It was a nasty Tory tactic to deprive poor people of benefit money by claiming they were under-occupying their homes, even if they had been moved into particular properties by local councils.
So if you had one spare bedroom, you would be docked 14 per cent of your Housing Benefit. Two spare rooms meant losing a quarter of your payments.
But now the Tory government is offering to pay people to house refugees from Ukraine – right?
Under the new scheme, people may offer a Ukrainian refugee a rent-free space in their home or a separate residence, for at least six months. In return, each household housing a refugee will be offered £350 a month, tax-free – and won’t even have to provide food and living expenses if they don’t want to.
That’s at least £2,100, tax-free.
The catch with the Tory government scheme is that you have to know a Ukrainian refugee by name in order to sponsor them. Presumably the Tories thought this would limit its scope.
All it has done is push Ukrainian refugees to post on the social media, which is shameful in itself…
Ukrainian Refugees are having to 'advertise' themselves to find a sponsor in The UK…you cannot sponsor one unless you can name them…hence the posts on social media…how shocking & shameful is our government forcing them to do this?
… but makes it entirely possible for them to be contacted by Brits.
So, if you have been hit by the Tory Bedroom Tax over the last 10 years or so, this is your chance to even up the score. Just seek out a Ukrainian refugee on the social media, join the scheme and submit their name!
In fact, if you have a word with some of the refugee charities that have sprung up, they’ll probably be able to help you too.
It’s just a thought that occurred to me after a Twitter user mentioned the Bedroom Tax…
But it could help people in both Ukraine and the UK – and foil the Tory government at the same time.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Chris Davies: He supports tax avoidance and evasion, according to his voting record.
If you were reading This Site yesterday (July 30), you’ll be aware that a friend on Facebook has been looking at the Parliamentary voting record of Chris Davies, the former MP and current Conservative candidate in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election – and it makes grim reading.
The same friend has now finished researching Mr Davies’s record on taxation and the results speak for themselves. Amongst other decisions…
• Davies voted against a series of proposals intended to reduce tax avoidance and evasion.
• Davies voted against an investigation into the banking industry’s failure to prevent tax evasion.
• Davies voted against requiring multinational enterprises to publish a country by country tax strategy including information on their attitude to tax planning (this could have established evidence to show how companies avoid paying tax).
• Davies voted against giving the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority duties to combat abusive tax avoidance arrangements.
• Davies voted not to support the publishing full details of the Government’s tax settlement with Google and for an international agreement to implement country-by-country reporting of company accounts.
So you can see that Mr Davies is a big fan of tax avoidance and evasion by corporations and the very rich. Conversely:
• Davies voted to ensure that victims of domestic abuse would have to pay extra charges – the bedroom tax – if they were provided with a secure tenancy that incorporates a spare room.
So he’s against tax fairness; he would let corporations and the rich get away without paying a huge amount of tax that would hugely contribute to public services, but he’s happy to hammer the vulnerable with an unfair and random tax that affects people according to the accommodation that is allocated to them (which in turn is based on what is available).
I hope the people of Brecon and Radnorshire pay attention to this abysmal record – while also remembering that Mr Davies is himself a convict, having been found guilty of faking expenses claims earlier this year.
Mr Davies should never have been voted into Westminster. It is time to kick him back into the political wilderness.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Damning: The graph by the House of Commons Library, showing how earnings have plummeted since Cameron’s Coa-lamity government came into office.
David Cameron must be so proud. He wanted a return to the Victorian era and that is exactly what he has achieved.
Wages have nosedived, meaning the gap between the richest and poorest is larger than it has ever been; we already know that diseases once thought long-gone are stalking our streets once again while the National Health Service has been bled to the point of death; and the welfare state is in critical condition, with people who have paid into the system all their lives bullied out of claiming benefits when they are needed and sent back to die in their homes.
This is David Cameron’s brave new Britain.
The figures on wages are the latest blow against the public-relations Prime Minister’s credibility – they come from the respected House of Commons Library.
The graph (above) uses figures from the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England and forecasts from Coalition poodles the Office for Budget Responsibility.
It shows that real earnings are expected to have fallen by 2.3 per cent between 2010 and 2015 – the first fall since 1922-3 when wages fell by 1.8 per cent – and the largest since 1874-80, under Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, when they fell by 2.6 per cent.
Firm figures for 2010-13, from the ONS, paint an even worse picture – they show a 4.6 per cent drop during the three-year period.
So, Dear Reader, if you have been doubting Labour’s claim that wages have dropped by £1,600 per year, in real terms, since the Tories and the Liberal Democrats sidled into office, doubt no more!
This factual evidence has thrown into chaos Conservative claims that the UK has returned to prosperity because our Gross Domestic Product has finally exceeded its pre-financial-crisis peak.
Vox Political was right to say GDP might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it has nothing to do with most of the population.
What is our part-time Chancellor going to do about it? He’s done quite a lot of nose-diving himself and, considering what he has managed from his office…
Let’s hope the song isn’t ‘Gold’, because the irony would be too much to bear.
George Osborne might as well go back to prancing around a prostitute’s boudoir to a soundtrack by Spandau Ballet.
The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps – your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren’t on fire!
Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?
What an amazing place that must have been.
Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.
Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.
Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.
Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.
That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.
It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.
“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”
Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.
Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.
And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”
Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.
But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international incident is being viewed.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.
“In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’
“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.
“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.
“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”
No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.
The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”
Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.
For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”
Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.
His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.
If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).
For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.
But they won’t be in office forever.
In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.
You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.
And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.
Face of evil: Because of creatures like Lord Freud, Parliament should legislate against a new crime – abuse of power. (Picture by Black Triangle)
Lord David Fraud – sorry, Freud. That was a Freudian slip – the man who said “People who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks; they’ve got least to lose”, has been at it again.
According to Inside Housing this man, whose principles allowed him to take Labour’s money and provide that government with his duff advice before running off to join the Tories as soon as it looked as though they would be in office after the 2010 election, wants to bully councils out of an entirely legal way to help their tenants avoid paying the punitive and unfair bedroom tax.
The tax, as we all should know by now, affects people living in social rented accommodation with more bedrooms – as defined by the rent agreement (if I recall correctly) – than the government last year arbitarily decided they need. The options are to give up 14 per cent of your housing benefit if you have one ‘extra’ bedroom, 25 per cent if you’ve got two – or move to smaller accommodation which does not, in the vast majority of cases, exist.
Out of 600,000 affected families, 582,000 have nowhere else to go. So this is a thinly-veiled robbery, from people who can do nothing to prevent it.
It is a tax that has offended many councillors in local authorities across the UK, and some came up with the novel idea that rooms within the properties they own may be reclassified as offices or ‘non-designated’ rooms, thereby avoiding the need to pay the tax. After all, a room is just an enclosed space within a building, right? If it doesn’t have a bed in it, why should it be classified as a bedroom?
Lord Fraud – sorry! Freud – doesn’t see it that way. He wants that cash and couldn’t care less that people in social housing need it to keep a roof over their heads. He has been spending the last month or so (since the councils started re-classifying) trying to put a stop to it and now, it seems, he thinks he has found a way.
In a letter to council chief executives yesterday (Thursday), he has said redesignating properties without reducing their rent to reflect the loss of a bedroom creates an inconsistency for housing benefit and rent purposes.
“Blanket redesignations without a clear and justifiable reason and without reductions in rent, are inappropriate and do not fall within the spirit of the policy,” his letter states [italics mine].
“If it is shown properties are being redesignated inappropriately this will be viewed very seriously.” Meaning: The DWP will commission an independent audit to “ascertain whether correct and appropriate procedures have been followed”. Redesignation without reducing rent would lead to incorrect housing benefit subsidy claims being submitted to the DWP, he stated, adding, “Where it is found that a local authority has redesignated properties without reasonable grounds and without reducing rents, my department would consider either restricting or not paying their housing benefit subsidy.”
The flaw, of course, is this: The size of these properties will have remained the same, therefore so should the rent. But a room without a bed in it is not a bedroom.
Let’s move on to another tax avoidance issue. Since we’re discussing actions that are “inappropriate and do not fall within the spirit of the policy“, what about tax avoidance schemes that are used by very rich individuals, in order to avoid paying the full amount they owe to the UK Treasury?
This has been going on for more years than any of us can remember and the total currently parked offshore, where the tax inspector can’t get at it, is estimated at £21 trillion (it might actually be dollars, but either way it’s a heckuva lot of money).
If the turncoat Lord Freud’s new Conservative friends had been quick off the mark in dealing with this aspect of tax avoidance, he might have been justified in his own hasty behaviour, but they haven’t. Even now, there is no guarantee that the Treasury will get anything back from the tax havens, despite all its posturing and sabre-rattling. There’s just no interest. And by the time anyone gets around to actually taking action, the offenders will have had plenty of opportunity to move their capital elsewhere.
But the actions of the individual taxpayers who have chosen to put their money out of HMRC’s reach is no closer to the spirit of UK tax policy than the actions of the councils who have chosen to protect their tenants.
The difference is that one set of individuals is acting in selfish self-interest, while the other is taking action to help others.
Freud, by his own actions, has shown us all exactly where his loyalties lie. He’s not against tax avoidance, as long as it’s his kind of people doing it. And he loves to bully the little people. He really gets a kick out of threatening them, and he’s not above bending – or changing – the law to do it.
That’s why I say any new government coming into office after 2015 needs to enact a law that criminalises abuse of power – being any legislation or act by a government member that unfairly punishes any named individual or group within British society.
So for example here, it could be applied because Freud wants to penalise hundreds of thousands of people with a tax they can’t pay, when there is no alternative because they have nowhere else to go (except to be thrown out onto the streets, and then the question to be asked is, who takes over the properties after they have gone?) – and is now threatening to punish any attempt legally to avoid paying that unfair tax with another unfair punishment, because others who also legally avoid paying a – fair – tax are being allowed to do so.
As a criminal offence it should involve the sternest penalties possible – stripping the guilty of any titles and privileges, and all property, alongside a lengthy prison sentence involving the hardest labour to which prisoners may be put. Anyone who is willing to deprive the defenceless of everything they own should be made to lose everything as well.
So Lord Freud, for example, would have to kiss goodbye to his luxury mansion in Kent, and everything in it. When he finally came out of clink, he’d be living in council accommodation – and if nowhere could be found that didn’t have more bedrooms than he needed, he’d have to pay his own bedroom tax which would be poetic justice.
I know. It will never happen. Politicians look after their own.
You may be astounded to learn that, despite the veritable mountain of information in my 700-word missive, some people still did believe it!
Admittedly, they waited a while before breaking cover, but sure enough, in the letters page of the Brecon and Radnor Express dated June 6, a Mrs Lloyd of Brecon wrote the following:
“I must write to convey my disappointment at the handful of people who have written to your paper recently opposing welfare reforms. I assume from the tone of these letters that they are probably Labour Party supporters.
“Like lemmings blindly following each other off the cliff, these people have decided to oppose one of the most popular government policies in recent memory.
“I am no great fan of the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition but this handful of socialist Labourites must be the only people left in the UK who don’t think the welfare system needs urgent reform.
“I say I am disappointed because I have always voted Labour and it saddens me to see Labour so out of touch with public opinion.
“Our benefit system is far too soft and state handouts simply must be cut. Why can’t Labour see this?
“I am also ashamed that the local Labour Party… has decided to adopt a policy of scaremongering by trying to label one reform as a ‘bedroom tax’.
“It is not a tax and Labour knows that full well.
“A tax is a levy on something you own, earn or purchase: state provided housing benefit is none of these.
“Is it any wonder that people do not trust politicians when an established and legitimate political party like Labour resorts to such trickery?
“Having spare rooms wasting at the taxpayer’s expense is simply inexcusable and unaffordable.
“Why do Labour want the taxpayer paying for people to be in large flats or houses with unused bedrooms, when there are larger families who need this space?
“If people receiving housing benefit refuse to move to smaller housing and insist on staying in excessively large accommodation, then they should be prepared to pay for it just like every other family.
“To be fair to the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, they have decided to tackle an issue that Labour feels it cannot.
“The cynical amongst us would say Labour’s refusal to support benefit reform is because of their historic reliance on the votes of the unemployed and those receiving benefits.
“A turkey doesn’t vote for Christmas.”
You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief but in fact this is quite a cleverly-constructed letter. Look at the way she tries to establish that right-thinking people must approve of the way Iain… Smith and his mates are hacking apart our social security and that anyone who doesn’t – “probably Labour Party supporters” are a “disappointment”. She later attempts a feat of mind-reading when she tells Labour members that they feel they cannot tackle an issue that the Coalition parties have – and her final comment attempts to tar Labour with dishonest, or at least covert, intent by claiming that the party relies on the unemployed and benefit-receiving vote. One might hope that Labour’s recent adoption of a harder attitude to benefits will have persuaded Mrs Lloyd that this is not true, but this is by no means certain. It wouldn’t suit her purposes.
I particularly enjoy the next line because it conflates two gross misapprehensions: Lemmings do not fling themselves over cliffs suicidally. The makers of a Disney (!) documentary created that myth for reasons of their own, and it seems likely that Mrs Lloyd had reasons of her own for running it together with the myth that the Coalition cuts are “one of the most popular government policies in recent memory”. They’re not, and never have been.
Labour does not oppose welfare reform. It opposes the Coalition’s attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, carried out under the pretence of reform. The only Coalition welfare policy that has won any popular support – the benefit cap – is also supported by Labour. But the average family income is not £26,000 per year, as the Coalition states – that is a lie. That family would receive state benefits, bringing its income up to £31,500, or slightly more than £600 per week. This was glossed over because the Coalition would not be able to penalise enough poor people if the cap was set at that – realistic – level.
The other cuts to social security benefits have provoked a storm of protest – particularly the genocidal pogrom against the sick and disabled, and also the bedroom tax, which Mrs Lloyd singles out, and to which she applies her own quaint definition of ‘tax’.
So let’s put her straight. It is a tax, as it is a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s property, to support government policies. Mrs Lloyd seems unaware that 97 per cent of the 600,000 families it affects – that’s 582,000 families – simply have nowhere else to go. The smaller accommodation into which she expects them to move does not exist. And the definition of ‘bedroom’ has been applied to small box rooms that would not accommodate a bed, let alone the person who would be expected to sleep in it! The tax is therefore exposed as a scheme to screw money out of the very poor, put them into arrears with their landlord, and sling them onto the streets.
This is why I support the redefinition of these ‘spare’ bedrooms, as taken up by some councils, into ‘offices’ or ‘non-designated rooms’. This is legal tax avoidance – putting the tenants of such homes into the same category as the billionaires who are sitting on £21 trillion of untaxed earnings in offshore tax haven bank accounts. If the government kicks up a fuss about ‘bedroom tax’ avoidance, it can damn well go and get those trillions back first.
As for the taxpayer being made to pay for unused bedrooms, that decision was made by the Coalition government, not the Labour Party, when it decided to cut Landlord Subsidy (that’s Housing Benefit to you, Mrs Lloyd) rather than cap rents at a reasonable level.
The remark that people are refusing to move to smaller accommodation is so far removed from reality that it defies belief, as is the implication that they do not pay anything towards their rent. For Mrs Lloyd’s information, the vast majority of Housing Benefit claims are made by people in work, who do pay the majority of their rent; the amount of Housing Benefit they receive is a top-up because the wages they receive are too low. I don’t see you blaming employers who have increased their own pay eightfold over the last 30 years, while employees’ pay rises total just 27 per cent – far less than cumulative inflation, Mrs Lloyd.
The opinions expressed by this correspondent are based on nothing but myth and should be fought tooth and nail. If her distorted views are accepted as fact by the majority of the voting population, then the Conservative Party will win the 2015 election, and those of us who value facts and honesty will only have ourselves to blame if we have not done all we can to rectify matters.
By the way, the Brecon and Radnor Express‘s editorial email address is [email protected]
I was going to write about a more recent letter to the same newspaper, which prompted me to contact the UK Statistics Authority with a complaint. But that will have to wait for another day.
Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires – this one was in Glasgow.
Has your council or housing association re-designated any so-called “spare bedrooms” into box rooms, studies or non-specific rooms yet, to help you avoid paying the bedroom tax?
If not, you have to ask yourself, why not?
It’s only around two months since the so-called ‘state under-occupation charge’ became the law of the land, forcing social housing tenants to lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if they have one ‘spare’ room, and a quarter of their benefit if they have two or more rooms going ‘spare’ – according to the Coalition government’s definitions, which are, of course, unjust.
The report states that 1,120 of New Charter Housing’s 1,600 households affected by the bedroom tax – 70 per cent – are in arrears, with tenants losing up to £88 in benefits every month.
Brighton councillors have chosen not to evict tenants who fall into arrears because of the bedroom tax, although some other councils have said this is unrealistic.
And some district judges have stated they would refuse to grant possession orders, if bedroom tax cases came to their courts, citing the Human Rights Act
The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the tax is far (it would, wouldn’t it?) and will either “encourage” or “persuade” families it claims are “over-occupying” to move out, freeing space for others on the housing waiting list, which the Tory-led Coalition has allowed to become hugely over-subscribed due to its failure to invest in building new social housing stock.
The reality is that these families have nowhere to go – for precisely the same reason (lack of social housing stock). They could move into private rented accommodation, but that is more expensive, even for smaller properties, so they would, again, face going into arrears and eventually losing their homes.
A homeless family is, of course, far more expensive for a local authority, as it must then pay to put them up in temporary accommodation – usually a bed and breakfast establishment – at much greater cost then letting them live in council or housing association homes. This is just one reason why the bedroom tax is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
An e-petition has been launched to get Sheffield Council to re-classify bedrooms as non-specific rooms, and may be signed here.
And what’s to stop councils and housing associations from simply cutting their rents by the 14 or 25 per cent necessary to let people continuing paying the same amount? It’ll be cheaper in the long term!
Some might say that this behaviour is cheating – that it is, in essence, tax avoidance.
Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, of course – and the government has been dragging its heels about changing the law ever since it came into office back in 2010. Could this because they and their rich friends are among the worst tax avoiders, and their money is a major part of the £21 TRILLION currently sitting in offshore bank accounts, helping to ensure the economy stays stagnant and justify the government’s pointless austerity scheme?
Let’s have some uniformity: Rather than have a patchwork of re-classifications across the UK, turning the bedroom tax into a postcode lottery, let’s call on EVERY council to take this step.
When the government complains, the response should be that councils will reverse the step, after the government puts an end to all the income tax avoidance it has been allowing and collects all the money that we, as a nation, are owed.
After that, there won’t be a need for the bedroom tax and so that law can be repealed.
Postscript: There will be naysayers who’ll respond to this by saying it’ll never happen and it can never work. Their principle purpose in doing so is to discourage people from trying.
There is a response to this, as follows: Why not? IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET!
Tory Parliamentary candidate Chris Davies: In his letter he accuses local Labour members of “acting as disciples of their London hierarchy” – and then regurgitates as much of the drivel handed down to him by his own Westminster masters as he can manage.
Once upon a time, if you found an error in an article, a document or (in my case – I’m going back to when I was very young) a teacher’s work, you were congratulated for finding the “deliberate mistake”. The culprit would say something like: “Well done! I put that in there as a deliberate mistake to see if you were alert enough to find it. You’ve passed the test! As a reward, clean the blackboard.”
I wonder if the same can be said of a letter in the local paper by a Councillor Chris Davies who, we’re told, is the Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. If so, it seems likely that even the doziest student should find at least one, because his screed is riddled with errors.
Last night I spent several hours writing up a response to his nonsense, and I propose to share it with you now. This means the article will be quite long, but never mind. As those of you who keep up to date with current affairs know, it’ll give Facebook something really juicy to censor.
Here’s the letter from Cllr Davies. Spelling mistakes and misuses of apostrophes are all his own work:
“For years people have had difficulty in distinguishing between the policies of political parties, accusing politicians of all being the same and hogging the middle ground.
“I am grateful to the local Labour Party acting as disciples of their London hierarchy for putting clear water between our parties.
“As reported [on April 11], the local Labour councillors are up in arms over the Coalition Government’s Welfare Reforms.
“Yet rather than offering to help people back into work or helping them move into more suitably sized accommodation, all these Labour councillors offer is, ‘Check your exemption status.’
“This is the sad reality of a Labour Party that despises individual responsibility and aspiration, preferring instead to encourage and promote state dependency.
“During the last Labour government, welfare spending rose by 60 per cent.
“Such reckless spending and disregard for taxpayer’s money not surprisingly brought record levels of borrowing and debt which left the UK on the brink of bankruptcy.
“For these Labour councillors to now clearly advocate working the welfare system instead of striving to escape it proves that they still have not learnt their lesson.
“These Labour councillors are also completely out of touch with the public, the majority of whom support the coalition’s welfare reform policies.
“The Welfare State is there as a last resort, a safety net, for those who need it – Not as an alternative to work as it became under Labour.
“Labour has always shown little regard for the hardworking taxpayers’ who pay for the welfare state; those paying for others to stay at home and paying for tenants to live in larger houses than they need. The fact that so many of these hard working taxpayer’s cannot afford a property of any size themselves appears of no concern to Labour.
“Whether you are running your own business, working on the checkout in the local supermarket or working as a farm labourer, the majority of the tax you pay now goes to fund the welfare state.
“No one minds paying for those who truly need support, but as these welfare reforms have already shown, there were many people claiming support that they did not need or were not entitled to.
“Tougher medical tests recently introduced to assess the health of the 2.6 million people claiming incapacity benefit found 800,000 of them were perfectly fit and able to work.
“Another 900,000 dropped their claim to these benefits rather than take the test.
“How can Labour honestly say it is unfair that we are capping benefits at £26,000 a year when that is far more than most workers in Brecon & Radnorshire earn?
“How can Labour continue to support a benefit system that gives workless households a higher income than the majority of working individuals who are paying for the system?
“The system should never have allowed unemployment to become more financially rewarding than working. It is this disincentive to work that has largely caused the welfare problem we are now dealing with.
“All Labour can do is pour scorn on anything the Coalition Government does. What are they offering as an alternative? We are seeing No policies, No ideas, No alternatives.
“To quote Tony Blair recently – “Ed Milliband is in danger of being seen as reducing the Labour party to nothing but a party of protests” – It seems to me that whether in London or locally the Labour Party is already there.”
If I know my readership, you are all shaking your heads in blank astonishment that someone who professes to be a reasonable human being – and has managed to become a county councillor, here in Powys, should come out with such an unremitting stream of dribble.
In response, I wrote the following. Be warned – it doesn’t address every single piece of nonsense in Cllr Davies’ letter. There is a word-limit on letters submitted to the newspaper.
So here’s a game for you: Spot the ‘deliberate’ mistakes in his letter that I haven’t singled out, tell us what they are and why they’re wrong.
Here’s my response:
I read with interest the letter from Cllr Chris Davies, who is keen to put “clear water” between our parties. His letter certainly achieves this, ably clarifying that Conservatives have little or no understanding of the effect their so-called reforms are having on those they claim they are trying to help. I’d like to set the record straight. Although I am a Labour member, I think it is appropriate to quote the late Baroness Thatcher: “Where there is error, may we bring truth.”
If taken to its obvious conclusions, the under-occupation charge – more correctly known as the Bedroom Tax – will cost the taxpayer far more than the former situation. The stated aim is to get people who are living in social housing with spare bedrooms to move into smaller accommodation or lose housing benefit. This means a disabled person in a house with thousands of pounds worth of adaptations for their disability, that has two extra bedrooms (one used as a carer’s respite room while the other would be more accurately defined as a cupboard), would lose so much money that they would be forced to move out. If they then went to a private, one-bedroom flat, the taxpayer would not only have to pay full housing benefit (around £100 extra per month) but also the cost of removing the disability adaptations from one dwelling and installing them in the other (thousands of pounds).
You see, the Conservative-led government got its sums wrong. It would be better for all involved (not least the taxpayer!) if ways could be found to prevent this extravagance with the public purse. What the Labour councillors were suggesting was a way of saving taxpayers’ money – not spending it.
Cllr Davies’ claim that welfare spending rose by 60 per cent under the last Labour government is scaremongering and cynical manipulation of the figures. Total expenditure on welfare when Labour took over in 1997 was 11.6 per cent of Gross Domestic Product. Under Labour, it averaged 10.7 per cent – that’s right, it went down – right up to the crash. Afterwards, benefits for children and working-age adults rose from an average 4.9 per cent of GDP to six per cent, which is what one might expect during a recession.
For clarity, the majority of welfare spending goes into pensions – around 55 per cent. Benefits for the unemployed total just three per cent. Fraudulent claims total a miniscule 0.7 per cent.
Moving on to Cllr Davies’ ridiculous claim that many people were claiming support who did not need or were not entitled to it, he claims that 900,000 people (in fact it was 878,300) dropped their claim for Employment and Support Allowance rather than take the Work Capability Assessment. In fact, DWP figures show that the number of cases closed before assessment has remained consistent since before the new assessment came into use. It is known as ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn for perfectly normal reasons like people getting better or finding a job they can do, even if they’re ill. That is a result of people using the benefit system properly. Every month, around 130,000 people come off ESA – it isn’t a lifetime benefit; it’s something you claim for as long as you must. Because of the huge number of cases on the system and the amount of time it takes for them to be assessed and decided, some people who no longer need to claim haven’t even had their assessment.
DWP figures show the number of people receiving the benefit has in fact risen since the current government increased its scrutiny of disabled people.
Cllr Davies’ claim that the Work Capability Assessment is a “medical” test is also inaccurate. It is based on a system devised by an American insurance company called Unum, in order to avoid paying out to customers whose policies had matured. The aim is to convince very sick people that their illnesses are imagined. As a policy, you might consider that to be sick in itself. The result is horrifying but I’ll try to put it in context: According to the BBC, by October 30, 2012, the total number of British soldiers who had died in Afghanistan since military operations began there in 2002 was 437. That’s equivalent to the number of sick or disabled people who die while going through the work capability assessment system (or as a result of going through it) – every six weeks; an average of 73 per week (according to figures released after a Freedom of Information request).
The benefit cap is another waste of taxpayers’ money. It will reduce households’ ability to pay the rent, leading to an expected increase in homelessness of 40,000 families. How much will local authorities have to pay, housing families in temporary accommodation? Child poverty will skyrocket by 100,000. Many families may break up in response to the pressures. Parents who live separately and divide their children’s residency between them can claim up to £1,000 a week in benefits, while a couple living together may only claim £500. Of course, this would completely wipe out any saving the government would have made on that family, costing £26,000 more every year.
Cllr Davies rightly says £26,000 a year is more than most workers in Brecon and Radnorshire earn. That’s not a good thing – it means people here don’t get the pay they deserve. But even that figure is inaccurate as it omits benefits, so the average income of a working family is in fact £31,500, or £605 per week. The trouble with that is, if applied to benefit recipients, so few people would lose benefits that it would make the cap pointless. You see, it’s all about cutting the benefit bill; it isn’t about fairness at all. But, as I say, the Conservatives are so hopeless they can’t even get their sums right.
Cllr Davies is wrong to say that Labour opposes a benefit cap, however. There is cross-party support for limiting benefits as an incentive to seek work. The difference is that the Labour version would have been fair.
Cllr Davies says Labour supports a benefit system that gives workless households a higher income than the majority of working individuals who are paying for the system – and again he is manipulating the figures, comparing households with individuals. The simple fact is that unemployment benefits stood at around one-sixth of average earnings until April, when the one per cent uprating came into effect and pushed unemployed people closer to poverty. When benefit is so much less, in real terms, than earnings, a higher percentage increase does not mean you receive more money than a working person – something the Conservatives find hard to grasp, it seems.
So which do you believe – the comfortable lies that Cllr Davies has foisted on you, unencumbered by any factual evidence – or the unpalatable truth that the government’s imbecilic handling of the situation will cost us all many millions more in damage control when it all goes wrong?
Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith (Vox‘s Monster of 2012, let’s not forget) delivered woeful performances on radio and TV respectively, during the weekend – discussing the Bedroom Tax.
That’s right – the Bedroom Tax. Not the “spare-rooms subsidy”, not the “under-occupation subsidy” – the Bedroom Tax. The tax on bedrooms that is being levied on some of the poorest people in the land, who cannot move to smaller premises because a previous Conservative administration stopped them from being built.
Tweedle-Shapps and Tweedle-Smith clearly need a lesson in what taxation actually is. The sad part is that they probably think they delivered good performances.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, Shapps said: “Labour have very cleverly deemed this to be a tax; of course it’s exactly the opposite to a tax. It’s a spare-rooms subsidy, that’s being paid through the benefits system, on a million empty bedrooms in this country, which makes no sense.
“We’re not using the housing we have in this country in a proper way… What we can’t continue to do, and we can’t afford to do, is pay for a million empty rooms whilst we’ve got a waiting list that doubled under the previous administration and with so many people in desperate need of a house at all.”
Mr Smith, on The Andrew Marr Show said: “We have in social sector housing a very large number of people in houses where they have many more bedrooms than they actually need… Meanwhile we have over a quarter of a million people in overcrowding and a million people on the waiting list, trying to get into housing.
“The last government let house building fall to the lowest level since the 1920s… What we want is those that are under-occupying their properties, we need to help them to be able to move to property that they would occupy-”
Eddie Mair, standing in for Andrew Marr, interjected: “You mean force them?”
Smith plunged on: “What we’re saying is, ‘Look – you can stay where you are, but if you do, you have to pay more.'” (In other words, yes, he means “force them out”).
Mr Mair again: “But cough up. We know you’re very poor, but pay more.”
Smith was determined: “People… who rent in the private sector under housing benefit – they’re not allowed to have extra bedrooms. They’ve never been. So they are only paid, in the private sector, for the number of bedrooms they occupy.”
Mr Mair, an astonished inflection in his voice, spluttered: “But the point of social housing is to help-”
Now Smith fell back on the real reason for the change: Money. “Look, the taxpayer is paying about £900 per household to help people stay in social housing.”
Put these things together and we get a clear picture of what’s going on. First, a bit of history:
Back in the sunlit days before Margaret Thatcher first won an election, local councils were permitted to build and maintain social housing stock. I know this seems an alien concept now, but they were actually allowed to build houses in which poor people could live, for a rent that they could meet.
Then the Thatcher government came into office and she decided to sell off council houses at discounts of up to 70 per cent. Of course, take-up was huge. People believed they would be able to sell the properties on at a later date – for a profit – and go further up the housing ladder, and this appears to be what happened. The houses that were sold on again tended to go to professional private landlords, who then rented them at a higher price than the councils who originally owned them.
The policy raised more than £20 billion for the Conservative government, but it never allowed that money to be ploughed back into council house-building. That money has disappeared; we don’t know what was done with it (in fact, if anybody does know where it is, please write in and let us know)!
My understanding is that councils had expected to be able to use the receipts for a new house-building programme but then, by one of those “coincidences” – and I put that word in quotation marks for a very good reason; I don’t think they are coincidences at all – for which the Tory Party should be infamous, another policy was introduced – the Rate Cap.
Local taxation at the time was done by a method known as the Rates. We’ve had Poll Tax and Council Tax since then (and will soon have the Poll Tax back, thanks to Eric Pickles and his evil, misnamed little ‘Council Tax Reduction Scheme’) so many readers may not remember them.
The idea was to stop councils from spending more than the Tory government thought they should, by limiting the amount of money they could spend every year, and creating a blacklist of councils that transgressed, with associated penalties.
Result: any new council house-building was stopped dead.
It’s a situation that has continued to this day. During the New Labour years, there was a push for new social housing with a condition on planning permission for new estates, that a certain proportion of the new build had to be “affordable” housing.
Result: We now have a huge amount of land with planning permission for estates that have never been built, as developers are reluctant to create housing for which they won’t be able to screw maximum profit from the buyers.
So, successive governments have created a situation where the queue for social housing is very large. Even though the plan during New Labour’s time had the best intentions, my opinion is that it was scuppered by the greed of developers.
Now we have the Nasty Party in office again, and of course they want to screw as much money out of the poor as possible.
They don’t want to build any new social housing; they want people to rent from the private sector, who will try to screw the highest amount out of them.
In order to push them out, they have invented this new term, “spare-rooms subsidy”, or “under-occupation subsidy” – that never existed before. They have declared that people – who are only occupying the houses that were available to them when they went into social occupancy – are now receiving that subsidy for any spare bedrooms they may have (no matter whether there was a reason for having those rooms in the past, or may be one in the future). And in April they will remove an arbitrary amount – nobody knows how they arrived at the figure – from tenants’ housing benefit.
Result: As Eddie Mair said, these people will be forced out – into the arms of private landlords, who will charge more while they will receive less help from the government.
The money saved will, we’re told, be used to help balance the national finances, which is a policy of this government.
So, getting back to the point – the removal of this recently-dreamed-up “subsidy” istaxation, because the money removed from UK citizens will be used to finance government expenditure. That is the definition of tax.
This is what ‘money’ looks like. Enjoy the sight because you’ll probably be seeing increasingly less of it in reality from now on.
I haven’t seen anything in the press lately – local or national – about the many changes to social security benefits (the Tories call them ‘welfare’, which seems a good reason for me not to) that will come into effect this year.
That’s a mistake. People need to know what will happen and when – otherwise some of the UK’s most vulnerable, who find it very hard to adapt when their circumstances change, will get into trouble.
So what follows is an attempt to provide a brief overview. It won’t cover everything but should hopefully function as a prompt for people to follow up.
Needless to say, the most vulnerable in society will be affected by these changes – many of them in a fundamental way.
Putting a cap on benefits
The Coalition government’s benefit cap will come into effect from April. The expected level is £500 per week for couples and lone parents – equivalent to £26,000 per year (net); and £350 per week for single adults.
Across the UK, 56,000 households will be affected by the benefits cap. Job Centres have already notified those who will be affected.
Money will be removed from benefits until they come down to the £26,000 cap – starting with Housing Benefit. Of course, anyone under 35 will already be receiving only the shared accommodation rate of HB.
Many benefits are included in the cap, but Council Tax Benefit and its successor, the Council Tax Reduction Scheme will not be. DLA claimants are exempt, and also Working Tax Credit recipients – but both these benefits are being replaced this year.
In my home county of Powys, it is believed that 23 households will be affected by the benefits cap. Nine are private; 14 are social sector tenancies. All have children and/or some form of disability.
The under-occupation penalty comes into effect, for people in social housing (not including pensioners) from April, and means those with one spare bedroom will lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit; those with two bedrooms going spare will lost 25 per cent of their HB.
In Powys we have 8,300 social landlord properties; 900 are under-occupied by one bedroom, 300 by two bedrooms. The total annual loss of housing benefit will be £800,000.
People will have to move home because of the bedroom tax. That will have an impact – not just on individuals, but on education, if a child has to move away from a school where they have friends to a new area. It’s not about downsizing to another property in the same village. You may be looking at a considerable move, out of the family circle, taking children from one school to another. The impact is likely to be significant.
From DLA to PIP
Disability Living Allowance will be replaced by the new Personal Independence Payment in a gradual process, starting in April. There are similarities – PIP maintains links to passported benefits where possible, and there are special rules for claimants who are terminally ill. The differences are that claimants must still have their problem nine months after they apply; and there will be planned interventions and an early reconsideration process.
It is currently believed that people receiving the low-rate care component of DLA are unlikely to receive PIP at all.
There is no PIP claim form available from the usual sources. Claims are to be made by telephone on an 0800 number, when claimants will be asked general questions – including their bank details. Then a form will be posted to the claimant. It will be individually-addressed and bar-coded with the claimant’s details.
For those with fluctuating conditions, the form will provide an opportunity to explain them.
Claimants can have help completing the form, and reports from health professionals such as occupational therapists and doctors may be added to it.
The form will go to a health professional working for the company Capita (in Wales; other parts of the UK have our old sparring partners Atos). They may decide a claimant’s entitlement straight away, but most will be asked to attend a face-to-face interview. It is possible that this company may carry out home visits if the need presents itself.
Attendance with a friend, relative, partner, health professional or similar is encouraged.
All evidence will be reviewed and a report will be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions to make a decision.
The health professional will not make any recommendations at all – a DWP case manager will review the evidence and make a decision.
If a claim is disallowed or reduced, they will phone on three separate dates, at three separate times, to explain the decision. There are concerns that claimants with particular issues such as mental health problems might not understand.
Finally, as part of an ongoing process, questions and replies about PIP will be posted on the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page of the DWP’s PIP website.
From April 2013, new claims for PIP will be taking in the northeast and parts of northwest England; it won’t affect Wales until June.
From October 2013, claimants on fixed period awards that are coming up for renewal will be reassessed, along with young people coming up to age 16, and indefinite awards with a change of circumstances. Nobody else will be reassessed until October 2015.
Council Tax Reduction Scheme
The UK government is planning to save more than £500 million by issuing only 90 per cent of the cash to local authorities that it would normally provide for Council Tax Benefit. It is up to councils in England, and the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Parliaments, to devise for themselves ways of making up the shortfall.
In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament is finding money within its own funds to plug the gap. Councils in England have come up with their own systems – some asking people who have never paid council tax before to contribute up to 40 per cent of the normal bill.
The Welsh Government has decided to introduce a nationwide format, in order to prevent ‘postcode lotteries’ where people in one area are worse-off than those who live across the street, but in another local authority’s jurisdiction.
The new scheme will be means-tested and the ceiling for the maximum entitlement will be decided by the administering authorities; in Wales it will be 90 per cent of the council tax bill. This means support for all claimant groups will be reduced, including those on passported benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance. If you are on ESA you will be expected to pay at least 10 per cent of your council tax from now on.
There is no requirement in Wales to protect pensioners. The second adult rebate will also be removed.
In England, pensioners will be protected, but this means the maximum entitlement comes down to 84 per cent of the council tax bill or less, meaning residents will have to pay at least 16 per cent. In some counties we already know people will be paying a minimum of 30 per cent.
In Powys, where the 10 per cent maximum applies, this means 10,400 residents will lose, on average, £86 per year. Of these, 7,800 people currently pay nothing, and this means they must find the extra money from whatever other resources are available to them, to pay their council tax. That’s just an average among people affected, by the way. On a Band D property, 10 per cent is £117. Also, in Powys, 74 households get the second adult rebate, averaging £205 per year.
This means the total amount of extra money being taken from households in Powys alone comes to £915,000 in the 2013-14 tax year. That’s nearly £1 million being taken out of the local economy via this change alone.
Councils need to inform all Council Tax Claimants of the change. “I don’t think the message has fully got through – either that the change to a support scheme is coming, or that the scheme in Wales will be different to England,” said Colin Wallbank of the Welsh Local Government Association.
“There will be an impact on community support activities including housing and social services, and the aggregate effect of this and other welfare changes will have an impact on poorer households.”
“There is a risk of increased claimant numbers, and this will put more pressure on local authority budgets.
“Local authorities must consult, and then adopt a scheme. The consultation is on the discretionary aspects, not the main scheme.”
Geoff Petty, chief financial officer of Powys County Council, added: “The funding we get is for the existing caseload and doesn’t accommodate that load increasing. I don’t see the economy improving much overall, and that could mean we are underfunded by up to £500,000.
“That means we are chasing people for very, very small sums of money. Equally, I have a responsibility to chase those sums. If you allow arrears to grow, a small problem becomes bigger. I would want to ensure that, where people do get into arrears, we can give rapid support.”
There will be an impact on family relationships because the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, taken together with the ‘bedroom tax’ on Housing Benefit and reductions in HB rates for people aged under 35, mean that people will be forced to move into properties together. “People are being forced into ‘pressure-cooker’ situations,” as Erika Helps of Rhondda Cynon Taff Citizens Advice Bureau put it.
There will be an impact on mental health and anxiety. Anyone on a reduced income will feel stress but the Council Tax Support Scheme especially adds to this. The question is not, “Will we have to pay?” It is, “How much will we have to pay?”
More than 30 benefits are being rolled into one – the Universal Credit – starting in October. Mainly, it will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.
The new benefit’s stated aim is to get people into a ‘working’ state of mind, rather than a ‘dependent on benefits’ ethos. Currently, according to the DWP there is a large risk of fraudulent claims. Since the total amount of fraud in the benefits system is 0.7 per cent, you may wish to take that comment with a pinch of salt.
Claimants will be asked to do everything reasonable to look for work, or – if they are already in part-time employment – to increase their hours of work. As part of their commitment, there are consequences of failing to meet responsibilities – sanctions. There are groups who are not expected to work, including those with limited capability; carers; and lone parents with a child aged less than one year.
There are child elements, limited capability for work elements, and a housing element. Anyone with capital of more than £16,000 will not be entitled to Universal Credit.
Claimants who work part-time will be encouraged to ask employers for more hours of work. It will be part of a new system called ‘Real Time’; currently an employer will send their PAYE statement off at the end of March, but now it will go monthly to HMRC. They will pass it on to the DWP to assess a claimant’s entitlement that month.
This means claims will go through three different computer systems, and much has been said about the difficulties posed to the government by such a plan.
There will be a taper – as earnings increase, the benefit will tail off.
Universal Credit will be paid monthly, in arrears. This will raise budgeting issues and will affect working families as well as non-workers. People on low incomes are, in fact, often very good at managing, but the change to monthly payments means a whole new pattern for paying bills and saving for one-off purchases.
The DWP has made it clear that, at the point of change, there will be no losers financially. There will be transitional protection, unless there is a change of circumstances. However it should be noted that many of the benefits that will become part of Universal Credit are affected by the Benefits Uprating Bill, currently going through Parliament. Below-inflation increases are effectively cuts in benefit and this means that many people will have less money, going into the new benefit, than they might have otherwise expected.
Universal Credit will be “Digital by Default” – available at all times on the Internet, so it doesn’t depend on call centre times; it will aim to be flexible and responsive – continually improved; informative; integrated – joining work and benefits systems; and accessible – designed to meet the needs of a wide range of users within the system.
There are several problems with these claims. The most obvious is: What happens to people who don’t have the Internet?
Access to broadband internet is still an issue in places, and capability to use the internet is just as much an issue. People who might have access to broadband may still need help going through the claiming process.
Some benefits will actually require people to make a re-claim. If people don’t make that re-claim in time, the money they lose won’t be paid back in arrears later.
The aim is that it will start coming into effect from October 2013, when the newly-unemployed will start claiming Universal Credit, and from then on there will be a gradual phasing-out of existing benefit claims.
In spring 2014 it will be expanded to include new claims from people in work and moving current claimants to Universal Credit.
By 2017, the DWP hopes the Universal Credit roll-out will be complete.
Around 7,000 Housing Benefit claimants will migrate to universal credit between 2014-17. They will then be administered by the DWP.
Financial Inclusion: There is concern that many claimants may not be able to budget to support themselves straight away. The DWP says it is looking at targeting those claimants and coaching them. Many don’t have a mainstream bank account and the DWP says it is working with the credit union nationally.
There will be something in place for exceptions – claimants who can’t cope.
And there may be a review of the frequency of payments, but for a limited period only.
Housing: The DWP has promised to test key elements of incorporating housing support into Universal Credit, while protecting the financial position of social landlords.
“We want a welfare system that encourages a return to work as soon as possible. For those in work, we want to encourage progress, with people increasing their earnings and becoming more financially independent. But there are claimants who cannot work and it is important we have a welfare system providing them with the support they need,” said a spokesman at the conference I attended.
The effect upon society
People in social housing are likely to face discrimination because of who they are.
Advice services such as the Citizens Advice Bureau will face a growth in inquiries. Already in 2012 the growth in ESA inquiries in Powys CAB was 119 per cent. Rhondda Cynon Taff CAB saw a 74 per cent increase in council tax benefit inquiries, a 41 per cent increase in housing benefit calls and a whopping 165 per cent growth in inquiries about rent arrears. These figures will ramp up significantly over the next 12 months and beyond.
The need for debt advice and money advice (financial capability skills including budgeting) will increase. Some people will need to be supported.
There will be increased pressure on other voluntary resources, including food banks. The number of these in the UK has more than doubled in the last year, and is likely to increase.
Direct payment of housing benefit will mean that, if a crisis occurs, the temptation will be to use the rent money – but this can lead to a cycle of debt, and then there is a risk of resorting to pay-day lenders.
People will not be able to borrow locally from friends and family, because they will also be feeling the pinch as these welfare cuts bite.
The cumulative impact on child poverty will be huge.
There will be a rise in rent and mortgage arrears.
Less income generally means there will be less money available. That will also affect people owning local businesses – benefit income is spent locally and High Street shops will receive less.
There’s a huge risk that more and more people will access ‘lenders without conscience’. Responsible lenders, such as credit unions, are fantastic places to put money, but the services provided are different, depending on the union. They will see more and more people coming to them. That will impact on their business model and the risks will be greater.
There will be a big impact on social landlords and the housing market – affordable housing will be less available and landlords less able or willing to rent to tenants on benefits.
Private sector rental may become less attractive to landlords if tenants aren’t paying the rent. This will lead to a growth in homelessness. Councils have statutory duties and may see an increasing burden.
Pressure on the appeal system means people waiting longer for the outcome of appeals.
Pressure on public sector resources. Local authorities will bear the brunt of this, at a time when they have received difficult financial settlements.
The fund for Discretionary Housing Payments is increasing. These payments may help people top-up to pay accommodation costs. Given the effects of the reforms, people will also be looking for these payments and in those circumstances, the budget won’t touch the sides of what’s needed.
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