THE broad public support for Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms can sometimes obscure the fact that they represent the biggest shake-up of the welfare state since its inception and, as such, are bound to cause convulsions.
Even though the full effect of these changes has yet to bite, they are already causing worry, hardship and even homelessness among benefit recipients, according to charities in this region.
Indeed, a total of 95 per cent of organisations questioned by the support group, Involve Yorkshire and Humber, report an increase in clients’ anxiety about income, with 87 per cent noticing an increase in debt problems and 57 per cent seeing a rise in homelessness.
Of course, what is not clear about these figures is how much of an increase in these factors there would have been if the benefit reforms were not taking place. Because, however much some people may fear the changes, surely no one can claim that the status quo is an acceptable alternative.
There are clearly injustices in the reforms being brought in by Mr Duncan Smith and these must be addressed. The so-called bedroom tax, an honest attempt to alleviate the housing shortage by cutting the benefits of those deemed to have unused bedrooms in their accommodation, has thrown up the possibility of all sorts of unfair anomalies and the Work and Pensions Secretary has promised to look again at these.
In the end, though, it is incumbent on all those who profess horror at the welfare reforms to say precisely what steps they would take to improve the present system, riddled as it is with disincentives to work, or else to admit that, like the last Labour government, they are content to bankroll unemployment and pay out vast sums of money to sustain welfare ghettos across the country that hurt the poorest in society.
In the end, the only lasting cure for poverty, debt and homelessness is work that pays a good enough wage to become a more attractive option than unemployment and this is what Mr Duncan Smith is striving to administer.
It is only a pity that his cause is undermined by those in the Government, such as Chancellor George Osborne, who persist in describing the welfare reforms only as another way to save money and reduce the deficit.
There is no shortage of people keen to write off the reforms as merely the latest cruel wheeze by the heartless Tories and it is up to the Government to show that this is not the case, that their aim is not to save money but to rescue lives.