DWP criticised for ignoring localism drive
MPs have criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for ignoring the government’s localism policy when developing its benefit reforms.
In a report on localism published today, the communities and local government select committee says the DWP ‘provides a good example of how departments are not always going about decentralisation in the ways anticipated or asked for’.
The department was particularly criticised for its centralist approach to welfare reform and the welfare-to-work programme because changes to benefits have been prescribed at a national level. The changes include introducing a single form of welfare, known as the universal credit, and wide-ranging reforms to housing benefit.
‘Some policy areas seem to have been granted an exemption from decentralisation,’ the committee report says. ‘The priorities of the Department for Work and Pensions appear particularly resistant to the arguments for devolving power to local institutions.’
When questioned about these concerns while the committee was taking evidence for its report, employment minister Chris Grayling admitted the DWP’s main reforms had little to do with localism.
‘Broadly, what we have not done is devolve responsibility to local government,’ he said.
He said the welfare reform programme was ‘national by nature’ but that it would be locally implemented.
‘You could not create a national benefits system but devolve it,’ he added.
Peter King, housing lecturer at De Montfort University, said welfare reform was one of the anomalies of the localism agenda: ‘If you were being entirely logical then you wouldn’t have the same benefit system in London as in the rest of the country because of rent levels.
‘There’s been no pressure on the DWP. They’ve been allowed to do [welfare reform] and [communities secretary] Eric Pickles and [housing minister] Grant Shapps have done localism, and the two don’t match up.’
The committee report recommends that the government undertake a formal consultation to gather the views of local government and other stakeholders about what sort of localism they would like to see.