On my desk you’ll find the Child Poverty Action Group’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook (or ‘CPAG’ – pronounced ‘see-pag’ – for short). My copy is heavily thumbed, and littered with post-it notes and pens to mark pages. OK, I admit it: I’m something of a benefits nerd. I enjoy exploring CPAG’s pages to get my head round complex problems and finding solutions. Because social security law is so complex, you’re often jumping from section to section to get the full picture of a situation (sometimes ending up right back where you started!).
But this is not a game. The lives of vulnerable people are shaped by the rules and procedures inside this book. Being found fit for work when your schizophrenia is still uncontrolled; living in fear of being ‘migrated’ onto Universal Credit when you know that you won’t be able to manage your claim online; trying to argue that the panic attack you had on the day of an assessment for Personal Independence Payment was a good reason for failing to attend.
And every year the rules get more complex. The 1994 edition was 365 pages long: the 2019/20 edition is 1848 pages.
In this book you can discover what makes many people’s lives so hard: our job is to use it to find ways to change that, if we can.