'm in a new build flat, I didn't have to turn the heating on once, which is a good thing because it's electric and it costs a bloody fortune. Basically that made the difference, we made it through the winter, otherwise we'd just have been very, very, cold like we were last year." Female, 37, employed, urban (Sweep 2).
4.53. Additional costs during the winter months could also be incurred due to the festive period. Attitudes towards present buying varied, with some participants choosing to spend very little, while others felt it was important that their children received the gifts they wanted. A popular strategy employed was to buy items throughout the year, in order to spread the cost. One participant took out a loan in order to enable her to provide Christmas gifts, and another was still paying off loans from the previous Christmas:
"[Personal credit provider] loan. It's what you do, you've got to when you've got kids, you can't say Santa's not coming this year, can you?" Female, 42 full-time carer (Sweep 2).
"There probably wasn't as much under the tree, but I chose to buy the things [daughter] really, really wanted… all the wee silly stocking fillers that end up in a drawer, I didn't do any of that, and she had a great time." Female, 45, employed (Sweep 2).
"What I do is from January onwards I see things, and I think… that'll do somebody for such and such… so when it comes to December there's not a great big issue of let's go out and spend a fortune on presents that we can't afford." Female, 52, ESA Support Group (Sweep 2).
4.54. A point made by some of those on out of work benefits was the high cost of transport, relative to their income, particularly for those with children. This made family trips prohibitively expensive in some cases:
"It's so hard to find the money for bus fares, it's almost impossible, the amount of money it costs if you're having to do different things, it's a huge chunk out of the money available to you." Female, 43, lone parent (Sweep 2).
"If the Scottish Government want children to be healthier, we need to get them out… but for [self and two children] to go on an away day it would cost £7.50, that's like 10 per cent of my benefits for that week." Male, 49, lone parent (Sweep 2).
Removal of the spare room subsidy
4.55. Those affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy generally found this to have a noticeable negative impact on household budgets. One participant accrued £200 of rent arrears. Another reported that the amount payable, at £60 per month, was more than the household was currently paying in Council Tax. One participant felt that the charge added to an already stretched household budget:
"The bedroom tax is just horrendous. You do not have any spare money at all. And council tax as well… you feel as if it's just one thing after another, hitting you constantly…you just have to really cut down on everything." Female, 40, lone parent, JSA (Sweep 1).
4.56. Most (but not all) of those who had been affected by the policy eventually had managed to obtain a DHP, although in some cases this took several attempts. One participant was turned down twice on income grounds, but accepted on a third attempt, on the grounds that the property was adapted. He had been eligible on this basis from the start, but the relevant information was not collected in the first two applications. One participant remarked on the intrusiveness of the DHP application process, and felt that the required information should be known to the authorities already:
"It's really intrusive, you've got to write down everything…I think it's a bit much, basically they want to know everything about your life…exactly how much you've got in the bank, if you've got any shares, any savings…how much I pay for electricity, how much I pay for everything…you should just be able to put down that you're on Income Support, they know how much you're getting…I even had to put down [daughter's] DLA…that's got nothing to do with it." Female, 42, full-time carer (Sweep 1).
4.57. One participant, who uses a second bedroom for overnight assistance from time to time, has an understanding social landlord, but feels some insecurity at relying on their good will;
"I did get billed [for the surcharge] but [Housing Association] said ignore the bill, we're not going to evict you, you have put a letter into the council… and going on what you said you will be fine. I didn't hear any more… I haven't had another bill, but I've had nothing to say I am exempt, so I could get a massive bill." Female, 26, ESA Support Group (Sweep 1).
Communication by government and agencies
4.58. Across the various welfare reforms affecting the study participants, there was a recurring issue around the way in which the rationale for, and details of, these changes have been communicated, by both the UK Government and the agencies implementing the policies. Our findings in the interim report suggested that participants find some of the changes complex, and are not always getting the necessary information, in a sensitive and appropriate way, and this has led to fear, uncertainty, financial problems, and stigma.
4.59. At the level of public discourse, some participants felt that the way in which the UK Government talks about the need for welfare reform plays upon what they perceive as widespread ignorance among the general public, to create a negative feeling towards benefit recipients in order to justify reducing benefits:
"I think there is disinformation coming from the government, and they paint a negative picture which reflects badly for all disabled people, not just a very small minority. The majority of the public don't understand that. They look cynically on disabled people that they don't want to work, which is wrong." Male, 60, ESA Support Group (Sweep 1).
"This whole universal credit thing, cutting benefits, capping Housing Benefit - the government know…that most people support this, but that opinion is from folk who are working and are okay, and have this idea that everyone else is scrounging. [The government] know they can get support from these people, a lot of people never come across areas of deprivation or disability." Male, 60, self-employed, DLA recipient (Sweep 1).
4.60. Most participants found this negative attitude to be prevalent in the media; as recounted in the interim report, most feel stigmatised in their status as benefit recipients, and for some this has a negative impact on mental well-being.
4.61. At the level of policy implementation, participants often described correspondence about benefit changes from the DWP as complicated and unclear, and this was a source of stress:
"[Husband] used to really panic when these brown letters come from the DWP, trying to work out what they're trying to say…two or three pages and you've got to get to the end of it to find out its fine, but all of that is stress added to already quite severely disabled people." Female, 48, full-time carer (Sweep 1).
"They sent me this generic letter, as far as I know I could be taken back out of it [Support Group]. I don't know if it's indefinite, I don't know if it's for a set period, I don't even think the Jobcentre know how it works. And it's always in the back of your mind that you could get a letter through the door and it could all start again, which has affected my mental health." Female, 26, ESA Support Group (Sweep 2).
4.62. Some participants received multiple communications, which contained conflicting information;
"There are days where we have gotten two or three big brown envelopes all in the same day. All from DWP, all from the same department, all saying different things." Female, 60, ESA WRAG (Sweep 2).
4.63. The study findings also suggested that participants found that information is not always forthcoming from the Jobcentre or the DWP; that they are not proactive in advising those claiming benefits about their entitlements, or other sources of help:
"I don't know if there's anything else out there because they tell you nothing. You've got to find these things out for yourself. At the beginning I didn't have a clue where I was going to get money from, and a friend of mine, fortunately she worked for the DWP and said 'apply for that, and that'." Female, 58, ESA WRAG (Sweep 1).
"They don't give you enough information about stuff. They don't offer it to you. If you don't have the mental capability to go and source something or find something out then you are screwed." Male, 49, lone parent, JSA (Sweep 2).
"I kept getting phone calls from [money advice service] and they kept asking have you received your backdated money, and I said I wasn't due any backdated money… [but the man at the money advice service said] they owe you more money…He says when you are put into the support group you get a premium. But the DWP don't tell people this. They should notice that and send you the ES3 form automatically... So you should be getting more, but they are not going to tell you that. They assume that you are going to find that out. But they don't want you to know that because they don't want to give you more money!" Male, 43, ESA Support Group (Sweep 2).
4.64. As noted in previous report, external sources of advice can provide a lifeline, but not all feel that they have access to this. Some participants, particularly those in more remote areas, do not have an advice service nearby. Others live near one, but struggle to access it:
"Now it is absolutely hellish, we have nobody… It is terrible, there is no one who can help us. We could maybe go to CAB but that takes a huge chunk out of your day when you have all this stuff going on, there is no personalised advice. There seems to be no one who will answer questions." Female, 61, disabled, carer (Sweep 2).
"There is a Citizen's Advice here in [town] but you are waiting about five weeks in order to get a meeting with somebody." Female, 44, lone parent (Sweep 1).
Differential impacts of the reforms on groups and individuals
4.65. The study findings suggest that welfare reforms have affected different people in different ways. Experiences vary depending on whether the participant lives in a rural or urban area, which local authority they live in, or even by which Jobcentre advisor or other service provider a person is in contact with.
4.66. Participants in rural areas felt particularly affected by the issue of rising living costs, because they felt that goods were more expensive for them than those in urban areas. The advantage of being able to buy cheaper goods in larger and less remote supermarkets was eliminated by the cost of transport for rural participants:
"You've just got to prioritise what comes first. Food, living in [rural area], it's not cheap… but if you were to add in fuel costs, by the time you've driven to [nearby urban area] it's much the same." Female, 42, full-time carer, rural (Sweep 2).
4.67. However this is not just an urban-rural issue; not everyone in a city had access to cheaper goods either:
"That [high street sized supermarket] there…the Government should price cap things, because it's absolutely shocking what they charge, £2 for six eggs when you can get them at [larger supermarket down the road] for £1.39. And again it's back to the bus fare thing, you maybe can't afford to go to the big supermarkets to save money, because it's going to cost you that extra money." Male, 49, unemployed, urban (Sweep 2).
4.68. The interim report noted some variation in participants' interactions with the Jobcentre. Some participants had extremely negative experiences at the Jobcentre, while others came into contact with helpful advisors. While specific circumstances and expectations may influence their perceptions, it appeared that a participant's experience was sometimes down to the particular advisor they had dealings with.
4.69. There also seemed to be some variation in participants' ability to navigate changes to benefits according to how well supported they were by other services such as social work or mental health services. Some felt very well supported by a social worker or other support worker, while others felt adrift. There seemed to be some inconsistency in participants' experiences of assistance from social work even within the same local authority; two participants in relatively similar situations reported a considerable difference in the extent to which their social worker provided information and support and helped to resolve queries. Another participant reported that he no longer received social work support as his condition had improved enough that it was no longer considered sufficiently severe or critical, but this meant that he had lost what he felt was his only source of help and advice about benefits issues.
4.70. Support for those with mental health issues seemed to vary. One participant cited the invaluable assistance of a support worker in helping her to understand the benefits system and fill in the necessary paperwork. However, not all of those in need of such help received it.
4.71. One participant cited the high cost of social care as a key issue he faced; he was liable for a considerable contribution towards this each month, and this amount was more than twice the amount he would pay in the neighbouring local authority.
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