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Policy Watch

An eye on policy changes in Ireland, the UK and beyond

Rising Poverty | Concerns about the Benefits System

Right to an Income  |  Mon May 09 2022

Rising Poverty

As the British Medical Journal published a piece criticising the UK chancellor for failing to mention, much less tackle, rising child poverty in his spring statement in March, the Independent Food Aid Network wrote to the Prime Minister and Chancellor about their concerns over rising need: “it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that everybody in our society can afford food and other essentials.  It is not for volunteers to plug the gaps left by a broken social security system and poorly paid jobs", they wrote.

Elsewhere, the Trussell Trust issued evidence of increasing reliance on food banks around the country. In NI, for instance, it recorded on average 170 food parcels distributed a day throughout the year ending on 31 March 2022, for a yearly total of 61,500 – an increase of a third on pre-pandemic demand, higher than that in England, Scotland or Wales. A range of spokespeople linked this to rising prices, inflation and cuts to Universal Credit. Elsewhere, A Queen’s University Belfast academic reported that NI’s levels of fuel poverty are also higher than elsewhere in the UK, in part due to poor insulation practices and higher reliance on home heating oil.

The organisation Islamic Relief reported findings that over half of Muslim households in the UK are living in poverty, as compared to roughly one fifth of the wider population, and called for urgent measures to help people meet the rising cost of living.

Concerns about the Benefits System

Elsewhere, Disability News Service reported on accumulated evidence that the DWP ignored recommendations from multiple sources on its duty of care towards applicants and the need to improve its system for assessing eligibility for disabilities. The UK’s Department of Work and Pensions said it was planning to resume ‘migrating’ or moving people from ‘legacy benefits’ to Universal Credit – a move accompanied by a reassessment that the DWP said would likely result in a loss of income for 900,000 households (35% of those assessed).

In other news, over 100 journalists and political and civil society figures signed an open letter expressing concern about government failure to comply with Freedom of Information obligations. The letter called for stronger monitoring and enforcement, and recommended that FOI obligations be extended to private companies paid public money to provide public services. (This would include Capita, which carries out a range of benefits assessment services here on behalf of the Department for Communities.)

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