A senior government adviser said economic insecurity had become “the new normal”
Social security payments have hit their lowest level since the launch of the welfare state, excluding millions from mainstream society and fuelling food bank use, according to research.
The £73 standard weekly allowance for universal credit, the government’s flagship benefit claimed by 2.3 million people, is now equivalent to 12.5% of median earnings. By contrast, when unemployment benefit was introduced in 1948 it was worth 20%. As a result, millions are being “excluded from mainstream society, with the basic goods and amenities needed to survive let alone thrive increasingly out of their grip”, the study by the IPPR thinktank said.“Social security should offer a safety net, not a tightrope over poverty,” said Clare McNeil, the associate director of the IPPR. “It is remarkable that in postwar Britain the support for those living in poverty was closer to average earnings than it is today. This is the very simple fact that lies behind the record levels of personal debt, rising use of food banks and increasing destitution that we see in the UK.”
Food bank use has soared, often as a result of people on welfare, including those in work, not being able to afford essentials. Last week, the Trussell Trust said it had distributed a record 823,145 food parcels between April and September, a 23% increase on the previous year and the steepest rise the charity has witnessed since its network of food banks was fully established.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the RSA, who advised the Conservative government on the future of work, will on Monday say that economic insecurity is a new “social evil” that must be tackled and that “lies behind much pessimism and anger as the public prepares to elect a new government”.
In a speech that attacks the assumptions of neoliberalism, including the idea that “all poor people are potential welfare free-riders who need compulsion to be motivated to work”, Taylor will say a “painful gulf” had opened up “between people’s exaggerated sense of personal sovereignty and their bleakly diminished hopes of social progress”. He said, “Insecurity limits people’s horizons and imaginations, forcing them to focus on the here and now rather than longer term possibilities.”