Daisy-May Hudson: ‘I hope Half Way can connect councils to the human faces behind the statistics they deal with every day.’ [Image: felix clay for the Guardian].
Can anyone – who isn’t a member of the offending groups named by Daisy-May Hudson in her article – disagree with her?
Why do we name these so-called crises in such vague terms when we could pin the blame directly on those responsible?
The threat to the sick and disabled could be the Freud-Duncan Smith Crisis, for example, after its principle architects.
Lord Freud and Iain Duncan Smith could also be named regarding housing, due to their creation of the Bedroom Tax – but they should not be alone.
Does anybody want to devise an accurate title, laying credit – or rather blame – where it is due?
Having been homeless, I hate the term housing crisis.
Like the refugee crisis and the financial crisis, such a term seems to absolve responsibility from those who created the problem.
It suddenly becomes abstracted from the people who caused it and refers only to the effect.
There are thousands of people and corporations making huge amounts of money from the housing crisis exactly the way it is – yet we’re constantly hearing, “We’re in a housing crisis.”
So don’t you think it’s time we renamed all these crises we’re in?
Who’s responsible for the refugee crisis? We’ll name it after them.
Who’s responsible for the financial crisis? Let’s name it after them.
Who’s responsible for the housing crisis?
I want a term that will start to hold bad policy, politicians, bankers, estate agents, rogue landlords, local governments and developers accountable for the crisis they have created.
So farewell then, Lord Fraud Freud. You threw thousands – millions? – of people into the threat of debt and destitution by inflicting the bogus Work Capability Assessment on the sick and disabled, and the Bedroom Tax on people who’d had no influence on the accommodation allocated to them by a social housing provider.
He based these policies on nonsense and defended them with nonsense.
And now he is retiring to his eight-bedroom mansion, having inflicted financial misery on the masses for having an extra bedroom.
He will not be missed, but he should be remembered.
A key architect of the Tories’ welfare cuts is retiring after more than six years in the job.
Lord Freud is the only minister who has stayed at the Department for Work and Pensions since David Cameron reached Downing Street.
The privately-educated great grandson of Sigmund Freud, a City investment banker for 20 years, advised Labour on welfare reform before joining the Tories as a peer in 2009.
During his time he defended hated policies including the bedroom tax and £30-a-week cuts to disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Asked if he could relate to people on benefits, he once said: “You don’t have to be the corpse to go to a funeral.”
It wouldn’t be a Sunday without a bonkers story from the Mail, would it?
This week, that pillar of the rabid-right press has got the knives out for Ed Miliband – because he put on a t-shirt without knowing its full history.
The shirt, emblazoned with the words, “This is what a feminist looks like,” was given to him by the women’s-interest magazine Elle, in association with equal rights charity the Fawcett Society, in the hope that he would agree to be photographed wearing it for a forthcoming special issue of the magazine on feminism.
But Mail on Sunday reporters weren’t satisfied with such assurances! Stung by the criticism attached to their idol David Cameron, after he refused to wear it (on the basis that he didn’t have the time, if the BBC’s News Quiz is any kind of reliable source of information), they travelled to Mauritius, where the shirt was made.
There, they learned that “Migrant women in Mauritius are making the £45 tops for 62p an hour” and that, when they weren’t working, they “sleep 16 to a room and earn less than average wage on island”.
Two thoughts occur: Firstly, the Mail on Sunday is wrong to direct its anger at Mr Miliband (and at Labour’s Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, who wore the shirt in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions, to highlight the lack of women in Cameron’s cabinet).
Everybody who put on that shirt and allowed themselves to be photographed wearing it did so in good faith. They did it for the Fawcett Society – a charity that supports ethical employment and equality – and for Elle, to support its edition on gender equality.
How many times have you ever asked if anybody was exploited in the making of a clothing item before buying it?
If anyone has been caught in the wrong, it is whoever the Fawcett Society contracted to manufacture the shirt. If the Mail allegations are accurate, then the organisation was misled, the t-shirts will have to be withdrawn from sale and the charity will (now) have to apologise to anyone whose name has been besmirched by association with it.
Secondly, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the Mail to be criticising the treatment of migrant workers who have been paid less than the average wage and forced to live in overcrowded conditions.
The Mail‘s attacks on people who immigrate into the UK are now the stuff of legend; it supported Lord Freud after he commented that some disabled people could be made to work for less than the minimum wage; and it is a strong supporter of the Bedroom Tax and other changes to housing-related social security benefits which can lead to eviction for families who cannot make ends meet in David Cameron’s low-wage, no-benefit Britain. When people become homeless, their local council has to pay for them to be housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, often sharing with many other people, often in entirely inappropriate conditions.
In writing the article, the Mail set out to expose Ed Miliband as a hypocrite.
In fact, all it has done is expose its own double-standards.
The tweet seems to have been deleted by a DWP Press Office that should be deeply embarrassed (but probably isn’t). The tweeter quoted above is a person who is known to this blog and who may be trusted. It did appear; the DWP did send it.
It seems clear that the intention was, as Tentacle Sixteen sarcastically denies, to put this out from a fake account, complete with fake spelling mistake, to coincide with the barrage of pro-Universal Credit propaganda currently streaming from the @dwppressoffice Twitter account like a sewage leak.
Yet again, your government is lying to you.
It cannot go unnoticed that this has come to attention as the House of Commons debates the future of Lord Freud, who foolishly said that disabled people could be made to work for less than the minimum wage. As these words are being typed, employment minister Esther McVey is speaking – a woman whose own constituents have launched a campaign to remove her from government office.
This disgraceful Coalition government’s shameless and relentless attempts to brainwash us into believing its lies, while it continues its programme of harm against the unemployed, the long-term sick and the disabled, shames us all as a nation. It is a matter of huge regret that the United Nations has agreed to postpone an investigation into the behaviour of this government until after the 2015 general election.
It seems some of your favourite bloggers – including Yr Obdt Srvt – have been hoodwinked by a hoax claim that assessment criteria for the new Personal Independence Payment have been made much more severe than has been the case until now.
If you were distressed by this article, please be reassured that – from what has been said over the last few hours – it is not accurate.
Vox Political only published the claims because they came here via a colleague of good character who in turn received it from a trustworthy source. There were telltale signs that it was a wrong ‘un – for example the fact that the story is based on unsubstantiated information allegedly provided by an anonymous Atos employee to an equally anonymous source – but here at VP it was felt that the possibility of another DWP betrayal merited a mention.
Much of the hoax article focused on the descriptors used to define the effects of their disabilities on a claimant. These are defined by regulations that can only be changed by Parliament (although not by an Act of Parliament, if I understand correctly) and that should have been evidence enough that the claims were false.
But we know that Iain Duncan Smith, Lord Freud and the other vipers infesting the Department for Work and Pensions like to change the conditions in which people receive benefit – especially if it helps them reach their savings targets. This goes for the rest of the Conservative-led government too; they hide information from us.
Look at the ‘negative resolution’ the government introduced last year, to open England’s health service to widespread competition. This happened after the Conservatives (Andrew Lansley in particular) promised on their honour that they would do no such thing. Their plan was that the new rules would not be discussed, and there would be no vote; instead they would automatically become law. How could any of us know whether the government was planning more of the same?
Let us decide, for the moment, that this was a hoax. Some commentators have suggested that it has been planted by fifth columnists working for the government but claiming to be acting for the people, in order to bring other, more substantial criticisms of DWP policies into disrepute. This seems unlikely.
Instead, it shows us that the policies put forward over the last four years by Mr Duncan Smith and his colleagues, together with the way they have been implemented, have shown ineptitude, underhandedness and treachery of such magnitude that people now believe they are capable of anything at all – even the bizarre and contradictory changes that were publicised yesterday.
This is the government department that changed the assessment rules for Employment and Support Allowance to such a degree that the death rate for people claiming the benefit rocketed. Iain Duncan Smith’s solution: Stop publishing mortality statistics for people claiming incapacity benefits.
This is the government department that, faced with a court ruling that its rules for mandatory work activity were illegal, simply changed the law in order to legalise them. This act alone made the Coalition government a criminal regime.
This is the government department whose behaviour shows only one area of consistency – continually making false or misleading claims about its work. Take a look at DPAC’s excellent Report on DWP Abuse of Statistics from June last year for no less than 35 examples of this.
When you are discussing liars it is easy to believe lies about them.
This is why it will be hard to believe any attempt by the DWP to discredit its critics on the basis of this single hoax.
If Iain Duncan Smith wants us to believe him, why doesn’t he give us those ESA death stats we’ve wanted for so long?
Energising: Keith Lindsay-Cameron prepares to take his case to the police.
An activist from Somerset is raising his own ‘Shoestring Army’ to crowdsource funds and mount a legal challenge against the government’s new Claimant Commitment for jobseekers, after police said they were unable to arrest Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud for breaching the Human Rights Act.
Keith Lindsay-Cameron, of Peasedown St John, near Bath, was advised to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a legal challenge in the courts after he made his complaint at Bath police station on Friday (May 2).
He said the conditionality regime that is part of the new Claimant Commitment will re-cast the relationship between the citizen and the State – from one centred on ‘entitlement’ to one centred on a contractual concept in which the government provides a range of support only if a claimant meets an explicit set of responsibilities, with a sanctions regime to enforce compliance.
According to Mr Lindsay-Cameron, this amounts to the reintroduction of slavery. Forced compliance – through the sanctions regime – means people will be denied the means of survival if they fail to meet the conditions imposed on them. Deprivation of the means of survival, he claims, also breaches the act’s guarantee that everybody has the right to life and should not be deprived of it.
“The civilian desk receptionist asked my business and I gave her a verbal breakdown – that I had come to accuse Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud of crimes under the Human Rights Act 1998,” said Mr Lindsay-Cameron, who is better-known to thousands of readers as the author of the A Letter A Day To Number 10 internet blog.
“The Claimant Commitment contract means the loss of access to any benefits if one refused to sign, and benefit sanctions if one was considered to be in breach of the signed contract. Either way, this amounts to forced labour and therefore slavery.
“I was asked for more details and explained that a sanction – loss of benefits – meant the loss of the means of survival. I said we had not come to ridicule the police or to challenge them, but that they existed as our – ordinary folks’ – doorway to justice and that what I was doing there was asking for their help and that I was personally in the system and that we all needed help.”
But a police inspector told the activist, and the small group who attended to show their support, that officers at his station could not deal with the matter.
“I explained the situation and what the coercion of sanctions meant and that this did not constitute anything normal as a civic obligation under the human rights act – and I pointed out that if he made a mistake, he would not face a loss of a month’s income, nor three months’ for a second error or three years’ loss of income for a third infraction,” said the campaigner.
“He explained to me that, under the law, Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud were upholding the laws that they had made and that – whatever I felt about that – they had no case to answer and that his job as a police officer was to enforce the law.
“He said that I would need to obtain the services of a solicitor and raise a challenge in the courts for a judge to decide whether the actions of Duncan Smith and Freud were a breach of human rights.”
He said this process was already under way. The group has bought the internet domain name theshoestringarmy.com and will now start the process of a challenge.
Mr Lindsay-Cameron added that his visit to Bath Police Station was delayed when he stopped to meet a group of homeless people in the churchyard next door, while police were trying to move them on.
“It gave us a bizarre sense of what we were about to embark on,” he said.
“Where do people go, having nothing and welcome nowhere, in the land of the growing dispossessed?”
The gist is that the new ‘Claimant Commitment’ a contract “demanding more from jobseekers” is now in place across the whole of the UK, with 635,000 JSA claimants having been forced to sign these agreements.
But let’s go through it in detail, with each paragraph clarified by Vox Political‘s special ‘BS’ translation service.
“The Claimant Commitment has now been successfully rolled out across the country, the latest figures show. It means all new jobseekers and those completing the Work Programme must agree and sign the commitment in order to receive benefits.” Translation: It doesn’t matter that you’ve paid taxes all your working life – you do what we say or we bankrupt you.
“The new agreement sees jobseekers agree the steps they will take each week to give them the best chance of getting into work.” Translation: Agreement has nothing to do with it – we’ll make them jump through hoops in a poodle costume if we want but it won’t help them get a job.
“This could include registering and looking for work through Universal Jobmatch or a recruitment agency.” Not only do we do nothing to help them get a job, we also help identity thieves steal their details and put vulnerable youngsters in the clutches of the sex industry.
“It builds on help already in place.” Obviously we’re having a laugh with this line.
“Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: ‘With Universal Credit we are creating a modern and sustainable welfare system that is fit for the 21st century – one that supports people when they need it and helps them become independent.” This has nothing to do with the Claimant Commitment but I’ve been told to ‘big up’ Universal Calamity whenever I can, to hide the fact that it’s such an albatross.
“‘The Claimant Commitment redefines the relationship between jobseekers and the state.” To one between slave and master.
“‘Claimants receive greater support to get into work from their work coach-‘ All our work coaches have been given extra training in how to use a whip ‘-and we expect them to do all they can to find a job as quickly as possible as part of the deal for receiving their benefit.’ We know there aren’t any jobs but this simply means we can cut off their cash more quickly when they fail.
“‘Staff have told me it has strengthened their ability to support people into work at the earliest opportunity.’ Those who haven’t gone on long-term sick leave with depressive conditions have developed a kind of dead-eyed look and keep repeating, ‘I’m just following orders’.
“Following an in-depth conversation, work coaches and jobseekers agree regular specific tasks, work preparation and training opportunities that will give them the best chance of finding work quickly.” Tasks… preparation… opportunities! Oh, our sides are splitting! “The penalties claimants could face for failing to meet their responsibilities to get into work are clearly spelt out.” And horrifying.
[The following paragraph is edited as it purports to feature an actual jobseeker] “‘Dizzy’ Guise [not his real name], signed a Claimant Commitment after he was made redundant.” We know our official wording has it that their jobs are redundant, not the people, but it gives us a tremendous sense of superiority over these proles to say that they are redundant instead. “He said it helped him focus on his job search and he’s now working as a business apprentice in Barking.” You’d have to be barking to believe that!
“He said: ‘When I first met my adviser I was probably like every person coming to the Jobcentre, a bit unenthusiastic.'” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“‘But I don’t think people know how much the Jobcentre advisers do for them.'” To them.
“‘I thought the Claimant Commitment was demanding, but fair. It motivated me.'” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“‘Without that commitment you probably don’t do so many job searches.’” We want people to think that everyone claiming JSA is a sponger and doesn’t want to look for work.
“The new commitment is an important part of the cultural transformation that Universal Credit will bring-” from a free society in which every citizen is equal to one where we can treat you like the scum we think you are“-and will place a strong focus on the responsibilities that claimants must fulfil” … while we accept no responsibility at all for whatever happens.
That seems much clearer now.
Would any jobseekers, who have had to sign this Claimant Commitment, care to tell us what it’s really like?
Ian Lavery launched his ambitious Bill to abolish the Bedroom Tax yesterday. [Image: Daily Mirror]
Make no mistake about it – the purpose of the legislation tabled yesterday (Wednesday) by Labour’s Ian Lavery is to discover how many Liberal Democrat MPs are redeemable and how many have been irreversibly corrupted by their current alliance with the Conservatives.
The Bill to abolish the hated Bedroom Tax is unlikely to gain Royal Assent unless Liberal Democrats who supported the imposition of the Bedroom Tax reverse their point of view. There is even the possibility that some Conservatives may now realise that they, as Mr Lavery put it, “underestimated the real consequences of walking through the Government Lobby to support the introduction”. He also said: “It is an olive branch… I would hope that my Bill would receive support from members in all parties.”
MPs voted almost unanimously for the Bill to be brought in, with 226 votes in favour and only one against – but readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that this happened with Michael Meacher’s motion for a commission of inquiry into the impact of social security changes on poverty. The House approved; the government did nothing.
So don’t get your hopes up too high.
Mr Lavery was the only person to speak on the subject, and his words are well worth noting here.
“The full and sole intention of this Bill is to sweep away the dreaded bedroom tax,” he said.
“It seeks to restore justice for up to 660,000 people — some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, two-thirds of whom are disabled. They have been inhumanely let down by the Government’s reforms to housing benefit in the social sector. The tax has caused heartache and devastation to thousands of residents up and down this country. It is a tax whose forced implementation has put extreme pressure on councils, housing associations and social landlords. It is a tax that has put extreme pressure on the ordinary working people who are forced to deal with those unable to move and those unable to pay.
“On the introduction of the tax, Ministers argued that the changes would encourage people to downsize to smaller properties and, in doing so, help to cut the £23 billion annual bill for housing benefit; would free up living space for overcrowded families; and would encourage people to get jobs. Significantly, it has achieved none of those objectives.
“At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions has trumpeted the measure as ‘returning fairness to housing benefit’. The words ‘fairness’ and ‘bedroom tax’ should not be uttered in the same sentence.”
He said: “This tax is a problem in each and every constituency up and down the country; this is not simply a problem in Labour-dominated authorities. I was contacted only last week by a distraught resident from the Tory shires who is hoping that my Bill will be successful, because he, a disabled man, is living in a three-bedroom property and has just received an eviction notice for bedroom tax arrears. He is not alone. The bedroom tax sufferers in Liberal Democrat and Tory constituencies number around 250,000. Perhaps we should ask them whether they think this abominable tax has restored fairness to housing benefit.”
Mr Lavery said his Bill seeks “to restore fairness and to end the misery that the bedroom tax has caused”. He said there are hundreds, if not thousands, of “appalling” examples of suffering, mentioning (but not naming) mother-of-two Stephanie Bottrill, a woman suffering a crippling illness who committed suicide after realising that she could not pay the bedroom tax. Her family received correspondence later saying that she should have been exempt from the charge.
He also mentioned a case he said was “hard to comprehend; it really is difficult to try to get to grips with”. He said: “The family of the 1999 child of courage, who spent years battling multiple cancers, is suffering at the hands of this horrible reform. These people are not living a life of luxury in palatial properties; they are living in a place in which they feel safe and which they call home. It is time to listen. I am sure that most fair-minded individuals would agree that a bedroom is not spare when carers sleep in it, when couples use it because one of them has health problems and they cannot share a bed, or when it houses vital medical equipment, yet this indiscriminate tax deems it so.
“The reality is that yet another measure introduced by this Government is in total and utter chaos. It lies in tatters, with the victims left to pick up the pieces. As thousands suffer, there is a real risk that the bedroom tax will end up costing more than it saves. The National Housing Federation has said that the savings claimed by the Government are ‘highly questionable’, partly because those who are forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in housing benefit.
“Surely, as politicians and members of the general public, we are entitled to question the motives behind the introduction of the bedroom tax. The tax does not deal with the problem of under-occupation. In fact, the Government’s costings on the yield raised from the bedroom tax explicitly assume that people will not move into smaller properties. There are simply not enough smaller properties for people to move into.
“Some 180,000 households were deemed to be under-occupying two-bedroom homes, yet only 85,000 one-bedroom homes became available during the whole of 2012. The savings projections of the Department for Work and Pensions assume that not one of the 660,000 households affected would respond to the policy by moving to a smaller home. Put simply, this is yet another example of the Government balancing the books on the backs of the disabled and the vulnerable. The tax must be scrapped now.
“Housing associations say that tens of millions of pounds are likely to be lost through the build-up of arrears. Reports this morning estimate that 144,000 people have fallen behind with their rents since the introduction of the bedroom tax and that 14 per cent have received eviction notices [20,160].
“Was that really meant to happen? Was this eviction of the poor really the plan of the Government?
“In October, research by the University of York, which was based on data by the housing associations that have tenants affected by the bedroom tax, suggested that the policy could save up to 39 per cent less than the DWP had predicted. In the past week, it has emerged that more than half of the £500 million that the Government claim will be saved by the hated tax will be spent on re-housing disabled people. These are vulnerable people who already live in properties that have been adapted for their needs and who have built up local support networks with their friends, family and neighbours. The future for them lies in communities that are unknown and foreign to them. They have been cast out like the proverbial dog in the night.”
Interrupted when he mentioned the loophole that exempted Stephanie Bottrill from paying the bedroom tax – another member said that the loophole had been closed – Mr Lavery continued: “As Ministers scramble to mop up the mistakes, another challenge to the hated tax has arisen. A judge has overturned the tax in the case of a Rochdale man who argued that one of his bedrooms was used as a dining room. The appeal was upheld on the basis that the dictionary definition of a bedroom is a room that contains a bed that is used for sleeping in. An avalanche of appeals is on its way.
“I am proud to see that, only last week, the Scottish Labour party shamed the Scottish National party into abolishing the bedroom tax. I must put it on the record that I am also proud that one of the first acts of a future Labour Government will be to end this full frontal attack on the vulnerable. However, we cannot afford to wait until the general election of 2015. I urge the supporters of this tax to think again.
“The question is this: Are they happy to see the misery and social disruption of the vulnerable and disabled? I began this speech by expressing the view that those who voted in favour of introducing this dreaded bedroom tax may have underestimated the human suffering that it would cause. That is no longer in any doubt, so I urge them all to do the honourable thing and support my Bill.”
That really is the question for members of the public to consider, along with MPs. If your MP votes against Mr Lavery’s Bill, then you will know that they are, indeed, happy to inflict misery and disruption on the vulnerable and disabled.
Do you want to live in a country where people like that are allowed to rule?
Make no mistake: This legislation is unlikely to succeed without support from people who previously helped bring the Bedroom Tax into law. As such, it might not work.
But this is also legislation that should help you decide how you will vote in May next year.
We can hope that our MPs – and you yourself, dear reader – choose wisely.
The Bill will have its second reading on February 28.
Labour’s Chris Bryant took the opportunity afforded by Mr Lavery’s motion to bring a point of order – that Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord Freud had been using false statistics. He said: “Earlier this year, when asked how many people had been affected by the loophole in the bedroom tax legislation, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions… said that the number was between 3,000 and 5,000. In a written answer, the Minister of State… (Esther McVey)… said that she did not know how many had been affected. Lord Freud, a Minister in another place, said that it was an insignificant number. Today, however, he told the Work and Pensions Committee of this House that the number was 5,000.
“We have been doing their work for them, and from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, we already know, from just the third that replied, of 16,000 cases.”
Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Work and Pensions committee to whom Lord Freud provided the false figure, said committee members will be pursuing the matter.
By now, we should all know how these Opposition Day debates go – but Wednesday’s discussion of food banks was one of the best examples I’ve heard.
The form goes like this: The relevant Labour shadow minister launches the debate, quoting the facts that support the argument (in this case, that the rise of food banks is a national disgrace and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government’s policies have caused it), the government denies the charge – always with the same feeble excuses, backbenchers queue up to tell their own damning stories of what has happened to their constituents… and then the government wins the vote because its members have been whipped to vote against the motion, rather than because they believe it is wrong.
The food bank debate was textbook. Not only did it carry all these features, but:
The Secretary of State responsible, Iain Duncan Smith, declined to speak at all, but turned tail and ran after listening to only a small number of speakers.
Minister of State Esther McVey, who spoke in his place, delivered what Labour veteran Gerald Kaufman described as “one of the nastiest frontbench speeches I’ve heard in more than 43 years”.
As one story of government-created hardship followed another, Conservative MPs laughed. Clearly they are enjoying the suffering they are causing across the UK.
Each of these is a damning indictment of the depths to which the Coalition has driven British politics. But the debate is only half of this matter. Now it is our duty to publicise what happened. Many people may not know about this, or may not understand its significance.
They need to understand that food bank use has risen exponentially under David Cameron’s Conservative-led government, from 41,000 people in 2010 to half a million by April this year, one-third of whom were children. People are resorting to them because the cost of living is rising while wages have stagnated and social security benefit payments have been delayed or slashed. The government promised to publish a study on food banks in the summer of this year, but has delayed publication with no stated reason. The government department responsible – DEFRA – did not even put up a minister to speak in the debate.
Probably the most damning indictment was the vote. The Coalition government defeated a motion to bring forward measures that would reduce dependency on food banks. The obvious conclusion is that this government is happy to be pushing ordinary working and jobless people into crushing poverty – and intends to continue putting more and more people in the same situation for just as long as it possibly can.
We heard that:
People in Slough are fighting each other over discount fruit and vegetables in the local Tesco.
Food banks are visited by skilled workers who are unable to get jobs because of Coalition government policies.
Serious failures including administrative error in the benefit system mean one-fifth of the people visiting food banks are there because the Department for Work and Pensions has been unable to do its job properly.
The Bedroom Tax has hugely increased the number of people using food banks.
“The working poor are emerging as the Prime Minister’s legacy, as millions of people live in quiet crisis.” (Labour’s Jamie Reed).
In response, the Tories trotted out the old, old arguments, trying yet again to sell us the long-disproved claim that Labour forced the country into poverty by mismanaging the national finances. We heard, again, the turncoat Lord Freud’s claim that people were visiting food banks because the items there were free (ignoring the fact that everyone who visits a food bank is referred by a qualified organisation, and verified as being in crisis). We heard, again, the suggestion from our ignorant Education Secretary Michael Gove, that people are turning to food banks because they cannot manage their own finances (good management makes no difference if costs outweigh income; but then he clearly hasn’t been educated well enough to understand that).
Esther McVey’s speech showed clearly why she should have remained on breakfast television, where comparatively few people had to put up with her. She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Then, on top of all that, she had the nerve to tell the country, “Rewriting history doesn’t work.” If that is the case, then hers was one of the most pointless speeches in the history of Parliament.
Labour’s Jamie Reed had the best comment on the debate. He said: “The final verdict on any Government is based on how they treat the poorest in society during the hardest of times,” after pointing out that “the laughter from some of those on the Government benches … says more than words ever could.”
On a personal note, my own MP, Roger Williams, spoke about the food bank situation in Brecon and Radnorshire. It is gratifying that he is proud of the food bank set up by New Life Church, here in Llandrindod Wells – I well remember the telephone conversation I had with the organisers, in which I encouraged them to set it up. I am glad they took up the baton – and that he has appreciated their work.
Rather more worrying is the suggestion that he considers a possible new food bank in Brecon to be only the second in our constituency. There are food banks in many other towns, including Knighton, Ystradgynlais and Hay-on-Wye – with satellite facilities in smaller towns and villages. It is disturbing that the MP does not seem to know this.
Doesn’t he look like a puppet? In fact the correct term is ‘marionette’ – for a puppet on strings, worked from above. But who’s pulling Nick Clegg’s strings this time?
The Government is running an independent study into the impact of the Bedroom Tax, in order to find out if it is really possible for social housing tenants to move into smaller accommodation to escape its effects. The result should more likely be feared than welcomed.
Nick Clegg announced that the study was taking place in response to a Parliamentary question from Harriet Harman – but was immediately undermined by the Department for Work and Pensions. A government spokesman said the DWP routinely commissions research on new policies and an independent consortium was already carrying out evaluation work.
Clegg had to say he was taking action after his own party voted to change its policy on the Tax – the Liberal Democrats now oppose it – but this is not cause for celebration.
Who will carry out this independent study? We are told it is an “independent consortium” but what does that mean? What will be their terms of reference? What questions will they be asking and will they be the questions that need to be asked?
Observers should be raising serious doubts about all of these because this is not a government with a good track record on evidence-led policy.
We all know what this is about – the government’s hugely flawed scheme to claw back Housing Benefit cash from social housing tenants, taking 14 per cent of payments from those with one spare bedroom, and a quarter of the benefit from anyone with two. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme for local councils was boosted to £60 million in anticipation of extra demand from struggling tenants.
It is true that evidence about the policy is conflicting. Lord Freud, introducing it in the House of Lords, apparently refused to listen to arguments that there were too few single-bedroom properties into which under-occupiers could downsize. Now he is blaming local authorities for the shortage.
The government said the policy would save £480 million, but the increased cost of DHPs must be subtracted from that, and also the costs of people who do manage to downsize. This could range from just four per cent of the 660,000 affected households to 20 per cent, depending on who you believe – a recent study by the University of York suggested that 20 per cent of households intended to move (which isn’t quite the same as actually doing it), but this was based on evidence from just four housing associations.
It seems unlikely that one-fifth of everyone affected nationally is moving to a different property – but even if they were, this would not create a saving for the government because it would have to pay out, not only increased Housing Benefit for those who have moved into smaller but more expensive private rented housing, but also Housing Benefit for people moving into the now-vacant larger social housing.
And then there are the people who cannot downsize but cannot afford the rent if their Housing Benefit is reduced. Recent reports had 50,000 households facing eviction – around one-thirteenth of the total number affected.
If they become homeless, local councils will have to find temporary accommodation for them – and this is paradoxically much more expensive than putting them in social housing, because they have to go into bed-and-breakfast rooms. Homelessness was already on the increase before the Bedroom Tax was introduced, rising from 44,160 households in 2011-12 to 53,540 in 2012-13.
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