My wife and child are disabled, I care for them. Govt have made our lives a living hell. No government should do this to citizens.

I have no idea why my wife and I ever bothered paying into the system. Which, in turn, means we wonder why we ever bothered working.

People buy into all the TV productions, media headlines and political nonsense about benefits. But the likes of newspaper stories, “Benefits Street” or Benefits Britain are not factually typical or realistic. They are far from representative, and always one-sided.

There is a great myth that has been spun by the government and media; the myth is that welfare benefits were too generous, too high and needed to be cut.

However, the reality is very different from this image that has skewed people’s perceptions of welfare. The truth is that welfare benefits were never too high. Far from it, they were in fact inadequate.

The truth is that pay levels have been and still are grossly insufficient. Combined with high prices and a high cost of living, it is no wonder most people feel ‘cheated’.

But welfare benefits were only set at a level to meet these costs and prices. Even then, they were only set at levels to barely meet those costs. The fact that low pay could not meet these costs was never the fault of people on welfare benefits; they have no impact on your pay level.

Blaming people on welfare was a tactic government used to cause divisions across the country; so while people are busy blaming those not working, they don’t focus on their own poor pay levels, rising prices or what the government are actually doing.

Rents have been a particular issue. David Cameron promised that cutting Housing Benefit would bring rents down. This was always, obviously, complete nonsense with no basis in fact. Rents have risen year on year.

Of course, expensive areas have special characteristics when it comes to, for example, property prices, rents and other associated costs living in such an area – with London being a more special case.

But the government has taken London as a model and, as a political mechanism, applied the ‘one fits all’ idea across the country.

Of course, I do not need to tell you that house prices and rents in London are not the same as those in, for example, York, Great Yarmouth, Chelmsford, Huddersfield, Nottingham, Southampton (etc etc).

In fact, rents differ greatly, and this is why setting the Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit) on the median had some logical sense. On the 50th percentile, people were still likely to need to top-up their rents, but at least it gave people options (if they could find a landlord who would accept Housing Benefit).

On the 30th percentile, in many areas across the UK, people will never be able to find a home. For example, in many parts of the UK, family homes begin well above the 50th percentile. It’s no surprise there is a housing crisis – and a growing rent debt crisis.

This distortion of the truth by this government is absolutely appalling. They portray a nation of lazy scroungers – when in fact unemployed people account for only 3% of welfare spending. And, of course, unemployed does not automatically equal ‘lazy’.

The reality is that, after pensions, people in work are a much bigger draw on welfare benefits.

That is largely down to pay being grossly insufficient. The State knows pay is too low – that’s why all the in-work benefits exist.

The truth is that the government has betrayed people – both in and out of work. By keeping your pay low (via in-work benefits  – yes, people get paid AND get welfare benefits!), you are being held back in progressing your life and your career – whilst your employer, directors and shareholders benefit from all your efforts.

We worked hard for years, and both of us had excellent incomes. I worked in Computer Science and then later in Software Development and management. My wife worked in finance. We had cars, a house (or should I say mortgage), holidays every year, and we didn’t want for anything.

One can argue that we worked for it and earned it, but the truth is that we had good fortune too. As much as people try to ‘make their own luck’, we all need the cards to be kind.

But now, I am full-time carer to my disabled wife. I also bring up our children (one of our children is also disabled). We have costs due to disability that are both high and unavoidable. But we have no way of raising or earning money in our situation.

Most people who have never experienced disability would be astounded and scared by the sheer extra costs. They can easily run to several hundred pounds extra each month. We don’t set these costs/prices no more than we asked to be afflicted with disabilities.

It is atrocious and shameful what this government are doing to disabled people. Theresa May, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Iain Duncan Smith, Damian Green and others, such as Lord Freud, are not fit to be in power. Supporters of this government should be ashamed of themselves.

Both my grandfathers fought in World War 2. I’m sure they would be disgusted with the way this Govt., the media and many people in the UK view and treat vulnerable and disabled people. I’m sure they’d have searching questions about what they were fighting for.

My friend’s father worked all his life whilst also looking after his disabled wife, and bringing up his son. He paid into the system all his life. He worked hard all his life. And his reward? He died suddenly, shortly after taking early retirement. He never got to enjoy retirement.

His son, who is now himself unwell, is another who is being hit hard by the government’s welfare reforms. His son also worked for quite some years. People have worked hard and paid in, and the government are now not providing enough money, help and support.

What was the point of his working and paying in? Why bother?

It is very hard to get insured against such things. It may be easier or harder now, I’m not sure. But when we did it, it was near impossible to get cover with multiple medical problems and unpredictable progressive conditions. The policy we had would not pay out, arguing on legal technicalities. We progressed with it for a while but we eventually hit an impasse, where they basically told us we would have to take them to court. Of course, we were no longer in a position to do this. Subsequent cuts to legal by the coalition government were the final nail in the coffin. I do not see how David Cameron can say this is helping people, do you?

Moreover, though, it’s irrelevant in many ways. Had insurance paid out, we would not have been able to claim many welfare benefits. We would have had to live off that money until it was exhausted. And with no options for earning more money, that would not have lasted very long. As costs are far more than what we get, savings would have been exhausted too. Ultimately, we would still be in this position, even if insurance paid out. But it didn’t. And we are not alone.

Now, our fixed income does not even meet 70% of basic bills. These welfare reforms are hitting the most vulnerable the hardest. They are causing anxiety, depression, illness, homelessness and increased child poverty. This cannot be acceptable. We saw the terrible effects of homelessness and child poverty in the late 80s/early 90s. It was terrible. It put tremendous strain on the NHS, which of course costs a lot more than welfare or the likes of housing benefit. It’s government irresponsibility that costs money and punishes rather than empowers people.

We are adversely affected by a number of the welfare reforms, and the number of changes has a cumulative impact. Our situation is directly attributable to the welfare reform policies. We did not have these problems before the welfare reforms. These reforms have adversely affected the vulnerable, and to challenge this legally is very difficult with parallel severe cuts in legal aid.

When my wife’s condition worsened, we both had to stop working. I too have a slight disability but nothing like my wife’s. We lived off our savings for a time, but ended up having to down-size our house, sell the cars, belongings etc. Eventually, after having to give up our smaller home, we had to rent. We exhausted our savings to live on, sold everything. We lost everything we had ever worked for. What was the point in our working?

And now – now we need something back from the system we paid into and trusted, the government deny us this. They have broken that trust. They have put us into personal debt that is spiralling and – if our fixed remains so insufficiently low – inescapable.

Had we not worked, we’d be no worse or better off today. So what was the point? There wasn’t one.

This isn’t about party politics. No decent human being with an iota of intelligence could support this government’s welfare reforms.

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What happened to my wife and I

What happened to my wife and I

I’d just like to share again what happened to my wife and I.

If you believe or support the Tories these are the consequences. 

This is what happens when people buy into the ludicrous political spin and lies about welfare, benefits and disabled people.

Each and every one of us has a choice whether we believe what the Govt and media claim, or whether we find out facts for ourselves and speak to real people.

Each and every one of us has a choice whether we help promote such unacceptable behaviour and conduct, or whether we feel such things have no place in a civilized nation and should be stopped.

 

 

 

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Homes, Not Housing.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the then Conservative Government placed unemployed people and families in Guest Houses and Bed & Breakfasts. This fast became the norm with them, despite it costing much more than paying rent.

The shortage of housing, at the time, was in part because falling housing levels (due to Council House sell-offs) were not compensated for with new builds.

This is a problem we could soon see David Cameron’s puerile government repeat.

Many people attribute the Guest House and B&B families as the starting point for what became generational unemployment.

In those days, people (especially young people) were demonized and stigmatized by employers and people if they lived in a B&B or on a particular council estate.

I remember a friend from those times telling me how his job interview had gone really well, up until he was asked where he was from. The prospective employer frowned upon his reply, because the particular area was well-known for crime, drugs and other problems. The tone of the interview then changed completely.

My friend was tarred with the same brush as the criminals that happened to live in the same area. The reputation had become so well-known locally that it could engulf people, if others allowed it. Obviously, not everyone from that area was like that, but, like so many people, the employer was narrow-minded and just did not want to take his application further.

Bigoted ignorance in action – and, sadly, it’s just as prevalent today.

The sick irony about the B&B families is that David Cameron and his Government lecture to people today about a problem that a previous Conservative Administration were instrumental in creating.

During that period, the then Conservative Government created and deserted those B&B families. They did not care, and left those families and children to fester in a cycle of poverty. The children of these families inherited the cycle.

In living a life like that, daily life was about survival. The daily pressures were about the basic necessities of basic day-to-day living. Those pressures were daily and incessant. Building a ‘normal’ life was out of the question; people were trapped in a cycle, and getting employment was very difficult for most and impossible for some.

I am not partisan, but it has to be said that Labour did do a lot of good in lifting so many families out of poverty – families that otherwise would have been locked in a cycle of poverty and unemployment.

Now, this Conservative-lead Government is about to do the same again.

Forcing people and families to move out of and away from their homes and communities to cheaper and already-impoverished areas – where there is often much less work – will inevitably create benefit ghettos, areas of high unemployment, and pockets of extreme poverty.

Once again, innocent people and children will be unduly punished and become stigmatized or demonized.

Once again, the children will suffer the most and pay the price.

These environments are excellent breeding grounds for crime, theft, robbery, gangs, bullying, protection rackets, drug-dealing, drug use, drug-dependency, prostitution and even murder. They take innocent children away from education and the life to which they should be given a chance of having, and push them into a life of crime, unemployment and hopelessness.

They destroy people’s self-confidence, self-worth and self-respect.

We had developed; we had evolved; we had moved forward. We had moved on from those problems of 80s and 90s that let our children down so badly. Do we really want to go back?

One of the best achievements I saw in social mobility since the mid 1990s, was seeing children from poor backgrounds being able to grow up and develop alongside children from better off families.

In that environment, children can feel hope daily. They can see the benefits of working from both a financial and lifestyle perspective. The have real aspirations that are within their grasp, not just pipe dreams. They can form friendships that would otherwise be impossible.

It makes the world of difference. They can concentrate on their education and enjoy being a child or teenager. They can do this without having to worry about their house being broken into again, or the person two doors down trying to force them to buy or sell drugs, or forcing them to give them “protection” money. In my view, that is no way to live.

For people, children and families, a house should be what it was designed to be – a home; somewhere you want to go back to; somewhere you feel ‘safe’; somewhere you can feel happy; somewhere you can live, not just exist.

There has been so much nonsense in the media and from Government about housing, rent prices and Housing Benefit.

David Cameron has lectured people about housing, as if the poor somehow had a hand in setting the rent levels. The landlord decides this, and if they cannot get what they want from Housing Benefit (HB)/LHA, they simply turn to non-Housing Benefit tenants.

The idea that reducing HB will drive rents down is ridiculous; that somehow, landlords will just sit back and take less money, when they can just turn to working people not on HB, is just not realistic.

In fact, the opposite is happening, which is what many people in the property sector predicted. My own area, like many others across the UK, has seen a rise in rents in recent months. In my case, we’ve seen the largest rise in rents for years.

This is in part due to demand, as more people (especially younger) are unable to buy and are forced to rent.

Moreover, the demonization David Cameron and his Government have created means that fewer and fewer landlords are taking people on HB – and that includes working people.

Our landlord will no longer take new HB tenants. He believes the system is unfair to both landlords and tenants, as it punishes tenants for high rents that they have no control over. The flip side, for him, is that the much lower Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance levels are far less than what he can get if he rents to non-HB tenants.

This is going to develop into a major nationwide housing crisis.

We all need rents to come down, irrespective of where we live or whether we are in or out of work, in receipt of HB/LHA or not.

I feel as though this Government treats people as though we were cattle. They use the word “stock” to refer to many things, including houses and disabled people.

I think this gives us all some insight into just how fundamentally out-of-touch the Conservative-lead Coalition Government is.

When they talk of “housing somebody”, they make people feel awful. It’s degrading, condescending and disrespectful. It’s sounds almost like choosing a kennel for a pet dog.

The truth is, we are talking about somebody’s home, which is far more than just bricks and windows. We are also talking about their lives – their friends, relatives, community, schools, GPs, children, work and livelihood.

There is an ignorance in this country that has been encouraged by David Cameron and the Government about welfare, benefits and housing. There are many misconceptions and myths that they have helped to flourish. One of which, is that people on Housing Benefit are all unemployed.

This is simply not true. Figures from 2011 showed that only 1 in 8 claiming Housing Benefit were unemployed. There are now more new HB claimants in work than out of work. This shows that earnings are not enough to make ends meet, and that some regulation or control over rent levels is needed urgently.

Cutting and capping benefits is not (and will not) bring rents down for working people lucky enough not to need Housing Benefit.

There is also a myth that all people on Housing Benefit are somehow untrustworthy or high risk. This is also nonsense. In fact, data shows the opposite is the case.

Whilst there may be some that are bad tenants, the same can be said of people in full-time work who do not receive Housing Benefit. (Though many people still get in-work benefits, such as Tax Credits, as pay alone is often not enough to make ends meet.)

There are many people on Housing Benefit because they HAVE to be. For example, disabled people who are no longer able to work ever again.

They may be thoroughly decent, well-educated people, and their Housing Benefit arguably more assured and secure than, for example, someone’s job.

So, why would they be a high risk? Why on Earth would landlords refuse such people?

Should a disabled person who has worked for decades but is now unable to be denied a suitable home because he has to claim Housing Benefit?

Should a disabled person who has worked for decades but is now unable to be denied a suitable home because his or her disability dictates that they need bulky equipment that requires an extra bedroom?

Should a disabled person who has worked for decades but is now unable to be denied a suitable home because his or her disability dictates that they need a full-time carer?

Should a disabled person, with a disabled child, who has worked for decades but is now unable to be denied a suitable home because their disability or their child’s disability dictates that they need an extra bedroom for equipment, or as the child cannot share?

Should a disabled person who has never had the chance to work (because of disability) be denied a suitable home and independent living?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many more examples and scenarios affecting working and non-working people. This Government has failed to cater or consider any of these. In fact, they have ignored such data.

The Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) is meager compared to the cuts to-date. It does not come close to making up the shortfall. Many people are finding it impossible to get too. This is putting people into an inescapable debt cycle.

The Government are failing in so many areas at once, and it is about time people woke up and saw what is really happening – not what David Cameron would have people believe.

I am not partisan; the facts speak for themselves, though. The policy on forcing people and families to move away from the homes and lives into deprived areas is no different in ideology than that of “housing” families in B&Bs and Guest Houses in the 1980s and early 1990s. It rings truer than ever: same old Tories.

David Cameron and this Government are failing our children. They are failing the vulnerable. They are failing the elderly. They are failing disabled people. They are failing businesses. They are failing on the economy. They are failing the NHS. They are failing the unemployed, and they are failing hard-working people.

Let there be no mistake, it is THEY who are “all in it together”, not WE.

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Disabled Access & Parking

This week has been a nightmare. And not just because of all the rain.

At the start of the week, my wife had to go to a medical centre. In order to get to the entrance, you either have to go up 9 steps or via a long, yet quite steep ramp.

Neither of these options were of use to the disabled man we saw trying to get into the centre at the same time.

He only look in his 30s or 40s, yet he clearly had limited mobility and a limited ability to walk. He was being helped by (it later turned out in conversation) his wife.

He was unable to get up the steps or the ramp due to his disability.

Another person went inside to ask for assistance. However, there was nobody to help other than the receptionist. The person on reception was very helpful, but they could not help this poor chap, as they had no wheelchairs available to use.

It came out in conversation with the receptionist that the ones they had were old and damaged and were not going to be replaced due to budget decisions.

In the end, this poor man, who was clearly in pain, was forced to return to his car and had to miss his appointment.

This is an absolute disgrace, and unacceptable. Is this the kind of NHS we want – where the most in need are turned away and left in pain?

The entire site for the medical centre is a joke. The car park only has two usable disabled parking bays, with no immediate path. There is a huge step onto the path that leads to the steps and ramp. In between, there is a big bicycle rack that is mounted onto the wall, which juts out, taking up most of the path.

The latter makes it impossible for any person to use the wall to help walk and means there’s not enough room for a wheelchair on the path.

What is worse, this centre provides care for disabled and elderly people, and people with walking disabilities. This includes chiropody/podiatry. The irony would be funny if it wasn’t so sick.

Who on this planet designs these sites and buildings?

They clearly do not have a clue about the needs of disabled people.

For example, why have a disabled parking bay outside for dropping off, next to a kerb the size of Mount Everest? What use is that to a disabled person who has difficulty with walking or balance?

All too often, people equate ‘disabled access’ with ‘wheelchair’.

This is just simple ignorance.

‘Wheelchair access’ is one thing – and most definitely needed.

But ‘disabled access’ is something else, and covers a whole host of problems that people have to contend with daily.

So when David Cameron, Maria Miller et al claim there’s disabled access everywhere – we know the truth is far different.

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What £26k?

I just wanted to state some facts before I write further.

  • My wife is disabled and needs 24/7 care
  • My wife has a progressive condition
  • I am her full-time carer
  • We have  a disabled child who also needs care during the day and night
  • I am disabled too, with a fluctuating condition that is also progressive
  • We have other children too
  • Both my wife and I used to be able to work and did work for many years
  • I used to earn way above an average salary (more than MPs if I am being open)
  • We had to sell our house, car and valuables to support ourselves
  • Over time, we had to exhaust ALL of our savings (and pension) to pay for equipment, adaptations and care help for which we could not get grants
  • We are now dependent upon welfare and disability benefits
  • There was no way to predict earlier in our lives that this would happen to us, or how bad it could get. As my consultant said, it could happen to anyone, anytime.

Before the cuts, I have to admit that we did struggle, and we could not always make ends meet.

However, since 2011, we have had to replace some equipment – which used up the last of our savings – and the recent cuts we have suffered to-date now mean that we simply do not have the money to pay all of our bills.

This isn’t a question of us ‘cutting back’ . We’ve nothing left to cut back on! But the problem is bigger than that – the difference between what we HAVE to pay out and what comes in is simply too big to bridge.

I know that there are many people with disabilities in this position now but the General Public does not seem to be aware of how severe the problem is.

What’s worse is that there are more cuts to come.

I realize that many people who are working THINK that they are earning or have less money than those on benefits. However, the fact is that this is not the case.

Many people who work claim Housing Benefit (HB) and receive other benefits in the form of tax credits, child benefits and others. One problem is that many who do working don’t know about or don’t claim that to which they are entitled.

In the figures I looked at, only 1 in 8 on HB are unemployed – the remainder being working people, carers and people with disabilities who are unable to work.

The real issue is one the Government tries to keep the focus off – and the General Public from realizing – viz., that the cost of living is unaffordable and rising and earnings are too low in comparison.

This is the real problem.

What people have seen in Housing Benefit payment merely reflects the high and rising cost of living. It is a by-product of the real problem.

Implementing cuts will not reduce the cost of living or improve earnings; in fact, severe, deep cuts are putting a stranglehold on the economy.

When the knock-on effects of the cuts and reforms become visible, this will cast doubt into financial and employment markets.

One has to consider that employers know that employees are often unable to make ends meet on the minimum wage or low salaries. They are aware that people also have to claim Housing Benefit – because earning are not enough.

That should start alarm bells ringing.

In work, people have more easier access to overdrafts, credit cards and pay-day loans – but people are using these just to get by every month. The alarm bells should be ringing like crazy now!

All the evidence points to the real problem.

How can financial markets gain confidence over doubt in a country in which the workforce suffers from such basic personal financial problems?

One really has to step back and THINK about these things, rather than just REACTING.

Economic theory is one thing – but experience shows us that it takes more than that.

We must tackle the cost of living vs earnings problem.

I am fed up with this talk of the £26k cap.

I am assuming this relates to people in London or areas where private landlords are charging obscene or high rents.

I assume this because THAT amount of money (£26k) can only come from Housing Benefit – a benefit that goes to the landlord, NOT the tenant.

In my area, despite house prices falling and the cuts in Housing Benefits, rents have gone up by around 11%.

So much for the Government’s idea.

It was never a good idea.

Why?

Because Housing Benefit was only paid on the 50th percentile. People still had to top up their HB to pay their rent in full.

In addition, landlords stated that if they could not get the rents they wanted, they would just rent to non-HB tenants.

After all, as HB was only paid on the 50th percentile, there was plenty of scope above that level. This is especially as family homes (i.e., larger homes) tend to be above that level anyway.

That’s not to say that all landlords are greedy. But if a landlord wants or needs x amount in rent each month and they cannot get that now via HB tenants (because the tenant cannot afford to make up the difference), they are very unlikely to accept or even consider lowering the rent. We’ve already seen landlords deserting their HB tenants.

You see, it doesn’t do much for lowering rents – for people in and out of work.

I repeat: I  am fed up with this talk of the £26k cap.

Our Housing Benefit is less than £440pcm –  and we receive all the benefits that we are entitled to. We also have to top up to pay our rent.

We do not get anything like £26k. Not even half that – and that’s with two disabled adults (one severely), a disabled child and other children.

Yet, we face costs and expenses that most fit and healthy working people never have.

Because we have to use more gas and electricity, our utility bill is very high. It fluctuates, but during discussions with our supplier, they told me that my usage per quarter is between 2 and 4 times as much as a typical bill for a family in a similar property.

Why so much more?

Well, we have significant extra washing for a number of reasons (which uses a lot more than one might think) and equipment for a start. Then there’s extra heating. Then, we are at home when others are at work (and work gives people the luxury of using their employers power for free).

That’s at least 30-35 hours more per week, plus time otherwise spent commuting etc – it’s easily 40 hours per week more. That’s a lot more usage – but we do not get any extra income to pay towards this AND energy bills have been rising and rising.

That is the tip of the iceberg.

The point is, at a time when disabled people actually need more financial help and support, the Welfare Reform Bill fails to recognize this or protect people with disabilities.

As a start, disabled people (not just single) should be exempt from the Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate cut and exempt from the ‘bedroom ‘tax’.

Many disabled people and disabled children need an extra bedroom when they are simply unable to share – either because there is not the space due to equipment or because it is unsafe.

Extra equipment, such as special beds, wheelchairs, hoists, commodes and other equipment also requires large areas space. These are not items one can just put in a cupboard.

We have already seen how these cuts are pushing people into care homes or the care of the NHS. This costs FAR MORE; specialist care can cost thousands EACH WEEK and a multidisciplinary NHS team much, much more – not to mention using vital beds and staff.

As each week passes, my family is getting into more debt. With have a fixed income with no means to save. We do not have access to overdrafts, loans or credit cards. We have no disposable cash and now MORE than one bill goes unpaid each month.

And the advice of the bank, local CAB and others is the same – write to your MP!

When the truth of what is really happening to the vulnerable and disabled people (some of who are our brave soldiers who have returned with severe injuries)  – when that truth finally hits the eyes of the General Public, the majority will not tolerate it. The tide will turn.

But how many have to unnecessarily suffer in the meantime? How many have to be forced into inescapable debt? How many have to be pushed into care homes? How many have to lose their independence? And how many will die unnecessarily in the meantime?

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Angela

This post is about a friend of mine who has agreed, up to a point, to let me write about her situation.

Angela suffers from a number of conditions, including peroneal muscular atrophy, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and other complicated medical problems relating to a road traffic accident she was the victim of some years ago.

Due to some personal tragedies in her life, Angela now lives alone in an adapted two-bedroom bungalow which she rents. Angela loves being able to see and chat with friends, reading, listening to U2, and also enjoys watching soaps and ‘Countdown’ on TV.

Until 2009, Angela was able to work. However, her condition worsened and she is now unable to work at all. She pays for a carer via benefits to come and help on certain days with some of her basic care needs, including washing, laundry, hoovering, dusting, tidying and some aspects of shopping.

Since then, Angela has had no other choice but to exist on benefits and receives Income Support, Housing Benefit and Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Her Housing Benefit, when it was based on the 50th percentile, was paying for most of her rent – yet she still had to find just over £50 per month to top up her Housing Benefit in order to pay the rent in full.

Her home is not huge and (as Angela would be the first to say herself) not what one would call luxurious. In the past, she had to use money from DLA to top up the rent.

This is not unusual, as most people on Housing Benefit have to top up to meet their rent, as Housing Benefit rarely covers the entire rent, as it was based on the 50th percentile.

Angela’s home has been adapted – and Angela paid for this herself when she could work. She uses her 2nd bedroom to store various equipment, including a commode, hoist, a specialized wheelchair, other medical equipment and a special bed. There is nowhere else of this to go or be stored.

However, Angela’s life and way of life is now at risk. The recent Housing Benefit cuts (not caps), and changes to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to the 30th percentile from the 50th, mean that her Housing Benefit is much lower.

That now means that, on top of the £50 she had to find before, she also now has to find an extra £35 per week.

This is also because the amount of Housing Benefit is now partly determined by the number of rooms and people in a property. The reforms have no exemptions for disabled people, who often need an extra room (this is also often the case for families with a disabled child who cannot share a bedroom).

Angela simply does not have this extra money or any means to earn it.

After a number of discussions with her local council, consultant and doctor, it seems she has few options.

As she simply cannot make up this huge financially gulf that the Government has inflicted on her via the welfare reforms, she can either move or look at some form of care.

Angela approached the council about this last year (2011). Unfortunately, the council have no suitable homes for Angela and there is no social housing or housing association properties anywhere nearby. In addition, any new home would need adaptations prior to her moving in (in Angela’s case, the adaptations cost around £30,000).

Angela is reliant upon local neighbours and friends for essential day-to-day help and social interaction. They provide this help for free and gladly. These are also her friends, the people she mixes with, shares her time with, socializes with and the people she cares about.

If Angela is forced to move, she will be ripped away from her community and the place she loves so much. She will lose contact with her friends and lose her support network. In effect, and in her own words, she will lose what independence she has left.

This cannot, and should not, be tolerated by any of us.

Although people receiving DLA may be exempt from the benefits cap, they are NOT exempt from the Housing Benefit cuts and the Local Housing Allowance now being based on the 30th percentile, rather than the 50th percentile. They are also not exempt from the new rules on bedrooms and people living in a property.

I find this wholly wrong and very unsavory.  Angela, and people in similar situations, should not have to cope or deal with this on top of their problems.

Angela also does not have the money to move or relocate. She also has no money for adaptations, some of which are specialist and expensive.

Who is supposed to pay for such a move?

Who would pay for the adaptations?

Many people have to turn to the private rental market – but that costs a lot more money due to extortionate rent prices – and where would a deposit or bond come from?

Like so many disabled people who cannot work, Angela no longer has access to credit cards, overdrafts or loans; her income is fixed.

As Angela said to me, “I couldn’t afford credit if I could get it. At the end of each month, all the money I get is spoken for – it’s all gone on bills. People don’t realize how much more expensive life can be with a disability. They don’t have these bills. It’s the same with all the bills. I’m on the cheapest tariff with my gas and electricity company but I’m still £40 short every month. I’ve no idea what to do about that debt because it’s an ongoing problem. People don’t realize, I HAVE to use equipment and the cold affects me badly – I have to keep warm to avoid getting very ill. I only use the TV and household things, it’s the heating that ramps it up and the fact I’m at home most of the time. I never used this much when I could work because I was not at home anywhere near as much. I don’t think people understand how much more I have to use just because I now have to be at home most of the time. If I had a choice, I’d love to use less, I don’t have a choice, though.”

At the time of writing this, Angela’s only real option is a care home. It is outrageous – nobody like Angela should be faced with no choice or the prospect of having their independence taken away due to welfare reforms. The safety net of welfare should be there to serve and protect Angela and others like her.

It’s with perverse irony – with having a tory-lead coalition Government – that Angela is left with no choice.

‘Choice’ was something the Conservative Party ranted about for decades; yet here they are, taking choice away from the most vulnerable and those with the fewest options in the first place.

In her day, Margaret Thatcher offered a theological justification for her ideas on capitalism and the market economy.  She claimed, “Christianity is about spiritual redemption, not social reform.”  She even quoted St Paul by saying, “If a man will not work he shall not eat”.

Hmmnn. But what if a man (or woman) can’t work?

This is central to the concerns many disabled and vulnerable people have. I include children in that too.

Nobody is saying that we should do nothing about the people who won’t work.

However, it’s all to easy to say ‘get a job’, when we know few jobs are out there. We have rising unemployment, a high level of graduate unemployment and businesses unwilling or unable to invest in jobs due to the economic situation and poor growth.  Since being in power, the government has done little to really help improve the economic landscape (employers and employees say the cost of living must come down).

I do not think the government has done enough research or analysis. It seems to me that without establishing the requirements sufficiently, it would be foolish and very risky to devise policies and select models for benefits and any assessments.

For example, government data on Housing Benefit has missed some vital points. Only 1 in 8 are not working, only a small proportion of private landlords take Housing Benefit tenants, and few people get Housing Benefit that pays all of their rent.

We know that when Housing Benefit was based on the 50th percentile, there were not enough properties available for people and families at that level. We know this because most people still had to top up their Housing Benefit (from other income or benefits) in order to pay their rent in full.

This was wrong in itself for disabled people – after all, disabled people need DLA to pay for the increased and often high care and mobility expenditure when living with disabilities. To then have to take some of that money just to make up the rent cannot be right.

Yet now, with no exemptions from the Housing Benefit / Local Housing Allowance cuts for DLA claimants, that financial burden is so much higher for the most vulnerable. This hits disabled people disproportionately.

There is no question that welfare reform and modernisation is needed.

Neither I nor anybody I have come across argues with that.

However, these reforms, I feel, are outmoded and do not cater for a wide variety of situations. For that reason, on PiP/DLA, many more assessments will be necessary, which is a very costly process. It may also see the number of applicants rise – especially with increasing media coverage that could yet follow.

There are many disabilities and conditions where “care and mobility needs” have different relationships with the actual “medical condition”.

Sometimes there is a direct relationship and it is obvious. In other situations, though, it may be quite different; it may be indirect, consequential, fluctuating, immeasurable or “hidden”.

What this means is that a person might have a NEED due to disability because of a condition (as opposed to their typical everyday “care and mobility needs”) that is not obvious, detectable, always present or predictable.

This need could be far greater than they would have typically, but is a need that does repeat and also produces further, consequential needs. And with such needs come high costs.

For example, Angela has “flare-ups”. These occur entirely at random but only a few times each year. However, when they do occur, Angela has to use a hoist, special chair, commode, other equipment, and adaptations in her vehicle. In addition, her mobility is greatly impeded and some of her medical conditions worsen. She also becomes susceptible to other medical problems. These “flare-ups” can last a few hours, a few days or a few weeks. They are completely unpredictable.

During these times, her life is completely altered and her needs far greater. But these are totally unpredictable. This is due to her combined medical conditions – it’s not part of her regular care and mobility needs but it is still something she needs vital help with – all of which costs money. This is why Angela’s DLA is so vital to her.

Considering this therefore, assessing people via a model on just (or predominantly) care and mobility needs will inevitably mean genuine, deserving people will be excluded.

In the new Personal Independence Payment(PiP) system, there is talk in the PiP consultation document about whether one is affected for 50% of the time within a 12 month period.

However, as in Angela’s case, sudden changes and “flare-ups” can occur which mean that, although a person might only need the expensive equipment and care for 10% or 20% of the time in a 12 month period, the fact is that the time percentage has no bearing on the need or cost. In these scenarios, the person still needs the expensive equipment or extra or intensive assistance.

These are not problems or episodes that anyone can predict. This is also the same for people who suffer from disabilities or conditions where the severity fluctuates at random times between extremes.

There are a lots of disabled people like this and the Government MUST listen to disabled people and organisations.

I really cannot see how the above proposed criteria (or the overall model) will be workable. I do not think the Government has done enough research into medical conditions, disabilities, care needs, mobility needs, care costs and mobility costs.

The Government claims to be working with disabled people on welfare reforms. Yet so many disabled people, charities and organisations across the UK say that is not the case, and the evidence and data point in favour of the latter.

In recent times, disabled people have been made to feel demonized and persecuted by both the Government and the media. This has not helped at all with the reform process, has caused deep offense and anxiety amongst disabled people, and has risked setting attitudes towards disabled people back by decades.

Angela said to me that, as a person with disabilities, she has felt ostracized from other people and society by comments made in TV programmes and from what she’s read in newspapers.

These stories have been unnecessary, unpleasant and factually wrong. They rely on people blindly believing them, rather than checking the facts out for themselves and giving the matter due consideration.

The Government has not done enough to involve disabled people and have ignored evidence and data. As such, sadly, the attitude toward disabled people has been skewed by misinformation and misrepresentation. The picture the Government and politicians have shown does not reflect the reality or the modern world.

There are many issues that disabled people and children often face in trying to just live as normally as the next man or woman.

However, legislation cannot do the single most important thing that needs to be achieved in order to reduce the discrimination and persecution of disabled people, the elderly and vulnerable groups.

Legislation cannot alter peoples’ attitudes or their misconceptions about disability, religion, race and culture or indeed sex (in terms of sexual discrimination – which is still as much of a problem in some areas as it always has been).

That is the real challenge. That will take longer.

Welfare reform is needed but this Welfare Reform Bill in its current form is outmoded and a big step backwards.

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Housing

95% mortgages may help some people – which is great – but it is a relatively small step in trying to solve a huge problem.

I feel that many people, including the Cabinet and many members of the Government have failed to grasp the scope of the problem.

I feel that they are so far removed from everyday people (for want of a better phrase), that they are simply unable to see or accept the problems real people face every day.

I am also unconvinced that socially subsidized housing is the right way forward when it is not part of a multi-pronged sustainable approach to enabling people to have a home.

That is one of the major problems. The Government sees the problem of housing as one of bricks and mortar; as though we are all just numbers that will fit neatly into boxes.

Cllr Daisy Benson reported that there are now 9,000 people on the Council’s housing waiting list in Reading and a big shortage of affordable family homes.

There is a similar story in York, as reported by the City of York Council’s Tracey Simpson-Laing, with thousands on the waiting list but only a hundred or so houses coming up each year.

And of course, there is no guarantee that a house that comes up is suitable or has enough bedrooms etc.

In fact, the story is very similar across the UK and the Government has been far too slow to respond.

The Government must eventually see that people don’t just look for a house or a bungalow. They look at location, the local community, nearby schools, shops and amenities. They imagine themselves in that house; there belongings in there, who will have what room and where the settee and TV will go!

In short, people look for whether a house can be their home – and the two are far from the same.

This is not about being ideal – far from it. But it is about being realistic about what people need and expect in our modern world – for it is that which determines what they will spend their money on – especially when spending so much.

One has to remember, also, that a first-time buyer is not always a single person or a couple looking for their first home. Many first-time buyers are families and may need home with 2, 3 or 4 bedrooms.

It’s also worth noting two other key points: –

One, that many family homes come with one smaller bedroom or a “box room”. This means that for many families, they need a 3 bedroom house rather than a two or a 4 bedroom rather than a 3. The smaller box room bedroom has become something of a “non-room” for many families, simply because the sheer size is too small for practical usage. Personally, I can think of a few friends who use the room for storage space, which is another vital aspect needed in any modern family home.

Secondly, many newer or new-build homes are much smaller than older comparative homes. The knock-on effects of this are manifold. For example, many families have to look at houses with another bedroom. So, whereas with older houses they may have looked at a 2 bedroom house for just themselves and 1 child, they now have to look at a 3 bedroom house because in new builds there is simply not enough space in the 2 bed. And, what if they wanted another child?

In relation to this, I have read reports from Cllrs at Council’s up and down that in the UK (for years) there has been a huge shortfall in family housing, i.e., 4 or 5 bedroom houses for large families.

Large families can exist for many reasons. Sometimes, there is no doubt, it is down to parents having too many children with no thought of the consequences.

But it’s not all because of ‘having too many children’, as seems to be in the news a lot. It could be due to twins, triplets, extended family, an elderly relative living with their son/daughter, or due to the serious illness or disability of a family member or members. There are many reasons and we should not be too quick to judge without knowing specific details.

We need far more of these types of houses but the question is how many of these type of houses will be built?

We must have homes for our families, including large families; they have to live somewhere. I despise the kind of self-righteous attitude that has created a growing stigma for families with a large number of children. This stigma promotes hatred, bullying and social exclusion – and it is unacceptable.

Whilst there is something to be said about adults and parents being responsible about having children, we also have to recognize that people’s lives, circumstances and situations differ greatly and that one cannot make sweeping assumptions about people based upon the number of children they have.

More importantly, this awful stigma affects the children far more than the adults.

A child does not plan or somehow select to be born with a disability, or born into poverty, or born to irresponsible parents.

Such children should not be punished, bullied, excluded or demonized for any of these reasons.

I would ask any reader to please take a step back and just consider this.

There are wider problems that have an impact on housing. When it comes to the crunch, the Government has failed to tackle any of the big hurdles people face above and beyond finding a deposit for a house.

The most obvious that affects most people (though ironically perhaps not the policy makers themselves as many are millionaires) is the high cost of living.

Having a mortgage is one thing – but then being able to pay that and then pay expensive utility bills – especially gas and electricity – plus buying and running a car (or using public transport) and then paying council tax and other bills is simply beyond the means of a growing number of people.

And that is a large contributing factor as to why many people live at their parent’s home much longer, and why the average age of a first-time buyer is 37.

If we want to resolve the housing problem in the UK, we must equalise more the gap between earnings and the cost of living. This, in whatever form, has to mean bringing cost of living down or raising people’s income or both.

I believe this to be an inescapable problem. There are already thousands (if not more) of people and families who are simply unable to make ends meet.

By that, I do not mean that paying their bills is a struggle – I mean that at the end of their month, they have paid out ALL of their income but there are still bills outstanding. That means debts are mounting up.

This is particularly impacting on the poorest families in the country and vulnerable groups, such as disabled people and families with disabled children – the latter of which often face significant extra costs that most people are not aware of, for which they get no extra financial help. I think the costs would really shock most people.

However, another group of people who find it hard or impossible to buy are those who have had or have, for whatever reason, a poor credit history and rating.

We have to recognize that many people have been forced into this position due to economic problems far beyond their personal control and that the cost of living has a large part to play in this. In resolving this, more modern solutions are needed that accommodate this.

Having the availability of housing and the ability to get that housing go hand-in-hand – something the Government has missed altogether when it comes to people with a poor credit history or people with life-long progressive illnesses, conditions or disabilities.

There is yet a further group of people who are often unable to buy. I am not talking about a choice they have made; this is a group of people who, for some other reason or reasons, simply cannot buy.

As a result of this, they are forced to rent. As we know, with a dire shortage of housing (which is much higher than the number of new houses the Government is planning), this usually means looking to the private rental sector.

This is another huge hole in the Government’s policies. The Government wants private rent prices to go up. However, I believe their premise to be flawed.

In addition, it fails to deal with potentially millions of people. For example, what are those who are unable to buy and who cannot afford private rents to do?

We already know there is not the available social or council housing. So, what to those people do?

If rents in the private sector were more reasonable (or even capped), this would open up opportunities for thousands of people and families up and down the UK who are unable to buy.

However, the Government wants the opposite; they want to see price go up. The problem is, it’s not a solution for people, and it’s not part of a more comprehensive approach, which is why it is fundamentally flawed. Their ideology assumes we all fit neatly into pigeon holes. But people don’t.

With a shortage of social and council housing, what do people who are unable to buy and cannot afford the high private rents do?

A recent news item quoted three main reasons for rising rents.

• Not enough homes have been built
• Renting is a lifestyle choice
• First-time buyers cannot get on the property ladder

The first reason is clear and obvious and one with which few would disagree.

The second I do not subscribe to. For many people, for many reasons, renting is the only option. A choice of one is no choice at all.

The third I agree with but does not express explicitly enough the wide spectrum of personal and family circumstances that exist.

The essential problem in the private rental market seems to be one the Government fails or refuses to recognize.

People have complained about people highlighted in BBC TV programmes in London who have been paid £2K+ in Housing Benefit per month.

However, the BBC programmes, such as Panorama, have been one-sided and not objective.

For example, the programmes did not show a typical family or person in receipt of Housing Benefit and how little they receive. In fact, most dependent solely on benefits live 40% under the minimum standard of living, which is significantly lower than the minimum wage.

It did not show how the levels of Housing Benefit differ around the UK (as they are based on a local percentile basis) – that in some areas, some families would not even get £280 per month towards a 4 bedroom house, leaving them with a shortfall of several hundred pounds to find somehow.

Because of these points, viewers were left with the impression that what was shown in the programme is what it is like for all people claiming Housing Benefit, right across the UK. It tarnished everyone with the same brush. But that is not the case at all.

It’s important to remember too that the Housing Benefit, directly or indirectly, goes to the landlord – and that the landlord determines his/her rent.

So, though the Government’s policy may mean fewer people can rent in expensive London, the ripple effect across the country will devastate families.

Outside London and across the UK, where Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance levels are MUCH lower, thousands of people and families on the lowest incomes now face a huge shortfall each month that they will simply be unable to make up.

This is already making people homeless and has pushed people out of work.

The effect on families with a disabled parent/child or both has been particularly devastating.

The cost of renting in London is phenomenally high. In fact, London has some of the highest rent prices in the world.

It is for that reason that Housing Benefit levels are high there, due to the Local Housing Allowance mechanism. The local market determined the price, and local Housing Benefit levels reflected that.

So let’s be clear on this: Housing Benefit levels REFLECTED rent prices NOT AFFECTED them.

The Housing Benefit Local Housing Allowance levels were based on the 50th percentile. So you can imagine for yourself how much per month properties on the 90th percentile would rent for in London.

The Government has failed to acknowledge this and as a result, the poorest, least well off and most vulnerable are the very groups that will suffer the most, not just in London but across the UK.

These are the very people a civilized nation should strive to care for and protect – children, the disabled, long-term ill, injured soldiers, those with progressive conditions and the elderly.

Putting the scroungers aside for a second, can any of these people, including severely disabled people and children, help or influence housing rental prices?

Is it their fault that they prices have been over-inflated?

Were they the people who created this problem?

Were they the greedy landlords who were quite happy to charge extortionate rents during the boom?

I think not. So why is the Government punishing and demonizing those people now?

It is possible, feasible and affordable to put measures in place to root out scroungers and those taking advantage of the systems whilst still paying for, caring for and protecting the most vulnerable people in our country. So why have the Government not done this?

When it comes to disabled people, children, families and housing, there is quite often simply no suitable social housing available. This can be resolved via the private sector, but then the rent is much higher or unaffordable.

Quite often, such people need an extra room or bedroom. There is, for example, extra equipment that is often large, expensive and takes up space. For example, special beds, commodes, wheelchairs, hoists, special chairs, adaptations and medical equipment.

There are many circumstances, also, where a disabled child or disabled adult is unable to share a bedroom and this necessitates another bedroom.

These reasons and others often mean that a disabled person, parent or child needs an extra room. It is not a choice but a necessity due to disability and purely on the grounds of that or medical reasons. Disabled people do not chose to need another room in the same way as they did not choose to be disabled.

There are many places in the UK where there are simply no suitable properties on the 40th percentile (let alone the 30th percentile) for disabled people and families with a disabled parent, disabled child or both.

There is no provision in the Welfare Reform Bill for these situations or these people. It is almost as though the cuts have targeted the most vulnerable the most, especially as Discretionary Payments do not come close to the hundreds of pounds per month shortfall that such vulnerable people face.

Yet, the Government has failed to recognize this also – despite a plethora of evidence and impact assessments that prove otherwise.

The Housing Benefit changes and the Welfare Reform Bill will only add to the housing problems and, in the medium-long term, cost the nation far more money. It is also creating new problems that we did not have before.

However, the real cost of this is the effects on people’s health. There have already been cases of this and fatalities.

This is simply unacceptable. We have brave soldiers who have returned home injured and permanently disabled from fighting in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t they deserve more?

I am sure that those who fought for our freedom during two world wars would be ashamed of a nation intolerant of those that need help the most.

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