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Andy Winter, speaking this week at a fringe meeting at the Lib Dem Conference in Brighton, has warned that welfare reforms are not enough to get people off benefits and into work.
He said that a more fundamental reform of the welfare state was needed that met people where they are at, and designed to support the most excluded overcome multiple barriers to work.
And he questioned whether there were sufficient jobs paying the living wage in high cost areas such as Brighton and Hove.
The fringe meeting was organised by the Centre for Social Justice and was also addressed by Department of Works and Pensions Minister, Steve Webb MP.
Andy Winter warned the Minister that welfare reform could fail because there is not sufficient progress on digital inclusion. He said that while the DWP expects 80% of claims for Universal Credit to be made online, the reality is that the majority of claimants currently do not have the means to do this.
We must make sure that work is achievable: that all claimants are in a position to compete for those jobs. The prospect of working must be more than a cruel hoax – the jobs must be there.
This is a particular challenge in areas such as Brighton and Hove where the job market is such that we have graduates working as bar staff and we have the most highly qualified Baristas working in Starbucks. What hope is there for those without qualifications or even basic literacy and numeracy.
For some, work is not a realistic option, at least not in the short term. For some it is not a question of us helping them up the ladder, it is us showing them that a ladder even exists. They are the ones who have been failed by the welfare state.”
BHT has undertaken a survey of 142 clients in 12 BHT services in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. Of the 101 who have access to the internet, 74 have access only because BHT makes that provision in some of our services. Only 27 of the 142 – 19% – have access independently of our services. I have to ask, what will happen to those who are digitally excluded?
The welfare system is just not designed to get people off benefits and into work, although it is increasingly designed merely to get people off benefits.
Andy Winter, BHT Chief Executive