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Britain’s poor ‘blighted by the constant spectre of destitution’ because of benefit cuts

Benefit cuts and failures of the welfare system mean that some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society are “blighted by the constant spectre of destitution”, according to the damning findings of a new report published today (11 July 2019).

The interim report, ‘The ‘Other Britain’ and the Failure of the Welfare State’, is written by former Labour MP Frank Field and former Tory MP Heidi Allen, who serve on the Work and Pensions Select Committee and Chair and Vice-Chair.

Frank Field resigned the Labour Party whip over concerns about anti-semitism, while Heidi Allen quit the Consevative Party over Brexit and the Government’s approach to social security. They both sit in the Commons as independents.

The pair compiled their new report after visiting six towns and cities across the UK, and listening to charities and those affected by years of cuts and changes to the benefits system.

A Trussell Trust foodbank. Photo credit: Newfrontiers via photopin cc

The both praised the work done by charities and others in helping those who are struggling to make ends meet, but added that they shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to a properly functioning welfare state.

Mr Field, who served as the Minister of Welfare Reform in Tony Blair’s government, said: “Hunger was described to us as an injustice which extends well beyond the individual and has lasting impacts on children, extended families, entire communities and across generations.

“While there were countless harrowing stories of painful decisions that people made just to get by, we also encountered uplifting stories of communities and individuals developing resilience in the face of destitution.

“While this community response undoubtedly represents the better nature of human beings, an emergency response adopted by the general public and voluntary organisations must never be confused with a properly functioning welfare safety net.”

The report calls on the Government to reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit, end the four-year freeze to working age benefits, and ensure that future increases in the value of state benefits are in line with living costs.

Photo: Paula Peters

Heidi Allen said: “For the most vulnerable people in our society, any reduction, delay, or loss of income from work or benefits brings into play foodbanks, rising debt, high-risk loans and the risk of destitution.

“The phenomenal volunteers and community workers who care for this group have made it clear that the state is failing in its obligation to guarantee a national minimum standard of living. We agree with them.

“Voluntary organisations are at risk of sinking under the sheer weight of responsibility vacated by the state without the necessary funds.

“A new balance must be struck between the state and the charitable sector to ensure that all people can access basic essentials and good quality, nutritious food in a way that is dignified.”

A DWP spokesperson said tackling poverty and the causes of poverty “will always be a priority for this Government”, while also confirming that the beneefits freeze is due to end next year.

“But we know some families need more support which is why we spend £95billion a year on working-age benefits and have made 100% Universal Credit advances available from day one”, they added.

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