Tag Archives: benefits cap

The truth about social housing

This is not the ceiling of my kitchen, but it does represent what it looks like (I haven't taken a photo of it - yet).

This is not the ceiling of my kitchen, but it does represent what it looks like (I haven’t taken a photo of it – yet).

Today I’m a little angry. More than a little, in fact. Here’s why:

Long-term readers may be aware that I rent my house, from a Housing Association, with my partner – the famous Mrs Mike. She has long-term disability issues affecting both her physical and mental health. She is, in fact, due to go into hospital tomorrow for a carpal tunnel operation.

This is an operation on her wrists, after which she will not be able to use her hand for 24 hours or so. It will be strapped to her body and she will need my help to do certain ordinary household things. She will also need a warm, comfortable environment in which to recuperate.

When I discovered on Friday afternoon that a pipe had burst under the bathroom floor and our boiler wasn’t working, I was not worried. I had been to the gym and was just about to step into the shower when I realised the water was ice-cold. Checking the boiler showed it had depressurised down to nothing and attempts to repressurise it failed. Then Mrs Mike told me there was a wet stain on the kitchen ceiling (directly below the bathroom) and we realised something serious had happened.

Not to worry – our Housing Association operates a within-24-hour call-out service for emergency repairs. This means, once we’ve called them out, they must get to us and perform the repair within 24 hours of the call. So we called, between 3 and 4pm on Friday.

Aaaaaaand we’re still waiting.

We started relying on friends and neighbours for fresh water straight away, at first filling saucepans and then slowly accumulating larger containers. Heat became a problem very quickly, though. By mid-afternoon yesterday (when the job should have been done, it was warmer outside the house than in it.

Luckily, and by a complete coincidence, another friend was able to offer us two heaters, when I mentioned the problem during a conversation about her Work Capability Assessment (she’s been put in the work-related activity group and rightly intends to appeal, using my article about Mrs Mike’s experiences for support as she has the same condition).

I phoned the Housing Association’s out-of-hours service at 4pm yesterday to ask what was going on. Of course they didn’t know, and promised to chase up the repair man and then give me a revised time of arrival. So I waited an hour and then called again. Bear in mind that it was now 5pm on a Saturday. The woman at the other end said she was very sorry but the repair man seemed to be out of range on his mobile but she would call me back. She never called me back.

Out of range! He’d gone home, hadn’t he? Never mind the fact that people were without basic services – water and heat – and he was contractually obliged to restore them. Nothing was going to stop him enjoying his Saturday evening!

This morning Mrs Mike was on the phone to them before I had managed to lever myself out of my not-very-warm bed and into the freezing bedroom. By the time I did manage to get myself vertical, she’d had a response that the man would be here between 11.30am and midday. It is now 12.35pm.

This is the kind of service for which poor people, and those on benefits, are being told they must pay more.

Let’s all just think about that, for a moment. When you’re on benefit – or on low-paid work, which is my current position – you can’t afford a mansion and you can’t afford to have dedicated people on hand, day and night, to fix every slightest problem. You know that. However, there are still rules that should be met, even on the lowest rung of the housing ladder, and the fact is that these rules are being broken all the time.

I write from experience. Back in the very bad winter of 2010-11, we were without water for a whole week because the repair people from the same housing association couldn’t be bothered to come all the way from Wolverhampton (or wherever they were based) to Llandrindod Wells. The rules state that it doesn’t matter where the company has its properties – wherever they are, they must enjoy the same services – guaranteed.

We got a not-very-large compensation payment after that little debacle, and a promise it wouldn’t happen again.

Now it’s happening again.

12.50 Update:

A man turned up on the doorstep as I was typing ‘again’ – the wrong man, as it happens.

The housing association phoned him up, told him a load of rubbish that it was a problem with the boiler and sent him here – it’s a problem with the pipes, and a completely different company is responsible. He reckoned he’d been told the contractor – who should have been asked to fix the problem – had been! As you can imagine, Mrs Mike let loose with a stream in invective that would make hardened soldiers blanch. Fortunately the guy took it all in-stride and is seeing what he can do to at least identify the true nature of the problem.

The point, of course, is that the government’s legislation, demanding that poor people pay more, doesn’t take account of the fact that the service poor people receive is appallingly bad. And there will be no proper regulation of it because Conservatives don’t believe in regulation. Their attitude is libertarian – you negotiate a service and pay for what you get – without taking into account the reality that the service negotiated is rarely the service received. The lack of regulation means there is no mechanism to guarantee improvement, which is why I, together with Mrs Mike, am facing the exact same situation we had two years ago.

The housing association recently refitted our bathroom, too. The nice new flooring they put down will probably have to be ripped up in order to replace the pipe. Who knows what kind of a mess we’ll have afterwards?

Considering all of the above, why should we pay more for a service that is worse?

Social housing? More like ANTI-social housing.

Show your contempt for this arrogant dictatorship

Does anybody reading this still think the UK is a democracy?

I dare say most people are aware that the government, in the House of Commons, has reversed all seven amendments made by the Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill. This means the new benefits cap of £26,000, per family, will include Child Benefit.

The Bill will also:

  • Require cancer patients to undergo a means test for Employment Support Allowance – if they fail, they have to look for work
  • Reduce the lower rate of the ‘disabled child’ element of Child Tax Credits
  • Means test other ESA claimants every year
  • Stop young disabled people who have never worked from claiming ‘contributory’ ESA
  • Impose ‘under-occupancy’ penalties on social tenants with one spare room
  • Force single parents to face Child Support Agency charges, even if they have taken steps to reach a settlement

There is no mandate for these changes, or any of the other changes in the Welfare Reform Bill. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition does not have permission from the electorate to do this, because it was never part of either of their manifestos. This is undemocratic.

The House of Lords, in amending the Bill to prevent the measures I mention above, had been contacted by many people on benefits, and made their decision in the knowledge of the financial trauma it will cause if allowed to go ahead unchanged. This was the only opportunity the people affected by the Bill had to plead a case, and the government’s pig-headed refusal to pay attention (let’s call it a ‘not-listening’ exercise, in recognition of the sham that was carried out in respect of the Health and Social Care Bill, which is likely to cause even more harm to the honest people of the UK). The reversal in the Commons therefore flies in the face of the will of the people. This, too, is undemocratic.

Furthermore, the government has announced it will use a rule known as ‘financial privilege’ to prevent the Lords from sending the same amendments back to the Commons when they consider the Bill for the final time.

Now, Parliamentary convention has long stated that the Lords do not deliberate on “money” Bills, such as the Budget – but such legislation is never introduced to the Lords in the first place. As the Welfare Reform Bill was, there is a strong argument that this rule does not apply.

It is highly unusual for a government to introduce a Bill to Parliament with the intention of it being considered by both Houses, only for it to declare the Bill beyond the auspices of the Lords at this relative late stage in proceedings – and for this reason the whole process could end up in a judicial review.

In other words, for this to happen, it must normally be decided before a government is humiliated over its unsound policies – not after. This, again, is undemocratic.

Let’s not forget that the government falsified the results of its own consultation process about this bill. More than 90 per cent of those taking part opposed the changes in the bill but this was ignored in the report, which was intended to show that the public supported the change. It does not. This, yet again, is undemocratic.

This break with precedent could have further implications for other major government bills going through the Lords, including the Legal Aid and NHS Bills, both of which are highly controversial. Need I point out how undemocratic all of this is?

Finally, none of these measures are necessary. If the government taxed big businesses properly, instead of excusing them from paying the vast sums of money they owe, then there would be enough in the Treasury to keep benefits as they are and pay off some of the national debt. This is what the majority of the people in my country want and their refusal to do it is totally undemocratic.

If you’re not living in a democracy – and if you’re in the UK, you are definitely not living in a democracy any more – then you’re living in a dictatorship.

It is a dictatorship ruled by two parties that did not even gain a majority in the last General Election.

We have another three years of this agony, as matters stand at the moment.

All I can suggest right now is that we make our contempt for this arrogant cartel known at every opportunity. If any of the above makes you angry, make sure you’re on the electoral register and then get out and vote against them every chance you get.

There are elections in May. They’ll be a good place to start.

Benefits v bonuses – everybody’s a loser!

As I type these words, this has been a day of defeat for the government. Its bid to cap benefits at £26,000 – forcing some families to face the prospect of losing their homes – has been defeated by the Lords, while in the Commons, MPs totally failed to cap the spectacularly high amounts paid to (for example) bankers.

The link between the two is the average amount of pay earned by workers in the UK today. The government says this is £26,000, which Tory MP Margot James seems to think is a large amount of money. I wonder how she describes the current average salary for an MP like herself, which is £65,738, two-and-a-half times as much. In addition, MPs receive allowances to cover the costs of running an office and employing staff, having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency – and we all know that no MP has ever – ever – abused those allowances, don’t we?

The fact is that on a day when the Royal Bank of Scotland has been asking the government to allow it to pay bonuses worth £500 million to staff who have put that firm into the red by £750 million in the last six months, £26,000 is not a high figure. It is a derisory figure. A pittance.

People on benefits, and those speaking for them, have argued that this figure will not be enough to keep many of them in their homes. That is why the Lords voted to exempt Child Benefit from those included in the cap – in order to offer children a stable environment in which to grow up.

The question arises: If it isn’t enough to keep families on benefits in their homes, how do working people who are earning less than this amount manage to make ends meet?

My own experience colours my answer to that: Very badly. When I was last in a full-time job, the salary did not cover all my outgoings and I had to give it up for that reason. Simple as that. Fortunately my partner finally succeeded in a years-long battle to claim Disability Living Allowance shortly afterwards and I became a carer – and we’re better off that way. That’s not an indictment of the welfare and benefits system; it’s an indictment of the way wages have been depressed below the rate of inflation for the last 30 years or so.

I’m told the firm lost business after I left. To me, that indicates a lapse of judgement in allowing me to go, and that bosses might have been better off if they had offered me a sum that would have allowed me to go on living comfortably, rather than worrying about a long, slow slide into debt (to the bank! where the bonuses happen).

I would rather be in a paying job than a carer. I don’t believe I’m betraying my partner, who needs the care, by saying that. But I don’t believe I can earn the amount we would need, in order to get a better quality of life, for her or both of us.

What’s the solution? Obvious, really: pay working people the living wage they deserve!

If the average wage was a reasonable amount (and I feel no need to bind anyone’s thinking here, so I won’t suggest one) then, firstly, the poor working man or woman would not feel so hard-done-by, with people on benefits pulling down as much as them or more yet having done no work for it, and bosses taking home obscene amounts generated by the efforts of other people.

Those on benefits would have less reason to feel victimised because the average amount at which their benefits will be pegged would be high enough for them to survive, and possibly even enough for them to think about how to get back into work and earn more money for themselves and their families (if they have them), rather than focusing solely on survival.

All this hinges on the bosses who, as we know, are extremely reluctant to share out the profits they haven’t earned for themselves. I have no sympathy for those on obscenely large salaries and bonus schemes – those in FT350 companies whose salaries have multiplied seven times in the last 20 years, while the firms’ performance has improved by only 23 per cent and the wages they pay their workers has risen by just 27 per cent (less than the rate of inflation). They can take a smaller slice of the cake and put up with it.

But what about the bosses of smaller firms who might be struggling to keep their heads above water? They might not be taking very much more than their workforce. What’s the solution for them?

To my way of thinking, they need to be competitive, and a demoralised workforce does not make a business competitive. Also, they need the tools to do their job properly and I can foresee a time when the economic situation will mean their equipment will be out of date.

Perhaps this is a time for the government – either local or national – to come forward with a match-funding scheme of some kind to keep these firms on their feet; but with one major condition. The companies should re-form into co-operatives, in which every worker has a stake in the profits. This would re-fire their enthusiasm and, hopefully, improve performance, leading to a knock-on increase in wages and bonuses that are not unearned drains on resources but based on real profit.

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