The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has introduced the Welfare Reform Bill today which he has described as the biggest shake-up of welfare in 60 years.
The major proposal for reform in the Bill is the introduction of a new benefit, to be known as universal credit, which will replace existing in and out of work benefits. The government claims the reform will "make work pay" and simplify the benefits system.
The Bill will introduce measures that reward couples who live together by changing the current system in which couples can lose more than 35% of their benefits if they move into together.
The Centre for Social Justice, a think-tank founded by Iain Duncan Smith, has heavily influenced the drafting of the Bill. Its Executive Director, Gavin Poole, said: "It is also crucial that the Government honours its commitment to end to this perverse penalty in which people are forced to choose between family and income. We will now remain fully engaged with the welfare debate to ensure that the implementation of these reforms achieves their stated objective of helping the long term unemployed out of poverty and into work."
The Bill also proposes the introduction of a new system of child support. It proposes to amend the Insolvency Act 1986 to ensure that arrears of child support are excluded from the debts which may be included in an individual voluntary arrangement. The Bill also seeks to further encourage parents make arrangements for child maintenance outside the statutory scheme.
However last month the Department for Work and Pensions launched a consultation to radically reshape the child maintenance system which runs until 7 April. Critics argue that the government is not respecting the spirit of an open consultation by pre-judging its outcome.
Fiona Weir, Chief Executive of single parent charity Gingerbread, said: "We believe it is premature to include measures in the bill which radically change the child maintenance system, when these measures are still under consultation. This makes a complete mockery of a so-called consultation process. The government must take this consultation process seriously rather than present the changes proposed as a fait accompli".