“United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 12§1 of the 1961 European Social Charter on the grounds that:
The Committee takes note of the information contained in the report submitted by the United Kingdom.
Risks covered, financing of benefits and personal coverage
The Committee refers to its previous conclusions (Conclusions XX-2(2013), XIX-2 (2009) and previous ones) for a description of the separate but corresponding social security schemes operated in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The report states that reciprocal arrangements between the two ensure that the schemes operate as a single system with contributions and benefit rates and dates of commencement maintained in parity. The Committee notes that the system continues to cover all the traditional risks (medical care, sickness, unemployment, old age, work accidents/occupational diseases, family, maternity, invalidity and survivors) and continues to be based on collective funding: it is funded by contributions (employers, employees) and by the State budget.
In response to the Committee’s question, the report confirms that 100% of the population ordinarily residing in the United Kingdom is covered by the universal Health Care system. As regards other branches, the Committee notes from the report under the European Code of Social Security that in 2015 some 47% of the resident population was covered in respect of Sickness (30 512 000 individuals), Old-Age and Survivors benefits (30 527 000 individuals) and that 90% of employees (28 299 000 individuals) were insured for unemployment benefits (Job Seeker Allowance). The Committee previously noted (Conclusions XIX-2 (2009)) that all persons residing in the United Kingdom were eligible for old age, disability and survivors non contributory pensions; that all unemployed jobseekers meeting the qualifying conditions were eligible for unemployment benefits and that all employed persons were covered in respect of work injury risk. It asks the next report to indicate what categories of persons (i.e. employees, self-employed, unemployed, all residents, etc.) are covered under each branch. The Committee furthermore recalls that, in order to assess whether a significant proportion of the total and/or active population in the United Kingdom is guaranteed an effective right to social security with respect to the benefits provided under each branch, States parties are required to provide figures in percentage indicating the personal coverage of each branch of social security. The Committee requests that the next report provide updated detailed information concerning the personal coverage of social security risks during the relevant reference period. For unemployment, sickness, old-age, disability, work injury and survivors’ benefits, the report should provide the percentage of insured individuals out of the total active population.
Adequacy of the benefits
According to Eurostat data, the median equivalised annual income was €20 945 in 2015, or €1745 per month. The poverty level, defined as 50% of the median equivalised income, was €10 473 per year, or €873 per month (€218 weekly). 40% of the median equivalised income corresponded to €698 monthly (€174.5 weekly).
The Committee previously found (Conclusions XX-2 (2013)) that the minimum levels of short-term and long-term incapacity benefits, of state pension and of job seeker’s allowance were manifestly inadequate. The State contests this finding in its report, arguing that the benefit rates are considered in isolation, without taking into account the safety net of other benefits and credits available. According to the report, contributory benefits are supplemented by a range of non-contributory, means-tested benefits such as income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Housing Benefit, Attendance Allowance, Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment. Therefore, according to the report, the overall income of households should be taken into account when assessing the adequacy of benefits. The report points out that 88% of adults in families/benefit units in receipt of contribution-based ESA or JSA in the UK are in households with equivalised incomes above 40% of median income in 2014/15 (as regards households in receipt of less than 40% of median income, the report explains that this could be because they possess large sums of capital or are not taking up their entitlements to income-related benefits). The Committee points out that when social security benefits are income-replacement benefits, their level should be fixed so as to stand in reasonable proportion to previous income and it should never fall below the poverty threshold defined as 50% of median equivalised income and as calculated on the basis of the Eurostat at-risk-of-poverty threshold value. Supplementary benefits, including social assistance, are taken into account only when an income-substituting benefit stands between 40% and 50% of median equivalised income as defined above. Where the level of an income-substituting benefit falls below 40% of median equivalised income, it is manifestly inadequate and its combination with other benefits cannot bring the situation into conformity with Article 12§1.
As regards Sickness, all employees earning at least GBP 112 (€158) per week are covered by the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), a contributory benefit which is paid from the fourth day of incapacity and up to 28 weeks. Workers, including the self-employed, who do not qualify for SSP or have exhausted their entitlement to it can claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA). ESA can be awarded on the basis of either National Insurance (NI) contributions (contributory ESA (ESA(C)) or low income (income-related ESA (ESA (IR)). Both elements can be paid at the same time. To be entitled to contributory ESA, a claimant must have paid or been credited enough NI contributions in the previous two tax years (at least 26 weeks paid contributions or contributions paid/credited for at least 50 times the minimum threshold). Since 2012, this benefit can be paid for up to one year for those capable of work-related activity. Income-related ESA is on the other hand a means-tested non-contributory benefit payable without a time-limit. In 2015, SSP amounted to GBP 88.45 (€120) per week. ESA is paid at different rates depending on the individual’s age, circumstances and the stage of the claiming process. In 2015, during the first 13 weeks of incapacity, the rate was GBP 57.90 (€82) or GBP 73.10 (€103) per week, for beneficiaries under 25 years of age and those over this age, respectively. As from the 14th week of incapacity, the rates were GBP 102.15 (€144) per week for those capable of work-related activity or GBP 109.30 (€154) for those requiring support. Those in the support group and on income-related ESA, were also entitled to the Enhanced Disability Premium at GBP 15.75 (€22) a week. In addition, according to the report, claimants may qualify for additional support such as Personal Independence Payment, Housing Benefit, Child Tax Credits, or Child Benefit. The Committee notes that the rates of SSP, as well as the minimum levels of ESA, are lower than 40% of the median equivalised income. Accordingly, regardless of the additional social assistance benefits which might be available, the Committee considers that the level of these benefits is manifestly inadequate.
Since 2008, ESA covers not only short-term incapacity but also long-term incapacity (disability). Since 2011, recipients of the former Incapacity Benefit have been reassessed for ESA, taking into account their work capability. The report indicates that, with the progressive introduction since 2013 of the Universal Credit (UC) (see also Conclusions on Article 13§1), ESA will remain as contributory benefit and UC will be the non-contributory benefit. The Committee understands from the report that, during the reference period, long-term incapacity benefits were still paid in some cases, at a basic amount of GBP 105.35 in 2015, i.e. €143 per week, to be increased if the disability started before the age of 35 or between 35 and 44. As regards ESA rates, the Committee refers to its remarks above and notes that increased rates are paid in case of enhanced or severe disability (respectively GBP 15.75 and GBP 61.85 per week, i.e. €22 and €84). As the minimum rates of long-term benefits and ESA remain lower than 40% of the median equivalised income, the Committee considers that the level of these benefits is manifestly inadequate.
According to the report, the Welfare Reform Act 2012 simplified the way industrial injuries benefits are claimed. Several old schemes were abolished, and all remaining claimants on those schemes were moved to the existing Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit (IIDB) scheme, thus establishing a single claiming option for all claimants. All employees are compulsorily protected against employment injury and disease and the level of benefit depends on the incapacity level (which should be at least 14%), whether temporary or permanent. In 2015, the level of benefit in case of 100% disablement was GBP 168 (€237) per week. The Committee considers that the level of this benefit is adequate.
The Unemployment scheme was amended in 2013, with the introduction of the New Style Job Seeker Allowance (JSA), a contributory benefit granted for a maximum of 182 days in any period of employment. The contribution conditions that a claimant needs to satisfy to be entitled to new style JSA are the same as for old style JSA (at least 50 minimum weekly contributions paid or credited in the last two years, of which at least 26 weekly contributions paid in one year). In addition to the contributions requirement, new style JSA claimants are also required to be available for work and search for work for up to 35 hours a week. Failure to follow the work related requirements will result in a benefit sanction (suspension of benefit payment for one to 26 weeks). The Committee recalls that there must be a reasonable initial period during which an unemployed person may refuse a job or a training offer not matching his previous skills without losing his unemployment benefits. It refers to its Conclusions XXI-1 (2016), concerning Article 1§2, where it noted that the recipients of unemployment benefit is, in principle, entitled to reject a job offer that does not correspond to their customary occupation during an initial 13-week period (“permitted period”), but that decisions on this issue were made on a case-by-case basis, depending on circumstances. The Committee asks the next report to provide details of the sanctions applicable in the case of a refusal of a job offer not matching the claimant’s profile, as well as on the judicial remedies available. Regardless of whether a jobseeker is entitled to the contributory JSA, a non-contributory benefit (Universal Credit (UC)) is also available to persons whose total income is below GBP 16 000 (€22 583), whose partners do not work more than 24 hours/week and who have been resident in the United Kingdom for at least three months before the claim. The income-related assistance is provided for an unlimited duration, as long as the entitlement conditions continue to be satisfied. In 2015, the rates of the New-Style JSA amounted to GBP 57.90 (€82) per week or GBP 73.10 (€103) per week, depending on whether the claimant was aged between 18 and 24 or was older. The Committee notes from MISSOC that the basic level of non-contributory unemployment benefit for single people was the same as for contribution-based JSA. The Committee understands from the report that the contributory and non-contributory benefit can be combined, and that additional benefits might apply such as the ESA and Personal Independence Payment, in case of work incapacity, as well as Housing benefits, Child benefits and Child Tax Credits. It notes however, that the minimum levels of the unemployment benefits (New Style JSA and non-contributory benefits) are both below 40% of the median equivalised income, and that at least for people younger than 25 this remains the case even when both contributory and non-contributory benefits are taken together. It accordingly considers that the levels of (contributory and non-contributory) unemployment benefits are manifestly inadequate.
The Committee notes that the levels of the contribution-based ESA and JSA, as well as of the SSP, have also been found too low to comply with the requirements of ILO Convention No. 102 (Observation (CEACR) – adopted 2016, published 106th ILC session (2017) concerning Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention 1952, No. 102) and the European Code of Social Security (Committee of Ministers’ Resolution CM/ResCSS(2016)21 on the application of the European Code of Social Security by the United Kingdom, Period from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015).
As regards old-age pensions, the report describes the new State Pension scheme adopted in 2014, which applies to people reaching state pension age on or after 6 April 2016. As the implementation of this reform falls out of the reference period, the Committee will examine it when it will next assess the UK conformity to Article 12§1 of the Charter. It asks the next report to provide all relevant and updated information in this respect.
The old-age pension system which applied during the reference period was a two-tier system that consisted of the basic state retirement pension (basic flat-rate benefit) and the second state pension (earnings related additional pension) which was paid to men aged 65 and women aged 63 with at least 30 years of paid or credited contributions. A non-contributory pension (Pension credit) was furthermore available for people who were not entitled to the contributory pension. According to the report, the full basic (contributory) pension for a single person was GBP 115.95 (€164) in 2015, and the average amount paid in November 2015 was GBP 130.71 (€186). This basic amount would be increased under the Graduated Benefit scheme and the Second state pension scheme, depending on the duration and level of contributions. According to the report, the average amount paid in November 2015 was GBP 136.03 (€193) when considering also these increases. The Committee notes that the basic State Pension rate, taken alone, was lower than 40% of the median equivalised income and that there is no defined minimum as regards the graduated benefit and second pension increases. However, it notes from the examples indicated in the report that, conditional upon resources, the basic amount is topped up with the non-contributory pension, the level of which was, in 2015, GBP 151.20 (€214) for a single person, to which a number of additional benefits, depending on personal circumstances (age, disability, winter weather…) might be added (such as the Housing Benefit, the ESA, winter fuel payment of GBP200, i.e. €283; the Christmas bonus of GBP 10, i.e. €14 etc.). The Committee asks the next report to clarify whether a recipient of the minimum state pension whose income would be lower than the legal threshold, even when adding the graduated benefit and second pension increases, would be entitled to receive as a supplement the non-contributory pension. It also asks under what circumstances a person might only receive the basic state pension, without any increases. In the meantime, it reserves its position on this point.