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Commission demands a guaranteed decent income and dignity for all as part of a reset of the UK’s social security system

Author: Trust for London

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A report into the UK’s social security system led by people with direct experience of how it works has urged a complete reset centred around dignity and decency.

The Commission on Social Security considered evidence from over 1,000 individuals and organisations and heard how the existing system isn’t working as it should. The system is inadequate, demeaning, inefficient and deliberately scapegoats people.

The plan calls for a guaranteed decent income set at £163.50 a week, which is half the minimum wage and at a level that the public consistently agree is fair. It would be a streamlined and much simpler system. The proposal would benefit 30 million people in total.

Commission secretary, Michael Orton, said:

The pandemic showed that when times were tough it was unpaid carers, supermarket workers and others on low incomes who kept our society going. It also showed that if we choose to, we can provide social security for everyone. However, the recent cut to Universal Credit means the government is headed in the wrong direction. With a cost of living crisis looming in 2022, it doesn’t have to be like this.

The Plan for a decent social security, which is funded by Trust for London, recommends a guaranteed decent income so individuals and families can:

  • Withstand shocks like a pandemic or economic recession.
  • Recover in safety if they are experiencing domestic violence.
  • Weather the cost of living crisis with homes properly heated and people able to put food on the table.
  • Retrain or start a business without being pulled into poverty.
  • Nurture young families with support for early childhood education and care

The Commission heard how the social security system fails to support women and denies their independence when support is needed the most.

Commission Co-chair, Ellen Morrison (29) said:

This is not a system fit for purpose. How can I be assessed as eligible for a higher rate of Employment Support Allowance but now I’m in a relationship, the government expects me to rely on my partner’s income. It’s incredibly regressive to take away disabled people’s independence and autonomy in this way.

The plan urges scrapping Universal Credit to be replaced by:

  • A Guaranteed Decent Income, set at 50% of the minimum wage (£163.50), ensuring all have a stake in the social security system.
  • Child benefit at £50 a week.
  • A replacement for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with non means-tested support ranging from £83.70 to £230.77 a week to cover the extra costs D/deaf and disabled people face.

The Commission heard how the social security system is designed to stigmatise and scapegoat people experiencing unemployment, ill health or disability.

Commissioner Mike (63), said:

The public are unaware of the truth about how the benefit system works. People are treated with suspicion and distrust. It leads to frustration, anxiety and hurt for ordinary people. It’s not that the people working for the DWP are monsters, but the system they are being asked to enforce is definitely monstrous, everyone is entitled to dignity, including how they engage with social security.

The plan recommends a new ethos of dignity, respect and trust at the Department for Work and Pensions, including:

  • An end to the hostile environment people are faced with when they deal with DWP, and a reset to the way DWP staff operate;
  • A new approach with dignity, respect and trust at its core;
  • An end to benefit sanctions.

The Plan for a decent social security system has been published on the Commission on Social Security's website, along with supporting videos and resources.

Launched in May 2019, the Commission on Social Security is an initiative to make proposals for a better social security (welfare benefits) system. All the Commissioners are Experts by Experience. This means they each have lived experience of the benefits system. The Commission is funded by Trust for London.

26 January 2022