Is welfare reform working?

09 April 2015

More than 60% of social housing tenants in the South West are cutting back on food and utilities to make ends meet, a study has revealed.

The report also found that a combination of low pay and benefits is the ‘new normal’ for many, with four out of five working tenants relying on benefits in some form.

Researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE) spoke to 200 social housing tenants in the South West to understand whether the government’s overhaul of the welfare system has been successful in moving people in the region from benefit dependency into work.

The report ‘Is Welfare Reform Working?’ was commissioned by the SW HAILO group of housing associations in the South West of England, which we’re a part of.

The study also revealed that in the last year just one in six tenants have either found work or increased their hours. The majority of new jobs are part-time and flexible hours.

Many residents face strong barriers to work, such as disability and poor health as well as caring responsibilities which can limit work prospects. Transports costs were highlighted as a particular issue in the South West.

Job Centre sanctions of tenants’ benefits were also shown to destabilise households in many cases, redirecting jobseekers’ focus away from finding work to seeking ways to cover basic living costs.

Despite this, researchers found that 74% of economically inactive tenants were contributing actively to their community and society, for example through caring for family members in poor health, or by volunteering in their local area. 

Professor Anne Power, from LSE, who led the study, said: “400 interviews with 200 tenants over two years paints a powerful and painful picture of low income tenants struggling to cope with falling incomes. Social landlords are offering more support but can’t close the gap.”

Nick Horne, our Chief Executive, said: “This independent study from LSE and is designed to help government understand which parts of the system are working well and what needs to be improved, as well as providing insight about the impact of welfare reform on social housing tenants living in the region. 

“The government’s reforms were designed to increase families’ self-reliance by reducing benefit dependency and moving people into work. This research shows that in the South West the results are mixed.  

“While one in six tenants has moved into work, this is often in part time and insecure employment, and they need to rely on benefits to top up their income.   

“Many still face significant barriers to securing work, including poor health, and disability, transport costs and caring responsibilities. The system could be improved with more flexibility, better support for job seekers and careful use of sanctions which the research finds are counter-productive.”

You can read the full report here.

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