Several months ago Micheal Pyner, chair of the Development Trusts Association, took to the stage at the national conference of his organisation to launch a bitter polemic against the benefits system in the UK.
The system in this country, he said, was not a stepping-stone out of poverty, but a trap which keeps people in. It is not designed to reward initiative, but to keep people quiet. It was, he said “a failed municipal system which must be swept away”.
One of many problems Pyner highlights with the benefits system is that it offers people who are unemployed almost no financial benefit for taking on low-paid work.
In particular, entering part-time work, rather than being rewarded as a first step back to employment, often brings a major financial blow.
If someone earning the minimum wage gets a part-time job, they are likely to earn around £5 more than they would for sitting at home, collecting benefits and watching daytime TV. Help with housing, council tax and medical bills will evaporate, leaving them potentially far worse off.
One of the best ideas to beat this poverty trap is the Community Allowance, which Pyner’s organisation has backed for years. The allowance would offer not-for-profit organisations the chance to recruit people on benefits into part-time work that benefits the community, with no effect on those benefits.
It is a winning proposition for all concerned: the unemployed person gets a job, the community organisation gets a worker. And the Government offers someone on benefits their first step to becoming a taxpayer – at almost no cost to themselves.
Which is why it’s extraordinary that almost three years after it was first proposed – six months after pilots were supposed to start – the allowance still hasn’t had the go-ahead from Government. Whichever party takes power, whoever the new work and pensions secretary may be, they must be persuaded to press ahead with this idea as one of their foremost priorities.