Boris Johnson: He can clap his hand over his mouth but he won’t stop the cruelty. That can only come with a government headed by somebody else.
Boris Johnson has finally published the Conservative manifesto amid a stink of embarrassment – and, for benefit claimants, a hard slap of insult.
Mr Johnson offers just one promise to benefit claimants – to reduce the frequency of Personal Independence Payment reassessments – and I don’t believe it.
If Tories target a disabled person to lose their benefit, they will find an excuse to do so. Scheduled reassessments may be cut – but Mrs Mike has been threatened with random reassessments on many occasions, triggered by any reason the DWP could cook up.
The end to the freeze on working-age benefits is not a new policy; it has been set to happen in 2020 since it was introduced.
Universal Credit goes untouched, despite being possibly the biggest catastrophe to hit vulnerable people in the UK since the welfare state was introduced in the 1940s.
Mr Johnson has promised to continue impoverishing people from the moment they are forced to claim the benefit, with a five-week wait that we know pushes people towards starvation and homelessness as they struggle to pay the bills and stay out of the food bank.
(Tories think food banks are fantastic, by the way – except when they want to pretend Labour is responsible for their proliferation.)
Beyond that, the Tory manifesto offers nothing else but a vague promise to “do more to make sure” UC works.
Hang on! I’ve heard that before, somewhere! Isn’t it what the DWP says, every time the news reports a Universal Credit-related death?
Bang! Someone dies. The Tory-run DWP says, “We promise to learn the lesson.”
Boom! Another one bites the dust. The Tory-run DWP says, “We will do more to make sure UC works.”
There is only one conclusion to be had:
Universal Credit will never work for its claimants.
And as far as the Conservatives are concerned, it works best when it is killing people.
But what of other aspects of the benefit system? Here’s a quick rundown:
The Conservatives with NOT end the cruelty of the Bedroom Tax, nor do they have any intention of increasing the Local Housing Allowance to protect people against the threat of eviction.
The Conservatives will NOT end the so-called “digital barrier” that obstructs people who have trouble coping with computers and the internet from claiming benefits. They like putting obstacles before the poor.
The Conservatives will NOT end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments.
The Conservatives will NOT end Work Capability Assessments, or PIP assessments.
The Conservatives will NOT end their cruel sanction regime.
The Conservatives will NOT scrap the benefit cap.
The Conservatives will NOT end the two-child limit on benefits and scrap the so-called ‘rape clause’. They like humiliating women who have already been violated.
The Conservatives will NOT try to ensure that women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships by the system by paying the child element of benefits to the primary carer.
Still, the Liberal Democrat offer is little better.
Jo Swinson is quite happy to keep Universal Credit. She thinks reducing the wait from five weeks to five days might help – apart from that, she offers nothing to anybody apart from the self-employed, to whom a Lib Dem government (that will not happen, of course) would be “more supportive” – whatever that means.
Other Liberal Democrat offers are just plain vague. What do they mean when they say they’ll abolish Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) and replace them with “a new system that is run by local authorities and based on real-world tests”? Does anybody know?
How will Ms Swinson “enshrine in law the government’s responsibility to ensure that existing and new public policy is audited for its impact on food security”?
These are brutal times. People need hard promises, not meaningless mummery.
In fairness, the Liberal Democrats do make a few good, hard promises. But another party has made the same promises and does have a realistic chance of forming a government and making them real: Labour.
Yes, it’s great that the Lib Dems would like to end the two-child limit on benefits, end the benefit cap, abolish the Bedroom Tax and increase local housing allowance, reverse cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for people in the Work-Related Activity Group, and reinstate the Independent Living Fund.
But you can be sure that the only way the Liberal Democrats will get into government in December is in coalition with another party; having already ruled out allying with Labour, that means Ms Swinson’s only option is the Conservatives, and the Tories will neverallow any measures to relieve the pressure on the poor.
A Labour government would actually do those things.
And Labour would cancel Universal Credit and replace it with a system that is a genuine benefit for people claiming it.
Labour would dissolve the DWP and replace it with a revamped Department for Social Security, ending the environment of suspicion and persecution that was instilled by Iain Duncan Smith and replacing it with support for those in need.
(This Writer worked in the old DSS, before it was rolled into the DWP. The automatic assumption there was that claimants were telling the truth about their situation, about their disabilities, and about their needs – not that they are lying, as is the claim now. It was a better place to work, and it was better for the claimants too.)
But you know Labour’s offer – it’s all right here.
Boris Johnson’s manifesto shows an intention to continue the cruel Conservatism we’ve endured for nearly 10 years.
Let’s take this opportunity to tell him where he can stuff it.
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.
The Labour Party has paid attention to the people and published a manifesto that promises to end many of the injustices that the Conservative government (with the Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2015) introduced.
This Writer feels duty-bound to tell you that reading the chapter on Social Security was an uplifting experience on many levels, as so many of the subjects This Site has highlighted have been tackled.
Labour will scrap the Department for Work and Pensions. This Site said the DWP had become so badly damaged by the culture of persecution instilled in it by Tory ministers from Iain Duncan Smith onwards that the only option was to dissolve it and start again. It will be replaced with a new Department of Social Security.
Labour will scrap Universal Credit. Since it began to be developed, This Site has highlighted the fact that UC was a hugely-expensive disaster – a position that was proved when it was implemented; instead of providing a convenient all-in-one safety net for people facing hard times, it has instead deliberately pushed them into poverty. It will be replaced with a new system, to be developed carefully, intending to end poverty by guaranteeing a reasonable standard of living.
While this new system is being prepared, Labour will introduce interim measures to end the cruelty imposed by the Conservatives (and Liberal Democrats), all of which address complaints raised by This Site and others:
Labour will end the so-called “digital barrier” that obstructs people who have trouble coping with computers and the internet from claiming benefits. It will offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.
Labour will end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments.
Labour will reintroduce fortnightly payments, to help people manage their money.
Labour will end the Tory sanction regime.
Labour will scrap the benefit cap.
Labour will end the two-child limit on benefits and scrap the so-called ‘rape clause’, which it describes (as I do) as “immoral and outrageous”.
Labour will pay the child element of benefits to the primary carer, to ensure that women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships by the system.
The changes won’t just extend to Universal Credit, though.
Labour will end the Bedroom Tax and increase the Local Housing Allowance to protect people against the threat of eviction.
And the party will reform the benefit system to end its punishment of people with long-term illnesses and disabilities:
Labour will end the “dehumanising” Work Capability Assessments and PIP Assessments.
Labour will stop benefit assessments being contracted-out to private companies and ensure that all benefit assessments are carried out by DSS employees in future.
Labour will increase Employment and Support Allowance by £30 a week for people in the Work-Related Activity Group, reversing the Tory cut.
Labour will raise the basic rate of support for children with disabilities to the same level as Child Tax Credits.
Labour will give extra support to severely disabled people without a formal carer, so they can meet the extra costs they face.
Labour will increase Carers’ Allowance to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance. This is the only measure that This Writer thinks is inadequate. Having been a carer, I know that CA is a pittance, but an increase of a few pounds a week is unlikely to help much. More harmful is the fact that, if a carer earns more than a set amount (around £120 a week), the entire allowance is cancelled. It would be better to introduce a taper, so that the amount of CA is reduced according to the amount a person earns.
And Labour will help disabled people who want to work by bringing back specialist employment advisors, introducing a government-backed Reasonable Adjustments Passport scheme to help people move between jobs more easily, and reviewing support for disabled people at work, including the Access to Work scheme.
These are all terrific policies.
They make Labour the obvious choice for voters who are currently claiming unemployment, sickness or disability benefits.
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Nine out of every 10 homes for rent are too expensive for families on housing benefit or the equivalent, Local Housing Allowance – according to the National Housing Federation.
The report finds that 94 per cent of private rental properties are unaffordable for families on Housing Benefit, or the equivalent Local Housing Allowance (LHA).
It also found that 65 per cent of the families affected are in work – proving once again that the Tory mantra that “work is the best way out of poverty” is utter claptrap while they remain in office.
LHA was initially designed to cover the bottom 50 per cent of market rents – in any area. This was reduced to 30 per cent in 2011, after the Tory-led Coalition government came into power (with help from the Liberal Democrats). Rates were divorced from market rents altogether in 2013, and frozen in 2016.
One can only conclude that this was done to price benefit-dependent families out of the market. In the least-affordable parts of the UK – southern and eastern England – only one per cent of privately-rented properties are affordable to those on LHA.
Analysis of data on private rental listings found that:
Only 7.54% of rental properties advertised in England are affordable to LHA claimants.
“Family-sized” properties, i.e. those with two or more bedrooms, are even less affordable, with only 6.5% being affordable at the relevant LHA rate.
Southern and Eastern parts of England are the least affordable areas.
In 2011, LHA was set to the 30th percentile of rents within Broad Rental Market Areas, meaning that claimants should have been able to afford 30% of the rental market in each BRMA. In 2019, the median percentage of the rental market that is affordable within a BRMA is only 5.9%.
Only 2.75% of rooms within shared accommodation are affordable at LHA. The shared accommodation rate is usually the only LHA rate that single people aged under 35 may claim.
The National Housing Federation has drawn the obvious conclusion – that Tory policies have pushed homelessness to record levels – and are pushing children into overcrowded and poor quality accommodation, like shipping containers and converted office blocks.
The organisation is demanding that the government LHA payments to cover at least the lowest-costing 30 per cent of privately-rented homes again. It also wants a £12.8 billion annual investment in building new social housing.
I think we all know what’s likely to happen about that: Nothing.
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Gratitude is due to commenter Carl Green for discovering this article debunking claims by the Liberal Democrats that attempted to link Labour with the Bedroom Tax.
It dates back to 2013 (before the recent hullabaloo on Vox Political and other sites) and makes some very important comments.
On Labour’s Local Housing Allowance, which has been described as a Bedroom Tax for private tenants, the article points out that “by applying a limiting payment based on market conditions, it gives people a choice. So whilst the rent for a two bed property in Calderdale under LHA is slightly less than for a three bed, it’s still possible to find three bed properties within that rent limit. Again, a complete contrast with the Bedroom Tax. We already know that as a result, people are being forced out of social housing three bedroom properties into a private property for which they are able to claim more housing benefit.”
This was an aspect that Yr Obdt Srvt is ashamed to admit missing. If market conditions are applied, then appropriate properties must be available – or is that an incorrect reading? If it’s right, then people who have been financially disadvantaged by their local authority should have a right to recompense for a wrong decision.
Also, the article points out: “It was extensively piloted and tested before being applied universally. That’s because Labour actually were concerned about whether it was workable – not just as a benefit, but also in terms of its impact on people’s lives.”
And under the heading The Malcolm Wicks smear, the article points out that the under-occupation pilot Mr Wicks mentioned in Parliament “was never about penalising people for being unable to move; rather it was about offering financial incentives to people to relocate to smaller and more appropriate properties – recognising that this often meant working sensitively with older people whose homes were no longer appropriate for their needs, but to which they were often deeply attached.”
“Apparently, the mere use of the [phrase] ‘under occupation’ is enough to convince the Lib Dems that this must mean a Bedroom Tax, without the bother of doing any further investigation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.”
The article adds that the use of Mr Wicks’s image and words in the context given to it by Labour’s detractors also implies deep disrespect for the dead: “Malcolm Wicks was a highly respected Labour housing minister, [with] a long track record of expertise in housing and benefits, who sadly die[d] of cancer in September 2012. You might think even Liberal Democrats would think about using his image to put together a graphic which is fundamentally untrue, but you’d be wrong.”
The Bedroom Tax was invented by Conservatives in 1989, according to the Parliamentary record, Hansard. The reference to Freemasonry is of interest, but requires further research.
It’s time to put a final end to the bleatings of SNP supporters, Tories, UKIP and anyone else who insists that Labour had anything to do with the creation of the hated Bedroom Tax. This blog article by Rob Gershon shows clearly that the Conservatives intended to restrict housing benefit according to size criteria at that time.
The applicable line is from a speech by David Trippier (then Conservative Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment) and was made in a speech on the Water Bill on March 21, 1989. He said: “We do not believe that full Exchequer subsidy should generally be available where a claimant is living in unduly large accommodation.”
He also said: “A tenant who has all or most of his rent met by housing benefit does not, obviously, have the same incentive to bargain with his landlord to keep the rent to a reasonable level as would be the case if he were paying it from his own pocket. We do not believe that the Exchequer, which provides up to 97 per cent direct subsidy on housing benefit, should be expected simply to underwrite any rent that the landlord demands. Therefore, it is essential to have an independent check on the rents being paid from the public purse to ensure that those are not significantly above market level—in other words, above the rents being paid by tenants who are not in receipt of benefit.
“Besides considering claimants’ rents, rent officers will also look at the size of their accommodation.”
One very interesting aspect is the following comment: “Local authorities have long had powers to limit benefit in such circumstances.” If this is true, then it seems to have been optional, with authorities either choosing not to use these powers (on grounds that this may cause undue hardship to the tenant?) or being unaware of them. The imposition of the Bedroom Tax legislation, in such circumstances, would be a matter of forcing local authorities to use these powers, against their better judgement.
Note also that he asserts the Exchequer should not be expected to support any rent demanded by landlords. This applies equally to private landlords and we can therefore conclude that any Conservative who attacks Labour for imposing the Local Housing Allowance rules on private tenants is a hypocrite; Tories introduced these concepts – that landlords should not be allowed to ‘rip off’ the state – and should support them. It’s one of those rare instances in which both parties may agree on a policy point (although for differing reasons, perhaps).
The full comment can also be read here, for those who desire further proof.
The article on ‘Welfare Reform’, with a Bedroom Tax flavour places an interesting emphasis on the role of freemasonry in the creation of the Bedroom Tax – but that is a matter for its author, and not an issue for us at this time. It states: “Contemporary Members of Parliament vie to offload responsibility for the bedroom tax, with coalition MPs wrongly suggesting that the previous government brought it in for Private Tenants. Some commentators wrongly believe that the policy was trialled in 2001, though this is also a grand falsehood.” [Bolding mine.]
It continues: “Behind the apron of respectability, the evolution of this policy has come to be manipulated to blame social housing tenants for the rising rents in that sector, and to suggest that the ever-rising rents of recipients of Housing Benefit in the private rented sector are somehow the fault of tenants. It is tenants, ultimately who are paying the financial price for these prejudices, and thirty years of failed housing policy.
“And so, finally, to the notion that the Labour Government piloted the Bedroom Tax in 2001. It doesn’t seem to matter to those that share it, who stem from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, SNP and UKIP parties, that no pilot ever took place, and that no such policy was ever introduced.”
Homeless: The Bedroom Tax has forced the eviction of an ever-growing number of social tenants. How many people have been evicted because of Local Housing Allowance?
It seems every debate on the brutal Tory Bedroom Tax has lately been overshadowed by some ill-informed commentator claiming that the Labour Party cannot oppose the measure because it imposed its own version of the same thing on the private rented sector, years ago.
Such a claim was made on the Vox PoliticalFacebook page yesterday (Thursday) and Yr Obdt Srvt promised to seek out the facts.
Thanks to today’s debate on the Affordable Housing Bill, there was no need to look very far.
As mentioned in the debate, Labour imposed the Local Housing Allowance in order to stop private tenants from abusing the Housing Benefit system by moving into accommodation that was larger than they could afford – remember, private rented accommodation is more expensive than social housing – and forcing the taxpayer to fund the difference.
Labour’s measure was imposed only on people moving into privately rented accommodation after the LHA law was enacted.
So, for example, a single person might choose to take a place with two bedrooms. Before LHA was brought in, they could claim housing benefit on the property and rely on the taxpayer to stump up for the extra space. LHA means they get the money required for what they need – and they have to pay for the extra space. This is fair because moving into the larger property was their choice.
As with ordinary housing benefit, if a tenant’s circumstances change for the better, the amount of benefit payable is reduced. Why should a private tenant expect preferential treatment?
It seems that private landlords, who have been charging more than they should, have been angered by the imposition of the LHA and have chosen to wage a propaganda war against it, claiming that it is the Bedroom Tax by another name. Note that they are not against the Bedroom Tax, because it drives social housing tenants to the private sector.
Compare that with the Bedroom Tax. The Tories have imposed a charge on people who are living in social housing that was allocated to them on the basis of their need and the accommodation that was available; it is not the tenants’ fault if the only available accommodation was larger than they needed (more appropriate dwellings had probably been sold off under a previous Tory government’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme).
The Conservative Bedroom Tax was imposed retrospectively – that is, it affected people who were already sitting tenants rather than those moving into accommodation. It was not intended to combat abuse of the system but was simply a way of robbing social tenants of help that they needed.
And the Bedroom Tax was imposed in the knowledge that the amount of alternative accommodation available to social tenants who needed to downsize in order to avoid the charge was only a fraction of what was needed. These people were trapped by this cruel legislation and driven into debt – in stark contrast to the Labour legislation which only affected people choosing to move into accommodation that was larger than they needed.
There is a huge difference between the Local Housing Allowance and the Bedroom Tax.
Any claims that they are similar must be rooted either in stupidity or in politically-motivated malice.
Bedroom tax victim: Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide after the Bedroom Tax – imposed on her in error – left her without enough money to make ends meet.
The spin doctors at the Department for Work and Pensions are working hard to make a decision to cut funding for discretionary housing payments, by claiming it “builds on the £180 million funding this year”. What a crock.
A cut is a cut. There will be less money available to people in financial trouble as a result of government decisions to cut housing benefit (the Bedroom Tax) or other state benefits (the one per cent uprating, the benefit cap, local housing allowances… pick a benefit and it will probably have been slashed).
The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday), and councils have until Monday (February 3) to bid for top-up funds if they need to provide extra support. How nice of the Conservative ministers at the DWP to put a weekend in the middle of the time councils must use to work out what they need! Hopefully, councils already have the figures ready but, if not, it’s clear that the government wants to make the process as difficult as possible – for councils and for people who need help.
So councils will get £165 million in place of the £180 million they had last year – an amount that, itself, was attacked as far too little by councillors at the time. It was, as the Council of Europe has described the government’s supply of other benefits including pensions, unemployment benefit and incapacity benefit, “manifestly inadequate”.
But let’s get back to the spin. The DWP press release states that local authorities are getting the money “to provide extra help for claimants as they move through the government’s welfare reforms”. This avoids the fact that people would not need “extra help” if the government had not imposed these regressive changes in the first place. And they’re not “reforms”. Reform takes us forward. These are just cuts.
“The reforms [cuts] are a key part of the government’s long-term economic plans [cuts] to deliver a strong economy [based, as we know, on a debt-fuelled housing bubble centred on the southeast of England alone] that delivers for people who want to work hard [for extremely low pay] and play by the rules [that are made up by Coalition ministers as they go along].
Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey said: “Capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system and reform of the spare room subsidy is absolutely necessary to make a better use of our social housing when over 300,000 are living in overcrowded homes in Britain and around 1.7 million are on social housing waiting lists in England alone.”
The phrase “capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system” is inaccurate as the cap is set too low. The government claimed an average family income is £26,000, but in fact it is slightly more than £31,000. The reason the cap was set at the lower figure is that, at the more appropriate amount, hardly anybody would be affected; the system was fair before the Coalition interfered. Also, the UK has social security, not welfare.
The phrase “reform of the spare room subsidy” is redundant, of course. She meant: “Our arbitrary choice to cut housing benefit – illegally, in many thousands of cases“. In fact, let’s edit out “spare room subsidy” from the rest of our analysis and call it what it is.
She continued: “We are ensuring all working age tenants are treated equally – as claimants receiving housing benefit in private sector already receive support for the number of bedrooms they need and not for spare rooms.” Is that so? How many private sector tenants have been hit by their own bedroom tax in the same way? Is there not a difference in income between private renters and those in social housing? Where are the figures to support this claim?
According to the press release, an advertising campaign was launched in the local papers this week, “to ensure claimants affected by the [Bedroom Tax] are fully aware of the support available to them from Discretionary Housing Payments, home swapping services or to get into work”. I just checked my own local papers…. No. Nothing.
The press release ends with a couple of long-demolished assertions. Neither of these are factually accurate:
“The removal of the [Bedroom Tax] means all working age housing benefit claimants in both social and private rental sectors receive support for the number of bedrooms they need – but not spare rooms.” Wrong. It removes support on an entirely arbitrary basis, according to whether an assessor decides a tenant has a spare bedroom – without reference to any definition of the word “bedroom”. Now, a judge in an Upper Tribunal case has determined that a “bedroom” must be one furnished with a bed and/or used for sleep. In addition, the use of the word “all” for affected housing benefit claimants is inaccurate because those who were in their current accommodation and receiving the benefit before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax. Many thousands were billed in error and at least one person is known to have committed suicide because of that mistake. That unnecessary death is one of many for which the Coalition government, and the DWP in particular, is responsible.
The other false assertion – that “the benefit cap means claimants no longer receive more in benefits than average household earnings” – has already been dismissed elsewhere in this article.
Keep your wits about you.
The government will continue pumping out this kind of disinformation in support of its ever-more repressive policies – remember, this announcement states that it is cutting the money available for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – and the right-wing-controlled mass media, including the BBC, will keep on mindlessly repeating it until the general election at least.
That is why sites like Vox Political need to keep reinforcing the facts as they become clear – and why you need to spread those facts, any way you can.
Don’t let them win this battle with lies.
Vox Political opposes the Bedroom Tax. The site needs funds if it is to carry on doing so. That’s why Vox Political needs YOUR help to continue. You can make a one-off donation here:
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Why is the cumulative effect of the government’s raid on benefits and other public services continuing to be ignored by the public at large?
Are people deliberately sticking their heads in the sand, perhaps in the hope that, if they avoid it long enough, it’ll go away?
That’s not going to happen.
Here’s an analysis of what’s happening, compiled by Vox Political for a local Mid Wales organisation. It makes sobering reading.
THE HEADLINE FIGURES
Working-age benefits including Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance and Income Support
One per cent rise in each of the next three years, from April 2013.
Frozen until April 2014. Will rise by one per cent in each of the following two years.
Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay
One per cent rise in each of the next three years.
Carers’ Allowance and Disability Benefits (other than ESA)
Rise in line with inflation (2.2 per cent in April)
Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits
Rise by one per cent for the next three years, from April 2013. Basic and 30-hour elements – uprating will not apply until 2014.
Local Housing Allowance
Capped at a one per cent rise for two years from April 2014
The one per cent cap in those benefits that are affected will take £3.7 million out of the UK economy over the next three years.
THE BENEFIT CAP
A limit will be put on the total amount of benefit that most people aged 16 to 64 can get. This is called a ‘benefit cap’. Local councils will be introducing this between 15 April and 30 September 2013.
This affects: Carer’s Allowance, Child Benefit, Child Tax Credit, Employment and Support Allowance (barring support group), Housing Benefit, Incapacity Benefit, Income Support, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Maternity Allowance, Severe Disablement Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance (also Widowed Mother’s Allowance or Widows Pension if receipt began before April 9, 2001), Bereavement Allowance, Guardian’s Allowance.
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, including 1,680 in Wales. Job Centres have already notified those who will be affected; they do not include “a vast amount” in Powys.
Legal aid in civil cases is cut by £350 million, meaning people who need qualified advice on social welfare debt, benefits, employment, family problems, clinical negligence, divorce and housing problems will not get it. Those people may have to pursue the cases on their own behalf, clogging up the civil justice system, perhaps for years to come.
More than 500,000 people in need of advice will be denied the help and justice they need.
INDEPENDENT LIVING FUND
The Government has closed this to new applications, and plans to permanently close the scheme from 2015. the ILF provides money to help disabled people live an independent life in the community rather than in residential care.
Disabled people could be forced out of independent living arrangements and into residential care, or trapped at home by the fund’s closure.
This will take £320 million out of the national economy.
NEW BENEFIT – THE PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENT
On April 8, 2013, the Personal Independence Payment replaces Disability Living Allowance. PIP will maintain links to passported benefits where possible, and there are special rules for claimants who are terminally ill.
The differences are that claimants must have still have their problem nine months after they apply; and there will be planned interventions and an early reconsideration process.
It is being rolled out gradually and will not affect new claimants in Wales until June. From October, 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.
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.
This ‘Digital By Default’ idea creates problems, especially in rural areas. 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.
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 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, www.dwp.gov.uk/pip
If people are receiving low-rate care component Disability Living Allowance, we believe it is unlikely that they will get Personal Independence Payment.
The www.parliament.uk website itself makes it clear that “A key aim of the new benefit is to deliver savings of over £1 billion a year by 2014-15, rising to £1.5 billion a year by 2016-17.”
HOUSING BENEFIT – THE BEDROOM TAX
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.
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). This is likely to cause friction within these former-family groups.
Couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.
Parents whose children visit but are not part of the household – but households 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. Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week. Are you confused yet?
Families with disabled children; and
Disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (this 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).
The government has withdrawn, under pressure, the application to Foster carers. The original rationale was that foster children were not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes.
It has also withdrawn the application to families of young people serving away from home in the armed forces.
Pensioners will not be affected. The government has clarified that couples in which one member is of pensionable age will both be exempt from the Bedroom Tax. But couples of mixed age claiming for the first time under Universal Credit (after it is introduced – possibly in October this year – will have to wait until both are of pensionable age before being exempted from the charge).
Housing benefit will 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.
Disabled children are not exempt, even though David Cameron wrongly claimed they were.
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. 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.
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 evictions and homelessness will increase. A trial of the benefit changes in Torfaen saw rent arrears rise SEVEN-fold to £140,000 over seven months. This was a trial of Universal Credit, of which Housing Benefit will be a part. From this we can conclude that Universal Credit will create more problems, possibly much worse than what we are facing now.
I am glad to report that the plan to withdraw Housing Benefit from claimants aged under 25 has been withdrawn. But anyone under 35 will be entitled to only the shared accommodation rate of housing benefit.
There will be an impact on family relationships – people will be forced to move into properties together. Young people under 35 who can’t live independently because the shared accommodation route won’t let them do that. People are being forced into ‘pressure-cooker’ situations.
People will have to move their 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.
The government claims the bedroom tax will save £480 million, affecting £660,000 homes who will have to pay at least £700 per year each. But this is only if families refuse to – or are unable to – move to what the government calls suitable accommodation. There is no chance of this happening because the government has not allowed such accommodation to be built; therefore we may see it as a trap, from which to plunder millions from the poor.
THE WIDER IMPLICATIONS
There will be a rise in rent and mortgage arrears.
There will be generally less income – less money available. That’s also for people owning local businesses as benefit income is spent locally and High Street shops will receive less.
There is 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.
An increased demand for advice – for example from the Citizens Advice Bureau – is already happening. The figures will ramp up significantly over the next 12 months and beyond. Funding is decreasing.
There will be a big impact on social landlords and the housing market – the availability of affordable housing and landlords’ ability and willingness to rent to tenants on benefits.
Pressure on the appeal system means people waiting longer for the outcome of appeals.
There will be 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, though – but not by enough. 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.
And the cumulative impact on child poverty will be huge, with an extra 200,000 children falling below the poverty line.
Some of us were praying for the opposite, and it turns out that our God is quicker than his.
I know the new report released today (Monday) by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, showing that more working people are living in poverty, will be just another document that the UK government will blithely ignore.
But some of its findings bite deeply into Department for Work and Pensions policy, and the claims of the man who runs that department.
For starters, in 2012, 18 per cent of working-age households were workless, but in only two per cent of households had nobody ever worked. More than half of adults in ‘never-worked’ households were under 25.
Therefore, when Iain Duncan Smith told Owen Jones on Question Time last week, “I didn’t hear you screaming about two and a half million people who were parked, nobody saw them, for over 10 years, not working, no hope, no aspiration,” he was spouting false information. Two per cent of the population is not two and a half million people, and under-25s cannot have been unemployed for more than 10 years.
The report, Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2012, makes it clear that the proportion of ‘never-worked’ households has increased recently – most particularly since the current government came into power? – and is most likely a manifestation of high and rising young adult unemployment rather than a fixed number of people “parked” on the dole.
We all know that a million young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in the first half of 2012.
There is a weakness in how the Government has assessed the impact of welfare changes, by looking at them individually rather than as a whole, the report states. The Department for Work and Pensions’ impact assessments show that some benefit changes will produce large cuts for tens of thousands (such as the total benefit cap for workless households), and some will produce small cuts for hundreds of thousands (for example lowering the amount of local housing allowance claimable). But some households, mostly already in low income, will be hit more than once through cuts to both housing-related and non-housing, income-related benefits.
One reform is to replace Disability Living Allowance (designed to meet the actual costs of living with a disability) with the Personal Independence Payment, cutting the caseload by 20 per cent. But disabled people are more likely to be workless, so may have other benefits cut as well.
Government ministers have spent months telling us that their benefit reforms mean work will always pay; but the report makes one thing perfectly clear: It doesn’t. More than half of children and working-age adults in poverty live in a working household.
So what are they achieving by depressing benefit payments, other than condemning those who rely on state payments, who have paid into state systems throughout their working lives, and who have reason to expect those systems to support them during hardship, to destitution, health risks and possibly death (for reasons explored in other articles on this blog)?
Not a lot.
“The ‘low-pay, no-pay’ jobs market keeps millions in poverty and holds the economy back,” states the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report. “Work should always be a route out of poverty but it is not. Changing the benefits system will not solve problems such as in-work poverty, increasing underemployment and rising health inequalities.”
It states that 6.1 million working households are in poverty, so in-work poverty now exceeds workless poverty, which stands at 5.1 million households. That’s 11.2 million households – family groups – earning below 60 per cent of average income. Could that mean maybe a third of the total population is in poverty, due to current government policies?
The proportion of working age adults without children in poverty has risen steadily, from seven per cent in 1981 to 20 per cent in 2010/11. The number of working-age adults in low-income, in-work households has also increased. As pensioner poverty is now at low levels, the rate of in-work poverty is the most distinctive characteristic of poverty today.
Of those in work, 6.4 million lack the work they want. There are 1.4 million part-time workers who actually want full-time work. This is the highest figure in 20 years. You won’t hear a government representative talking about this when they trumpet their latest employment figures, and it’s always up to the news organisations to sift out how many jobs are part-time.
Only 18 per cent of people are said to be in low income at any one time – but an entire third of the population experience at least one period of low income within any four-year period; 11 per cent are in low income for more than half of that time.
Poverty is no longer concentrated in the social rented sector – people who bought their houses, thinking their wages would be able to support this, have been proved wrong as salaries have tumbled.
The number of underemployed people in the first half of 2012 was 6.4 million, comprising unemployed people (2.6 million); economically inactive people who want work (2.4 million); and people working part-time because they cannot find full-time work (1.4 million). Underemployment increased since 2009 due to a rise of 500,000 in the number of people working part-time but wanting full-time work.
Most jobs are short-term now; around 42 per cent of Jobseekers’ Allowance claims from the first quarter of 2012 were made within six months of a previous claim.
Unemployment has remained static in the last three years – despite government claims – because employees have been willing to take fewer hours. This means they have accepted less work, and therefore less pay, in order to keep their jobs. How does the government reconcile that with its claim that it is making work pay?
Real people, experiencing these real deprivations, have a different view. As Jane Walters commented on a different article in this blog: “Employers … are making huge profits out of paying people less wages than they need to live on.”
Oh, and even though the disabled are more likely to be out of work than able-bodied people, more disabled people were in work than in the past. Considering the way the government has painted the disabled as workshy scroungers since it came into office, I believe the appropriate expression is “That’s really p*ssed on Iain Duncan Smith’s chips”.
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