Tag Archives: Housing Benefit

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.

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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.

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

 

 

Bedroom Tax: Lord Freud warns councils not to get soft on victims

The Baron cracks his feudal whip once again. He’s determined to keep us poor . Is this the reason why I wonder http://wp.me/p3mYc5-88