Snakes and ladders: Tackling precarity in social security and employment support

Across the country, people are trying to make ends meet, build financial security and pursue their aspirations. But, in a vicious cycle of snakes and ladders, many are being pulled down into poverty. Millions of families are struggling to get by. Progress in tackling poverty has stalled in recent years. Our social security system is failing to protect people, payment levels are inadequate to meet essential costs, and deductions are entrenching debt. Our employment support services are characterised by an ‘any job’ model of generic advice, underpinned by a punitive sanctions regime. Responding to an evolving labour market and delivering a comprehensive social security system that builds financial wellbeing will require ambitious, wide-reaching reforms. IPPR and Changing Realities have developed plans for a public employment service available to all, and call on the next government to run a comprehensive assessment of true living costs to shape a long-term approach to social security. But action is needed sooner: this is our focus in this paper. Many aspects of our social security system need investment and repair, and the next government will need to prioritise. This paper advocates for two core, short-term goals: 1. Protecting people from poverty 2. Opening up opportunities for sustainable, good quality work. The extent and depth of poverty reflects political choices. Divesting from social security is both a failure to deliver on an established social contract and a false economy, adding pressure to other public services and the labour market. By working toward these goals, the next government can lay the groundwork for a social security system that fosters and protects financial security and breaks down barriers to opportunity.