Losing hope: Ian and Frances Cooper in the car they now call home.
This tells you everything about the direction of travel in Tory Britain.
Ian and Frances Cooper, from Aylsham, have been living in a Renault Kadjar for two months.
They have been unable to find a permanent residence after being evicted from a privately-rented flat because one of their three pets is not an assistance dog.
Seriously. Their local council appears to be penalising them for having a pet that they love.
They were evicted from a privately-rented bungalow after an attempt to claim housing benefit (or that component of Universal Credit) from North Norfolk District Council was turned down.
Since then, the council has tried to house them in a number of other places – none of which proved appropriate.
In one instance – a Premier Inn – they were told they could not stay because, while two of their Jack Russell terriers are assistance dogs, the third is not, and the hotel chain’s policy is only to allow assistance dogs in its rooms.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is to investigate a complaint by Mr and Mrs Cooper that NNDC did not award them the correct priority band, made unsuitable offers of interim accommodation, gave the wrong advice over whether or not the couple should have claimed universal credit or housing benefits and did not consider evidence of harassment from a landlord.
And in the meantime a man with spondylolisthesis of the spine – a condition which causes the vertebrae to slip out of place – who recently spent time in hospital with sepsis and now has a stoma bag, and a woman with fibromyalgia, are living with their dogs in a car.
Of course it is affecting their physical health – and inevitably it is affecting their mental well-being as well.
Personally, I would not blame the local council. I would blame the Conservative government.
It is the Tories who perverted the benefit system into a tool to persecute the vulnerable – especially people with long-term illnesses and/or disabilities like the Coopers.
There is no doubt in my mind that Iain Duncan Smith, the architect of these changes, would be absolutely delighted to hear that a disabled couple had been forced to live in a car with deteriorating mental and physical health because of him.
He knows the Department for Work and Pensions will always claim plausible deniability – no matter how damning the evidence against it.
But I wonder how long the Coopers – and who knows how many other families like them? – can survive in the punitive Tory system.
It’s time for change. These are people who have worked all their lives and instead of being able to rely on the system to keep them safe in a time of hardship, they have been – literally – thrown onto the streets.
There is only one way to achieve change for the better – change the government.
The Coopers’ story is a great reason to vote Labour in the general election.
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.
Jessie and Ray Lorrison have spent the last 70 years together, but have now been told they must live separately [Image: North News and Pictures].
The criteria under which Ray and Jessie Lorrison are being separated for what could be the last few months of their respective lives are in the Conservative Government’s Care Act 2014.
The Tories may wish to quibble that the implication of the Act is for local councils to interpret, but it seems likely this is another Tory attempt at penny-pinching, and never mind the human tragedy it causes.
How many more couples are being separated in this entirely unacceptable way?
There is a petition, which you can sign if you visit the Mirror‘s story (the link is below).
But will it do any good if the law is against this couple?
How did we – the British people – ever come to accept such laws as reasonable?
An elderly couple who have been by each other’s side for 70 years are being ‘forced apart’ by social services – as they ‘don’t meet the criteria’ to live together.
Jessie and Ray Lorrison, of South Shields in South Tyneside, have spent nearly every day of their lives together since they first met in 1946 – but have now been told they must live separate lives.
Ray, 95, is living at Westoe Grange Care Home in the town, while his heartbroken wife Jessie, 88, is in hospital after being told she ‘does not meet the criteria’ to join her husband.
A South Tyneside Council spokesperson said: “The Council is not able to comment on individual cases, however any decision on care and support for an individual is based on their own needs and is made in line with the Care Act.
The numbers speak for themselves: Under ‘Adequacy of safety-net benefits’, EVERY SINGLE INCOME GROUP has lost out. While others have suffered a great percentage drop, single working-age people remain the least able to make ends meet.
“How much money do you need for an adequate standard of living?”
That is the question posed every year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – and every year the organisation calculates how much people have to earn – taking into account their family circumstances, the changing cost of these essentials and changes to the tax and benefit system – to reach this benchmark.
A lone parent with one child now needs to earn more than £27,100 per year – up from £12,000 in 2008. A couple with two children need to earn more than £20,200 each, compared to £13,900 each in 2008. Single working-age people must now earn more than £16,200, up from £13,500 in 2008;
Despite social and economic change, the list of goods and services different families need to live to an adequate level is very similar to that of the original study in 2008 – but people’s ability to afford them has declined. Overall the cost of a basket of essential items has risen by a massive 28 per cent over six years – much higher than the 19 per cent rise claimed by the official Consumer Price Index – while average wages have increased by just nine per cent and the minimum wage 14 per cent;
Increased tax allowances have eased the pressure somewhat for some households, but the freeze to child benefit and ongoing cuts in tax credits have outweighed this for low-earning families with children.
Out-of-work benefits have fallen further and now provide just 39 per cent of what single, working-age people need to reach a Minimum Income Standard.
On the other hand, pensioner couples who claim all their allowances receive 95 per cent of the amount required.
The bottom line is that the Conservative-led government has been hammering the working poor and people on benefits, while claiming to be helping them. The minimum income necessary for an adequate living standard, according to JRF research, is no less than two-and-a-half-times what people on benefits receive. That is an appalling disparity in the sixth-richest country in the world.
It also creates a danger that more people will look to loan suppliers like the government’s favourite (Wonga) for short-term help – at the cost of going into disastrous long-term debt.
Slow earnings growth and price increases have made all households worse off on average, relative to the MIS, the report has found.
The conclusion is a disaster for the Coalition’s “hardworking” people: “In the past six years the more important determinants of whether low-income households can afford the minimum budget have been the increasing cost of living relative to earnings and benefit cuts for households in and out of work.
“For working families with children, if these cuts continue, the opportunity to reach an acceptable living standard may not improve, even as wages start rising again in real terms.”
The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.
By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.
This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).
It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).
It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.
It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).
It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.
It applies to families with disabled children; and
It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).
Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.
The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:
Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.
Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.
On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer. If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).
Now for the complications.
After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.
There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.
Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.
Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.
Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.
Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.
And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately. Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.
Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.
If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.
And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.
Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.
The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.
The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.
In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.
Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.
But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.
Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?
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