Category Archives: bedroom tax

Hague Criticises Syrian Government’s Atrocities Whilst His Own Brings Misery At Home

eviction  Bedroom-Tax-2202836

 

On the same morning I’m hearing Tory William Hague expressing moral outrage at the way Bashir Assad’s government is mistreating its own people I read the following story which demonstrates how HIS government is prepared to mistreat theirs. The hypocrisy was deafening.

Lorraine Fraser,pictured above along with a photograph of her specially adapted bathroom, is a severely disabled mother of two children about to be evicted from her council home in North Lanarkshire because she’s been unable to pay the bedroom tax and is now in arrears that amount to less than Mr Hague is likely to spend on food in a week. Here’s the full story from the Daily Record.

Bedroom tax: Disabled mum-of-two Lorraine set to become first person in Scotland to be kicked out of their home

22 Aug 2013 07:18

THE 46-year-old who suffers from scoliosis and arthritis has had court action taken against her to force her to leave her flat.

A SEVERELY disabled single mum is to become the first council tenant in Scotland to be evicted because of the bedroom tax.

Lorraine Fraser is being kicked on to the street after her Labour-run council took court action to force her out her specially adapted flat.

She has scoliosis – curvature of the spine – and arthritis and she is wheelchair-bound.

The council moved Lorraine into a specially adapted flat with a wheelchair ramp, wet room and handrails two years ago.

Now they want to turf her out for failing to pay just £248 in bedroom tax arrears.

Lorraine, 46, said: “Where will I go? I need a specially adapted home just to survive.

“What kind of people would throw a disabled woman and her kids out on the street?

“They have no compassion or conscience.”

North Lanarkshire Council have sent Lorraine a series of hard-hitting letters, warning her that eviction proceedings are under way.

The latest letter, dated August 8, states: “I can advise you that North Lanarkshire Council has commenced court action to evict you from your home.”

She has also been told she faces paying for the authority’s “considerable” legal costs.

Lorraine receives disability living allowance. And even before the bedroom tax, she struggled to pay her bills and feed her family.

When the hated tax was introduced in April, she was told she would have to pay an extra £62 in rent every month.

She was informed she was being targeted because she has two spare rooms.

But Lorraine is baffled because she shares her three-bedroom flat with her daughter Collette, 19, and son Mark, 17.

They are both students who live at home, although they also spend time living with their dad, who is divorced from Lorraine.

Lorraine thought she still had a month left to fight her case because she was told in a letter that legal proceedings to evict her wouldn’t begin until September 2.

But she was devastated when the council’s letter on August 8 said they had already started court action.

Council housing officers visited her at her home in Uddingston, near Glasgow, yesterday to go through the eviction process.

Lorraine said: “I can’t believe I am going to be thrown on the street.

“My condition is getting worse every day. This has caused me so much stress and anxiety it’s making me really ill.

“I feel at the end of my tether. I have tried to explain to them that my children still live here.

“My son sometimes stays at his dad’s house because we are divorced but this is still his home.

“I feel angry, upset and totally helpless.

“I thought I still had a month to sort this mess out but then I got a letter to say they had already started the legal process.

“I feel like my life is falling apart. I have been in this house for two years and it was the council who put me here because they knew I needed a specially adapted home for my disability.

“Now they want to throw me out on the street like a piece of old rubbish.

“They are targeting the most vulnerable in our community.

“It’s a disgrace they are allowed to get away with it.”

North Lanarkshire Council are one of the few local authorities in Scotland who have refused to adopt a no-evictions policy.

In April, First Minister Alex Salmond pledged that no SNP-run council would throw out tenants who had fallen into arrears because of the bedroom tax.

North Lanarkshire Council leader Jim McCabe called the bedroom tax “the single worst piece of legislation I have ever seen”.

But that hasn’t stopped the authority from starting eviction action against their tenants.

Lorraine called on the All Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and Glasgow lawyer Gordon Dangerfield to help save her from eviction.

Federation chairman Tommy Sheridan said: “North Lanarkshire Council’s treatment of a disabled bedroom tax victim is shocking and shameful.

“How do these councillors and highly paid council officials sleep at night? They should be ashamed of themselves.

“They told this disabled bedroom tax victim she had until September 2 to find the money or else.

“Then they started eviction proceedings anyway. They know this woman is on the breadline yet they have harassed her.”

A North Lanarkshire Council spokesman said: “We have offered every tenant potentially affected by the bedroom tax an opportunity to have a visit or advice by phone.

“The tenant in question has consistently refused to fully engage with us and has repeatedly refused to apply for a discretionary housing payment which may help to alleviate her situation.

“We are committed to helping all tenants hit by this UK Government legislation.”

Lorraine reacted with anger to the council’s claims that she refused to cooperate with them.

She said: “It is an outright lie. I have tried to convince them that I am not eligible for the bedroom tax but they are not interested.”

What The Hell Is Happening To Our Society?

la-oe-goldberg-disability-entitlements-2013040-001            Work-Makes-Free-Clear

 

With each passing day, as I read and see more and more injustice and cruelty from this feeble excuse of a government, I wonder just what the hell is going on here?

Here’s a selection of video interviews by the amazing Artist Taxi Driver to make my point for me. The last one made me so angry and frankly, ashamed to be British and it reminded me of a documentary I saw online recently exposing the truth about the British monarchy. Its called Royal Babylon and I’ve included that too. Prepare to be shocked if you’re the kind of person who thinks the Queen is just a sweet old lady and Winston Churchill etc were ‘great’ British leaders…this is definitely NOT the version of British history that Michael Gove wants to ram down our kid’s throats.

 

 

Bedroom Tax Protest: The Mass Sleep Out: 24th August

Reblogged from  http://tmso.org.uk/. Please support

The Mass Sleep Out – What’s it all about?

The Mass Sleep Out (TMSO) is a national day of action being held on August 24th, 2013. On this day people will gather in towns and cities across the UK and sleep on the streets, to raise awareness of the impending mass homelessness brought on by the bedroom tax and other government cuts.

What started off as an idea has now captured the hearts, minds and interests of more than 2000 people across the UK who wish to stand against the cruel measures being imposed by the coalition government.

Whilst the highest earners in the country are awarded tax breaks and big business invariably gets away with not paying it’s fair share – or in some cases paying no tax at all – the ConDem coalition is targeting some of the most vulnerable in society to pay for the financial crisis. Many of these people are now facing eviction proceedings as they are simply unable to meet the financial demands being made of them. This cannot be allowed to continue – now is the time to show your disapproval!

We need your help!

There already events planned as part of our national day of action on August 24th in over 40 towns and cities across the UK, but we would like to see this spread further!

If there is no event currently planned for your own town/city, we urge you to consider getting one started. We can offer support for anyone seeking to do so, including help & advise from other event organiserspromotional material to raise awareness of your event and important documents/statistics relating to the bedroom tax.

If you don’t wish to organise an event yourself – and even if you are unfortunately unable to attend on the 24th – there is still plenty you can do to help. We are relying on word of mouth to spread the message of this campaign, so please talk about it to people you see and share on your social media accounts to publicise the campaign as much as possible.

Confirmed Events

Barnsley
Barton-Upon-Humber
Bath
Belfast
Birmingham
Bolton
Bournemouth
Brighton
Bristol
Cardiff
Carluke
Cheltenham
Coventry
Derby
Derry
Dundee
Eastleigh
Edinburgh
Folkestone
HemelHempstead
Kingston-Upon-Thames
Leeds
Leicester
Liverpool
Livingston
London(City)
Manchester
MiltonKeynes
Newcastle-Under-Lyme
NorthLondon
Norwich
Northampton
Northumberland
Nottingham
Penzance
Peterborough
Plymouth
Portsmouth
Salisbury
Sheffield
Southampton
Southend-on-Sea
Stirling
Stockport
Swansea
Wakefield
Weston-Super-Mare
Worcester
Worthing

Can’t find an event in your area? Please feel free to set one up, and get in touch by using our contact form or via our Facebook page so we can help promote the event for you!

The Crazy Tory Law That Criminalises The Homeless And Could Cost £790 Million.

On 1st September 2012 it became a criminal offence to be found squatting in a residential building, punishable by a fine of £5000 or six months in prison. Section 144 of the new Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill was rushed through Parliament with little attention being paid to the consultation responses from various homeless charities and police, 98% of which were against the legislation.

According to a report in March this year by Squatters Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) evaluating the first six months of the Bill, there have been 33 arrests leading to 10 convictions. Their press release summarises their findings thus:-

“The Case Against Section 144″ Press Release

Press Release

For immediate release

Campaign to repeal new squatting law launched in Parliament

Entitled ‘The Case Against Section 144’, SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) are launching a new report and campaign in Parliament today.

The report’s findings suggest the major concerns regarding criminalisation that arose during the government’s consultation process have been proven right, with homeless and vulnerable people disproportionately affected. No arrests so far have been for squatters displacing anyone from their home, which does suggest that the Criminal Law Act 1977 was sufficient for dealing with squatters – as predicted by many legal experts.

The report concludes with a call for repeal of Section 144. It provides a detailed six-month analysis of the effects that the new legislation has had since its introduction in September 2012, and sets this against the wider backdrop of the UK recession, high homelessness rates and current housing crisis.

The report will be launched today in the House of Commons at a meeting of concerned MPs, Lords, lawyers, homelessness groups and academics. An online government e-petition petition calling for repeal has reached over 2000 signatures in only a few weeks.

Last week, a homeless person in Kent died outside of an empty bungalow, media reports suggest he was prevented from going inside the building by Police because of the new offence of Section 144 which makes it a criminal offence to squat inside a residential property.

SQUASH campaigner Joseph Blake said:

“The new law is appalling. Homeless people are being put in jail for using empty buildings to keep a roof over their head. Section 144 needs to go and any further criminalisation quickly dismissed”.

Professor Danny Dorling, endorsing the report said:

“Squatting is what people do when they get desperate, it is not criminal behavior. Squatting rises when inequalities increase and housing is not treated as a necessity. This is a great report – every MP needs to read it.”

John Mcdonnell (Labour MP) said:

“”This meticulously researched report confirms what we feared about the effect of the new laws criminalising squatting. People are being made unnecessarily homeless and very vulnerable people are suffering as a consequence. This legislation was based upon prejudice and has only made matters worse. This new evidence demonstrates so clearly the need to repeal this misguided law.”

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Lib-Dem Peer) said:

“A few months after the Government brought in the disgraceful law criminalising the homeless occupying an empty house we can see that some of the most needy are indeed suffering in the way that we feared. This is a very useful report that should make people think hard.”

crispin-blunt-paul_1404232c  There was much opposition to s144 during Parliamentary debates of the Bill which was led by Tory Justice Minister Crispin Blunt pictured here alongside his £485k Surrey constituency home – he has a second family home in London which is heavily subsidised by tax payers. Labour MP John McDonnell tabled an amendment which had it been successful  would have protected the genuinely homeless who were squatting in long empty properties. Blunt, however, put forward several specious arguments to justify the criminalisation of squatters. He first of all blamed the squatting homeless for the fact that properties were empty in the first place:-

Many homelessness charities, for instance, are likely to continue to say that the new offence will criminalise homeless and vulnerable people who squat in run-down residential properties, but one of the reasons that the properties remain in that state is that the owners cannot get in to renovate them because the squatters are present.

And its clear whose interests this government are more concerned about and just how out of touch they are by the following excuses he makes for the properties being left empty by their owners:-

We consider that this option strikes the best balance. It will protect those who are likely to suffer most from squatting—those whose homes are taken over by squatters.… that point was made by squatters and squatters groups, but respondents who made that argument were missing one rather important point: the houses are not theirs to occupy. There are many reasons why a house might be left empty for more than six months without any steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building. For example, somebody might decide to do charitable work in another country for a year, or they might visit their second home during the summer months only…. 

Clearly, on Planet Cameron its quite normal to be able to afford to take a year off work and commonplace to own a second home. Blunt was obviously oblivious to the irony of such normalisation of privilege during a debate essentially about the growing thousands of people without hope of a secure roof of any kind over their heads.

Bribing-Mike-Weatherley-MP When you consider the number of empty houses there were at the time of this debate in November 2011 – a massive 710,000 – Blunt is really stretching our credibility if he wants us to believe that they are all merely empty because their owners are off doing good works in foreign climes or languishing in luxury in their second homes, unable to get back into their properties because of all those inconvenient paupers cluttering up the place.

McDonnell provided the charming Mr Blunt with a few statistics about the squatting population, no doubt hoping to shame him into a more compassionate state:-

41% of homeless squatters report mental health needs, 34% have been in care, 42% have physical ill health or a disability, 47% have experienced drug dependency, 21% are self-harming, 15% have a learning disability, and 90% have slept rough. Those are the people whom this legislation is about to criminalise…..The Crisis survey found that many of those people had no alternative, and that 78% had approached the local authority for help and been turned away. Among the housing charities—Crisis, Thames Reach, Shelter, Homeless Link, Housing Justice, St Mungo’s—there is a fear that the new legislation could criminalise extremely vulnerable people and force them into more dangerous situations, particularly rough sleeping.

625527_302908889837161_1145371516_n  What MP McDonnell feared but couldn’t have known at the time, was that there could be very drastic consequences for the vulnerable homeless he was describing. Tragically, he was proved right when not six months later homeless Daniel Gauntlett died from hypothermia whilst sleeping outside the abandoned and boarded up bungalow pictured here after being warned by police that if he entered the property to shelter from the bitterly cold weather he would be arrested and possibly sent to jail. Daniel decided to obey Blunt’s law and died as a consequence. No doubt Blunt from the comfort of one of his own homes was ‘unavailable for comment’, despite there also being no doubt that he and his government was indirectly responsible for this young man’s death. As McDonnell said at during the debate in November 2011:-

When there are 40,000 homeless families, 4,000 people sleeping rough in the capital, and 1.7 million households on waiting lists, desperate for decent accommodation, it is immoral that private owners should be allowed to let their properties stand empty for so long.

487757  At lot has happened since that debate that has made the housing situation in Britain far worse than it was back then. As the tide of welfare benefit cuts and bedroom tax has swelled so have the numbers of families whose housing has become very insecure indeed. SQUASH  have estimated that the cost of mitigating the effects of s144 alone could cost around £790 million over the next five years. We already know that the consequences of the bedroom tax are going to cost millions in increased housing benefit as families are forced into private sector renting. Not to mention the possible burden on the NHS from increased ill health due to stress, malnutrition and other poverty related conditions. If this is the government’s idea of saving money then I can only conclude that they are dangerously crazy.

timthumb Mr Blunt may not show much concern for the finances of the homeless and being Tory is automatically implicated in the media hate campaign which characterises the poor as workshy scroungers living it up at the state’s expense. I’m always amazed by the blunt dishonesty of such double standards. This Telegraph report of 2009 is a good illustration of what I mean:-

Documents lodged with the fees office show that Mr Blunt claimed that London was his second home from 1997.It was not until April 2003, when he discussed his Additional Costs Allowance with the fees office, that an official noted: “It was clear that his London home is his main home and has been for some time. His family live in London and his children attend London schools.”

The official said that “it would appear” Mr Blunt had nominated his London home as his second home because of his “mortgage arrangements”. He added: “I suggested that he change his nomination.” Mr Blunt then wrote to the fees office agreeing to move his “main home” designation to London, but suggesting that he took out an additional mortgage on his house in his Surrey constituency, and secure it on his home in south-west London. He said: “I will only claim mortgage interest from my additional cost allowance up to a sum not exceeding the valuation of my now ‘additional home’.”

The fees’ office reply is not recorded, but land registry documents show that Mr Blunt sold the property in Horley, Surrey for £224,000 in July 2004. He bought another property in the same village for £485,000 in November 2005 and claimed £16,000 in stamp duty and legal bills.

Daniel Gauntlett lost his life because he was a law abiding citizen. Mr Blunt commits what can only be seen as fraud without a prick of conscience and loses nothing. On Planet Cameron this is known as ‘fairness’. Where I come from its known as corruption.

UK On Fast Track to Third World Status Says US Commentator.

not interested      He’s not interested in …

_69113648_69113647  the living conditions of people living here…

He caused them but he doesn’t have to put up with them.  

Read what an American observer thinks of Breadline Britain… 

 

 

Force-Fed UK Austerity

By Stephen Lendman
4-11-13

Since 2008, America, Britain and other European nations force-fed austerity harshness. Neoliberal and imperial priorities take precedence.

Bankers, war profiteers, other corporate favorites, and privileged elites alone benefit. Ordinary people lose out entirely. Public needs go begging. Human misery grows. Things go from bad to worse. Nothing ahead looks promising.

Britain made things harder. Parliament imposed the largest welfare cuts in modern times. More on them below.

They come when Prime Minister David Cameron wants UK nuclear defenses upgraded. He wants billions of pounds spent doing so. He claims Britain faces threats that don’t exist. An “ultimate weapon” is needed, he says.

His Daily Telegraph op-ed headlined “We need a nuclear deterrent more than ever,” saying:

(A)s prime minister, with ultimate responsibility for the nation’s security, I profoundly disagree with” naysayers. The “nuclear threat has not gone away.”

“My judgment is that it would be foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuing, and growing, nuclear threat.”

Saying so defies reason. Wanting billions of pounds spent on what’s not needed reflects deception writ large. Britain’s FY 2014 budget allocates 44.7 billion pounds for defense.

Billions go for nuclear deterrence. Cameron wants billions more. It’s worth the cost, he says. No cheaper options exist, he claims.

He wants Brits to think wasteful spending will protect Britain from nuclear attacks. Estimates run up to 20 billion pounds. It reflects multi-year spending.

At the same time, he supports massive welfare cuts. They come when Queen Elizabeth got a five million pound pay increase. In FY 2013-14, she’ll receive 36.1 million pounds (around $54 million). It’s up from 31 million last year.

She gets regular pay increases. They come from the Crown Estate. Its properties are worth eight billion pounds.

She’ll now receive 15% of their profits. In 2011-12, they earned 240.2 million pounds.

The Queen claims she needs the money. Royal priorities aren’t cheap. Annual expenses keep rising. She’s having a hard time making ends meet.

She’s dismissive about ordinary people’s suffering. It’s their problem, not hers. Let ’em eat cake doesn’t wash. A former monarch learned the hard way.

Tough times keep getting tougher. Ordinary Brits struggle to get by. Britain’s coalition government made things harder. On April 3, Russia Today headlined “UK govt imposes avalanche of cuts,” saying:

Low-income and financially vulnerable families will be hit hardest. Opposition Labour MPs called new cuts announced “the beginning of ‘Black April.’ ” It’s hard imagining why. They’re as neoliberal as Tories.

From June 2007 – May 2010, Gordon Brown was prime minister. Austerity began on his watch. Budget cuts hit ordinary Brits hardest. Brown said “Labour will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes, and cut lower priority budgets.”

He targeted public sector worker wages, pensions and other benefits. At the same time, Britain spent 94% of its GDP on bank bailouts. It amounted to taxing every Brit about 30,000 pounds.

Labour and Tories conspire against ordinary people. Austerity is policy. So are harsh welfare cuts. Imposed them inflicts enormous hardships. Earlier amounts totaled tens of billions of pounds. In January, another 14.2 billion were announced.

New ones are toughest of all. Britain’s Baptist Union called them “unjust (forcing) the most vulnerable (to) pay a disproportionate price.”

Methodist Church Public Issues Policy Adviser Paul Morrison said they “make April fools of us all.”

“We are witnessing what happens when we create a culture that blames poor people for their poverty.”

“It is a lie to say that most people on benefits are lazy, that they have an easy life or that they are responsible for the nation’s financial deficit.”

“When people are willing to believe those lies, poor families pay the highest price.”

At the same time, wealthy elites got a tax cut. In late March, Britain slashed its 50% top rate to 40%. Corporations got a 1% cut.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s “granny tax” left around five million middle-class pensioners up to 323 pounds worse off. It’s when they most need help. They face other harsh budget cutting measures.

Welfare benefits will be cut another 10 billion pounds by 2016. On average, around 18 million Brits will lose 500 pounds annually. Billions more welfare cuts were announced earlier. Where this ends who knows.

Cameron wants public spending cut 5.3%. Expect more cuts to follow. Since financial crisis conditions erupted in 2008, one in 10 Brits lost their jobs.

The latest measures are worst of all. They include a new “bedroom” tax. It’s on local council and housing association tenants. They get housing benefits.

Recipients claimed to have a “spare” bedroom face cuts totaling 14%. Those with two “spare” ones lose 25%. Britain calls the measure an “under-occupancy penalty.”

Imposing it seeks to encourage more efficient social housing use. It inflicts enormous harm on vulnerable households. Expect more ahead hitting them harder. It’s coming in waves. One measure leads to others. Like America, Britain’s heading for third world status.

Hundreds of thousands of people are affected. Many will become homeless. Britain’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said the new bedroom tax will “end up costing more than it saves as tenants are forced to go homeless or move into the expensive private renter sector.”

Around 90,000 households are affected. Less than 4,000 smaller homes can accommodate them. In April, “personal independence  payments (PIPs)” replace disability living allowances.

Private consulting and information technology services firm ATOS will assess whether benefit claimants can work. It’ll be paid up to one billion pounds to do so. In the past, it claimed stroke victims were fit to work.

ATOS aims to remove another 500,000 claimants from benefit rolls. Doing so will throw many of them in the street. They’ll risk losing out entirely.

New Health and Social Care Act legislation affects them. Enactment reverses 1946 free, universal National Health Service care. Government no longer has a legal duty to provide it.

Newly created Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) now have a “duty to arrange” what used to be mandated. Doing so shifts costs on the backs of vulnerable Brits least able to afford them. Commercializing healthcare lets predatory private profiteers take full advantage.

Combining austerity with welfare cuts heads Britain for third world status. Poverty and unemployment will rise further. So will public anger. On March 30, protesters targeted London’s Trafalgar Square.

Unionists joined anti-poverty campaigners, the disabled, homemakers and others.

Simultaneous gatherings were held in cities and towns nationwide. Thousands turned out in Glasgow. “Axe the bedroom tax,” signs read. One protestor spoke for others, saying:

“We won’t forget what they are doing to working class people.”

Another said:

“They have just shut the soup kitchen in Waltham Forest despite having a real problem with homelessness. I’m a working single parent. Now I’ve a tiny boxroom, and I’m faced with the choice between food, heat or paying the ‘bedroom tax.’ ”

At issue are numerous other cuts. Expect new ones to follow those announced. More recent ones began last October. Dozens of imposed changes were made. They include:

 

cutting support for mortgage interest from 6.08% – 3.63%;

 

scrapping the Child Trust Fund;

 

reducing the Council Tax benefit;

 

ending the Health in Pregnancy grant;

 

abolishing the Disability Living Allowance;

 

cutting legal aid;

 

freezing the Child Benefit and Working Tax Credit for low-income workers; and

 

much more implemented from October 10 through mid-April.

Making ordinary Brits bear burdens they can’t afford is policy. Expect new imposed hardships ahead. Tories and Labour are in lockstep. It bears repeating. Britain’s heading toward third world status. It’s on a fast track toward getting there.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Who Said the Tories Have Changed? The Kirkby Rent Strike and the Housing Finance Act 1972

6a00e5532538c4883301901e370e1e970b-320wi           images

Politicians have short memories. The moral outrage expressed by current Conservatives at the size of the nation’s Housing Benefits bill has been, unsurprisingly, targeted at an irresponsibly profligate Labour government but they forget that there is a history behind this that goes back to legislation that, in its time, did as much damage to the poor as today’s Bedroom Tax. Legislation that was passed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government in 1972. You may remember it. It was called the Housing Finance Act and it was sold to the public as a benign policy to house the homeless.

The Act placed a duty upon Local Councils  to give priority to housing homeless families with children. It gave councils a nasty surprise because it demanded they find the resources for an immediate result and it appeared to sweep away the idea that homeless families, new to a council’s area, could simply be ignored.  Instead of legislating for open access to council houses which would have stimulated the building of a larger stock, better able to respond to urgent need, councils were required to examine in detail, the meaning of a duty to house the homeless with immediate effect. There was no time to plan for and build more housing capacity and so this simply led to increases in the waiting lists. When it comes to making policies directed at the working class, it seems the Tories have always failed to think things through. But it gets worse…

download      Although councils had to find accommodation immediately for families with children, their legal duty only required that it be for a limited period which would allow time for “responsible families” to find their own accommodation. This period was determined to be 6 weeks. Inevitably the result was to  revive the category of Bed and Breakfast accommodation for homeless families and the cost of this per day to councils quickly rose to double the weekly rent of a council house  providing lots of scope for Tory rhetoric about how the “irresponsible families” who were unable to find a house in 6 short weeks were a drag on the economy.

In fact, what happened as a result of the 6 week rule was that many families once kicked out of their temporary shelter were forced to move back to the council areas they’d originally left in the hope of finding a home. What we’re seeing now with the Bedroom Tax forcing people out of high rent boroughs isn’t much different to what was happening back in 1972. It’s a tried and tested old Tory ruse to destabilise the poor working classes, ‘softening’ them up to accept jobs at any price and be grateful for the worst kind of housing.

images (1)  The true intentions of the Act were revealed in an announcement in 1971, the year before its passage. Council rents would double, ostensibly to subsidise the housing of the homeless.  However, in Tory circles it seems this rent rise was a cynical attempt to manipulate the housing market.  They gleefully predicted a                                                                      boom in private house building driven by an expected flight of council tenants from the high council rents into home ownership.

House prices rose rapidly, but council tenants didn’t miraculously become rich enough overnight to buy their own homes. They stayed put and more of them claimed Housing Benefit to cope with the rent increase. The hapless Tory market driven logic had failed again to appreciate the real circumstances of working folk, but their divisive moral rhetoric was on top form nonetheless…

Under the increased pressure of rising house prices council waiting lists inevitably grew and with this came a moral panic fueled by suspicions of queue jumping. An insidious new category of “scrounger” known as  “the intentionally homeless” was created. These were people considered to be homeless as a result of their own actions. Just as today, people were  incited to hate by the insidious Tory rhetoric. Once labelled intentionally homeless it sanctioned the official withdrawal of help from “offenders”. They do love their sanctions, these Tories, don’t they?

images (2)  The reason for this doubling in council rents reveals another enduring Tory meme, one that Iain Duncan Smith is currently flogging to death.This is their notion of ‘fairness’. In the private rented sector at the time there were procedures for setting what was known as a ‘fair rent’ on a property which had to take account of current market conditions in order for landlords to be able to make a profit from renting their property.

Before the Housing Finance Act 1972 this didn’t apply to council housing. Local Authority rents were charged at the level of a balanced budget, which meant rental income balanced against loan charges and the costs of new building. The Act changed all that and they were now required to raise them to private sector levels. Mr Heath called this ‘an economic fair rent’.

So basically, under the pretence of looking after the homeless and bringing fairness into the system the Tories manipulated the housing market with the effect that their property and that of their supporters increased massively in value. House prices rose 12% in the year of their announcement to increase council rents, 36% the following year when the Act was passed and an amazing 51% the year after.

On the other hand, council waiting lists grew exponentially, homelessness increased and the Housing Benefits bill went through the roof. But hey, they could blame all this on the poor!

IMG_3101 As with the Bedroom Tax today, one of the hardest hit areas in Britain was Merseyside.  The 1970s were a time of soaring inflation rates – reaching a peak of 25% in 1978 and unemployment in Liverpool was high.

3,000 residents on the Tower Hill estate in Kirkby were enraged by the rent increases, especially since the homes they rented from the council were in a dire state of repair. They protested by organising a 14 month long rent strike and the documentary below, which was filmed in the October of 1972, is the story of that action. I was amazed at how relevant what was being said by those council tenants almost 41 years ago is to what is happening right now under a Tory government (effectively) which relies on the same old ideology. Who said the Tories have changed? Why ever should they? It wouldn’t be in their interests.

Pride Comes Before A Fall: Problems With Universal Credit Could Leave IDS With Egg On His Face.

Fee-for-use-Iain-Duncan-Smith-1797134 In yesterday’s Observer Iain Duncan Smith once again boasted about how proud he was of his precious welfare reforms. Instead of addressing the very real and totally legitimate criticisms of his performance so far he pointed to the fact that the DWP had delivered their programme of torture on time:-

… we already have a proud record of achievement… We promised a benefit cap and it began, on time, in April in four London areas. It will be completely rolled out by September. We introduced the new personal independence payment as planned and on time. Automatic enrolment started last year, and now 1 million people have been registered into a workplace pension. People are using our Universal Jobmatch website for more than 5m job searches a day. Our Work Programme has launched and the industry tells us that so far 321,000 people have found a job through it.I am proud of this record.

sick  How any decent, sane human being can ignore the thousands of lives that have been devastated by his policies or refuse to acknowledge the deaths and suicides that can be directly linked to his actions is totally beyond my comprehension. Why a newspaper like the Observer gave him the space to make those comments is also a  mystery to me. And his refusal to undertake an impact assessment of the effect he’s had on the lives of disabled people simply shows that he doesn’t want to know. The only conclusion you can draw from this is that he’s irresponsible, unprofessional and should never be allowed to ‘serve’ as a politician again.

shoes But as usual the odious Mr Smith is not giving us the true picture about the DWP’s performance when it comes to the progress of Universal Credit. There are huge problems with it. Two aspects stand out here. The first is to do with their badly thought through devotion to ‘digital by default’. This report from Public Net published today shows that the DWP have overestimated the number of people who will be able to claim the benefit online. The potential for chaos is tremendous.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT PILOTS REVEAL CHALLENGES FACING BENEFIT CLAIMANTS

Headlines: July 29th, 2013

Many benefit claimants will struggle to meet the requirement of the new welfare arrangements which are due to be introduced from October 2013 with the launch of universal credit. Pilot schemes started last year by councils have revealed the scale of the difficulty many claimants will experience.

Universal credit will require all claimants to submit claims on line. Although 86 per cent of the UK population have access to the internet, the pilots have found that in the case of benefit claimants it is closer to 60 percent. Theoretically claimants can use facilities in libraries to submit claims, but they don’t visit libraries and they need support to cope with the technology and with the benefit processes. Some pilots are experimenting with providing access points in council premises and with staff on hand to support the claimants. Other pilots are exploring various approaches to improving access but have found it difficult to encourage take up.

Universal credit will roll up all benefits into a single payment which will be made directly to the claimant. This will meant that currently where some housing benefit is paid to landlords, in future it will be paid directly to the claimant. The pilots have revealed that many social housing tenants have problems with debt and rent arrears which might compound possible problems with personal budgeting.

Some councils have found a reluctance from customers to take part in budgeting and financial training in group sessions. It is thought the reluctance is due to the stigma of engaging in sessions which may highlight personal debt and rent arrears issues. The uptake of group financial education sessions in some authorities has been so low that sessions have been cancelled. This evidence is mirrored in the Direct Payment Demonstration Pilot areas.

Different approaches are being used to support personal budget management. They include sessions in smaller community groups and collaborating with partner organisations. Changing the welfare culture, which universal credit seeks to achieve, is a mammoth undertaking and it raises issues which must be addressed to bring success. While solutions to the problems are available, they will need time and funding on a scale which has probably not been foreseen in the implementation plan.

global race  The second report is potentially more damaging since it concerns the IT system that’s being developed to allow Universal Credit to be calculated. Because it combines all previous benefits into one package claimant information has to be gathered from HMRC systems and the system used by local authorities to calculate Housing Benefit. It seems they’ve messed up and now need to start from scratch. With the next roll out due in only two month’s time (October) its looking increasingly unlikely that even the six centres that are earmarked for the next stage will be able to cope. These computing problems were highlighted earlier in the year but in typical IDS fashion our SoS shrugged them off and refused to acknowledge that his ‘baby’ wouldn’t be born on time. Again Public Net have the story:-

UNIVERSAL CREDIT AMBER RED-RATING VINDICATED

Headlines: July 15th, 2013

Last year’s Government review conclusion that the Universal Credit project should be rated as amber/red because its successful delivery was in doubt and urgent action was needed, has been proved to be correct. Current trialling of the system with simple claims has revealed failings and there is to be a new design for dealing with the more complex claims.

Universal Credit will simplify the benefits system, improve work incentives and reduce fraud and error. It will replace income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance; income-related Employment and Support Allowance; Income Support; Child Tax Credits; Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.

The Universal Credit project is being tested in 2 areas of the north-west, with another 2 starting later this month. The pathfinder trial is restricted to new claimants who are specially selected. Despite this narrowing of usage, it is understood that significant manual input by officials is required to verify accuracy and deal with other problems.

This assessment of the pathfinder is supported by the announcement that the next stage of development in October will be restricted to 6 additional job centres. The original project plan was for all new claims for out-of-work support to be treated as claims to universal credit from October 2013.

A potentially more serious aspect of the project is how the system interacts with Real Time Data System which includes information about earnings of claimants from HMRC. It appears that this element of the system design has been scrapped and it is now ‘back to the drawing board’. The official line about this re-think is that there is a need to explore enhancing the IT for Universal Credit working with the Government Digital Service.

The need for a re-think is unsurprising, because the universal credit system design was completed prior to the emergence of the Real Time Data System. Pressing on with the system design without knowing what the final integration requirements would be, involved many assumptions. This was a high risk strategy which proved unsustainable.

Re-writing this element of the system will take time and the trialing of in work claims cannot start until it is possible to use information from the Real Time Data System. Getting the IT system to perform effectively is only one of the major risks to the success of the project. The cultural transformation involving claimants moving to a digital service will be difficult to achieve. In a move to promote this transformation 20,000 Job centre Plus advisers will be involved in a training scheme and ten pilots will test how to best encourage claimants to progress in work.

6a00d8341d417153ef0133f5d6b4ef970b-550wi   Mr Smith’s plans to get everyone including the terminally ill and profoundly disabled working to make Cameron’s pipe dream of winning the ‘global race’ come true seem to be nothing more than pie in the sky. The tragedy is by pursuing their hopeless policies this government are causing misery and death.

Tower Hamlets’ Council Speaks for All LA’s About DWP Failings

_52802919_52802918 Back in February this year the London Borough of Tower Hamlets submitted evidence to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee outlining the difficulties it was having in supporting vulnerable families who were suffering the impact of welfare reforms. Their evidence is reproduced below, It speaks for all Local Authorities struggling to cope with the fallout of Iain Duncan Smith’s precious baby, welfare reform.

Housing-Crisis-Continues-001 Tower Hamlets was dubbed an ‘Islamic Republic’ by the Telegraph back in 2010 after it elected  Lutfur Rahman as mayor. In a 2012 local election the Tories expressed concern that that there had been vote rigging and electoral fraud.

1315088493-edl-fail-to-demonstrate-in-tower-hamlets--london_815479 Perhaps because Tower Hamlets has a big Muslim community it has been a magnet for extreme right wing groups such as the English Defence League whose recent attempt to hold a rally in the borough was thankfully successfully blocked by concerned residents of all creeds. Its a close knit community and a community that is suffering badly thanks to benefit caps and bedroom tax. In this sense it has a lot in common with many more Local Authority areas in the UK so the evidence its councillors presented to the Select Committee could have come from anywhere in the country. Here’s what Tower Hamlets said,

HC 833 Implementation of Welfare Reform by Local Authorities

Written submission from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets (IWR 49)

The London Borough of Tower Hamlets welcomes the Communities and Local Government Committee inquiry on the implementation of welfare reform by local authorities, and the opportunity to respond.

As Service Head for Corporate Strategy and Equality I oversee the Tower Hamlets Welfare Reform Task Group. This Task Group brings together officers from across Council departments, including Housing Options and Benefits, as well as health partners, advice agencies, housing providers and Job Centre Plus.

The close working of this group allows us to stay abreast of all critical developments around welfare reform and ensures we are able to work across the partnership. It also allows us to draw on a wide range of expertise and experience, from how we inform our residents to monitoring the impact of the changes.

Our submission reflects the expertise across the Welfare Reform Task Group and although I am its primary author, I credit the work of my colleagues in enabling us to submit this comprehensive response.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Inner London, and Tower Hamlets in particular, are particularly impacted by welfare reform due to high housing costs, low wages relative to the cost of living and barriers to employment.

1.2 The Council and its partners have real concerns that for some families the impact will be increased hardship which is likely to increase pressure on already stretched public and voluntary services locally.

1.3 In particular, we are not sure that the potential impact of a policy such as the national cap, unrelated to local rent levels, on high rent areas such as inner London has been fully considered.

1.4 The somewhat arbitrary nature of the cap, impacting those on sickness benefits, or those caring for them, and those exempt from seeking work due to responsibilities for young children as well as those fit for and seeking work, is a particular concern.

1.5 Our evidence is that it does have a differential impact on black and minority ethnic and female-headed households and that its equality impact should be further reviewed with this in mind.

1.6 We also have concerns about how the impact of the benefit cap on council finances, both directly through our duty to those who are found homeless, and indirectly through the pressure that increased hardship or forced moves amongst families, will put on services such as schools, social care, health and mental health provision, amongst others. Whilst difficult to quantify at this time, it will be important to explore further whether these new pressures and the impact it will have on the 1600 households and nearly 5000 children, will outweigh any savings achieved by the cap.

1.7 Other changes such as the localisation of Council Tax Support and localisation of the Social Fund will bring additional administrative burdens to the Council. It is difficult to see how devolving these very similar processes and having them run separately within separate authorities, potentially requiring a myriad of new IT systems and processes, can be cost effective overall.

1.8 More generally, we have been disappointed in the quality of information and guidance that has been forthcoming from the DWP in enabling us to deal effectively with these changes. Greater sharing of information about those to be affected or, in the case of the Social Fund about current caseloads and recipients, would have helped us prepare better for these new burdens.

1.9 Within these difficult circumstances, we have found real commitment within our authority and amongst our partners in registered housing providers, third sector advice agencies, health and Job Centre Plus, in working with us to ensure the implementation of these changes is as smooth as possible and that those affected are informed and supported to prepare. The extent of work we have done in this field has been identified as amongst the most comprehensive in London and we would like to take this opportunity to share with the Committee this material which is all available on our local Council website atwww.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

Finance

2. Are local authorities being allocated sufficient resources to deliver services such as localised Council Tax Support and advice to claimants on Universal Credit?

2.1 We have significant concerns that sufficient resources are not being allocated to support this major change to the welfare system. Indeed resources are being cut back.

2.2 Reductions in funding include:

· 10% plus cut in award funding for Council Tax Support (CTS)

· DWP has recently informed the council that Housing Benefit (HB) / Council Tax Benefit (CTB) admin funding will be cut by almost £500,000 for 2013/2014. (Circular HB/CTB A5/20012)

2.3 In addition, there are significant other resource pressures:

· We believe there is a risk of significant further reduction in Government admin subsidy funding to local authorities.

· The rationale for this would be that local authority admin requirements would reduce in line with the number of HB claims lost to Universal Credit. However, our analysis in Tower Hamlets shows that there will not be a significant reduction in caseload and assessments when HB migrates to UC.

· We also currently operate a joint HB/CTB processing system and the complexity of CTS assessments will remain on par with CTB assessment (and possibly more complicated).

· We therefore doubt that significant savings in respect of admin will be realised.

2.4 Lack of clarity about future funding: Considering the new burdens being faced by local authorities through the implementation of the various welfare reforms, it is yet unclear whether:

· The CLG / DWP have undertaken an analysis of the resource pressures and new burdens local authorities are facing and will continue to face.

· Funds will be made available to reflect this additional resource requirement, what the rationale for the apportionment would be and how much local authorities will be allocated.

3. Are there financial risks to local authorities from Welfare Reform changes? Are such risks being adequately addressed?

3.1 Benefits Cap: The most significant resource challenge for local authorities, primarily those in London, will not be the implementation of localised council tax support or advice on Universal Credit, but mitigating, as much as possible, the severe impact of the Benefits Cap.

3.2 Based on DWP scan data around 1600 households in Tower Hamlets will have a shortfall in benefit payments following the introduction of the cap. The average loss will be £103 per week (£6,706 per annum). The households affected include nearly 5000 children who will be impacted, at threat of losing their homes.

3.3 Tower Hamlets has implemented a number of actions to mitigate the impact of the cap including:

· Borough wide awareness campaigns of the changes

· Personalised joint housing options / employment advice visits to every household who is at ‘high’ and ‘medium’ risk

· A series of high profile drop in roadshow events (“Money Matters Month”) providing advice to over 600 residents in one month

· A short welfare reform video, booklet and practitioners guide

· Ongoing training for council, housing provider and partnership staff

· A rich number of resources for residents and practitioners on our website: www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/welfarereform

3.4 Despite these activities, we still envisage a large impact on a significant number of households across the borough.

3.5 In Tower Hamlets some of the biggest losers are black and minority ethnic families and single parent households, usually headed by women. We have concerns about the extent to which the equalities impact of this policy was fully assessed and considered before implementation.

3.6 Our biggest concern is about the human impact of this change on some of our most vulnerable residents. There will also be consequent financial risks to the local authority which include:

· Cost to the local economy: Based on DWP scan data the estimated total loss to Tower Hamlets residents in lost benefit payments due to the cap will be approximately £8.5m per annum which will have a serious impact on the affected households. As spending patterns are not entirely clear, it is difficult to calculate what percentage of this loss will be felt in the local economy, but the overall loss is likely to be significant, potentially exacerbating depressed demand, increasing debt and reducing local economic growth.

· Temporary accommodation costs: There are currently 450 households living temporary accommodation due to homelessness who will be affected by the cap. The Housing Benefit lost to these claimants has been calculated to be £3.27m per annum. The Council has a duty to house these residents. Tower Hamlets Council will be forced to meet these costs unless able to find alternative and less costly housing options for these families.

· Lack of affordable housing options: There are no private rented options within the borough or within most of the neighbouring boroughs which will be affordable to families affected by the benefits cap. The average rent for a two bedroom property in the Tower Hamlets is £350 per week, and a four bedroom is £524 per week as of March 2012, in itself over the £500 per week cap. The Council will therefore have little choice but to consider rehousing homeless families outside of the borough, and potentially some distance from families, disrupting communities, schools and support networks.

· Increase in homelessness: On top of those families already homeless and in temporary accommodation, there are a further 460 households currently in the private sector who will be affected by the cap. The average shortfall for these families is £104 per week (very slightly above the £103 average for all types of dwelling. The loss for those in the private sector is above a £79 average weekly shortfall for those renting in Housing Association dwellings and below the £143 shortfall for families in homeless accommodation). They are unlikely to be able to negotiate lower rent levels with their landlords or find alternative local housing solutions. Many will find themselves in rent arrears and subject to eviction, leading to further homelessness applications to the Council.

· The cost of rehousing: There is a massive human cost in re-housing families out of the borough – with the loss of support networks and community ties. There are also potential hidden financial costs to the public purse which may outweigh benefits savings. For example, many provide or rely on informal care from families and these costs may in future fall to the state. Allocating new schools, new GPs, new addresses, new practitioner contacts and of course new housing are all additional costs relating to rehousing some of the most vulnerable residents in society.

· Increased demand for emergency support: Those affected by the cap will face the sharp dilemma of paying their rent or feeding their families and heating their homes. Local authorities who will from April be delivering the Social Fund face a potential significant increase in demand for these, and for other payments including child care costs and discretionary housing payments. Our whole Localised Social Fund budget is currently £1.4m compared to an estimated benefit shortfall of £8.5 million. There are also additional administrative costs related to the localised Social Fund which each individual council is having to bear, calling into question the efficiency and rationale of devolving the Social Fund.

3.7 Planning for these risks is hampered by:

· Lack of information and funds from CLG / DWP making it difficult for Tower Hamlets to plan accordingly for the forthcoming changes, and to enable us to attempt to maintain the current level of service provision

· The timetable for implementation is too tight to ensure enough support is given to residents to cope with changes – both rehousing and finding employment solutions for vulnerable residents take time.

· There has been little or no information about the historic demand for Social Fund payments (i.e. who is demanding what and why) making planning and effective delivery of the new Localised Social Fund more challenging and less efficient.

Housing

4. How will the separation of the administration of Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit affect claimants?

4.1 LBTH, like most Local Authorities are committed to maintaining a seamless service in respect of both Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, whist the Council retains responsibility for the administration of HB.

4.2 This is being achieved in the following ways:

· Initially involving the retention of a single application form and joint HB/CTB processing via integrated ICT processing systems which issue separate award notifications.

· In addition to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit the application form also incorporates an application for education and welfare benefits.

· Currently recipients of ESA(IR), IS, and JSA(IB) are passported to full HB/CTB without LA’s having to enquire further regarding any other income they may have. However, the inclusion of Housing Benefit within Universal Credit and the fact that it is impossible to separate and disregard the Housing Cost element of the final Universal Credit award, means that “passporting” will not be possible and this is likely to complicate the Council Tax Support assessment process.

4.3 Local Authorities will have significant difficulty replicating the passported provision inherent in the current HB and CTB schemes. This means that a relatively streamlined, joined-up process currently faced by claimants is likely to be significantly complicated in the future.

4.4 It is also likely to increase the assessment requirement for Council Tax Support – meaning claimants will have to complete separate forms and provide information to both the DWP and to the Council.

4.5 Universal Credit is being designed to be One Benefit and One Payment and CTB local schemes are likely to closely resemble the benefits incorporated within UC. The rationale for operating a local CTS scheme independent of Universal Credit has therefore not been made clear.

5. How significant an issue is housing benefit fraud under the proposed new system and what measures are being taken to address it?

5.1 Tower Hamlets has a number of mechanisms in place to prevent fraud. The investigations team works closely with other agencies including other departments within our council, other councils, the Department for Work and Pensions, the police and members of the public to ensure incidents of fraud are continuously addressed.

5.2 The committee may want to consider how media coverage remains overwhelmingly negative with regards to those receiving benefit payments. A report by Turn2us, part of the poverty charity Elizabeth Finn, illustrates the level of disinformation here [1] . This amount of disinformation can have a negative impact on the quality of the debate on welfare reform, and the subsequent solutions to challenges around welfare.

6. Are there sufficient safeguards to protect social landlords from financial harm resulting from the payment of housing benefit direct to claimants?

6.1 Social landlords have considerable concerns about the payment of benefit direct to claimants.  Residents as well as their landlords will face considerable pressures as a result. The full scale of the impact has not yet been clarified – the pilots have not reported in sufficient detail to be able to take a view on the risk to rental income and that in itself is a worry. However, there are some key areas where social landlords do have concerns:

6.2 Impact on Landlords

· The increase in transaction costs decreases provider income which is used to invest in homes and services.  That income will instead be paid to the companies such as AllPay or the Post Office or the banks who facilitate the transactions.

· Feedback from partner landlords suggests that all are increasing the resources we spend on supporting residents and chasing arrears – at the expense of improving homes and services to residents – this is on top of the pressure on income should arrears start to increase

· We still don’t know how the courts will view arrears cases which are as a result of these changes – guidance to the courts from the Government would be useful.

· We would suggest that the level of arrears necessary to trigger a direct payment needs to be low enough such that there is a realistic prospect of the arrears being paid in a reasonable timescale and servicing the arrear is not significantly onerous on the tenant.

6.3 Impact on claimants

· Many of our residents are vulnerable to financial abuse, from legal and illegal lenders – we will need to provide additional services to identify and support these residents as otherwise this cash will be diverted to their abusers and we will end up pursuing arrears. Locally, we have a financial inclusion network which is seeking a range of ways to increase local people’s skills in managing money and avoiding debt, but the level of change associated with welfare reform is likely to significantly increase demand on these resources.

· Once direct payments are introduced, many residents may also be more open to abuse from family members and acquaintances. With the payment going to the notional head of household it will put many already vulnerable residents – particularly but not exclusively women – more dependent on their abusers and so more trapped in abusive relationships with the associated risks. Residents are also considering moving back in with abusive family members as a consequence of falling incomes because of the cap.

· We would suggest that the Committee seriously consider recommending a change to this aspect of the policy, specifically where a tenant wants to have their rent paid direct to their landlord they should be able to request this at the outset.  If it is an informed choice then we do not see how this would undermine the Government’s publicised intent that people should take responsibility for their finances.

Employment

7. What impact have Welfare to Work schemes had, or are likely to have, on the numbers of benefit claimants?

7.1 Our contact with our affected families in temporary accommodation, coupled with discussions with Job Centre Plus, local employment support agencies and housing providers have stated that the overwhelming majority of those affected by the cap and not in work are unlikely to be able to move easily into work.

7.2 This is often because of childcare responsibilities and/or childcare costs make it financially unviable for lower earners. Nearly half (46%) of those affected by the cap in Tower Hamlets are single parents. Many of these have children under 5 and thus are not expected, even within new stricter job seeking rules, to be available for work.

7.3 Other residents have poor health and are receiving Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance in reflection of this.

7.4 In the move from IB to ESA the Government has itself recognised that assisting long term claimants of sickness benefits is a long term approach which needs to be accompanied by training and support. There is no quick fix which will enable employment options to be realistic for those affected by the cap on implementation in April next year.

7.5 Often part time work is a useful option for those moving back into work following ill-health – but part time options below 24 hours will not exempt people from the benefits cap.

7.6 Even where those affected are available and looking for work, the lack of job opportunities, particularly in a job market hit by recession means finding employment is not a simple solution. In addition, many residents lack relevant competencies, which require significant additional investment in training and skills.

Other

8. Is the guidance available to local authorities from central government on implementing welfare reform adequate? Are there areas where more or better guidance is required?

8.1 In general, we have been disappointed about the level of information and guidance available to local authorities to implement these reforms. This includes:

8.2 A lack of information on the progress being made on Universal Credit implementation and likely timescales

8.3 A lack of information on the level of contingency funding available to help offset the impact of the reforms.

8.4 A lack of accurate information about numbers affected – the DWP scan produced to identify residents likely to be affected by the cap, appears to be flawed as it is not based on current data. We have received three different scans each with different numbers and names of those affected. We have worked with the DWP on these issue, but to help us identify errors with the scan it would be helpful if DWP were to publish their assessment formulae.

8.5 A lack of information with regard to local Social Fund administration – in particular DWP were extremely slow to publish statistics regarding current administration of the Social Fund and although figures have now been published on the DWP website, we feel it would be beneficial to visit the local DWP centre which processes Social Fund applications from LBTH residents. However, our requests have been refused, which is a pity as we feel this would be of more practical use than the regional and generalised Social Fund seminars being conducted by DWP.

8.6 DWP HB/CTB Circulars are less frequent and HB Direct does not provide the level of guidance we are seeking.

Methodology:

9. Is the Government’s timetable for implementing Welfare Reform achievable?

9.1 We believe it will be exceptionally difficult. The DWP have only recently set up specialist teams to deliver the benefits cap which will involve merging benefit streams to calculate the total. Effective UC delivery is likely to require the integration with HMRC’s RTI system, but developments on this have not been forthcoming

10. What evidence is there that local authorities are able to use effectively existing services or contracts for the delivery of new local Social Fund schemes

10.1 The new work to operate the Social Fund for Tower Hamlets will require additional claim handling and assessment staff and new systems. Workload planning is hampered by the lack of recent detailed information from DWP on the volume of applications and on the number, values and purposes of grants or loans.

10.2 We are evaluating potential suppliers of systems to administer the Social Fund, including some with whom we have an existing contract. However, it is very unlikely that we can make variations to a contract to encompass the Social Fund, given the potential value of the contract and the need to ensure best-value, fair and transparent procurement. This gives some concern in terms of the timescales to evaluate options and procure a system.

10.3 All of the potential suppliers are still developing their systems, so there is a risk that we may move to procure a system which is not ready for testing, training and adapting for local criteria in time for 1st April 2013.

10.4 Some council services, especially in the social work fields, already help people with their applications for Social Fund payments from the Job Centre, and we are working to ensure that this support will still be provided. However, it seems likely that there will be an increase in applications to the Social Fund, and there would be no additional resource in social work or in local advice agencies to provide support for higher numbers of applicants.


[1] Benefits Stigma: how newspapers report on welfare; Guardian Data Blog http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/nov/20/benefits-stigma-newspapers-report-welfare Accessed 11/12/2012

©Parliamentary copyright

Prepared 5th February 2013

250px-Canary.wharf.from.thames.arp As you can see Tower Hamlets council is pretty critical of the DWP. It seems that the DWP are not only reluctant to give us, the public, any clear and unambiguous information about their plans, but they also keep Local Authorities in the dark making it harder for them to plan ahead to help those in the most need – which they have a duty to do.

Personally, when people are vague and downright obstructive with me I tend to think they’re up to no good…so what is the DWP really up to?

Who said the poor can’t budget? Read this IDS and hang your head in shame.

sRBT1  I discovered an interesting website dedicated to collecting stories of people struggling with the bedroom tax. Sadly http://www.bedroomtax.org.uk/ so far has only one story, the story of Sue and Steve from Norfolk. But what a story it is. Its the story of a man, disabled by an accident, who has to count every penny in order to survive. I’ve reproduced his story below and urge anyone who has their own story to tell to contact this website and so help them build a database of hard evidence of what is actually happening to ordinary decent folk. Here’s Sue and Steve of Norfolk’s story. I challenge anyone to read it without shedding a tear…

 

Sue and Steve – Norfolk

SUNDAY, APRIL 14, 2013

Our story so far

 First some old history. In November 2000, I was in a car accident in which a car hit me from behind while I was parked off the road. The driver’s side (off side) of the other car hit the passenger’s side (near side) of my car.

 As a result, I have been using a wheelchair and not only have back, and neck injuries, but I have suffered a ‘Cardiac Incident,’ (a minor heart attack), due to rapidly increasing weight.  I had been a runner, running marathons and used a lot of energy; this meant I had a big appetite and it took a long time to change that and reduce my weight which at its worst was 28 stone, plus.

 I suffer from fibromyalgia, depression, sever pain in the lower back and neck and constantly have to have pain relief.  My left leg is useless as a leg, and will if I don’t watch it get caught under my own wheelchair wheels as I’m not always aware of where it is.  My right leg is better but standing upright, for even a few seconds’ causes a massive increase in pain then, I collapse and have even passed out.

 I have an adapted bungalow with a ramp access and a mobility adapted car.  I do not work as to spend more than four hours out of bed reduces me to tears because of the increase in pain. I could work from home, and under permitted work rules I teach a computer beginners class once a week in my village for two hours.  I spend a lot of time in bed and have, thanks to the ‘Royal British Legion,’ a top range bed which is motorised to allow me to sit more comfortably and use my computer.

 I have had three assessments by the Occupational Therapist in recent years and all recommend I have my own separate bedroom because of my medical conditions.  So, when the ‘Bedroom Tax’ came to light I was not overly worried for myself or other disabled people in a similar position as me as, we had an extra bedroom for my medical needs.

 At first, it was unclear how things were going to ‘pan out’ with the new regulations but one thing became clear, very quickly, the poorest people would once again be hit hardest by the new rules.  While this was happening the richest people would be paying less tax with a reduction of the higher rate income tax.

 First we had the letter telling us that our Housing Benefit was to be reduced by 14% as we have a two bedroom bungalow and as a married couple we only need one bedroom. I pointed out that we were only allowed the two bedroom bungalow because of my medical condition. ‘We know that,’ said my local housing benefits office, ‘but the Government has said that having an extra room for medical reasons is not to be taken into account.’  We could, however, apply for a payment from a discretionary fund to make up the shortfall.

 We applied for this in February and eight weeks later they have still not even looked at our application because there is still some confusion as to what our situation is, due to the Government not giving correct, or timely information. The council informed us that it is not clear if we should have our benefits reduced, and it is not clear that if we should, if they are allowed to help disabled people with a medical need for an extra bedroom from the Discretionary Fund.

 My first thoughts have been along the lines of what a ?$%& up. The second being, if it is a Discretionary Fund surely, that means the people controlling the funds can use their discretion on how it is used and who benefits from it.

 While this is going on we have also been told we will have to pay some of our council tax as well, which means that overall our housing benefit and council tax benefit will be reduce by 22.5%. This means we will have to find an extra £14.50p, in round figures, a week out of our benefits to pay these two items which is close to 10% of our weekly income support.

 So, where is this money coming from? Well, after a review of our budget (and we have run a budget for years to keep control of spending) we found that the only area we had so far not cut down on was food.  We already do not have any heating on in the house except Sue has a ‘Calor Gas’ heater for which she makes two bottles of gas last her the whole autumn winter and spring. I have not had heating in my bedroom for five years. I just pile on extra covers on my bed to keep warm and wear mittens (fingerless gloves) to keep my hands warm when using the computer.

 So, as I am the member of our small family who is benefiting from having the extra bedroom I am going to take a cut in my food. I have devised a plan to bring my weekly food bill down to just £12.71, Which includes all my food, hot drinks and a bottle of flavoured water a day.

 I will have porridge for breakfast every day, costing just £ 0.17p a day, with that I will have a herbal tea cost £0.04p then at lunch time I will have a frozen meal which costs just £1.00p a meal No extras like vegetables or potatoes just the meal, Sheppard’s pie, cottage pie, beef lasagne, beef stew, corn beef hash, mince hot pot, Yorkshire pudding with either sausages, or beef and vegetables, in gravy.

 For my evening meal I will have a tin of rice pudding, £ 0.15p every day and before Sue goes to bed I will have a cup of drinking chocolate, cost just £ 0.07p. Add to that a bottle of flavoured water at £ 0.38p and that will be all my food budget for a week.

 Not a lot of variety accept the lunch meal!  You may ask about extra salt and condiments but I will do without them and stick to my budget.  You can see my basic working out of food costs below I have even included the calorie values. You will see that nearly half of my calories a day will come from the £ 0.15p can of rice pudding.

Of course, if they decide to cut any more of my benefits then cutting down on my food will be well, a little difficult!  I have effectively, reduced my food budget by half to pay to keep a roof over Sue and my heads.

 Now, I wonder if any of our MPs would like follow me on my diet and donate the saving in food to a children’s charity?  I doubt if they would take up the challenge to do it for one week, I will have to do it for a whole year, to make up for the loss in benefits and pay our rent.  Of course I am better off than many in this world who will die because of a lack of food, in a world which grows enough to feed every one!

 This is how I have worked out the cost of my meals.

Meal

Ingredient

Amount

Cost

Cost of Meal

Cost per day

Cost per week

Breakfast

Porridge Oats

0.050

£0.05

Milk

0.350

£0.11

Sugar

0.013

£0.01

£0.17

£0.17

£1.22

Lunch

Box Meal

1.000

£1.00

£1.00

£1.00

£7.00

Tea

Tin of Rice

1

£0.15

£0.15

£0.15

£1.05

Water

Per day

1

£0.38

£0.38

£0.38

£2.63

Hot Chocolate

Cup

0.035

£0.07

Sugar

0.004

£0.0

£0.07

£0.07

£0.51

Herbal Tea

Cup

1

0.04

Sugar

0.004

£0.0

£0.04

£0.04

£0.30

£1.82

£12.71

 This is the calories in my meals

Meal

Ingredient

Cal

Cal per Meal

Cal per day

Cal per week

Breakfast

Porridge Oats

157.500

Milk

171.500

Sugar

50.125

379.125

379.125

2653.875

Lunch

Box Meal

371.000

371.000

371.000

2597.000

Tea

Tin of Rice

700.000

700.000

4900.000

Water

Per day

6.200

6.200

6.200

43.400

Hot Chocolate

Cup

129.850

Sugar

16.040

145.890

145.890

1021.230

Herbal Tea

Cup

0

Sugar

16.04

16.04

16.04

112.28

1618.255

11327.785

 This is the cost of the basic Items which make up my meals

Item

Size

Cost

Size Type

Cal

Porridge Oats

1.500

£1.60

KG

4725

Milk

6.000

£1.89

L

2940

Sugar

1.000

£0.89

KG

4010

Box Meal

1.000

£1.00

Unit

371

Tin of Rice

1.000

£0.15

Unit

700

Water

4

£1.50

Units

24.8

Hot Chocolate

0.5

£0.99

KG

1855

Herbal Tea

20.000

£0.80

Bags

0