Women biggest victims in coalition's welfare blitz
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Finance, Universal Credit
The blitz of reforms to the welfare system by the Tory-led coalition has had a disproportionally negative impact on women, new analysis has revealed.
'The Gender Impact of Welfare Reform' report by the Scottish government found that many of the benefit changes have hit women hardest due largely to their greater caring responsibilities.
Child benefit, child tax credits and the childcare element of working tax credit, all which have come under the government's axe, are paid to the main carer of children, usually a woman.
In April this year, 83% of in-work couples receiving child tax credits had a female payee.
The income women receive from such benefits has been reduced in real terms as increases in some benefits have not matched inflation.
The key changes to benefits with a significantly larger impact on women than men are:
• Child benefit freeze from 2011 to 2014, and 1% uprating from 2014 to 2016.
• Reduction of child benefit for households where an individual earns above £50,000, and removal where one individual earns above £60,000.
• Reduction in the proportion of childcare costs covered by working tax credit.
• Removal of the baby element of child tax credits.
• Increase in the taper rate for tax credits.
• Requirement for lone parents on income support with a youngest child aged five or six to move to JSA.
• Abolition of the health in pregnancy grant.
• Restriction of sure start maternity grants to the first child only.
• Abolition of the child trust fund.
• A system of charges for those requiring access to the new statutory child maintenance service and collection charges where the payment of maintenance is not through voluntary agreement.
• The benefit cap, which is expected to primarily impact on households with children (89% of households affected) and lone parents (50% of households affected).
The report notes that women will also lose out under the forthcoming Universal Credit system.
Unlike the current system, where different benefits can be paid to separate members of a household, UC will be paid as one single household payment.
In couple households where this is paid to the man, this will represent a loss of independent income for women, concentrating financial resources and power in the hands of one person and possibly resulting in resources not being shared equally.
According to the report, money provided to women is more likely to be spent on children’s needs than money allocated to men, meaning the move to a household benefit payment could reduce spending on children.
The analysis also highlights growing concerns that other Universal Credit changes could mark the start of a return to a ‘male breadwinner’ model in dual headed households.
Launching the report today, deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It is already clear that the UK government’s benefit reform programme unfairly impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“However, this report also shows there are adverse consequences for women, particularly mothers and their children, who could be worse off due to Westminster’s welfare cuts.
“We are doing what we can, within the powers and resources we have, to help people in Scotland who are affected by these unfair reforms. This includes providing an additional £9.2 million towards our new £33m Scottish Welfare Fund. The new fund has already helped more than 20,000 people, and has the capacity to support around 200,000.
“However, mitigating the whole range of these cuts will simply not be possible. The only solution is for this Parliament to have full powers of independence so that we can devise policies to benefit the Scottish people and ensure fair and decent support for all.”
A DWP spokesperson said: "Our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities and will support people back into work rather than simply abandoning them to claim benefits year after year. Universal Credit will simplify the complex benefit system and make three million people better off - 300,000 in Scotland alone.
"Universal Credit does not discriminate against women; households with single women and couple households are, on average, better off after the introduction on Universal Credit and given Scotland's high rate of households where no-one works, the new benefit will strengthen the incentive to have one person in the household in work rather than no-one.
"Furthermore, the report ignores the fact that the UK government is increasing the tax-free personal allowance to £10,000, which will save a typical taxpayer over £700 and will benefit 2.2 million people in Scotland and lifting 224,000 out of tax altogether by 2014."
Angela McLachlan, director at Letfirst, a provider of private rented housing for those on low income or benefit support, said: “Nearly half of those we house are single parent families, and around 65% of our tenants are female, which means that these changes particularly to housing, income and child benefits are most likely to affect them and their housing needs.
“Low income and benefit reforms will create extra barriers for women – especially those in single parent families – in a number of areas, including their ability to find adequate housing for themselves and their families.
“Providing housing for the most vulnerable members of society, and those at risk of becoming vulnerable, is what we do and why we set up our Letfirst scheme, offering a no deposit, no tenant fee approach to letting which allows those on benefits and lower incomes to access private rents – breaking down some barriers to housing.
“Our model has proven particularly successful in Edinburgh and the Lothians so far, where we have worked with around 600 landlords to provide private rented housing to over 1200 households; including around 780 women and 590 single parent families. These numbers demonstrate the scalability of the model, and its unique success.
“This model, which successfully utilises the private rented sector to provide housing to those in need, is just one way of mitigating the issues and barriers to housing caused by welfare reform.”