Benefits system in dire need of shake up
As figures show that more than £10bn in benefits go unclaimed, the time is right to sort out the benefits system.
Few subjects divide people like the benefits system. Barely a week goes by without a story appearing in newspapers like the Daily Mail, bemoaning 'benefit scroungers' who take our taxes and sit idly by, enjoying life's luxuries while the rest of us work our fingers to the bone.
It's an easy (and grossly inaccurate) cliché, and succeeds only in attaching a stigma to those that rely on the benefits system.
This week, the Government has revealed up to £10.5bn of income-related benefits were unclaimed in 2007/8. That's a simply massive amount. £10.5bn! That's almost a quarter of all of the benefits money set aside.
It's even more staggering when you look at the breakdown by each area. With Pensions Credit, between £1.9m and £2.9m was unclaimed. That equates to up to 1.71 million pensioners missing out on money that is theirs by right.
On Council Tax Benefit, 30% of the money went unclaimed. That equates to between 2.33 million and 3.06 million people in the UK.
Things are a bit better with Housing Benefit, Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance, but in each of these areas there are still hundreds of thousands of people missing out on money that can help them make ends meet. (Check out the full report on the Department of Work and Pensions website)
For so much money to go unclaimed suggests to me that the current system is failing some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Part of the reason that so much money goes unclaimed, particularly by the elderly, is that it is so very complicated, with reams of forms to fill in. This is madness.
Obviously, the system needs to be firm against potential abuse. But the benefits system is there to help the people that need it the most, not make them jump through hoops in order to get a little assistance.
Thankfully elderly charities, including Help the Aged, are running an awareness campaign encouraging pensioners to establish just what they are entitled to. It would probably be too much to ask for similar campaigns to raise awareness of who is entitled to the other income-related benefits available.
What is needed is a proper shake up of the benefits system, so that those that need the money most can get access to it, without ploughing through forms the length of War and Peace. And that shake up needs to happen soon.