Questioning Welfare Reform

I recently attended an interesting conference about the Advice sector in London, which included the participation of a representative from the Cabinet Office. By Carolina Gottardo, Director of Latin American Women’s Rights Service

She presented the idea of a transitional fund that will be introduced for the struggling sector and with a calm voice said that ‘the Government wants to reduce the demand for advice services’. Which is what we all want. Laudable so far, until she said that they want to do this through the introduction of the Universal Credit System. The audience, more than 100 people, mainly from Law Centres, independent advisers, second tier organisations and NGOs working with groups with different protected characteristics such as myself, could not stay still. You could hear murmuring all around.

Universal Credit
The Government has to be joking to say this. Do they really believe that the introduction of the Universal Credit will reduce demand? If they genuinely believe this, then, they must be living in a world far away from those that struggle to make ends meet. If they don’t believe it, then it shows that they couldn’t care less. What is worse? I haven’t made up my mind yet.

Let me tell you how reality is for the people that need advice and will suffer from the introduction of the Universal credit and changes in the welfare system and for those who provide advice to them…

Realities on the Ground
We at the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), struggle to cope with increasing demand for our advice services, but at the same time, we are struggling to keep our funding and continue providing our services. Many women come to our drop-in very early on every Monday morning in order to queue for language and culturally friendly advice. Most Mondays we are unable to see every one that needs to be seen.  This is despite resourcing an increase in the number of workers through our reserves. Our waiting list for women that seek advice on housing, welfare, money and debt is ever-increasing. Some of the issues have been the changes in housing and tax credits already implemented. Many women are already coming to see us because they are anxious about the introduction of Universal Credit System and wonder if their families will be able to survive. According to recent research commissioned by the TUC, single mums will lose 18.5 per cent of their income through cuts -60% of our users are single mums.

Misplaced Stigma
These are women that are already struggling to survive in a world that stigmatises them as “benefit scroungers” In reality,  the employment rate of Latin Americans (85%) is much higher than the average of 61% and only 1 in 5 Latin Americans claims welfare benefits (much lower than the average). Our most vulnerable women, who often have high levels of education, struggle to make ends meet and work in low paid, low skilled jobs.
The truth is that women, ethnic minorities, disabled people, younger people, older people and other discriminated people are the ones bearing the brunt of the government’s welfare reforms.  This will only continue increasing demand for advice services and will put enormous pressure on voluntary organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Services and many others.

The true measure of a Government is the way it treats women and its minorities: How are we treating ours?