Nice benefits – if you are in work

The Budget is already history – what are the bits that social
services staff should hang on to?

Gordon Brown introduced his Budget as being prudent but targeted
to help the low paid. Gary Vaux welcomes some of the chancellor’s
measures but says little is being done for non-working

Like most social services departments, the Budget devoted most
resources to, and received most headlines about, support for
families with children. And also like social services departments,
some other client groups were pushed to the back of the queue.

Certainly the Budget held lots of good news for working
families, even if some of the “new” measures are little more than
repackaged measures that were announced earlier in the year.

The children’s tax credit (CTC) will be worth up to £520 a
year, when it is introduced next month. But many families have
failed to claim it, because of the understandable confusion with
the completely separate working families tax credit. CTC therefore
cannot yet be hailed as a success, whatever rate it is set at. The
additional increase, from April 2002, of a further £10 a week
for families in the year of a child’s birth is great news – if you
are working and paying tax.

Increases to working families tax credit (WFTC) and disabled
person’s tax credit (DPTC) – by £5 a week from June 2001 –
will also benefit only those who are working.

Social services staff should not underestimate the value of
WFTC. This week I took a call from a social worker about a client
who was working for 20 hours per week in a pub for £100 per
week. She was leaving her two children (aged eight and nine)
unattended while she worked, hence the social worker’s

WFTC enables that client to double her income and possibly pay
for child care too – an essentially benefit-based solution to a
social work problem. Big increases in the limits for eligible child
care for WFTC and DPTC from June 2001 (£135 for families with
child care costs for one child and £200 for families with two
or more children) will make this kind of solution more attractive
than ever.

Intriguingly, the government has hinted that it may extend the
help with child care to workers who can’t make use of the existing
rules within WFTC. At present, the child care has to be external to
the home, for example childminders, nurseries and after-school
clubs. Some families, such as those with disabled children, often
need home-based child care, which the government has said it will
consider. This builds on an earlier, yet unfulfilled, promise to
look at the help given by unregistered carers such as

The only concession to non-working families is a further
£1.50 increase in the child allowances in income support and
job seekers allowance from June 2001. Announcements made since the
Budget about tougher sanctions on the unemployed and more
compulsory work-focused interviews for lone parents on income
support are the price to be paid for this apparent generosity.

The increases for pensioners also gave good copy for the next
day’s papers without saying anything new or startling. The new
rates were first announced in November anyway. As with the
children’s tax credit, what matters is getting the money to those
who are entitled. Big increases in income support rates mean that
many more pensioners will be entitled to income support for the
first time.

Now is the time for social workers to start paying extra
attention to pensioners who are not on income support already.
Single people with an income below £92.15 and savings below
£6,000 should be getting an income support top-up. Gordon
would just love it if you helped them to get the money he has set
aside for them – honest.

Gary Vaux, is head of money advice, Hertfordshire
Council. He regrets that he is unable to answer queries in person,
either by post or by telephone. If you have a question to be
answered in Welfare Rights please write to him c/o Community

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