Right of Reply: Martin Barnes

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The director of the Child Poverty Action Group reacts to yesterday's article by Alistair Darling

on welfare reform

THE BENEFITS regime is tough already; don't make it tougher. CPAG agrees that for those who want to and are able to work, paid employment is a route out of poverty. But work is not, and should not be made to be, an option for all - there must also be genuine security and dignity for those without paid work. The issue of the adequacy of benefits should be addressed by Alistair Darling, not ignored. Benefits can help prevent poverty, even if the causes are many and complex.

At first glance, many people may see no problem in requiring claimants to attend an interview to discuss work. But there are dangers, not least in the attempt by the Government to act and sound "tough" on claimants. The statement by Tony Blair that Labour's welfare reform will end the "something-for-nothing welfare state" is simplistic and, quite frankly, offensive. The insensitive language and media spin risk reinforcing negative stereotypes.

There are already many barriers to claiming benefit - the process can be humiliating and degrading. The prospect of means tests, medical examinations and home visits to check domestic arrangements fills many people with dread. Benefit rules themselves are detailed and complicated, with regulations running to hundreds of pages. No one receives benefit unless an official is satisfied that they are entitled to it - there are many hoops to jump through.

The proposal for a new "gateway" interview will work only if it is adequately funded. The Benefits Agency is already saying that it cannot deliver the high-quality service promised in last year's Welfare Green Paper. With compulsion, you can get away with delivering an inferior service. The benefits regime is tough already; don't make it tougher.