Welfare Reform and Work Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by UNISON (WRW 70)

UNISON welcomes the opportunity to respond the Public Bill Committee’s request for input into the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. We understand that the Committee is specifically interested in relevant evidence and comments from professional representative organisations involved in delivering welfare services and invites discussion to support potential amendments to the bill.

About UNISON

1. UNISON is the UK's largest public service trade union with 1.25 million members, 1 million of them women. Our members are people working in the public services and for private and voluntary contractors providing public services. They include frontline staff and managers working full or part time in local authorities, the NHS, the police service, colleges and schools, the electricity, gas and water industries, transport, non-departmental public bodies and the voluntary sector.

2. Whilst we have members at all pay levels across the sectors, many of our members are part time and low paid, working in traditionally low paid sectors like housing and welfare support, care, catering, school staff, security and cleaning.

Summary of UNISONs response

3. We would like the Bill to include the following:

i. Reporting on Decent Work in Clause 1 The government to have a duty to annually report on the quality and types of jobs, including a ‘Decent Work Index’ - based on the ILOs definition - alongside the annual obligatory reporting of the quantity or total numbers of jobs defined as ‘full employment’.

Suggested amendment

· At Clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert 

"(1A)   In this report the Secretary of State must also set out the progress that has been made toward providing decent quality jobs created and to be measured and captured through a Decent Work Index based on the ILO framework

Member’s explanatory statement The ILO Framework on the Measurement of Decent Work covers ten substantive elements corresponding to the four strategic pillars of the Decent Work Agenda (full and productive employment, rights at work, social protection and the promotion of social dialogue):

(i) employment opportunities (ii) adequate earnings and productive work; (iii) decent working time; (iv) combining work, family and personal life; (v) work that should be abolished; (vi) stability and security of work; (vii) equal opportunity and treatment in employment; (viii) safe work environment; (ix) social security; and (x) social dialogue, employers ‘and workers’ representation

ii. Reporting on quality apprenticeships in Clause 2

The government to collect data, monitor and report on a variety of information to ensure the delivery of quality targeted apprenticeships in its annual report on progress against meeting its target of 3 million new apprenticeships.

Suggested amendment

Clause 2, page 1, line 16, at end insert -

"(aa)    information about the uptake of apprenticeships broken down by type of employer (e.g. size, public, private or voluntary employer)

 (ab)   information about the uptake of apprenticeships broken down by entry routes,  completion rates, part time and full time places, satisfaction rates, pay, progress into fulltime employment, job entry

(ac) a report by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills on the quality of apprenticeship being provided, and a review of the social dialogue partnership including employers ‘and workers (apprentices)’ representation"

Member’s explanatory statement

To specify additional information that must be included in the Secretary of State’s report progress towards meeting the apprenticeship target.

iii. Retention of the Child Poverty Act: child poverty targets and duties in Clause 6

Specifically, its name and the requirements on Local Authorities to have regard for it and the current measurements of poverty.

Recommendations

1. That the Bill retains the child poverty targets and duties set out in the Child Poverty Act: in Clause 6

a) specifically, its name and the requirements on Local Authorities to have regard for it and the current measurements of poverty

b) include a requirement to report on income measures alongside the new life chances measures

2. A commitment to develop a UK poverty strategy in Clause 6 that supplements the current UK Child Poverty Act measurements to address low pay and in - work family poverty and which should include:

a) a thorough impact assessment of the recent reductions in support for low income working families in the Tax Credits - Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates - Amendment Regulations 2015. These regulations reduce the income thresholds in tax credits, increase the tax credit taper rate from 41% to 48% and reduce the income rise disregard in tax credits.

UNISONs evidence is that these will negatively impact on around 1.3 million working families with 2.4 million children in terms of an income loss of an average of £1,054 per year this reduced threshold will cost low income working families and therefore impact on work incentives. [1]

b) a focus on tackling rising in-work poverty to identify drivers of in-work poverty in the labour market

c) a housing strategy to provide more affordable social housing for low income households and to review methods and modelling to cap private sector rents

d) a family childcare strategy to provide affordable universal childcare

e) a regional economic strategy to address UK regional economic inequality

iv. Removal of the Benefit Cap in Clause 7

This clause should be deleted from this Bill. Any reference to the benefit cap being lowered, which would limit the amount of benefits an out-of-work family can receive, from £26,000 to £20,000, except in London, where the cap would be lowered to £23,000. This would have a negative impact on an estimated 90,000 households to be capped causing hardship and poverty.

Suggested amendment

Leave out Clause 7

v. Removal of the four - year freeze on certain social security benefits and tax credit amounts in Clause 9 and 10

The freeze would in effect reduce entitlement to range of benefit payments including JSA, tax credits, child benefits, unemployment benefits and housing benefit. Starting in April 2016 the saving would be £4bn a year (£16bn up to 2020) further increasing hardship and poverty. This will be on top of the £16bn cuts of Working Tax Credit entitlements already in place as a result of the Tax Credits - Income Thresholds and Determination of Rates - Amendment Regulations 2015.

UNISON is concerned that household debt and poverty for the low income and vulnerable groups will only rise. UNISONs Welfare service, There for You, is already seeing record debt increases reported by low income members.

Recommendations

UNISON supports amendments that would subject the four year freeze to an annual review by the Secretary of State, which takes into account inflation and the cost of household essentials, the implementation of the living wage by employers and wider national economic data to determine whether benefits and tax credits should be increased or stay the same. Safeguards against falling income and the ability to maintain the minimum income guarantee must be in place to mitigate the risk of harm to vulnerable and low income families.

vi. A limit on tax credit support to only two children per family in Clause 11 and 12

This restricts the per child element of Child Tax Credit (and the equivalent child element of Universal Credit) to two children per family. UNISON is opposed to this due to the likely discriminatory and detrimental impact it will have on certain social groups:

· children in larger families are already 1.4 times more likely to be living in poverty than families with one or two children

· it stigmatises families with more than 2 children

· it disproportionately affect black and ethnic minority (BME) who are more likely to live in poverty and have larger families

· women fleeing from domestic violence may have more than 2 children and should not be penalised

· vulnerable groups such as those with mental health issues, women suffering from rape and abusive relationships, families and children in adoption and foster care relationships and kinship family carers

Suggested amendment

L eave out Clause 11 and 12

Recommendations

If the Government does not remove these Clauses from the Bill, we would be supportive of amendments that would exempt certain families in Clause 11 from this restriction of child tax credit. Under Universal Credit (Clause 12) the restriction is likely to deter parents from moving into work, because if they move into employment but subsequently lose their job, they will no longer be entitled to the "child element" of Universal Credit for more than the first two children whereas if they are already claiming out of work benefits they would not be hit by the reduction in support. We therefore believe the work incentive is protected through additional measures.

vii. The removal of the abolition of Employment and Support Allowance Work-Related Activity Component for people with disabilities in Clause 13

The abolition of Employment and Support Allowance Work - Related Activity Component for people with disabilities will remove £1,500 a year (approximately £30 a week) off the employment and support allowance paid to claimants who are deemed temporarily unable to work because of illness or disability.

UNISON believes that there is no link between improved employability prospects for people with disabilities and a reduction in their employment support benefit. Instead a more holistic approach to delivering employment support for people with disabilities is needed.

Suggested amendment

L eave out Clause 13

Recommendation

UNISON support amendments that provide a real focus on improving employment support and sustained work opportunities for people with disabilities. These improvements should include provisions for:

· more intensive personalised support

· holistic management of health conditions, mental ill health and disabilities with support to re-enter the labour market

· a commissioning process that prioritises bids that can demonstrate links to wider local services, such as health and social care services

· funded support with the cost of workplace adaptation for employers

viii. Universal Credit: Work Related Requirements in Clause 15

The removal of any proposed changes to welfare reforms that have not been considered for their potential negative impact on work incentives must be considered. UNISON is particularly concerned about the implications of the proposed changes in conditionality for responsible carers on Universal Credit.

This would see responsible carers with a child aged 3 or 4 being allocated to the All Work Related Requirements group and requiring them to look for, and be available for work . Whilst we recognise that the government has committed 30 hours’ free child care to working parents of three and four year olds in England it does not necessarily mean that carers would automatically be able to meet the proposed work conditionality. In particular there is concern for parents and carers of disabled children aged 3-4.

Recommendation

UNISON would support amendments that would commit the government to delay the conditionality proposal until the Secretary of State:

· has undertaken a full review of the sanctions regime and in work conditionality and has issued guidance on the use of sanctions in respect of families with young children.

· exempts appropriately carers with certain restrictive conditions, vulnerabilities and responsibilities making it difficult to meet the conditions for example those carers with disabled children aged 3 or 4

· sets out what childcare will be available to parents who are looking for work and the Childcare Bill 2015 has been implemented in full and parents of three and four year olds can access appropriate childcare

· publishes an assessment of the impact of the new requirements on parents outside England, in the context of childcare entitlement in the devolved nations

ix. Exceptions from the mandatory 1% annual reductions in rents charged by registered providers for the next four years in Clause 21

UNISON would like to highlight that supported housing caters for a wide range of tenants with specific needs that require varying degree of support. This type of housing is already subject to very tight margins across the board; it relies on contracts for care or support services, and there are no alternative models for housing provision of this kind. Between 2011-2015 funding for housing related support was reduced by 45% on average according to the National Audit Office, at the same time as demographic changes have led to greater demand and more complex needs. It is a part of the sector that is particularly vulnerable to any reduction in its income.

The Government has previously taken steps to protect supported housing from the unintended consequences of Welfare Reform. Unfortunately, if this reduction goes ahead then many supported housing providers will no longer be able to fund the essential requirements needed to provide a safe and secure environment in a decent standard of accommodation. There is already evidence that current reductions in funding mean some supported housing projects struggle to accept the most complex and disadvantaged people. Furthermore many services will not be able to adjust to the changes to projected income on which financial decisions have been made may have to close.

Exempting specified accommodation, as with previous benefit changes, presents a straightforward solution because the definition already exists and was agreed after two years of work between the Government and charities. The definition has been in place for over a year and has worked well in protecting supported housing for the most disadvantaged.

Suggested Amendment

To remove supported housing which meets the definition of Specified Accommodation from the mandatory 1% annual reductions in rents charged by registered providers for the next four years

Following Section 20, part (1)(d) insert the following wording:

"(e) - the accommodation is specified accommodation as defined in the Housing Benefit and Universal Credit (Supported Accommodation) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (SI2014 No. 771)"

Members explanatory statement

Many of the supported housing projects provided to older people and to disadvantaged groups, such as homeless people, victims of domestic violence and people with learning difficulties fall within the category of specified accommodation. The amendment adds specified accommodation to the existing exceptions to the mandatory rent reduction in the Bill. Where we use the term "supported housing" elsewhere in this document it refers to residential projects which meet the legal definition of specified accommodation.

x. New Clause A - Support for housing costs for 18-21 year olds

UNISON is concerned that in the Summer Budget, the Chancellor announced that under Universal Credit there will be no automatic entitlement to housing costs support. The government have been clear that vulnerable groups will be exempt, but have not yet confirmed how this would work in practice.

UNISON would like to see that any legislation is debated in full to allow for scrutiny of proposals. UNISON also would like to see the groups below exempted as we are concerned we could see a further rise in youth homelessness, as well as damaging the prospects of the young people affected finding employment or being placed with new apprenticeships.

Suggested new Clause

New Clause A - Changes to age of eligible claimants of housing benefit

(1)     The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 is amended as follows. 

(2)     After section 130(1) insert-

"(1A)     The Secretary of State shall not make provision about eligibility for housing benefit in respect of the age of a claimant except by primary legislation."

Explanatory statement: This New Clause aims to ensure that any changes to the age of eligible claimants for housing benefit must be made by primary legislation rather than regulation. The Government intends to withdraw entitlement to housing benefit from 18-21 year olds and it is understood this change would be enacted by regulation.

New clause- Entitlement to housing costs element of Universal Credit for 18-21 year olds

Entitlement to the housing cost element of Universal Credit shall not be restricted for those 18 to 21 year olds who fall into the following categories:

a. Those who have previously been in work and/or already live independently

b. Those with a disability or mental health problem receiving the equivalent of Employment Support Allowance(ESA)or Income Support, or Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

c. Those with dependent children or pregnant women

d. Those who are owed a rehousing duty under:

I. section 193 of the Housing Act 1996

II. section 9 of the Homelessness etc. (Scotland) Act 2003

III. section 73 of the Housing (Wales) Act 2014

e. Those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness who are being assisted by local authority Housing Options teams.

f. Those who are living in statutory or voluntary sector homelessness accommodation.

g. Those who have formerly been homeless and have been supported by voluntary or statutory agencies into more settled accommodation.

h. Those who have formerly been homeless as young adults over 16 years

i. Those without family or who have experienced relationship breakdown with their parents

j. Care leavers and those who have been known to children’s services due to child protection concerns

k. Those who cannot live with their families because the accommodation is unsuitable

l. People who cannot live with their families because the neighbourhood is unsuitable

m. Those leaving custody

n. Those with good prospects of work in another location

Member’s Explanatory statement The second new clause would exempt 18 to 21 year olds who fall into the above categories from the removal of the housing costs element of Universal Credit. It is intended as a probing amendment to confirm the government’s intentions for exempt groups.

October 2015


[1] UNISONs evidence of the impact of the cuts in WTC https://www.unison.org.uk/our-campaigns/drop-the-2015-tax-credit-cuts/

[1]

Prepared 16th October 2015