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This motion updates and develops policy in the areas of social security and the Work Programme. In particular it develops policy on the use of sanctions in the welfare system, improving assessment processes and creating a more flexible and tailored approach to helping people into work through the Work Programme. Existing policy on welfare assessments is set out in policy motions Equal Citizenship (2012) and Employment and Support Allowances and Work Capability Assessments (2011). Existing policy in the Work Programme is set out in policy paper 103, Giving Young People a Future (2012).
F11 Reforming the Welfare System
(Passed with Amendments 1 & 2)
Conference believes that the test of a civilised society is the way in which it cares for those unable to care for themselves and how it helps those in need to fulfil their potential; the guiding principle of the UK welfare system must be to ensure that none are left unable to meet their basic needs for survival and participation in society.
Conference notes that:
A. The welfare system had been allowed to become overly complex and unruly and that whilst Universal Credit is the biggest and most positive development in the welfare system for years, it has suffered serious implementation problems.
B. Benefit sanctions are hitting those in most need of support, with the 14 day rule leaving people penniless and having to visit food banks.
C. There is a growing backlog of assessments for Employment Support Allowance claims and migrations from previous disability benefits, alongside long-standing concerns identified in previous conference motions over the quality of such assessments, notwithstanding the annual reviews which have called for improvements.
D. Some system of discretionary hardship payments is required to assist those most in crisis to prevent them from falling into abject poverty.
E. The rapidly expanding benefits bill must be tackled through alternative approaches to reducing poverty such as increased employment, living wage incomes and affordable housing.
F. There are 6,000 destitute refugees and asylum seekers in the UK supported by British Red Cross each year who are entitled to no benefits or housing but are not allowed to work, and the Liberal Democrats’ clearly stated in policy paper 116, Making Migration Work for Britain (March 2014), that destitution for those who came to the UK to seek sanctuary is unacceptable.
G. Cuts to central and local government funding have impacted directly on services that provide advice and support to the public on issues surrounding social welfare laws, coming at a time when there has been an increase in demand for these services due to the financial downturn, austerity and government welfare reforms.
H. Complaints against Welfare to Work schemes involving unpaid work, such as unsuitable placements, the undermining of the minimum wage and how these controversies are discouraging third party organisations from participating and providing placements.
Conference therefore calls for:
1. A review of Universal Credit implementation to address poor administration, information management and data quality issues as well cliff edges within Universal Credit that may disincentivise increased working hours, or leave insufficient childcare or other basic needs support.
2. Reform of the Hardship Fund to provide immediate loans to people who have benefit sanctions, which will be repaid, and administered through local government.
3. A different approach towards conditions and sanctions so that they are only used as a last resort in a small number of cases where all other approaches to engagement have failed; as a starting point the Department of Work and Pensions should immediately implement the recommendations of the Oakley Review.
4. Introduction of a single assessment process across different disability benefits, based on real world tests of capability and functionality, with better allocation into different groups and greater onus and incentives on assessment contractors to collect relevant evidence from health professionals working with those claimants, so that assessment decisions can be right first time and avoid reconsideration and appeal costs.
5. Liberal Democrats in Government to commit to ensuring that no one residing in the UK suffers destitution, to use their influence to change the law to require asylum seekers to seek work after 6 months and to make Section 95 support available to those who cannot work, and to support charities working in the field of ending destitution in the UK.
6. Improvements to the Work Programme; the programme should:
a) Have a stronger role for local authority commissioning to suit local needs and requirements allowing charities to deliver to the best of their abilities at a local level whilst preventing silos of subcontracting.
b) Introduce a more specialist support pathway for ESA claimants with more complex needs tailored services for enhanced support to assist those with long term conditions and disabilities, supported by incentives for business to provide employment on flexible and accessible basis.
7. All changes in DWP (or any relevant successor department) policies to be reviewed annually for five years after implementation.
8. Implementation of the recommendations of the Low Commission, including publication of a National Strategy for Advice and Legal Support, and creation of a National Advice and Legal Support Fund which would be used for funding national and local advice services as well as legal support work; the Department for Work and Pensions should be required to contribute towards this fund, in recognition of the advice needs it is creating through its welfare reforms and faulty assessments.
9. A reformed approach to Welfare to Work schemes whereby:
a)Benefit claimants are given encouragement and support to arrange their own work experience placements, to help them find the right placement in their area of interest to further their dreams and aspirations.
b) A Fairness Principle is implemented for mandatory schemes, so claimants made to work for their benefits receive the equivalent of minimum wage for their work.