Not the government it would appear. Non take-up of means-tested benefits is a perennial problem in the social security system. Annual statistics, published by the Department for Work and Pensions, track trends in the estimated amounts unclaimed of the six main means-tested benefits and the numbers not claiming. The latest figures show an estimated £7.52bn to £12.31bn went unclaimed in 2009-10, with a third or more of those eligible not claiming some benefits.
Means-tested benefits can only achieve their purpose of reducing poverty, if they are claimed. Indeed the Child Poverty Unit has suggested that in 2009 there were 400,000 children living in income poverty because their families were not receiving all the benefits and tax credits to which they were entitled.
By chance I discovered that the DWP proposes to cease producing these statistics. A consultation was launched on 12 July yet, according to Professor Adrian Sinfield, as of 23 July the consultation was not on the DWP and Office of National Statistics lists of consultations. It makes one wonder how serious the consultation is.
I raised my concern about this proposal during deliberation of the Local Government Finance Bill. I was moving an amendment concerning take-up of the new localised council tax reduction schemes, which will replace the national council tax benefit . Because the new schemes will be cash limited, local authorities could be discouraged from encouraging take-up. As the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Shipley warned, this ‘gives rise to a conflict of interest…that cannot be right’.
It’s remarkable that the government is not interested in the impact on take-up of the localisation of council tax benefit. It’s even more remarkable that it’s not interested in the take-up of its flagship universal credit scheme, not least as an anticipated substantial increase in take-up is, according to ministers, one of it’s main virtues.
In the interests of accountability and effective social policy, I hope the government will think again.