Archive for September 11th, 2018

Boris slams May’s plan as ‘worse than staying in the EU’

BORIS Johnson yesterday condemned Theresa May’s Brexit plans as “worse” than staying in the EU. In a fresh attack on the Prime Minister, the former foreign secretary described her Chequers proposal as an “economic risk”.

BREXIT BREAKTHROUGH: Rees-Mogg reveals SOLUTION to Irish border as pressure HEAPED on EU

PROPOSALS for breaking the Brexit negotiation deadlock over the Irish border will be unveiled tomorrow by leading Tory Eurosceptics.

Gove hails plans to reward UK farmers for adopting green policies

Payments under EU’s CAP will be replaced by subsidies based on environmental protections

The UK’s biggest landowners will see the payments they receive from the public purse fall sharply from 2021 in what would be the biggest shake-up of farming for decades.

From 2021, a new system rewarding farmers for the public goods they provide will be phased in until 2027 when the last payments based on the amount of land farmed will be made. In place of the £3bn a year farmers currently receive under the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), farmers will be expected to sign environmental land management contracts detailing their commitments to protecting habitats, improving flood management and enhancing air and water quality.

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Defra’s readiness for no-deal Brexit pilloried by Whitehall auditors

Michael Gove’s department yet to comprehend scale of work it must complete, says NAO

Michael Gove’s department will not be ready for a no-deal Brexit and does not yet understand the scale of work it must complete, an auditors’ report has found.

After examining the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ preparations for Britain leaving the EU, the National Audit Office said Defra officials had failed to hire enough vets and this could severely disrupt exports of UK food.

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UK presents post-Brexit plans to phase out farm subsidies by 2028

The last vestiges of the EU’s agricultural policy will still be in place in the U.K. in 2027 — nearly a decade after the country leaves the bloc — according to the British government’s post-Brexit plans.

In the government’s first major piece of legislation mapping out post-EU policy, Environment and Food Secretary Michael Gove is set to present sweeping changes Wednesday to the agriculture sector. Gove’s plan will phase out the EU’s sacrosanct direct payment scheme under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which props up farmers’ wages based on the amount of land they own, and instead link farmers’ payments to environmental standards.

The bill will also ensure British farmers no longer have to contend with rules that critics of the CAP say are too stringent and unfit for the modern-day challenges of food production and the environment.

The cut to direct payments will kick in for the first time in 2021 and continue until they are totally eradicated after 2027. For example, annual payments of up to £30,000 will be cut by 5 percent in the first year of the transition, while payments of £150,000 or more will fall by 25 percent.

The proposal is designed to draw the curtains on a situation where the U.K.’s top 10 percent of farm subsidy recipients now rake in almost 50 percent of all EU agricultural payments that go to the country.

“After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit,” Gove said in a statement. “This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.”

The bill pledges to guarantee the same amount of money now going toward the farming sector in both 2019 and 2020. Officials from Gove’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the amount of money individual farmers receive after 2021 will depend on what efforts they make to improve the environment. The European Commission, meanwhile, has plans to cut CAP funding by 5 percent for the period between 2021 and 2027, though some EU27 countries — led by France — are against the move.

Britain’s idea to phase out direct payments, which account for the lion’s share of money inside the CAP, is linked to international pressure on farmers to help combat climate change and protect the environment. In Britain, the additional money for the environment will be paid to farmers that agree to do things such as reduce ammonia emissions, plant trees and maintain hedgerows as habitats for wildlife, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.

Under the new system, “farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards,” the department said.

While most farm groups in the U.K. accept that direct payments should be cut in favor of schemes that improve the environment, groups such as the National Farmers’ Union say direct payments are the most effective way of managing volatility for farms.

“To think the transition period goes beyond the government term gives a message of long-term stability,” said Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, which represents lamb farmers in the U.K. “It’s better than what we would have hoped for.”

But, Stocker added, it remains to be seen how farmers across the board will go about tapping into the U.K.’s environmental schemes while ensuring their business models remain profitable. “Farm enterprises still have to get to the point where they are viable without being propped up by environmental payments,” he said.

The approach taken by Britain stands in stark contrast to the EU’s own draft legislation on how to reform the CAP, which largely maintains the role of direct payments, albeit with slight reductions in part due to Brexit, but also due to pressures to spend more of the overall EU budget on security and migration.

The government’s bill also suggests “delinking” direct payments from an existing requirement to actually farm the land, in order to encourage new entrants into the sector. And it details how the U.K. plans to strengthen farmers’ bargaining powers in the food supply chain to help them get a better deal in the marketplace.

UK to replace EU farm payouts with transition scheme

Those providing greatest environmental benefit to get the most money

In-work conditionality is based on weak evidence – but will the policy sink or swim?

The public seem to be unaware of the poor evidence underpinning in-work conditionality, write Jo Abbas and Katy Jones. But research suggests that this policy is unfair and ineffective, and so once Universal Credit is rolled out, it could face resistance both from claimants and the wider public.

The government’s flagship benefit, Universal Credit (UC), sees the introduction of ‘in-work conditionality’ to working social security claimants on a low income. As a result, claimants could face penalties – such as benefit sanctions – if they do not comply with mandatory work-related requirements, including searching for and applying for additional work to meet an earnings threshold.

This marks a substantial policy shift, as many working claimants of tax credits are being moved on to UC and could be affected by this change. Currently a fifth of working UC claimants are in the ‘working – with requirements’ group that could be affected by in-work conditionality. Yet, three million households with someone in work will receive UC once it is fully implemented, and of these approximately one million are expected to be subject to in-work conditionality.

This extension of conditionality to claimants that are already in paid work is one of many controversial intensifications and extensions of our conditional welfare system (see, for example, the extension of conditionality to disabled social security claimants), occurring as part of what critics call a ‘conditionality consensus’ among policymakers. Should we accept these reforms as the new normal? Or is in-work conditionality a step too far?

Using interviews with people subject to in-work conditionality as well as recent polling data we argue that the gradual shift to in-work conditionality is unlikely to be plain sailing. Both the low levels of public support for this reform, and the negative experiences of those subject to it, suggest that government will be hard-pressed to convince the public and working UC claimants that in-work conditionality is either effective or fair.

In-work conditionality in the eyes of working social security recipients

Turning to our first body of evidence, in the recently completed ESRC-funded project, Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change, interviews were conducted with a number of working social security claimants, including some of the first to receive UC.

Working claimants in this study described difficult experiences as they attempted to meet the demands of both employer and Work Coach. Furthermore, identifying any sort of tangible support to progress in work proved difficult. Where respondents had felt pressured by the Job Centre to apply for and take any job while out of work, to them it felt like in-work conditionality simply involved a continuation of this approach.

‘I just felt like they were just pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing you. I had a job’ (Lone parent working variable hours, claiming Job Seekers Allowance)

For those on zero hours contracts, a need to be available for work for one employer was at odds with directives to take on additional hours elsewhere.

‘They said I hadn’t proved that I’d been searching for work but the fact that I’d got work during that period proves that I did! You know…?! It actually proves that I did. To sanction me four weeks’ money, yes, at something like £10 a day, unbelievable’ (Universal Credit claimant, working variable hours)

Several respondents were threatened with, or experienced sanctions for failing to demonstrate sufficient job search activity whilst in work. As a result of this punitive approach, over the course of this longitudinal study, some decided to terminate their claims to in-work financial support, despite remaining eligible.

More in-depth findings relating to in-work conditionality can be found across a number of sources. However, it is safe to say that in-work conditionality as experienced by participants in our project has largely not been welcomed. But what do the wider public think about it?

Public opinion and in-work conditionality

In summer 2017, 1,111 adults in the UK aged 18 to 75 took part in an online poll (Ipsos-Mori – IPR), which included questions on in-work conditionality. Respondents were asked whether it would be acceptable to reduce tax credit payments if claimants: (1) refused an offer of more hours of work; (2) refused an offer of more pay; (3) did not actively search for more hours of work; or (4) actively searched for more pay.

Summarised in Table 1, the findings suggest there is support for less demanding forms of in-work conditionality: 50% said that it was acceptable to reduce tax credit payments if recipients did not accept an offer of more pay, and 54% supported this idea in relation to an offer of more hours (1 & 2). Yet, respondents opposed reducing tax credit payments in response to noncompliance with behavioural requirements to actively search for better pay (42%) or more hours’ work (45%) (3 & 4) similar to the requirements in Universal Credit.

However, the high level of uncertainty among respondents in combination with the marginal levels of net opposition suggests public opinion could shift. The framing of in-work conditionality in the media and by politicians is therefore likely to be a decisive factor in shaping public opinion.

Putting it all together: will in-work conditionality sink or swim?

As in-work conditionality marks a ‘ground-breaking’ shift in social security reform, it is surprising that the public debate has been relatively silent on the topic, with a few exceptions. However, the limited coverage of in-work conditionality may be partially explained by the relatively low numbers of claimants subject to it at present – we could be witnessing the calm before the storm. Related to this, oppositional voices might not yet be loud enough for politicians to take notice, and/or potential issues with in-work conditionality are overshadowed by other pressing issues with the implementation of UC.

Nonetheless, as UC continues to roll out, proponents could struggle to defend in-work conditionality. In the past, policymakers were seemingly comfortable with making crude distinctions between those in and out of work by juxtaposing ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers’ in stigmatising soundbites. But will there come a time when politicians will say that these formerly “hard-working people” are not working hard enough? This is not beyond the realms of possibility – indeed, over recent years we’ve seen a shift towards an increasingly punitive attitude to formerly “deserving” groups.

The viability of in-work conditionality will also depend on the strength of its opponents and how they make use of the evidence, or lack of. Indeed to date there is no evidence clearly showing that those subject to ‘in-work conditionality’ are progressing in the labour market and there are concerns reforms might be misdirected. Not only do these workers have to manage life on a low, often unpredictable income, they now have to satisfy the demands of an increasingly conditional and, according to some, unfairly punitive welfare system.

Whilst (we’re assuming) the general public is not aware of the weak evidence base underpinning in-work conditionality, the data above suggest at least some degree of hesitancy to accept this policy shift. If the evidence continues to stack up, including more accounts of claimants’ negative experiences, then this aspect of the Universal Credit could face resistance both from those directly affected and the wider public.


Note: the above draws on research done as part of the Welfare Conditionality: Sanctions, Support and Behaviour Change project.

About the Authors

Jo Abbas is a PhD candidate at the University of Bath.



Katy Jones is a Research Fellow in the University of Salford’s Sustainable Housing and Urban Studies Unit.




All articles posted on this blog give the views of the author(s), and not the position of LSE British Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science. Featured image credit: Pixabay (Public Domain).



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