The untold story of April’s welfare cuts: the combined impacts

440,000 families will lose £16.90 a week as they are hit by both the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax support.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the many individual changes to social security that are taking place this month. Not known are the combined impacts – when individuals and households get hit by numerous changes. It is a notable omission that no official estimates of the overlap between different reforms have been published. Our research, published today, tries to fill that gap.

We have analysed four major changes. Three of them are “absolute” cuts: the bedroom tax; the replacement of council tax benefit by council tax support; and the overall benefit cap (which is being piloted this month, with the aim of full rollout by September). All of these will result in a reduction of the amount of money these households have to spend on everything else. Additionally, the uprating of out of work benefits and some elements of tax credits by only 1 per cent, below the level of inflation (2.7 per cent), will result in a cut in real terms for those families receiving such benefits.

The headline figures show that 2.6 million families are affected by at least one of the three absolute benefit cuts, and 440,000 are affected by more than one. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of the families affected by an absolute cut in benefit have also seen a fall in real terms to other benefits.

The biggest single group of losers from this month’s absolute cuts are those being hit by change to council tax benefit only, some 2 million families. Their average loss per week is around £2.60, but most will lose out additionally from a below-inflation increase in benefits. The smallest group to lose out are those being hit by the Household Benefit Cap: around 50,000 families. The average loss per week for these families is huge, however – some £93 per week. 

Those families hit by the bedroom tax are likely to be hit by other changes as well. More than two thirds of them will also lose out through changes in council tax benefit – around 440,000 families. The average loss in weekly income for these families is £16.90, which is 20 per cent higher than the individual bedroom tax cut. Around 320,000 of those hit by both changes, more than 7 out of 10, will also see a cut in real terms in the value of their benefits as a result of the 1 per cent uprating.

These changes inevitably hit those on lowest incomes. Sixty three per cent of those hit by any of the reforms are already in poverty, which rises to 67 per cent of those affected by both the bedroom tax and council tax benefit changes. Seventy five per cent of families hit by a single cut and 82 per cent losing out from both are workless.

Around half of the families losing out have a disabled adult, and a third of these adults receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Some of these families might be hit again by the transfer from DLA to the Personal Independence Payment, as 20 per cent are expected to lose their entitlement entirely under the changes, according to the DWP Impact Assessment.

This is, of course, only part of the picture. There have been various other reforms since 2010, such as the caps on Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit for the private rented sector); changes to Working Tax Credits; and the abolition of the Social Fund. These will have further overlaps with this month’s changes, particularly with council tax benefit changes.

The point here is not that any reforms are bad, even if they take money away from people in poverty. But the fact that there has been no analysis from government of the overlapping effects of these changes is indicative of a poorly thought-through process. Social housing could be better allocated, benefit uprating does need a consistent principle when wages stagnate, and council tax does need reform. But this month’s changes address symptoms, not causes, leading to misery for many for no good end. 

Adam Tinson is research analyst at the New Policy Institute

The New Policy Institute's report - How many families are affected by more than one benefit cut this April - can be read here

Washing hangs out to dry above children's bikes on the balcony of a residential development in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Photograph: Getty Images.

Adam Tinson is research analyst at the New Policy Institute

Photo: Getty
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A good apprenticeship is about more than box-ticking

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. 

The political apprenticeships arms race, promising ever increasing numbers of apprenticeships but with little focus on quality, is helping nobody. Playing a numbers game often means the quality and the personal touch that turns a placement into a career opportunity can be lost. The government has set a target of three million new apprenticeships by 2020. In London Boris Johnson set a target for 250,000 apprentice starts, but fell short by over 100,000. Both targets miss the point; any target should focus on outcomes, not just numbers through the door.

Policy makers need to step back from the rigid frameworks and see what works on the ground.  For me this involved eating a bacon sandwich, which is arguably a risky exercise for politicians.  I was seeing how the owner of the Bermondsey Community Kitchen and Café, Mike, has transformed the space above his café into a training kitchen teaching young unemployed people the skills they need to gain qualifications to work in restaurants.

The posters on the wall spell out the choices available to the young people. They make it explicitly clear that there is an alternative to a life in prison, which some of the trainee chefs have already experienced, with pictures of celebrity chefs including Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith and Gordon Ramsay outlining how they worked their way to where they are now. None of the young people have had an easy start in life. Barriers they face include autism, lack of literacy skills, insufficient funds to pay the fare to the café and criminal records. But Mike and the team running the kitchen are determined to give them the chances every young person deserves. From City & Guilds qualifications, work placements and ensuring they have a job at the end of the process, this is the type of grass roots project that the government could learn from. With two groups of eight students over three half days, this is skills training that is about as personal as it gets. The young people are enthusiastic about the course, the practical skills they are learning and optimistic about the future.

The project is funded partly through the café, but mainly through grants and donations (including pots and pans from Raymond Blanc and funding from trusts as well as the local council). Mike has plans to expand. He wants premises with space for a nursery so young mothers who might otherwise struggle to complete a course can attend, he has a vision for two or three more similar enterprises across Southwark. I have no doubt he will achieve this but the challenge for policy makers is making it easier for people like Mike who are delivering flexible qualifications and delivering better results. Bureaucratic processes, lengthy forms and refusals would have put less determined people off. As the funding for skills is devolved, there is both an opportunity and a challenge to look at how innovative models can be supported. Unless more is done to ensure groups that might be defined as ‘hard to reach’ get opportunities, there will always be significant numbers falling through the gaps in a sometimes impersonal system.

Over 60 per cent of the apprenticeships in London focus on low level qualifications with little prospect of employment upon completion. Many skills based apprenticeships fail to match demand, the booming construction industry for example is crying out for skilled workers and with all parties agreeing new homes are a priority its surprising to learn that in London only 3 per cent of apprenticeships are in construction.

Apprenticeships need to focus on leading to work, and work that is skilled and pays enough to live on. They should be about opportunity not opportunistic employers. In a report published in October 2015, Ofsted was critical of apprenticeships saying too many of them ‘do not provide sufficient training that stretches the apprentices and improves their capabilities. Instead they frequently are being used as a means of accrediting existing low-level skills, like making coffee and cleaning floors.’

The new apprenticeship levy charged to businesses with a wage bill over a certain amount could be a useful way of enhancing opportunities but the definition of apprenticeship needs to be refined. On a recent visit to the iconic Brompton Bikes factory, the London Assembly Economy Committee was told that although the firm has to pay the new levy as a result of its size, they have a bespoke way of training their apprenticeships so they have the skills to get jobs with Brompton Bikes at the end of the process. Because this tailored training doesn’t meet the narrow government criteria they aren’t formally accredited apprenticeships and thus Brompton are unable to claim any funding back from government despite their excellent work.

I am increasingly frustrated that the most exciting and inspiring projects I visit don’t always meet the criteria for funding. We are doing something wrong if people are asked to fit something that works into a form that meets criteria rather than rewarding their successes. Instead huge amounts of public money are being put into funding low quality low skilled apprenticeships that sometimes appear to be more about avoiding the minimum wage. This is not just a waste of money; it is a waste of the lives of the young people. As the Bermondsey fishmonger we bumped in to on the way out of the café told us, sometimes what works is smashing the box, not ticking the box.