The Welfare Reform Act was passed in April 2012 and aimed ‘to simplify the benefit system to: encourage people to move into work; [and] make sure that those able to work must show a willingness to work as a condition of receiving benefits’ (DWP, 2013). Research conducted with Islington residents and local Voluntary and Community Sector organisations provides evidence that even on their own terms the Reforms are proving unsuccessful.
The evidence provided by research participants shows that:
• Living with benefits is far from an enjoyable experience and is not a ‘lifestyle choice’;
• There is a strong inclination to work amongst benefit recipients;
• Rather than incentivising work the reformed benefit system can punish people who do not work;
• The benefit system is insufficiently personalised and unsupportive for those not immediately ready for work, e.g. people dealing with addiction, housing issues and lacking experience;
• The benefit system is difficult to understand, particularly for groups such as those that speak English as an additional language, have a learning difficulty, or multiple needs;
• The benefit system is an unpredictable ‘rollercoaster’ that contributes to mental health problems and crisis-mode existence, for example due to (often wrongful) sanctions against those receiving benefits;
• Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) advice services are essential to helping people to deal with complexity and errors in the benefit system.