Category Archives: HOMELESSNESS

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?

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CAMERON’S ‘GLOBAL RACE’ : THE GREAT LEAP BACKWARDS TO A NEW FEUDAL BRITAIN ?

When I reflect on the past three years of Coalition Rule there’s no doubt in my mind that they are intent on destroying the hard fought rights of ordinary folk to a decent living wage and a secure roof over their heads. Every day, when I read of yet another assault on these rights I fear for the future of my grandson’s generation. The devastation that this government has presided over is astonishing and the insidious and divisive rhetoric of sanctimony that seeps from their mouths and saturates the Tory press is beyond sickening. The question is, why now? The usual trite excuse for austerity  and the complete destruction of the public sector both here and abroad- “its the banks wot dunnit” – doesn’t wash when the only real victims are the poor.

Over the last months it seems every Coalition politician asked to comment on TV or radio for whatever reason has been justifying the decisions and actions of government by referring to the so called ‘global race’ we’re apparently signed up to. What ‘global race’? Who exactly are we competing against here, and what’s the prize? Who’s putting the effort in and who’s reaping the benefits? When did it start? And WHY are we in this ‘race’ in the first place?

01_awelfarea     Back in May 2010, as he took up office at the DWP, the allegedly right honourable Iain Duncan-Smith set out his stall by commenting on the welfare benefit situation he was inheriting. He said,

The rise in working age poverty and continued inequality show that we must make work pay and the first choice for millions of people. It is not right that someone can actually be worse off by taking work, we should be rewarding such positive behaviour by making work pay.

Now tell me if this sounds daft, but if I were going to ‘make work pay’ I’d do something about raising the minimum wage by enough to make it possible for a family to actually have a life worth living; and I’d also do something about making sure there were enough of those jobs for those who needed them.

IDS obviously had other ideas. Since he came out with the quote above we’ve seen his attempts to ‘make work pay’ and heard his sermons with their feeble excuses of ‘fairness’ as justification for shoving more and more people deeper into poverty and precariousness. His reductions in benefits and his welfare caps and his bedroom tax and whatnot have pushed down the incomes of the most vulnerable poor well below the minimum wage level so theoretically it could be said work pays more than benefits – something that a decently paid job always did – assuming there are enough to go round. The point I’m making here, though, is that in order to be able to come on our TV’s and proudly claim that he’s done what he said he would do, in the process he’s made the lives of people who for one reason or another can’t work, far more difficult – and in some cases so impossible they’ve ended those lives in despair – and he’s done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for those people who are desperate to work but can’t find the non-existent decently paid jobs he keeps nagging them to go and get.

Steve Bell cartoon 16.07.2013 The devious lengths he and his ministers have had to go to in order to  impression manage the whole bloody fiasco are mind blowing. The DWP has now become renown for manipulating statistics and reconstructing reality. What with Lord Freud’s completely Freudian denial of the truth about food banks followed closely by IDS’s deadpan attempt to make poverty and homelessness totally disappear through a unilateral act of blind faith I’m left wondering if we should rename the DWP  the Department for Sinister Magic Tricks.

We’ve always known that Tories look down on the poor and do nothing positive to help them and we’ve all seen how our democratic process of government has been even more infected of late by the creeping virus of corporate vested interest. With the imminent EU-US Free Trade Agreement elephant looming large and ominous in the corner, salivating at the thought of all that lovely profit to be made here and rubbing its greedy hands at the thought of cracking its powerful whip if our puny government dares to try to pass any laws to stand in its way, the future for the likes of us is not bright and definitely not as rosy as it will be for companies like Orange.

0 I’m by no means alone in feeling these concerns. There have been numerous reports over the past couple of years presenting the evidence of suffering that Duncan Smith and his ministers want to magic into non-existence. Church groups and charities, the Children’s Commissioner, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and now, writing in today’s Observer, the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu have all expressed deep concern and anger at the growing scandal of our low wage economy. Dr Sentamu asks a very pertinent question in his article, a question which goes to the heart of this government’s pretence of a justification for their cruel cuts and tacitly exposes their smear campaign which labels benefits claimants as scroungers as a dirty lie. Talking about tax credits he says,

“The holes in millions of pay cheques are being plugged by in-work support to the tune of £4bn a year… Why is the government having to subsidise businesses which don’t pay their employees enough to live on? “

 shoes b         9-21-2010-12-37-45-PM

Contained in that question are the real shock horror headlines about benefits scroungers that the Tory loving Daily Mail and Telegraph have not been printing. This is the true story:-

FOUR BILLION POUNDS OF TAX BENEFITS GOING TO HELP SCROUNGING CORPORATIONS SO EXECUTIVES CAN LIVE IN LUXURY WHILE WORKERS’ KIDS GO WITHOUT THE BASIC NECESSITIES.

Coalition rhetoric seems to consist of just a few stock phrases that every minister trots out at every opportunity during interviews and speeches. They never engage in real debate. One of their biggest lies is the one where they tell you they’re on the side of “people who want to work hard and do the right thing” and they imply that people who do this will “get on”.This is their definition of  “striver”. I wonder if they realise that some dictionaries define the word as “one who works as hard as a slave”. So if you decode their message what are they really saying? It seems to me they’re saying they want us to work like slaves and do the right wing thing which is basically to help corporations make more profit. Their talk about Britain being in the ‘global race’ is part of this discourse. When Cameron uses it he implies that if we don’t get ‘match fit’ by being ‘strivers'(slaves) we’ll lose the race. Being ‘strivers'(slaves) we attract business to Britain. The goal of the Coalition (Tory) government is to turn Britain into a slave economy that attracts corporate investment to enrich them and their wealthy mates. They’ve already opened up much of the public sector to private investment and will carry on doing that until its all in private hands (they’ve even sold our blood!). It seems the DWP’s job is to manufacture a suitable workforce conditioned to accept lower and lower wages subsidised by more and more expensive credit from their loan shark friends. Enslavement is the only word for it.   Lets take a look at how far they’ve taken us towards that goal in the last three years.

Graphic-02A   No matter how hard IDS and his magicians spin and weave their web of lies about employment statistics the hard facts are that decent paying full time jobs are difficult to find. The graphic above clearly illustrates how many full time jobs have been lost since 2008 and shows just how precarious work has become. The biggest worrying factor, though, is the incredible rise in the number of people who are now employed on zero hours contracts in this country – especially in the 16 to 24 year old section of the labour market. Back in 2005 there were 50,000 working age people on these contracts. Last year that figure was 200,000. You can get an idea of the pace of change when you learn that between 2011 and 2012 the figure doubled in size. 38% of those 200,000 are under 25 and now 23% of employers of over 100 employees use zero hours contracts. The private health sector are now the second largest users of these contracts with 13% of them now employing nurses and healthcare assistants this way, compared to only 7% back in 2004 – another indicator of the creeping privatisation of the NHS. What’s worse most cleaning and catering firms that employ people on zero hours expect their employees to pay for their own training and uniforms. This information was obtained from House of Commons Library Special Note SN/BT/653 last updated on 4th July 2013.

david-cameron-welf_2438993k  Of course, David Cameron and his corporate cronies at the CBI see this sorry state of affairs in a very different light. They can go out and ‘sell’ Britain’s ‘flexible’ workforce. And it has the added value of making the unemployment figures look good; as Neil Carberry of the CBI said on the BBC on 15th May,

It’s zero hours contracts and other forms of flexible working that mean there are half a million fewer unemployed people than there might otherwise have been.”

Precisely, Neil. And with this in mind you’ll be wondering why David Cameron told Archbishop John Sentamu he thought his concept of a living wage was “an attractive idea”. Was he deliberately lying to the priest or was he doing the usual Tory trick of appearing to agree by not finishing his sentence?  What he surely meant was it was “an attractive idea for some but not the Tories.”

Productivity-and-compensation-1  The Tories’ scurrilous insults about working people can be seen to be even more disgusting if you take the time to think about what this little graph shows. The red dotted line refers to hourly wage rates in UK manufacturing while the rising blue line indicates productivity. Its glaringly obvious that since the 1980’s and Thatcher’s era of destruction, workers’ wages have not kept up with their output. People have been working harder and harder for less and less. This is the most up to date graph I could find but even on this you can see the beginnings of a downturn in the hourly rate in 2010. Its surely no coincidence that since Thatcher’s onslaught on trade unions and the consistent curbing and demonising of union activity ever since that time, workers in Britain have been exploited for their labour. And its certainly no coincidence that the gap between the increasing hard work and the poverty of the reward mirrors the increasingly gaping chasm between rich and poor. For me this graph is a testament to the fact that the wealthy are living it up on the backs of the impoverished. And now, it seems, they want more.

images  One of our most basic needs is to have somewhere safe and secure to live. A home. An affordable home. A recent report from Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Keeping up in Hard Times” (2012) has shown that,

  “From a living standards perspective, it is clear that the majority of low income families have insufficient incomes to comfortably meet an adequate standard of living as defined by the Minimum Income Standard and cover their housing costs. Even at the median, family incomes for owners and private renters do not stretch to cover both costs in a third of local authorities. This is not just an issue in London and the South East. Even in cheaper parts of the country and in lower priced tenures, housing costs can be hard for those on the lowest incomes to afford. For a very low income couple with one child, the cost of meeting the MIS alone is greater than their income of £19k. This means that even a subsidised social rent is unaffordable. “

The report demonstrates that in the whole of the South of England  there is no housing option which doesn’t cost more than 25% of the Minimum Income Standard. For a couple with two children this is calculated to be £23,700 p.a. BEFORE rent and childcare costs are added in. According to IDS, its ‘unfair’ for anyone to receive total benefits greater than £24,000. As the bedroom tax and the benefits cap bites deeper families are going to find themselves in very deep trouble indeed. How many will be forced to move into the cheaper housing areas in Wales and the North, looking for scarce, precarious work? If things don’t change they may well have to.

This won’t be just a divided Britain, this will be Ghetto Britain.

Homeless living in caves, #homeless #austerity

Just found this and couldn’t believe that in 21st century Britain people would be reduced to such dire circumstances. commonlyknownasmildred also has posts about a 60 year old man,George Rolph, an ATOS victim who has gone on hunger strike.We certainly do live in desperate times…this blog is well worth a visit.

Cameron in 2008:”In the 5th richest country in the world homelessness is a DISGRACE!” 2013: Why is he INCREASING homelessness for a mere 2% saving on the HB bill?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRI56wE7JWQ

snakeoil553 Way back in 2008 when David Cameron was concerned with making the Tories seem worthy of voting for he said a lot of things which he thought we’d all like to hear in order to convince us of this. Most of it turned out to be merely PR and rhetoric, as we’ve come to realise, some of us very painfully indeed. His promise to be the ‘greenest government ever’ turned out to be an empty one with the recent failure to include clear renewables targets in the Energy Bill along with rolling over for the powerful fracking lobby (who had a lot of help from George Osborne’s father-in-law). His much repeated fervent assertion that there would be ‘no top down reform of the NHS’, no privatisation in their ‘safe hands’. Well, we all know now that ‘promise’ wasn’t worth the paper it was written on; in fact even as he was telling that bare faced lie the private health care moguls and their pet MPs and Lords must have been laughing up their Saville Row sleeves.

shapps_1778088cBut I wonder how many people remember what is now exposed to be the equally callous Tory rhetoric, delivered from the very comfortable,  self-righteous moral high ground of Cameron’s Big Society platform on the subject of homelessness, with his side-kick Grant Shapps, the then Shadow Housing Minister and self-appointed, very temporary rough sleeper?

Watch the sickening You Tube video above and you’ll get the picture. Filmed at the launch of the Conservative Homelessness Foundation in 2008, Cameron was gushing forth about how committed his party was to the cause of wiping out homelessness which he described indignantly as a ‘disgrace’ in the fifth richest country in the world. In front of a charity sector audience he continued to preach to the effect that all right thinking Tories of conscience like him believed the ‘good society’ was just as precious to their hearts as the economy.

hungryBefore you start wondering if this is the same Cameron as the one we’ve come to know and despise today let me reassure you by telling you that after he said all that and a lot of flattering stuff about how third sector i.e. charities like them did so much good and should really be the first sector, he went on to turn reality upside down by confidently asserting that eradicating poverty was not so much about government spending money but much more about ‘understanding their personal and emotional condition’. On Planet Cameron, it seems, lack of money is just a symptom of poverty whereas the ‘real cause’ is stuff like family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse. {This essentialist nonsense, by the way, was wholeheartedly embraced by Iain Duncan- Smith after his ‘Damascene moment’ in Glasgow in 2004, who got it from that infamous right wing American ‘sociologist’ Charles Murray who visited Britain in John Major’s day and blamed all our social problems on a ‘dadless underclass’}

By adopting this ‘progressive’ approach  it seems that the Tory homelessness saviour Grant Shapps, back in 2008, was  claiming he would end rough sleeping by 2012! (He also insisted back then that he firmly believed housing benefit should be paid directly to landlords). Either IDS(S) was keeping his cunning plan for housing benefit theft under his hat at that point or these well-heeled idiots truly believed the unbelievable crap that poverty and homelessness were just mere symptoms of dysfunctional behaviour. Maybe there’s something in the rich diet of multi-millionaires that destroys the ability to think rationally…Anyway, whatever the reason, Mr Shapps was on a mission. He briefly befriended a few rough sleepers and spent the odd night on the streets in a sleeping bag (on expenses, of course) and made up his own cunning plan. After the 2010 election, on 16th June of that year he was quoted by the Independent as saying,

“This coalition government will not stick our heads in the sand and ignore the true picture of the number of those facing life on the streets.”

But what was the real picture of homelessness in 2008 after eleven years of a New Labour government? Was it the ‘disgrace’ Cameron and Shapps were claiming it to be?

homelessnessAs you can see from this graph from the Office for National Statistics, as far as statutory homelessness was concerned -that’s those people and families who can be defined as homeless according to the legal definition and are therefore ‘accepted’ by a LA as being owed a duty to be housed – during the early years of New Labour numbers rose from an already high point of over 25,000 when they came into office, peaking around 2003/2004 at almost 35,000 and then rapidly declined until by 2010 when the Coalition took over they were down to around 10,000. Labour have been constantly vilified by the Tories when they’ve stood up and opposed the bedroom tax and cap on housing benefit. Cameron and Osborne have frequently ridiculed them for recklessly spending more on housing benefit when in office. What this graph dramatically shows is that spending on housing benefit PREVENTS homelessness.

images (14)What the graph doesn’t include though is those people who are not ‘accepted’ as statutorily homeless, many of whom are forced to live on the streets in all weathers and often resort to begging to keep body and soul together. And here I must concede one point in Grant Shapps’ favour for it was down to him that local authorities now at least attempt to count how many people are sleeping rough on their streets. And he did set up some initiatives to try to help get them off the streets and into hostels by enlisting the help of a number of charities such as Shelter, Crisis, St Mungo’s and Broadway mainly in London, along  with regional charities such as Riverside in the Manchester area and the Whitechapel Centre in Merseyside. This is funded by the Homelessness Transition fund, a £20 million pot of government money.

images (13)A further £3.5 million a year was earmarked for Shapps’ No Second Night Out plan to further ensure rough sleepers got access to overnight hostel accommodation. Then there’s the £1.7 million announced just this year and dubbed ‘Gold Standard’ by Shapps’ successor, Mark Prisk, to be spent on training  staff working in all kinds of services from police and libraries to community nursing who might come into contact with rough sleepers. This follows on from a similar scheme launched by Shapps called ‘Making Every Contact Count’ in which such staff were encouraged to advise the homeless on ‘lifestyle changes’ among other things. £18.5 million a year goes to LAs to ‘develop ways to prevent homelessness’, which is a bit vague and £10.8 million a year has been put into a scheme that provides supported(financial) access to rented accommodation which is better but sounds like housing benefit by another name. When you add to all this the £30 million a year being given to LAs to use as discretionary payments to tenants struggling to pay their rent after cuts to housing benefits, it seems the government are having to throw an awful lot of money,around £456.2 million in fact, at problem they’re determined to make worse by clinging to their holier than thou ideology.

images (10)Despite Shapps’ best efforts to stem the tide, homelessness is well and truly on the rise again EVERYWHERE in the country and has been since the Coalition austerity programme for the poor first began. For example, statistics published by ONS in February show that between 2010 and 2011 homelessness increased by 114% in Manchester, 150% in Great Yarmouth and a massive 300% in Southampton. And that was before the bedroom tax and the cap on housing benefits kicked in. And by some strange quirk of irony the latest rough sleeper count in London carried out in autumn 2012 revealed that almost 25% of rough sleepers in the capital were in the borough of Westminster. Slap bang on the government’s doorstep.

sinclair(Howard Sinclair, CEO of Broadway)

Right from the start leaders of the charities co-opted into helping the government roll out its battle against rough sleeping were warning that the planned cuts in welfare were only going to make matters worse.  On 2nd November 2010 Howard Sinclair, CEO of  homeless charity Broadway, Stephen Robertson from The Big Issue , Jenny Edwards from Homeless Link and many others, wrote to Lord Freud over the proposal to extend the Shared Room Rate to people up to 35 years old. They said

“We have previously had a number of conversations with you concerning the
forthcoming Housing Benefit cuts. As some of the country’s leading organisations
tackling homelessness or representing organisations that provide housing and
support services to homeless people, we were therefore very shocked that, on top of
all the cuts to Housing Benefit in the Budget, the spending review announced that the
Shared Room Rate is now going to be extended from age 25 to 35.
The SRR currently causes considerable problems for young people, with many
unable to secure or sustain affordable accommodation and left facing shortfalls,
arrears and homelessness. A survey of schemes helping people find private rented
accommodation found the low level of the Shared Room Rate was their biggest
policy concern.In many areas of the country, this type of shared accommodation simply doesn’t exist. Even where it does, claimants already struggle to find an affordable property,
with DWP’s most recent figures showing 70% face a shortfall of an average of £27
per week. For vulnerable people who have been homeless, are leaving supported
accommodation, care or prison, even if a property is available and affordable, sharing
is often inappropriate and can be particularly detrimental to people’s well being,
undermine their recovery and undo the progress they have made.”

images (15)Time wore on, the housing benefits cuts got closer to being a reality, levels of homelessness were already creeping up and these guys got even more concerned. Many involved charities, such as Riverside in Manchester and the Whitechapel Centre in Liverpool were reporting twice as many clients as expected and noticed that a large number of these were ‘non-stereotypical rough sleepers’. In 2012 Howard Sinclair became more critical. Calling the bedroom tax and HB caps an ‘ideologically driven move’ by the government and Universal Credit  ‘very likely to lead to a cut in benefits’ he summarised his criticisms.

“A huge area of concern for the vulnerably housed is the proposal to merge HB into the Universal Credit .The Government has acknowledged that the new relief scheme for Council Tax should be retained by local authorities at a reduced level of subsidy support BUT…It is difficult therefore to understand why it is pressing ahead with a central Housing Credit in the Universal Credit. Paying claimants Housing Credit so they can then pay their landlord will bring financial difficulties for both claimants and landlords. The social rented sector tends to house more financially vulnerable people than the private sector and many benefit recipients already struggle to meet their household bills. The concern is that it will lead to an increase in evictions meaning that local authorities will see a rise in homelessness and increased expenditure. The proposed total benefit caps (£500 p/w for a family household) do not take into account the high cost of accommodation in cities, particularly London. Families with children looking for property would have to supplement their rent support very significantly using basic amounts they are currently entitled to for personal support It is understood that reductions in benefit to households that under-occupy their homes will apply to tenants of working age and by 2012 this will be anyone under 65.  The Government’s impact assessment anticipates that this change will affect 670,000 tenants nationally and approximately 32% of all working age Housing Benefit claimants living in social rented housing. It will also lead to pressure on local authorities to provide alternative smaller units into which secure tenants can downsize.”

http://doc.housing.org.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/Presentations/Howard%20Sinclair.pdf

images (16)Throughout the many Coalition housing policy documents I’ve looked at whilst researching this topic one particular issue crops up repeatedly, that of the private sector. One of the most recent document I could find is entitled  ‘Homelessness in England. Standard Note: SN/SP/1164’, last updated on 12 June 2013 in which a ‘key challenge’ is identified as

“To develop a suitable private rented sector offer for all client groups, including advice and support to both client and landlord” (my emphasis)

This idea is woven through everything the pre-election Tories were putting out and is integral to everything the Coalition have written since.Its obvious from this that the LibDems have had no influence over housing policy. What’s more worrying is that I can find no mention anywhere of a similar ‘key’ challenge to build more social housing. But if the real reason for the cuts in HB are the stated ones this flies in the face of evidence and common sense because the biggest costs of housing benefits come from the private rented sector and this cost has been rising steadily alongside rent increases in this sector, as this chart shows :-

 

46901

The National Landlords Association surveyed 455 private landlords currently letting to HB claimants and found that:-

  • 58% plan to cut the amount of properties they let to tenants on benefits
  • 90% said they could not afford to reduce rent to absorb the cuts to LHA.
  • There is an average of 4.4 tenants vying for each property across the UK.
  • The average number of properties available to let per branch fallen by 29%.
  • Research from lender Paragon shows that 41% of landlords plan to raise rents, with 55% planning to keep rents at 2010 levels, and just 4% planning to cut rents

Another recent report from Homeless links found  that the attitudes of private sector landlords could be putting benefit claimants at a severe disadvantage. From their much larger sample of 55,537 properties, less than 1% had landlords that explicitly stated they were happy to rent to benefit claimants.

The Housing Benefit bill,prior to the cuts, was indeed large at £23 billion. However, to put this in proportion it was 11% of total government spending, nothing like as much as the 52% spent on pensions, for instance, but quite a bit more than the 3% spent on JSA.  According to the Public Accounts Select Committee the figures for predicted savings are vague and haven’t taken into account the potentially large admin costs. Neither do they seem to have accounted for the huge amount being spent to attempt to mitigate the effects on rent arrears and homelessness that I mentioned above, a figure that I estimated would be at least £456 million up to 2015. The lowest estimated saving is £465 million which is just 2% of the £23 billion previous bill.

polyp_cartoon_Corporate_Thumb  WHEN ALL THE EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT SPENDING ON HOUSING BENEFIT CAN REDUCE HOMELESSNESS IS IT REALLY WORTH CAUSING SO MUCH MISERY AND DEPRIVATION FOR A MERE TWO PERCENT?

OR IS THIS CLASS TYRANNY ?