The Resolution Foundation has published a short report – they call it a ‘briefing note’ – to consider lessons from the crisis for the system of benefits. They make several key points, most of which I’d endorse:
- Earnings-replacement is a critically important role of benefits
- The current system of sick pay is inadequate, and forces sick people to go to work when they shouldn’t
- The distinction between employees and self-employed people makes no sense
- The general level of benefits is too low
- The safety net needs to reflect housing costs and family size
- Big reforms will inevitably generate problems
- There is going to be an increased demand for support for long-term sickness.
I’d depart from their arguments in two ways First, I don’t think the response of the benefit system, and particularly Universal Credit, has been adequate even within its limited sphere of operation. Half the applicants have found the process difficult, delays have been marked, it’s full of arbitrary hurdles, and it’s riddled with errors.
Second, the report seems to me to think of universal benefits, earnings replacement and safety net benefits as being alternatives. It’s in the nature of cash benefits that they can be combined from different sources, in different ways – what matters is the final ‘income package’.