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Budget 2017 for benefits: what welfare changes is Philip Hammond planning?

Everything we know so far about the Chancellor’s plans for the benefits system.

The Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce changes to welfare when he delivers his Budget. What do we know?

How has Theresa May’s government approached welfare so far?

Outside No 10 on 13 July 2016, Theresa May put equality at the heart of her first statement as Prime Minister. She claimed that she would put herself, “squarely at the service of ordinary working-class people”. She dedicated her speech to those who, “can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school”, telling the nation: “If you’re just managing, I want to address you directly.”

This meant that progressives looked to the first Autumn Statement from her Chancellor Philip Hammond last year to see if she would turn her rhetoric into action.

There wasn’t much, however, for the “just about managing” (nicknamed “Jams”) when the new government announced its first plan for Britain’s finances. The Chancellor eased the planned cuts to Universal Credit slightly, by slowing the pace at which your benefits are reduced the higher above the allowance you earn. He said the welfare cap would remain, but promised there would be no more welfare cuts this parliament.

A four-year freeze on tax credits and benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance and income support has been in place since April 2016 last year, and £12bn worth of cuts to the welfare budget were planned for this parliament in the 2015 Tory manifesto pledge. The government wants to stick to making these savings. A £3bn-a-year reduction in the work allowance – the amount benefit claimants can earn before their benefits start being withdrawn – has only really been reduced by about £700m by Hammond.

Hammond inherited harsh welfare policies from George Osborne’s regime, whose austerity programme hit low-income households the hardest – cutting working-age benefits to add to the burden of wage stagnation and rising living costs. He’s not done much so far to ease this pain.

So what are they planning for the Budget?

We can’t expect a huge amount of easing up on benefit freezes in the coming Budget. Here’s what we’re likely to see:

Jobseeker’s Allowance freeze

This is an Osborne legacy, but the unemployment benefit will continue to be frozen at £57.90 a week for under-25s, and £73.10 for those who are 25 and older. Since April 2013, this went up 1 per cent a year. The freeze was announced in the 2015 budget, and came into force last year. Remember, the rate of inflation is increasing, so this could be a big squeeze in the next year.

No automatic entitlement to housing benefit

The government recently announced its plan to remove the entitlement to housing benefit for some 18-21 year olds. Centrepoint warns that this could lead to 9,000 young people being unable to access accommodation and at risk of homelessness. The Guardian suggests Hammond might u-turn on this.

Child benefit freeze

Another continued freeze, at the existing rate of £20.70 a week for the first child and £13.70 for ensuing children. Again, inflation going up means this will feel increasingly tighter. Another part of the Osborne plan.

Child tax credit limited to two children

If you want to claim child tax credits for children born on or after 6 April 2017, you can only do so for two children. If you already claim them, your claims won’t be affected. You also won’t receive what’s known as the “family element” (around £40.40 a month) if your children are born after that date. This is another Osborne policy, announced in 2015 to start this year.

Universal Credit freeze

Universal Credit rates will be frozen for 2017-18. The Osborne plan was the cut the work allowance by £3bn each year – a plan Hammond slightly softened by reducing the taper rate in the Autumn Statement.

So that’s a huge squeeze on living standards for May’s beloved “ordinary, working-class people” then?

Yep.

How do they justify it?

Not very well. The government talks a lot about the rise in what it brands the “national living wage”, which is actually the minimum wage, and also about raising the personal tax allowance. The former isn’t enough to live on if in-work benefits are being restricted (it is lower than the actual living wage, as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation). And the latter disproportionately benefits higher earners.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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