Local councils have a duty to provide help for people with no income due to delays in Universal Credit payments – but they aren’t telling anyone.
A Vox Political reader has written in as follows:
“With Christmas on our doorstep, the Universal Credit roll-out is going ahead as planned with people being changed over at the beginning of December, which could leave families with little to no money for up to 12 weeks.
“Please ensure that anyone you know who is struggling understands that THERE IS HELP.
“If your money is stopped/late/delayed you can go to the council and fill in a Nil Income form.
“That will reinstate rent and council tax [they mean housing benefit and council tax reduction] and give access to further help like meter credits, food bank vouchers and emergency cash payments.
“This info is not readily available sadly and it should be. The authorities will only deal with it if you ask specifically which is a disgrace.
“So if your benefits have been sanctioned or if you suffer cash flow problems from UC, then remember help is still available.
“Also … never vote Tory again.“
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Harriet Harman seems to have caused confusion by mixing Labour’s lack of opposition for the Welfare Reform and Work Bill with the party leadership’s reaction to the proposed cut in tax credits.
A Labour MP named Helen Hayes contacted This Writer on Twitter after the disastrous vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill, asking me to read a blog article explaining her reasons for abstaining after our party’s “reasoned amendment” failed.
According to this piece, it seems she found reason to support certain parts of the Bill, namely the provision of three million new apprenticeships, support for troubled families and reduced rents for council tenants.
She opposed the abolition of child poverty targets, the reduction of Employment and Support Allowance, and the shrinking of the benefit cap in London.
She voted for the Labour leadership’s “reasoned amendment”, in which changes to the Bill were proposed alongside reasons for it. When this failed, she said she abstained because she wanted the elements she supported to be enacted.
She went on to point out that the Bill will not become law until it has been discussed, line by line, in the Committee Stage, sent to the House of Lords for detailed consideration there, and returned to the Commons for its Third Reading.
Finally, she pointed out that the Bill does not include the proposed cuts to tax credits, which are to be implemented in the autumn via a Statutory Instrument which Labour vehemently opposes.
It is impossible for This Writer to agree with Ms Hayes.
Yes – new appenticeships, support for troubled families and reduced council rents are potentially good moves. But the other elements of the Bill are disastrous for the people the affect.
If the Labour leadership had wanted to adopt a principled position, it would have required them to say that the offer is tempting, but the price is too high – and to reject the Bill, as it is, in its entirety.
Ms Hayes suggests, “It would be much harder to hold the government to account for delivering high quality apprenticeships and an effective troubled families programme, if I had voted against the principle of these proposals”.
Yes indeed – but it will now be much harder to stop the government from abolishing child poverty targets, cutting ESA and reducing the benefit cap – across the who of the UK – now that most of the Labour Party allowed those thing to continue along the legislative process unopposed.
Furthermore, This Writer would have been more impressed by Ms Hayes’ article if I had not read almost exactly the same sentiments in words by fellow Labour MPs Andrew Gwynne and Peter Kyle.*
Both of these gentlemen mentioned the elements that Labour supported and rejected, the stages through which the Bill had to progress, Labour’s “reasoned amendment” and further amendments to be made later, and the fact that tax credits are not part of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.
The elements were arranged in different ways, and each article was clearly written by each individual MP, but it seems clear that they were all working from the same starting point.
Oh look – Karin Smyth, the new Labour MP for Bristol South (This Writer’s original home constituency) has written a piece that is, again, startlingly similar.
Is it paranoia or healthy scepticism that prompts This Writer to suggest that someone in the current Labour leadership has issued a bullet-point list or factsheet to all abstaining MPs, showing them how to defend their indefensible position and claim that they came to this decision by themselves? You decide.
Or perhaps the author of such a document would like to step forward and admit the attempted deception?
*Apologies to the kittysjones blog for using it to highlight this; the articles by these two were the very first blog pieces I read after Helen Hayes’ article, and the similarities were too pronounced to ignore.
Isn’t it annoying that, this close to the election, there are still people commenting to this blog that there is no difference between the Conservative Party and the Labour Party?
In fact, the difference is huge. Look at deficit reduction: The Tories want to cut us back into the Stone Age with – what is it? – £55 billion of cuts over the next five years.
Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee in The Guardiantells us: “The IFS says Labour’s slower plan to end the deficit needs no cuts – none. Labour is shy of saying it for fear of sounding feckless, despite public opinion turning against austerity.”
So there’s one enormous difference straight away. Under the Tories: Huge, unnecessary spending cuts; under Labour: No spending cuts.
For further evidence, see Sunny Hundal’s article on LabourList.
The short version is as follows: “To claim that Labour and Tory ‘austerity’ is the same, as some on the left have done, isn’t just ludicrous but a bare-faced lie. It illustrates a huge distortion of the facts. Of course, the Greens and SNP have an interest in saying that Labour and Tories are the same, but that doesn’t make it true.”
If you hear anyone suggesting Labour and the Tories are the same, send them to this article so they can be straightened out.
Farage: Does this look even remotely like a man of the people? Or is he a man of means, who intends to be meaner?
Does anybody still support UKIP on the basis of all that guff about being the “party of the people”? If so, they’ll be leaving the party at speed after Nigel Farage said he would betray them in Parliament.
Speaking ahead of the party’s spring conference, Mr Farage said UKIP would back future Tory budgets if they helped eliminate the current deficit by 2018, according to the BBC.
Most damningly, he said George Osborne had failed to meet his deficit targets since 2010 because he had shirked “tough choices”. He means the choices that harm your quality of life while ensuring that the rich can still enjoy theirs.
Farage said far-right Conservative plans – that would really hit working-class and unemployed voters hard, let’s bear in mind – had been hampered by the Liberal Democrats, in a clear appeal to David Cameron. He might as well have jumped up and down, shouting “Choose me! Choose me!” in the event of a hung Parliament.
Here is a man who criticises the Conservatives – not because they have hammered the poor too hard, but because they haven’t hammered hard enough.
Why do poor people continue to support his crackpot party?
The BBC is reporting that the UK economy has grown by 2.6 per cent in the last year – less than the 3 per cent originally thought. In the third quarter of 2014 the increase was 0.6 per cent.
“So what?” you’re probably asking. “Isn’t 2.6 per cent enough?” Well, it’s certainly much better than the limbo days of 2011-13 when the economy was in and out of the red and Ed Balls’ claim that it had “flatlined” was literally true.
The lower growth has been attributed to smaller government and business investment than had previously been expected, and higher imports.
There’s nothing to be done about the increase in the balance of payments deficit (that’s the difference between import costs and export takings) to 27 billion – especially if both government and business investment is down; it seems that Britain simply has nothing to sell.
So much for the “nation of shopkeepers” as Napoleon Bonaparte (among others) famously described us!
Perhaps George Osborne has restricted government investment in order to meet his (revised-revised – and probably revised again) deficit reduction target for 2014-15. If so, he’s even more of a short-sighted fool than we all thought because this will cause greater harm in the long run.
And there’s also the impending crash when the property bubble created by Osborne’s artificially-engineered housing boom pops. Help to Buy and Funding for Lending stimulated the economy when the private sector ignored Gideon’s call for help, but won’t go on forever.
But what does all this mean for the average person on the street?
Not much, it turns out.
All this talk of economic improvement may sound good – indeed, it is intended to do so. But it hasn’t translated into any improvement in living standards. They’ve been plummeting ever since the Conservative-led Coalition government took office.
Tories are bad for the nation’s living standards. So are Liberal Democrats.
Household incomes have dropped by a massive £1,600 every year – a huge amount for the poorest to bear and a considerable inconvenience for those of middle incomes as well.
Pay rises have been non-existent or below the level, even of CPI inflation – which doesn’t take into account all the costs that households must bear. That’s why the Tories and Liberal Democrats switched to using it as their main indicator back in 2010.
Where are all the new full-time jobs?
The only people to benefit from any economic upturn have been the corporate bosses and the Conservative Party (thanks to donations from the corporate bosses).
This means that, instead of asking, “So what? Isn’t 2.6 per cent enough?” you would be better-advised to ask:
“So what? When do I get my share?”
The answer is: “Under the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats?
We all owe a debt of thanks to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for its work to reveal the depth of poverty in British society today.
The Foundation’s latest report reveals that – even by standards that have slipped since the Coalition government came into office – in-work poverty has galloped ahead of that suffered by those in workless and retired families – proving once and for all that, under the Tories and Liberal Democrats, work doesn’t pay!
But the situation is actually worse than the figures suggest, because the poverty line is always 60 per cent of average (median) income – and incomes in the UK have been dropping. Some say the average is now seven per cent lower than in 2010; others say nearly 10 per cent.
This means that, if we add in the people in working families who would be below the poverty line if it had remained at, say, 2008 levels, another two million people would be considered to be in poverty. These people are no better-off than they were before the poverty level slipped; they can’t buy more than they could before – in fact, their money goes a lot less far because inflation, even at 2.7 per cent, has hugely outstripped pay increases.
Add in the number of workless and retired families who are also in poverty – 6.3 million – and we have 15 million people in poverty in the UK today. That’s a quarter of the population of the seventh largest economy in the world.
And George Osborne wants us to congratulate him for his achievements over the past three years. Well done, George. You have conclusively proved that you are the worst Chancellor in British history – heading up the worst government in British history.
Let’s look at some of his successes:
The fall in average incomes in the last two years alone has wiped out all the gains made by Labour in the previous decade – and George has another year and a half to put people in even more serious trouble.
Worse still, incomes for the poorest 10 per cent of the population have been falling since 2004/5, because the neoliberal New Labour government did not protect them. These are the people for whom the four ‘D’s – debt, destitution, desperation and despair – will hit hardest.
The proportion of low-paid jobs increased in 2012. Remember that, when the government tells you that more people are in work than ever before. They are not telling you that these jobs keep people in poverty. They are not telling you the fact that, under the Coalition, work most certainly does not pay.
Among those in work, the number paid less than the living wage rose from 4.6 million to five million in 2012. This means 400,000 more working people are having to claim benefits to make ends meet. Work does not pay. The five million figure is one-sixth of the total workforce and includes two million people who had never previously claimed.
Meanwhile, those in benefit are being pushed into very deep poverty by sanctions, the effect of overlapping changes to social security benefits – which the government has again and again refused to measure, and the falling value of benefits due to the Chancellor’s one per cent uprating cap.
More sanction referrals were made on the unemployed between 2010 and 2012 than there are people currently claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (1.6 million, against 1.48 million claimants) – and 800,000 benefit stoppages or reductions were approved. This impacts on the government’s jobless figures, which do not include the number of jobseekers under sanction. Think about it – 800,000 is more than half the number that official figures show are out of work. Also, we know that Workfare is being stepped up, in order to fiddle the figures even more seriously.
The Bedroom Tax and council tax benefit cuts have hit 400,000 families, of whom around 267,000 families were already in poverty.
It is in this context that Iain Duncan Smith feebly attempted to distract attention away from the damning facts by telling the Telegraphthat 50 families were each earning around £70,000 in benefits before his benefit cap (the £26,000-per-year, not the one per cent uprating limit) was brought in.
While this may be a shocking figure for some people, he did not provide the full details. How many people are we discussing, per family? Will the cap push them below the poverty line? Considering the facts laid out above, would a job relieve poverty for these families – or make it worse?
Smith – or ‘RTU’, as we call him here (it stands for ‘Returned To Unit’, a reference to his dismal Army career) – has yet again insisted that his diabolical changes are making the system “fair”. Anybody who repeats an assertion such as this, as often as he has, knows that nobody believes it.
Today, he is due to go before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for his persistent interference with the statistics. Expect bluster and bravado but do not expect the facts.
For example, he will never admit how many people have died from the poverty caused by his assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance.
That figure alone could bring down this government.
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Housing associations are finding three-bedroomed properties impossible to maintain. They cannot let them out, sell them or keep up with the costs of keeping them while they are empty.
All of this has serious implications for the Coalition government that voted the Bedroom Tax onto the statute books as part of Mr ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith’s hugely unpopular – and now proving to be unworkable – Welfare Reform Act last year.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves has overcome a shaky start in her role as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary to get right on-message with this. According to The Guardian report, she said: “This incompetent and out of touch government seems oblivious to the perverse and costly consequences of this unjust and unworkable policy.
“Not only is it hitting 660,000 vulnerable households, including 440,000 disabled people; the costs to the taxpayer are mounting as people are pushed into more expensive private rented accommodation while existing social homes are left vacant.”
Surely it makes more sense to have someone living in these properties, rather than losing them altogether? Does the government have an answer for this?
Apparently not. A government spokes-robot trotted out the same tired nonsense we’ve all come to despise: “The removal of the spare room subsidy is a necessary reform that will return fairness to housing benefit. We’ve been clear that hardworking people should not be subsidising tenants living in properties that are too large for their requirements.”
Let’s all remember that there never was a spare room subsidy for the government to remove. It never existed. Therefore its removal is not a necessary reform; it can never be vital to remove something that is fictional. Also, the removal of a fictional thing cannot restore fairness anywhere.
Hard-working people probably shouldn’t be subsidising tenants who are under-occupying, but then hard-working people were never the only ones paying for this to happen. Everybody in the UK pays taxes one way or another – even children.
And while we’re on the subject of what hard-working people subsidise, why is it bad for them to help people stay in the social housing that was originally allocated to them, but good for them to help massive corporations keep their payroll costs down by paying tax credits, housing benefit and council tax reduction costs for people earning less than the Living Wage? Why is it good for them to pay the cost of MPs’ energy bills as well as their own?
“Consent from the Homes and Communities Agency is required before any social housing provider can dispose of a site on which social housing stood and will ensure that public investment and the needs of tenants are protected,” the robot continued, but we should all know that this will be no obstacle.
Demolition of social housing means land becomes available for private developers to build new, luxury homes for the very rich.
Tory politicians don’t care and Liberal Democrats don’t have any power – that’s why 80,000 children are being housed in temporary accommodation, alongside drug users and enduring threats of violence, as reported by Shelter today.
The government’s own figures show 2,090 families living in bed and breakfasts – an increase of eight per cent on 2012 and the largest number in 10 years, according to The Guardian. Of these, 760 have been living in B&Bs longer than the legal six-week limit – a 10 per cent increase on last year.
More than 43,000 other homeless households with children are in other emergency accommodation – usually privately-rented short-term flats, which are expensive. This is an increase of nine per cent on last year.
To put this into context, a Labour government commitment to halve the number of families in this kind of emergency accommodation meant the total fell between 2005 and 2010 – but it has been rising again since June 2011.
This is a human disaster created by the Coalition government.
Most families interviewed by the charity said they felt unsafe, with one child directly threatened by a man after an argument over a shared bathroom. Almost half said their children had witnessed incidents such as sexual offences, drug use and dealing.
One mother of three said: “One of the reasons we left was one of the residents trying to sell us crack cocaine.”
Most of the 25 families Shelter interviewed lived in one room; half said the children were sharing beds with parents or siblings and the family was sharing kitchen facilities with others. All but three said it was hard to find a safe place for their children to play. Three families had no cooking facilities and one reported sharing a cooker and fridge with 22 other people.
More than half had to share a bathroom or toilet with strangers, with 10 families sharing with seven or more other people; two-thirds had no table to eat on, and schoolchildren were finding it hard to do homework.
And their health is suffering: “It’s so hard to give him a balanced diet as it’s impossible to make proper meals here, let alone a Christmas dinner. He’s getting really pale and is so tired all the time. He gets so scared but it’s difficult when I’m scared myself. This is no place for a child to live,” said a mother in a Hounslow B&B.
“This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, who described the charity’s findings as “shocking” and the conditions forced on families as “shameful”.
He said: “No child should be homeless, let alone 80,000. But tragically, with more people struggling to make ends meet and homelessness on the rise, we’re bracing ourselves for an increase in demand from families who desperately need our help.”
Housing minister Kris Hopkins couldn’t care less. “We’ve given councils nearly £1bn to tackle homelessness and to support people affected by the welfare reforms,” he sniffed.
“I am very clear that they should be fully able to meet their legal responsibility to house families in suitable accommodation.”
Let us be very clear on this: the problem is not that Tories like Hopkins don’t understand. This is exactly the result that they wanted; they just won’t acknowledge it because it is electorally damaging.
Look at the policies that created this problem: The bedroom tax; the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, otherwise known as the Council Tax reduction scheme; the benefit cap that so many people in this country seem to support without understanding any of its implications.
Vox Political reported back in January what they would mean: “There will be a rise in rent and mortgage arrears… affordable housing will be less available and landlords less able or willing to rent to tenants on benefits… Private sector rental may become less attractive to landlords if tenants aren’t paying the rent. This will lead to a growth in homelessness. Councils have statutory duties and may see an increasing burden.”
But increases to the Discretionary Housing Payment fund have been entirely insignificant compared with the extra burden councils have faced. They received £150 million between them; Durham County Council had £883,000 and spent it all within eight weeks.
We have seen the start of the social cleansing predicted by this blog back in August 2012, when we noted that at least one council would use these measures to “clear out the poor and set up shop as a desirable residence for the rich”.
The housing bubble created by George Osborne with his ‘Help To Buy’ scheme will accelerate this process.
So don’t let a Tory tell you it’s nothing to do with them. They wanted this. In fact, 80,000 homeless children at Christmas is probably not enough for them.
Brecon and Radnorshire’s Assembly Member, Kirsty Williams: Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.
Sometimes the behaviour of our politicians is so irrational it becomes laughable.
You may feel that way about the attitude adopted by Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat member for Brecon and Radnorshire in the Welsh Assembly, who seems to have been desperate to lash out at the Assembly’s Labour administration over its plans for council tax.
We all know by now – don’t we? – that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition in Westminster is slashing the amount of support for people who don’t pay the full amount of council tax by 10 per cent. It is abolishing Council Tax Benefit and has told local authorities to create their own “reduction” or “support” schemes.
The aim was to put the blame for the cut onto local councils rather than the national government, and it failed.
In Wales, responsibility was put onto the Welsh Government in Cardiff Bay, which was told it would get £222 million towards the scheme – but the announcement was delayed because the UK Government – them again! – had refused to identify the amount of funding to be transferred until after the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement on December 5.
It was delayed still further after the Welsh Assembly – including Liberal Democrat members – failed to reach agreement on how to administer its new scheme.
So it wasn’t until last week that the Welsh Government was able to make a final announcement – that it would take £22 million from its own reserves, plug the gap in UK government funding in its entirety, and ensure that nobody would have to pay any more than they are at the moment.*
This wasn’t good enough for Ms Williams, who said the Welsh Government had created “uncertainty and mess” by its failure to act before Christmas.
“Assembly Members were astounded that the Welsh Labour Government left regulations to the very last minute and refused to put up this extra money while the Scottish Government and many councils across England had managed to put in place replacement council tax benefit programmes in good time,” she said.
Sorry, Kirsty, who caused “uncertainty and mess”? Didn’t the Welsh Government put forward plans that were then kicked into the long grass by other parties, including your own?
Didn’t the UK Government, of which your Liberal Democrat is a part, delay the funding announcement for political reasons, making it extremely difficult to hammer out plans before the Christmas recess?
Aren’t you making an ass of yourself by trying to make a fuss about Labour’s actions when your Liberal Democrats bear more of the actual responsibility?
I think you are.
*Proportionately. The actual amount may vary depending on how much council tax rises in different council areas; council tax benefit is worked out as a percentage of the full rate.
There’s absolutely no possibility that George Osborne will give in to the latest calls for him to ditch his ‘deficit reduction strategy’ and adopt a more moderate plan.
Firstly, people need to understand that the Coalition government’s fiscal strategy isn’t about reducing the national deficit at all. If it was, we would not have had a big tax break for the richest in society as part of the last budget. It’s a strategy to axe public services, selling off to rich corporations any that might be capable of yielding a profit. George W Bush followed this policy in the United States a few years ago; it’s called ‘starving the beast’ – look it up on Wikipedia.
Secondly, a more moderate plan, mixing appropriate savings in government costs with growth-creating measures, is something Mr Osborne could never palate for one reason: It’s the policy put forward by the Labour Party before the 2010 election. Adopting it would mean that he was admitting Labour were right; the Conservatives were entirely wrong to put forward their ideologically-driven austerity plan as an alternative; and that he had wasted everybody’s time and tax money for the past two and a half years.
At least we get the joy of watching all his support flow away, drip by drip. The current story shows nine of the 20 economists who signed a letter supporting austerity back in February 2010 (just before the general election) have had a change of heart. Others have already done so.
Furthermore, Boris Johnson merrily stabbed the part-time Chancellor in the back, at the same time as the economists. He called for David Cameron to “stop pussyfooting around” and invest in major infrastructure projects in London.
His outburst was an outstanding achievement as he managed to shoot himself in both feet at the same time – putting himself at odds with the Conservative leadership and showing the country as a whole how out of touch he really is.
London has just received £9.3 billion worth of investment for the Olympic games, along with related infrastructure investments worth a further (reputed) £16 billion. Other parts of the UK are desperate for investment on a fraction of that scale!
For example, the people of Scotland might reconsider whether secession from the United Kingdom was a good idea, if the UK government invested a little cash in their country; as might the people of Wales.
Oh! But then, Scotland and Wales don’t vote Conservative, do they?
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