General Election 2017 gives voters a genuine choice when it comes to poverty and benefits

Richard Machin, Course Leader for Social Welfare Law Policy and Advice Practice

Richard Machin

As the course leader for Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice here at Staffordshire University my academic interests focus on the impact of government policy in areas such as housing, social security and immigration. Over the last few years I have worked with colleagues on a range of research projects looking at issues such as the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ in North Staffordshire and rough sleeping and street activity in Hanley. As ever these are areas of heated political debate in the current election campaign.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation  (JRF) have recently mapped the risks of working-age poverty across the UK. This provides a constituency level analysis of where high levels of working-age poverty are likely to exist based on the numbers of people claiming benefits and tax credits.  The ‘working-age poverty risk index’ gives each constituency a score of between 0 and 10, with 0 indicating the lowest risk of poverty and 10 the highest risk of poverty. The national average score is 2.8 and a total of 632 constituencies were surveyed.

The figures for Stoke make interesting reading:

  • Stoke Central has a poverty risk score of 4.5 (the 73rd most at risk constituency)
  • Stoke North has a poverty risk score of 5.1 (the 39th most at risk constituency)
  • Stoke South has a poverty risk score of 4.2 (the 98th most at risk constituency)

With the general election fast approaching this research is timely. In recent elections voters have bemoaned the lack of choice between the main political parties, but this cannot be said for general election 2017. If the JRF research is a cause for concern what can we expect in terms of social security policy in the next parliament? An analysis of the Conservative Party manifesto indicates more of the same. The programme of welfare reform pursued since 2010 will continue for working-age claimants and, surprisingly, pensioner incomes would also be reduced (through the means testing of the winter fuel-payment and the ending of the ‘triple-lock’ on the state pension). Labour are proposing a series of fundamental reforms of the benefit system: the ‘bedroom tax’ would be abolished, the limiting of means-tested benefits to the first two children in the family would be scrapped, the controversial sanctions regime would be abandoned and we would see an overhaul of the way in which disability benefits are assessed. The Liberal Democrats would pursue a similar range of fundamental reforms including scrapping cuts to housing benefit for 18-24 year olds and increasing the annual value of benefits in line with inflation (working-age benefit levels are currently frozen).

Voters have a genuine choice on 08 June and it will be fascinating to see which parties’ vision for the UK over the next five years prevails.