A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work: Oxfam GB's response | Oxfam | Poverty

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Oxfam GB established a UK Poverty Programme (UKPP) in the mid 1990s in response to a concern that it should begin to address poverty ‘at home’ in a more systematic way. The overall purpose of the UKPP is to have a direct impact on poverty and social exclusion in the UK, by strengthening the skills and capacity of the community and voluntary sector to tackle poverty more effectively, and by direct lobbying and campaigning based on Oxfam’s domestic and international programme experience. In both its international and UK programmes, Oxfam works in alliance with partner organisations in long-term development and anti-poverty work with community groups and people in poverty. Oxfam takes a ‘rights-based’ approach to poverty and suffering. We regard poverty as multi-dimensional and complex, comprising at least four aspects: not having enough to live on, not having enough to build from, being excluded from wealth, and being excluded from the power to change things for the better. Thus our definition goes beyond the purely economic to encompass poor capabilities, exclusion, powerlessness and inequity. The UKPP’s response is organised around key programme themes: sustainable livelihoods
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    Oxfam GB’s response to: ‘A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work’ Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme Oxfam GB established a UK Poverty Programme (UKPP) in the mid 1990s in response to a concern that it should begin to address poverty ‘at home’ in a more systematic way. The overall purpose of the UKPP is to have a direct impact on poverty and social exclusion in the UK, by strengthening the skills and capacity of the community and voluntary sector to tackle poverty more effectively, and by direct lobbying and campaigning based on Oxfam’s domestic and international programme experience. In both its international and UK programmes, Oxfam works in alliance with partner organisations in long-term development and anti-poverty work with community groups and people in poverty. Oxfam takes a ‘rights-based’ approach to poverty and suffering. We regard poverty as multi-dimensional and complex, comprising at least four aspects: not having enough to live on, not having enough to build from, being excluded from wealth, and being excluded from the power to change things for the better. Thus our definition goes beyond the purely economic to encompass poor capabilities, exclusion, powerlessness and inequity. The UKPP’s response is organised around key programme themes: sustainable livelihoods; asylum; and equalities (race and gender). In our response, Oxfam makes general comments on a range of issues relevant to the Green Paper: the ‘sustainable livelihoods’ approach; conditionality and compulsion; issues facing lone parents; delivering welfare reform; and the absence of gender analysis. We then make specific comments in response to questions 1-4, 7, 10, and11 set out in the Paper. For further details about Oxfam’s work in the UK, see www.oxfamgb.org/ukpp    General Comments The ‘sustainable livelihoods’ approach The sustainable livelihoods approach was developed in the 1980s and gained popularity in the 1990s when it was adopted by the Department for International Development (DfID) and agencies such as Oxfam. Our programmes, both internationally and in the UK, use the framework to analyse the capabilities, assets and activities required to make a living. A livelihood may be said to be sustainable when it can cope with stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities 1 . The framework examines a range of assets (financial, human, physical, social, environmental), and looks at the way in which they are used to make a living. It also considers the trends and shocks that have a fundamental impact of people’s ability to sustain a livelihood, and the policies, institutions and processes that influence people’s access to assets and their ability to build assets. We recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions, drawing on the experience of DfID and others, should use the sustainable livelihoods approach to develop a more holistic understanding of the interaction between employment, benefits, unpaid work and caring, and financial assets (eg. savings and credit) – and how the mix contributes to people’s ability to make a living. The framework can also help to explain differences in the ways women and men’s seek to build livelihoods. For example, a recent Oxfam survey of household livelihoods in Thornaby, in the North East of England, clearly brought out the differences between single males and single female parents. Women often took on unmanageable levels of debt, due to their caring responsibilities, whereas the men refused to take credit and so lived a hand-to-mouth existence. The ability and willingness of both groups to seek employment was very different, and depended, in addition to their skills, on what made them feel secure or insecure. 1  Long G., Phillips K., Reynolds B. (2002) The Sustainable Livelihoods Framework: A Scoping Exercise in Scotland, Report for Oxfam UK Poverty Programme, The Active Learning Centre, University of Glasgow.    Based on our evidence we would recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions look at the overall picture of assets and life events (and across the life cycle), rather than limit itself to a snapshot of benefits and employment. As a major department that holds data on individuals at most stages of their lives, and one which has significant links to other departments holding relevant, working-age data, we feel that DWP is ideally placed to take this holistic view. Conditionality and Compulsion The Green Paper proposes to increase individual responsibility to participate in the labour market in order to match the rights granted them by the state. We believe that responsibilities are often targeted disproportionately on poor and vulnerable sectors of society – the very groups most in need of a guaranteed set of economic, social and cultural rights 2 . Our programme work also shows that many people throughout the UK are unaware of their rights and/or unable to exercise them. Any approach to increase individual responsibility for employment and job-seeking, particularly with reference to particularly vulnerable groups, must therefore see an equal effort put into ensuring that the state meets its own responsibilities, and that individual rights can be claimed and exercised. We are very concerned over the introduction of mandatory work-focused interviews, particularly amongst a client group that expresses a wish to return to work in 80-90% of cases. Instead, we suggest it would be more productive to offer additional support and facilitation to this client group. Throughout the Green Paper, there is a consistent willingness to engage with individuals on a one-to-one, personalised basis to provide the necessary support mechanisms. We feel that the blunt tool of compulsion runs contrary to this intent. We welcome the phased approach to transition into work set out in the paper; we would, however, urge the government to recognise that the vast majority of the most vulnerable people are unable rather than unwilling to exercise their responsibilities, due to barriers in coming off benefits or getting into work. This is particularly true of groups such as those with disabilities, those with long-term illnesses, and lone parents. We believe the emphasis should be on investigating the perceptions of people from these groups of the barriers that they face, and of the support that would help them overcome these. 2  Ruxton S., Karim R. (2001) Beyond Civil Rights: Developing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the United Kingdom, Oxfam Working Paper    Lone parents  The ‘Get Heard’ project 3  has identified childcare as one of the main barriers preventing lone parents returning to work. We are therefore pleased to see the additional focus on flexible and wrap-around childcare within discussions around welfare reform. We also support the concept of introducing a duty on local authorities to secure suitable childcare. The Green Paper recognises that childcare is a key and in many cases, insurmountable barrier to getting lone parents into work, and this chimes with Oxfam’s experience. Convenient, affordable childcare, even with the support of tax credits, is still a rarity. The poorest women simply cannot afford to make up the difference between the tax credits they get, and the cost of the childcare they need. This is a particular barrier for women in moving from part-time to full-time work. Delivering welfare reform While Oxfam welcomes the commitment in the Green Paper to more customised, individual support, we are concerned that reorganisation and cuts in staffing in relevant employment and benefits services will make improved support very difficult. The most vulnerable people experience particular difficulties in accessing information and support, due to issues such as lack of transport, caring responsibilities, and reduced mobility. They are disproportionately affected by changes in personnel and procedures. They feel the effect most due to their lack of self-confidence and self esteem, brought about by many years of dealing with the day-to-day realities of poverty. Research has shown that those who required the most help in seeking employment under the Job Seekers Allowance regime, pre Spending Review 2004, were those who received the least help 4 . We feel that the increased demands on the time of JobCentrePlus staff through an increase in the ‘active’ caseload, and continued restructuring and downsizing within DWP as a whole will exacerbate this situation. In general, we welcome an extension of the Pathways to Work Programme, and its individually focused approach. However, we are concerned about the extension of a time-intensive programme within the context of large-scale 3  ‘Get Heard’ is a project of the Social Policy Task Force (of which Oxfam’s UK Poverty Programme is a member) and the Department for Work and Pensions, funded by the European Commission, the DWP and Oxfam to enable people with experience of poverty to contribute their views to the National Action Plan on Social Inclusion 2006-08. 4   Wright S., ‘The street level implementation of unemployment policy’, in Millar J. (ed.) (2003) Understanding Social Security: Issues for policy and practice, The Policy Press, Bristol
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