April is the cruellest month, marked by the sound of the latest CPAG Welfare Rights Handbook thumping on the doormat. I scan it every year to see what I’ve missed this time; I realise to my horror that this must be the fortieth year I’ve been doing this for. In 1978, the National Welfare Benefits Handbook had 103 pages, and the Guide to Contributory Benefits and Child Benefit had 80. The current edition of the handbook has 1,756. I know less every year.
The main changes this year were telegraphed some time ago:
- denying key benefits to the third child (the notorious rape clause is a by-product of that)
- confining bereavement benefits to 18 months – ending one of the remaining strands of the Beveridge system
- closing down class 2 National Insurance contributions – unpicking another part of the legacy
- reducing support for people with long-term sickness to the level of the (short-term) JSA: this is a final reversal of a bipartisan policy to recognise long-term disadvantage, adopted with the introduction of Invalidity Benefit in 1971.
Most other changes are continuations of previous policies:
- shifting new claims for several benefits to Universal Credit
- closing down DLA for people of working age, so as to transfer people to PIP – the process should be complete by next year, and
- the gradual introduction of entitlement under the new State Pension.
It’s only in the field of pensions that it’s possible to identify any real improvements in the system in the course of the last 10 years; but that is not negligible, because it’s the largest single element in the benefits systems.