F31: Mending the Safety Net

(Social Security Policy Paper)

Federal Policy Committee

Conference recognises the importance of social security in providing a safety net for the most vulnerable; it should provide a minimum standard of living below which no-one can fall and provide the right level of support to each individual to allow them to achieve their potential.

Conference notes the devastating effects that poverty and worklessness can have on opportunity through the damage they do to self-esteem, health and educational attainment, in particular the long term effects on children.

Conference calls for a social security system that is fair and flexible, prioritises reducing child poverty and treats claimants with dignity.

Conference believes that:

  1. The social security system should be doing more to prevent children growing up in poverty.
  2. The administration of benefits should be fairer and more flexible.
  3. Entitlement to benefits and amount that can be claimed should be based on the needs of the claimant, not on arbitrary caps.
  4. The Work Capability Assessment should be scrapped and disability assessments should take into account the real world in which the claimant lives and the jobs available to them.
  5. Sanctions applied to benefits are fundamentally wrong and leave people destitute who are already in poverty; the sanction system should be scrapped and replaced with an incentivised scheme.
  6. The sanctions system should allow greater scope for discretion with a stronger safety net to prevent sanctions causing extreme hardship; employment support should be separated from benefits delivery, which includes responsibility for sanctions.
  7. Employment support and benefits delivery should, as far as possible, be delivered at a local level.
  8. The Government should make it easier for workers to protect themselves from the financial impact of unemployment and illness by introducing opt-out insurance products.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 124, Mending the Safety Net, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on working-age Social Security, and particularly welcomes its proposals to:

    1. Protect those out of work by:
      1. Introducing an opt-out unemployment insurance and income protection insurance system to allow people to cushion the impact of unemployment and illness.
      2. Removing the benefit cap and addressing concerns about the high level of benefit payments to a few households, often caused by high housing benefit payments, by reducing such housing costs through our housing policies.
      3. Increasing the rates of Job Seeker's Allowance and Universal Credit for those aged 18-24 in line with increases in minimum and apprentice wages for that age group.
    2. Support workers back into employment by:
      1. Separating benefits delivery from employment support delivery, which would be devolved to local levels so it can be adapted to suit local needs.
      2. Scrapping fixed penalty sanctions and instead implementing flexible guidelines with added safeguards so no one can fall below a minimum income.
      3. Introducing positive incentives for those who do more than the minimum required when searching for employment.
    3. Support children by:
      1. Introducing a Second Earner's Work Allowance, to increase the rewards of work and help support working families.
      2. Reversing the two child limit which is being introduced to tax credits and Universal Credit and the cuts to the family element of Universal Credit.
      3. Seeking to increase the child element of Universal Credit by £5 a week for the first child in a family.
      4. These policies would be funded by abolishing the marriage tax allowance and removing winter fuel allowances and free TV licences from wealthier Pensioners.
      5. Reintroducing the Child Poverty Act poverty targets.
    4. Support those with a disability or sickness by:
      1. Scrapping the Work Capability Assessment and replacing it with a locally administered assessment that incorporates a real world test that takes into account the employment market.
      2. Increasing the number of people benefiting from the Access to Work scheme to assist those with a disability with adaptations at work, particularly among those with mental health conditions, and incentivising the take up of the Two Ticks among employers to encourage positive employment practices for those with disabilities.
      3. Increasing the provision of occupational health services.
      4. Increasing the amount a carer can earn before Carer's Allowances is taken away to £150 and progressively reducing the numbers of hours of caring required to qualify to 20.
    5. Reform housing benefits by:
      1. a) Linking the level of Local Housing Allowance to average rents in each area so that the benefit reflects the actual cost of renting.
      2. b) Abolishing the removal of the spare room subsidy and replacing it with positive incentives to downsize.
      3. c) Restoring eligibility to Housing Benefit at 18.

Conference recognises the attractive principles that Citizen's Income or Negative Income Tax are built upon but believes that the harmful impacts which result from flat rate schemes such as these most affect the poorest and disabled, and the benefits of these schemes can be achieved through putting in place the policies in Mending the Safety Net; the housing market in the UK and the additional costs of disability mean that an element of means-testing is necessary within the social security system to protect the most vulnerable, and Citizens' Income or Negative Income Tax in practice would not be a fair or cost effective way of providing social security.

Applicability: Federal.

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