Britain's welfare crackdown draws criticism, praise

Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest against government changes to the welfare system and the proposed 'Bedroom Tax' outside the High Court on May 15, 2013 in London, England. The 'Bedroom Tax' is being challenged at the High Court by a group of families responsible for the care of disabled people, claiming discrimination as spare rooms used in coping with disability have resulted in welfare benefit cuts.

Linda Edwards - losing benefits

Britain’s economic recovery is picking up speed. The U.K.’s growth rate has doubled, dispelling any lingering fears that the country is headed for another slowdown. The news provided some vindication for the British government which had been accused of holding the economy back by cutting public spending and pushing up taxes in an effort to shrink the budget deficit.

But not everyone is celebrating today or congratulating the government for its economic policies.

“In Great Britain at the moment, you know, the rich are getting richer. And it seems like they’re victimizing people that haven’t got any money,” laments Linda Edwards, aged 54.

Linda feels aggrieved because she stands to lose half her welfare benefits under the government’s deficit-reduction drive. “I get support for looking after my son who has arthritis,” she says. “But his condition is being reassessed, so both of us could lose a lot of our income. They are targeting the sick, the needy and the carers.”

Linda Edwards is one of many Britons who find themselves at the cutting edge of the government’s welfare reforms. One and a half million people on sickness and disability benefit are being re-examined and, so far, more than 200,000 of them have been designated “fit for work.”

“What we’re doing is getting some fairness in the system,” says the Minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan-Smith. "We are reforming a system that has people trapped on benefit, out of work. And we are getting the bills under control."

Welfare accounts for a third of all public spending in Britain -- $320 billion a year and rising. The latest reform –- which came into effect a week ago -- is a cap on the total amount that a family can draw in welfare. Under the new rule, a household with at least two able-bodied adults may not receive benefits worth more than the national average, after tax, household income -- around $40,000 a year.

The thinking is that no one should be better off on welfare than in work. The measure has been criticized by anti-poverty campaigners and church groups, but it is very popular with the general public. More than 70 percent support the benefit cap, and a further 10 percent oppose it because they say it is too generous.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

Linda Edwards - losing benefits

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