Assembly member lives on benefits to experience the effects of ‘welfare reform’

The day job: Rebecca Evans AM in the more familiar environment of the Assembly debating chamber [Image: ITV].

The day job: Rebecca Evans AM in the more familiar environment of the Assembly debating chamber [Image: ITV].

I wanted to share this with you because, as a constituent and a member of the Labour Party, I’m quite proud of Mid and West Wales Labour AM Rebecca Evans, who spent a week living on an amount equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance and discussing ‘welfare reform’ with people who deal with its effects on a day-to-day basis, to find out what it is like.

She wrote an article about her experience for Wales Online which I am taking the liberty of excerpting here. Over to you, Rebecca:

With the average household in Wales expected to lose 4.1 per cent of their income due to policy changes, support is vital for those living on the poverty line.

Although people are understandably cynical when politicians attempt to live life on the breadline, I wanted to raise awareness of the challenges facing welfare claimants and gain a better understanding of how well understood the changes are.

Living off £72.40 for one week, I did not expect to truly experience the day-to-day life of people who rely on welfare support. I was aware that when Monday came around I would step back into my normal routine. But I wanted to experience at least some of the challenges and difficult decisions facing many thousands of people every day.

The Your Benefits are Changing money advice team calculated that the average weekly expenditure for someone living off Jobseeker’s Allowance in my home area of Carmarthenshire leaves just £13.58 for food and essentials once transport costs, utilities, the TV licence, phone bills and the bedroom tax have been paid – which equates to less than £2 a day.

On this income, any trip to the supermarket becomes a stressful task as every single penny matters.

When speaking with job seekers, food bank volunteers, YBAC money advisors and housing association staff and tenants during the week, the message was the same: people are struggling and many have had their lives irrevocably damaged by welfare policies.

The Bedroom Tax has had a serious impact on thousands of people across Wales, and the shortage of suitable housing has only enhanced poverty levels. Brought in as part of the Welfare Reform Act… the policy is estimated to have affected 36,000 tenants in the social housing sector, including 3,500 disabled households. As a direct result… housing association tenants accrued £1.1 million in arrears during the first six months.

Housing associations are rightly concerned that a move to monthly payments will prove incredibly challenging for those on low incomes, leading to an increase in the number of people that turn to emergency food supplies.

A YBAC money advisor told me food poverty levels can be worse for people who live on housing estates because they may only have one shop within walking distance, and that shop may have limited discounts. Food prices have risen by 12 per cent since 2007, so it is no surprise 900,000 people across the UK have turned to food banks in the past year… but the fact that we need food banks in 21st never ceases to be shocking.

The families I met during my week on benefits rely on second hand clothes and goods, and rarely buy anything new – let alone any kind of treats. They try to put aside £20 a week, but unexpected emergencies leave them unable to save.

A YBAC money advisor told me that around a quarter of people seeking advice are actually in work, and that the majority of children in poverty live in a household where one adult works. One mum with a young baby told me that her husband is on a zero-hour contract, meaning that the family can’t plan financially with any certainty.

This smashes the myth that welfare reform is all about supporting the unemployed back to work.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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17 thoughts on “Assembly member lives on benefits to experience the effects of ‘welfare reform’

    1. Mike Sivier

      In what way?
      In that she did this on her own initiative, to find out what it’s like to be in that situation?
      In that she did not make any kind of fuss about it prior to doing this, but just got on with it?
      In that the only publicity work she has done on it is writing a newpaper article, in order to draw public attention – not to herself, but to the information she gathered?
      Having read the article, you will of course know that she fully accepted the limitations of spending only a week in that situation and the artificiality of it. So…
      I’m sorry, what was your point again?

  1. beastrabban

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Respect is due to the Assembly Member for actually attempting to live like someone on benefits and genuinely understand how the poor really live. IDS didn’t. I remember that when someone asked him to do so, he shrugged it off, saying he wasn’t going to do any publicity stunts. This, of course, probably meant that he was absolutely terrified of ending up like Geoffrey Dickinson. Dickinson was the right-wing Tory, who was demanding that the conditions should be made even tougher for the unemployed. He was asked to live on benefits for a week. By the end of it he had run out of food, and had his gas, electricity and water cut off. Not that this made much difference – he still carried on loudly proclaiming the same message, as have Major, Osborne and their like ever since. And unfortunately, so too have the Blairite faction in Labour. It’s a pity the Honourable Lady is on Mike’s side of Offa’s Dyke, as we desperately need more like her on this side of the Severn as well.

    1. Mike Sivier

      You can’t have her, Dave, she’s one of mine!
      I’m glad you picked up on the Iain Duncan Smith “publicity stunt” comment, though – notice that Rebecca Evans did this on her own initiative, without going after prior publicity for it. She wrote a newspaper article afterwards in order to publicise her findings, which – again – can’t be said to be seeking personal fame in any meaningful way.

  2. Groc

    … and these days she’d have to factor in living on no money whatsoever for at least a month for some trivial infringement like being 5 minutes late to sign on, or for not coming in for an interview the details for which would have been sent to a previous address, or for not attending to signing on AND a interview elsewhere both at the same time.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Yes – and that could not be replicated on this timescale – but I reiterate that she made it perfectly clear that she was aware of these issues.

      1. Joanna

        I must admit to a fair amount of cynism myself, until I clocked the no prior publicity. Perhaps she could maybe go one step further and maybe make a detailed report on what she spent money on food during this time, it may help people, to know that someone truly understands, and it may help people who are seriously struggling to find a better way, if there is a better way?

  3. chrischazChris Griffiths

    Try it for years instead eh?…see what happens when your iron…kettle….washing machine….breaks!…how can you replace them?….you can’t!….when your shoes are worn out….even charity shops are not cheap any more….

    1. Mike Sivier

      Did you even read the article? She said she accepted that there were drawbacks and it was impossible to experience every aspect of the situation in a week.

      1. Joanna

        Why cant’ people get over about who deserves what? and just pay a basic weekly payment, and either cut either income tax or VAT, The BWP would be a lot cheaper to run as it is not means-tested, there wouldn’t be endless appeals over sanctions, it would give everyone the dignity in making there own life choices and if they were regulated, zero hours contracts could work, as long as individuals are not bonded to one particular employer. It would free up more money to fully support sick and disabled because there would be no need for any pimp company like A4E or G4S, thus saving huge amounts. And if the banks threaten to leave the country, like they have let them, but they have to forfeit their buildings and they have to leave peoples money behind. I don’t the banks would go, but threatening has produced results for them.

        Please feel free to edit this Mike, I am probably talking a load of rubbish but I had to get it off my chest.

      2. Gary Barker

        We all read the article and it is a nonsense – if she doesn’t think it was long enough to get a real sense of what it is really like living on benefits then this was just a vanity publicity stunt.

      3. Mike Sivier

        What absolute rubbish. Please try to look past your blinkers and understand that some of our elected representatives actually try to get genuine information, either through personal experience or from people ‘at ground level’, so to speak, within the time constraints placed on them by their job.
        If an MP or an AM spent six months living like this, I expect you would be among the first to berate them for being absent from Parliament/the Assembly.
        What a ridiculous, small-minded pose.

    1. Mike Sivier

      Your sarcasm is wasted here. She knew the drawbacks of spending just a week in that situation but she used the time to gather information from people who spend their whole lives like that, which is more than most politicians do.
      Also, your comment is late. Others made remarks of a similar nature after the article went up – and you can see what response they elicited in this comment column.

Comments are closed.