Wednesday, 9 April 2014

DWP and speaking truth to power

Amid all the drama about Maria Miller this morning it was easy to overlook the DWP select committee’s suggestion that their evaluation of Universal Credit has been ‘hampered by Ministers’.

Dame Anne Begg MP criticised the ‘excruciatingly slow pace of roll-out to date’, and said that Ministers have ‘hampered the committee's scrutiny of Universal Credit implementation by not providing accurate, timely and detailed information’, for example on the IT problems the scheme has suffered.

We heard last month that rising demand for food banks is not simply due to more of them being set up. Evidence is starting to emerge that ties the explosion in the use of food banks to Government welfare policy. A report today from the University of Sheffield makes that point.

Furthermore, the DWP’s reluctance to publicly release full data on food bank usage, and Iain Duncan Smith’s reluctance to meet with charities such as the Trussell Trust, suggests an unwillingness to listen when third sector organisations speak truth to power on their beneficiaries’ behalf.

It is our sector’s duty to keep on speaking up, and raising awareness of the impact of public policy on the lives of our beneficiaries.

Today the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found in a study of the ‘bedroom tax’ or ‘spare room subsidy’ that half the tenants affected were in arrears after six months, further putting pressure on third sector organisations who pick up the additional demand. They say the policy is forcing tenants to choose between ‘heating and eating’ – while three-quarters have had to cut back on food bills.

Our sector will continue to do its job as always. But this would be easier – and many people’s lives better – if the government were to be more open with their mistakes.

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