Did you know? Eligible people are still not taking up their benefit entitlements. I’ve written previously  about the large numbers of people who are not working and are not receiving benefits.  Now a further report says that others who are working or are retired are not claiming the benefits they could. For example, "... almost a third of eligible people in the UK in 2009-10 were not claiming the means-tested benefits they were entitled to" resulting in about £5m being unclaimed by working families in the form of Working or Child Tax Credits. Whether you think that reducing deprivation is best achieved by increasing minimum wage or supplementing low wages with Tax Credits, there seems little doubt that, unless either solution is successful, the consequences are simply moved elsewhere in the State system – for example, to the NHS. So benefit savings that are the result of more poverty rather than better incomes is just a transfer of costs from one Department to another. Main findings in the report as to the cause of low take-up were "level and accuracy of knowledge about an entitlement and its eligibility rules, linked with the perceived cash value of the benefit when compared to the effort involved in claiming and maintaining entitlement."  Essentially, information isn't reaching the people who need it and, even where it does, claiming can be more trouble than its worth.  Another influence may be the general stigmatisation of people who claim benefits by the media and others influencing public perceptions. Forthcoming benefit changes that will need effective design to improve take-up   include faster roll out of Universal Credit from 2015, the devolution of some benefits to Local Authorities and the new single tier pension from 2016. Potential solutions are easily recognisable to anyone with a commercial background: Make it easy.  Simpler benefit systems and claim forms. Tailor delivery to customers.  Using phone and IT to make claims, avoiding duplication of information needed for different benefits, learning from feedback. Target promotion.  Using data to identify target groups and key life changes. Go local.  Using familiar and accessible local intermediary organisations such as the health sector, employment support providers, children's centres and more but especially those that have trained staff able to give independent and knowledgeable advice. We might think of the costs of deprivation to the State like one of those squidgy "stress" balls.  If the benefits system squeezes people on no/low incomes, the costs simply pop up somewhere else in Government.  Instead, we need to shrink the ball with a strong economy with sensible pay rates. You can read the four pages of the report's main findings here  Bouquet of the week. Goes to Karen who took me shopping at the Farmers’ Market at the weekend.  She was somewhat smug as her jacket was much better than me relying on just a jumper to keep out the rain.    But smiles turned to shreiks when the stall awning shifted in the wind to dump a huge amount of water on her head:   she was sopping wet from top to bottom, inside and out.  A sort of al fresco ice-bucket challenge.  It’s times like this when I really wish I could use a camera! Yours drily, Penny Melville-Brown penny@laylands.co.uk
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