In 2010, the Coalition Government pledged “to protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our society” (Crown Copyright,2011)  despite the heavy cutbacks proposed and the drastic reform of the Welfare System. This pledge does seem like an antithetical position, and is one open to the most criticism. But what makes someone part of the ‘poorest’ or ‘most vulnerable’ category, and how will the reforms ‘protect’ them?

Some people are easily identifiable as ‘poor’. Those who live on the meagre weekly payments of means-tested benefits are the most visible: those on Income Support, Job Seekers Allowance, Carer’s Allowance and income-based ESA. Pensioners on Pension Credit and those who qualify for certain levels of Working Tax Credit or Help with NHS costs are also considered in this definition. However, sometimes people whose working income takes them just outside of this bracket can be just as poor. Taking into account the payment of rent/mortgage and council tax, dental treatment, NHS prescriptions, travel expenses, childcare expenses and school meals plus the loss of access to legal aid and other benefits, for many families on the threshold of the ambiguous amounts predetermined as “the amount the law says you need to live on” (Janet-M,2006) some people returning to work can find themselves in more poverty than when they were on benefits. (Mumsnet,2011) This is known as the Poverty Trap. These people are often overlooked but can find themselves in real financial trouble.

In accordance with the principle of less eligibility, the Prime Minister has declared that,

‘The "refreshingly radical" reforms would mean people would always be better off in work’ (BBC,2010)  

However, there are many people on benefits for whom work is not always a viable option. These are the ‘most vulnerable’ in our society. This group of people consists of the lone parent, long-term sick, disabled, mental health patients, children, people with learning disabilities and the elderly. The Poor Relief Act (1576) classified these groups (except the lone parents) as the ‘impotent poor’ and under the Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) they
would be seen as the ‘deserving poor’ (Fraser,2003) . The Government has pledged to ‘protect’ them, yet the proposed welfare reforms and the current method of transferring people from long-term Incapacity Benefit to ESA has shown that this pledge is not as watertight as they would like the general population to believe.

 

    Author

    I have just finished a Certificate in Higher Education in Social Policy and the Care Sector. 

    My final module was a 7000 word thesis on welfare reform and the upcoming changes proposed by the Coalition Government. This blog contains that Project.

    Please note: the material is copyrighted and must not be reproduced in full or in part without permission; except for academic purposes where it must be cited as follows:

    Gourlay, Kirstein, 2011, UK Welfare Reform in the 21st century: The Consequences for the Vulnerable in Society, Birkbeck University:London

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