A secret survey being carried out by the DWP looks set to blame claimants themselves for going cold and hungry, Benefits and Work can exclusively reveal. Poor budgeting skills, rather than poverty levels of benefits payments, are likely to be suggested as the cause of claimant hardship.
This latest survey comes hard on the heels of the publication of a disability benefits report which the DWP tried to suppress and which showed that some claimants could not afford necessities including food and heating.
Individual claimants are being contacted and invited to take part in the new survey.
At this stage we don’t know how many claimants are involved or how they are being selected. But the survey is being carried out by one of the UK’s leading polling companies on behalf of the DWP, so the numbers are likely to be considerable.
The introduction to the new survey says it is intended to help the DWP “better understand people’s financial situation and what support they may need”.
The online survey asks a number of questions about what kind of debts claimants have, what effect the debts have had on them and what support they need.
They are asked if they have ever “fallen behind on, or missed, any payments for domestic bills or credit commitments”. A list of possible payments they might be behind on includes : a loan from a bank, building society, money lender, friend or relative; a payday loan; a pawnbroker; court fines.
Claimants are also asked the reasons they have borrowed money, with suggestions including: house or car repairs; paying interest on debts; buying gifts; essential items such as food and bills; holidays.
It is the question about the support that struggling claimants need which is most concerning, however. The full question and list of options is as follows:
What types of help or support, if any, would be most useful in helping you manage your finances?
- Help with working out what money I have left to spend each/day/week/month.
- Advice on how to spread my spending so I don’t run out of money
- Advice on how to reduce my spending
- Advice on how to reduce my debt
- Advice on how to increase my income
- Help with setting up a direct debit/standing order
- Help with opening a bank account
- Other (specify)
In this context, advice to increase my income is most likely to relate to those in employment. In general claimants cannot increase their income unless there is a benefit they could be claiming that they are not aware of.
What is entirely missing from these options are the ones that would actually make a difference to claimants, such as:
- Pay benefits at a rate that is enough to live on
- Remove the 5 week waiting time for UC
- End the long delays for PIP assessments and WCAs
Because there are no such options, this survey will produce results that say that, of claimants who are in debt:
X% say they need advice on working out what money they have left to spend
X% say they need advice on how to reduce their spending
X% say they need advice on how to reduce their debt
Whilst some people may indeed say in the ‘Other’ box that the help they need is a higher rate of benefits, this will not be listed as a percentage in outcomes as everyone’s answers will be worded differently.
In other words, all the support needs will be around claimants not understanding how to manage their money, rather than it being impossible to manage on the money they receive.
Benefits and Work has made Freedom of Information requests to ask how the claimants taking part in this survey are selected, how many are taking part and whether the results of the report are going to be published.
But the DWP are still smarting from the recent publication of the secret benefits report which showed how disabled claimants are struggling to pay even for necessities.
So if this report allows the DWP to claim that the reason some claimants are unable to eat or heat is that they are failing to budget wisely, then we suspect it will be published as quickly and widely as the DWP can possibly manage.