MPs 'disappointed' by Government's welfare safety net evaluation snub

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MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee are "disappointed" by a Government decision not to commit to a "proper evaluation" of the adequacy and effectiveness of the localised welfare safety net, its Labour chairman has said.

Frank Field, MP for Birkenhead argued the "failure" to do so by the Department for Work and Pensions would mean "any holes leave open the risk of vulnerable people falling into severe hardship".

Labour's former welfare reform minister said he was "pleased" by the Government's move to exempt recipients of carer's allowance from the benefit cap.

The committee had recommended a "cross-departmental evaluation of the adequacy and effectiveness of the welfare safety net in preventing severe hardship and destitution" in its report on The local welfare safety net published at the start of the year. 

But in its response the DWP said central government maintained an "overview of the welfare safety net as a whole, including those aspects where decisions on support rightly sit at the local level".

The department it added "conducts rigorous impact and equality analysis, and a comprehensive rolling programme of evaluation, of its benefit reforms".

It also said recipients of carer's allowance would be exempt from the benefit cap, stating: "After careful consideration, and in the context of the Government's wider strategy to support and invest in carers, the Government will be exempting all recipients of carer's allowance from the benefit cap. This will take effect later this year."

The committee had recommended that they "must either be suitably protected from unintended effects by DHPs (Discretionary Housing Payments) or exempted from the reforms".

The DWP also said co-location options would be "fully explored" in all Jobcentre Plus districts, adding its priority was to "deliver its core service in the most suitable locations, at the right cost and in a way that enhances the service to claimants".

The committee had expressed its strong support for the co-location of Jobcentre Plus staff and Troubled Families Advisers with local authority benefit teams, where possible in "one-stop-shops" with other services for people on low incomes.

In a statement, Mr Field said: "We were pleased that the Government has chosen to exempt recipients of carer's allowance from the benefit cap. We were disappointed, however, that the Department did not commit to a proper evaluation of the adequacy and effectiveness of the localised welfare safety net. Because of this failure, any holes leave open the risk of vulnerable people falling into severe hardship."

The committee had earlier raised concerns about local approaches to council tax support, which it argued may have contributed to council tax arrears and use of courts summonses and bailiffs by councils as a means of raising revenue.

Labour MP and committee member Karen Buck said: "We were concerned by evidence that some councils were using court summonses and bailiffs to pursue revenue from people who would previously have been given council tax support.

"If people are chased into expensive private payday debt by councils this causes much bigger problems down the line. I would like to see the Government look at these concerns more carefully."