Europe accuses UK of paying illegally-low benefits

Thu, 30/01/2014 - 13:56 -- nick

The level of Britain's major benefits payments is illegally low, and could be raised in court according to a respected European institution.

UnemployedNet has written before about the UK's poverty-guaranteeing welfare amounts - they are among the lowest in Europe and lower than any comparable country - and the Council of Europe has confirmed this.

Its report on Britain's performance against the European Social Charter, which the country signed up to in 1962 under Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, shows that we are failing to meet its conditions.

Under the Charter, Britain must ensure all citizens receive no less than 40% of the European average income, and the current £71.70 Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) falls well short of this, as do the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and pensions.

The government's changes to ESA, including cutting the length of time it can be claimed and tightening qualifying criteria, came in for criticism, with the Council saying it could result in an "outright reduction of protection offered by the sickness benefit."

And overall: "the Committee held that the minimum levels of Statutory Sick Pay, Short Term Incapacity Benefits and contributory Jobseeker's Allowance for single person were manifestly inadequate."

As Britain has committed to abiding by these regulations, a court case brought by a jobseeker, pensioner or ESA claimant could be successful in getting a big rise in income for all those who receive these payments.

Iain Duncan Smith called the demand for increased payments "lunacy" and his Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the report only needed to be "taken into account" when setting benefit levels, but this belief has not been tested legally.

The judgement is likely to get worse for the UK: the Council makes clear that the government's Welfare Reform Act, which introduced more cuts in 2012, and benefit cap would not be considered until it produces its next report, by which time further benefit reductions would be in place.

It also points at increased sanctions as something it will be watching closely, with the next report having the task of ensuring "a person will not be deprived of his/her means of subsistence".

As this is what sanctions are designed to do the UK is likely to fall further foul of the Council next year.

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