Who Benefits?

I am, personally, repulsed by David Cameron’s welfare reforms, benefit cuts and housing benefit caps. I simply cannot understand how any caring, humane human could possibly support and agree with such policies.

I must make it clear that I say this not because of any political motivation or affiliation, but through both personal experience and that of others I have met this year. I am very concerned and I think that any welfare reforms, caps and cuts should not hurt those people in our country who we should so vehemently protect, support and help. I would be saying the same if Labour or any other party was in power.

I think on the part of Cameron, IDS, Lord Freud, Maria Miller et al – as people in government – to know the details and to have read, in full, the impact analysis and assessments and then to still proceed has shown poor judgement.

For me, it does say something about the make-up of these people, irrespective of politics. Now, that is just my view of them and it may not be the case – they may not appreciate the impact (some would say that just shows ignorance) – but it is the impression and perception with which many people are left to consider.

I am disappointed, in general, that more MPs (of any persuasion) have not done or said more; it is certainly not down to not enough people writing to their MPs.

I am not opposed to the idea of reforming the welfare system; it is in need of modernising and I believe savings could be made by doing so. However, I cannot support the proposed changes as they will hurt the most vulnerable the most – which is exactly the opposite of what a welfare system should do.

I am all for rooting out those that are genuine ‘scroungers’ or ‘workshy’ but NOT at the expense of thousands of genuine disabled people and children.

The Welfare Reform Bill is also ridiculous in nature; the premise that people shall have to fall neatly into boxes or pigeon-holes is simply unrealistic and unworkable.

For example, as anyone with children will know, as children grow, their needs change. So, where two brothers may share a bedroom when they are young and not separated by many years, this is not appropriate when the gap is larger or where both are older.

I should not need to spell out the obvious but a 15/16-year-old boy is not just a boy but also a young man. That person, by 15, has a life of their own, their own hobbies, pastimes and interests, friends they want to invite over, a need for ‘their own space’ and possibly GCSE work that means they need their own room and workspace. It is also impractical to share for more simple reasons where a younger brother has to go to bed earlier.

Of course not all families, people and children are the same, but just because a situation does not affect one adversely does not negate this or mean that is the case for everyone.  It’s obvious, but people are different and children, especially, can have varying needs. There are far more complicated but still common scenarios too, which I shall come back to in a while.

As time progresses and the 15-year-old gets older and leaves school, perhaps to go to college, university or work, they may move out temporarily on numerous occasions. Under the Welfare Reform Bill, parents would be expected to not be under-occupied. This would mean moving. However, this is simply ridiculous and unworkable. Children often do come and go from living at the home of parents and one of the most comforting things for a child to know is that,  if they fall on hard times (unemployment, divorce, illness, disability), they are always welcome back with mum and dad. This is just a part of life and to not recognise this in the Welfare Reform Bill is to not recognise families and our way of life.

The welfare reforms and changes cover a wide spread of areas and people, including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Housing Benefit (HB), Local Housing Allowance (LHA), Incapacity Benefit etc.

However, disturbingly, they all share a common thread viz., that disabled people and vulnerable groups will be hit the hardest.

Benefits such as those above are supposed to be there to help people – particularly those who need help the most. They should be part of a framework that empowers people and aims to make life easier for those whose days are dominated by illness, disability, poverty and pain.

I think that would sound reasonable to most people….would you agree?

Yet these reforms are, in their very nature, diametrically opposed to that end.

There are many areas of the UK where private rental market rates are very high and fluctuate. In these areas, reforms will exclude many homes, as the actual rents are much higher than what would be payable via housing benefit with the new local housing allowance levels.

The Government argue, with little conviction, that they hope to influence market rates. This is absolute nonsense, as a market would not bear this. Overall, if landlords cannot get the money they want or need with tenants via housing benefit, they will simply not rent to them anymore. They will just find other tenants who can pay what they are asking.

There is an unpleasant element of greed with some landlords. There is nothing wrong with making a profit – and even a healthy profit. There are, though, in some areas, family properties on the market with outrageous levels of rent, far in excess of what is reasonable. In this sense, there is a problem.

However, I do not believe for one second that the Government genuinely believes that these measures will bring the cost of renting down. The Government are just spinning a line and telling people what they think they want to hear.

I have come across people already who are having to look for a new home due to the caps. However, it seems even council staff are agreeing that, in difficult situations, there are no suitable properties or accommodation on the 40th percentile, never mind the 30th percentile.

The Media is very powerful and Government uses this to its advantage. Sometimes, just telling people what they want to hear or using distraction is enough to squash unwanted public debate.

I am concerned for all those affected by these changes. However, there are two particular areas that I find expressly abhorrent.

The first is the possibility of people losing part or all of their Disability Living Allowance (DLA). This is vital money for many people. Let’s remember, also, that we’re not talking about hundreds of pounds every week. By today’s standards, it is a very small amount that people have to stretch a long way.

But it is vital money, used for both personal care and mobility. Many people already have to put some of their DLA towards making up a rent difference or basic necessities that would be otherwise unaffordable.

Lots of disabled people also have extra costs that they would otherwise not have but for their disability. These costs fall outside the brackets of personal care and mobility but they often have to use some or all of their DLA for such items. This includes some medical items that are not available on the NHS.

How can any respectable, reasonable person want to take this away from people who need this relatively small amount of money so gravely?

The second specific area is related to Housing Benefit (HB), Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and families.

The LHA rates and HB/LHA mean that, for example, if you have three children and two adults that you would only be entitled to a 3 bedroom house.

The reforms take no account of families with disabilities and how it affects their home or home life.

There are many families that need, for example, a 4 bedroom house because a child cannot safely share a bedroom with another child.

This could be down to the nature of a disability or illness, its symptoms and/or knock-on effects. These can be things that occur every night – e.g., severe bed-wetting, fits, insomnia, pain, broken sleep patterns, panic attacks, sickness etc

There might also be medical equipment, other equipment and/or medication that has to be in the bedroom, which would make it impossible and very dangerous to have another child share the room.

Would one put a child in that situation?

Personally, I see this as a form of disabled discrimination. Discrimination is not just about not treating disabled people less favourably than others. It’s also about accommodating their additional needs because of disability – because but for the fact they have that disability, they would not have those extra needs or requirements.

There are many families where there is a disabled parent and disabled child. Often where the other parent is fit and healthy, they become the full-time, 24-7 carer. This means they cannot take on a  job or any work and thus there circumstances, through no fault of their own, have limited their income and opportunities. They become, through no fault of their own, stuck in a rut and trapped, with only benefits on which to rely.

Imagine a mum, mother to three children, all the usual household chores and jobs to attend to, but not being able to get any help from dad because he is unable.

There’s all those usual chores but then also having to be a full-time carer to a disabled husband and disabled son. That’s 7 days a week, any and all hours of the day and night, no holidays, no salary – just unrelenting work and care.

People living daily in these very difficult situations have enough pain and anguish; the reforms do nothing to help.

I consider the reforms to also be neglectful when it comes to situations as described above. We are supposed to be a developed nation; a compassionate and reasonable people; a civilized society – to potentially force a child to share a bedroom when that could be unhealthy, inappropriate, unsafe or dangerous is unforgivable.

If a parent was to expose a child to danger on a regular basis, this would be considered child neglect or child abuse. How can this be ratified in Government policy? And of all things, in welfare reform?

There is also wider impact for families. That does not mean that all families will be adversely affected. However, if you have, for example, more than 5 children, spread across the age spectrum, you don’t need more than a bit of basic maths and logic to figure out what size of property is needed.

Moreover, for families, housing is far more than just bricks, windows and doors. For all of us, we need to feel a house is a home – but it is so vital for family life. Housing needs to be more than just ‘a house’.

“Being housed” is a somewhat disengaged and matter-of-fact term that is far removed from what it actually means to people in reality.

In reality, being housed is about finding and getting a home.

A home is not just a house, bungalow or flat; having or making a ‘home’ is more than the building of bricks or buying a settee, cooker or plasma TVs.

‘Home’ is also a concept – an abstract bond that helps bind and keep people and families together. When one thinks of going home, one does not imagine cold images of bricks, doors and windows. Rather, people think of that warm, abstract ‘space’ – a space full of history and memories; a space where we can all be ourselves; a space where one can truly relax; a space shared with loved ones, family and friends.

For parents, it is the space where one brings up their children. That space includes the family’s relatives and friends who live nearby. That space includes the friendships and bonds that children create and need with their own friends. That space includes help and support from the local community, neighbours and friends. That space includes the local shops, local schools and the familiarization children and teenagers have with their teachers and local community. That space includes GPs knowing local patients and their history well. That space includes so much more. This Government has not considered ‘that space’, but ‘that space’ is vital and something we should all defend and protect for one another.

The Government talked of the ‘Big Society’ philosophy. However, the evidence so far bears little resemblance to this. Putting people in a situation where they have no choice but to move out of a community, away from family and friends, schools, GPs, support groups, support services etc is a contradiction to their patter.

The evidence is in the Welfare Reform Bill. This shows in black and white what the Government is doing.

These days, we all know that houses can be built in what seems like no time at all. But to build a home, form lasting ties and friendships, and become a part of a community takes much longer.

Of course, most people will have a need or desire to move from time to time but this is at one’s discretion and out of choice. Even when people downsize because they want or have to save money and reduce housework (often after children have left home or in retirement), they usually have a choice in what type and size property they will move into, where and when.

The way the Welfare Reform Bill, debates and discussions have been carried out, one would think they are talking about finding the most cost-effective way to store stock in a warehouse, rather than people, their lives and their homes.

The options open to people who might have to move due to under-occupancy under the proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill are limited. In fact, for many people the options are not choices.

For example, in a situation when a family receiving Housing Benefit (HB) sees a room freed up if their son or daughter has gone to university, the family would see a drop in their HB and would either have to (a) take in a lodger; (b) downsize or (c) pay the difference.

I cannot see option ‘a’ appealing to many people, especially couples and families.

For those having no choice but to downsize (due to not having the income to pay the difference for an extra room, for example), what happens when their son or daughter wants to come back for the summer or return home after university?

In this common scenario with a son or daughter coming home, the family would again qualify for more HB and a house with more bedrooms. So they could move again. But then what happens when it’s the next term at university or the son or daughter moves into their own place? Then the HB goes down again. Are we really expecting people and families to move around like this all the time?

Where are all these houses coming from? Who is paying for all of this moving and relocating? What happens in situations where there is no suitable housing? Many areas do not have suitable social housing or properties on the 40th percentile – so finding something below that is impossible.

This is ridiculous, destructive, costly and unworkable – and is something that will affect millions of families in the UK.

For the Government to know this and continue anyway is an indictment of their egotism, elitism and attitude. They would not entertain the idea of living that way – so why should they expect you to?

Throughout life, people have different, unpredictable, subjective and changeable personal and family circumstances. People do not fall neatly into pigeon-holes – nor do they seek to. People cannot be expected to leave their friends, relatives, neighbours, communities and lives just to move house in order to meet criteria. This is a naive, damaging and foolish premise of the Welfare Reform Bill.

One then also has to wonder about the complexities and extra costs of someone disabled having to move or downsize. Many disabled people depend upon their local community, support groups and nearby relatives and friends for daily help. Many also need an extra room or space due to disability. The impact on such people could be devastating and could force some into nursing care homes. That would inflict a significant cost to the nation. Likewise, for those who need adaptations, this could also lead to extra, very high costs that the State would have to meet. Adaptations can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

I think the lack of media coverage on these matters is contemptible and deplorable. You can, however, see the evidence for yourself via these links whilst valid  (advise using Microsoft Internet Explorer to view):

http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=9128

There is a plethora of practical, circumstantial and other valid reasons why it would be impractical, unsuitable or unsafe for a family to have to downsize or live in a house with too few bedrooms. One in particular does concern me greatly.

I am concerned how children’s education could be affected. If I had a child that was studying for lots of GCSEs, doing well, often doing homework late into the night, how could he/she share with a younger child who is disabled and goes to bed much earlier? It is just not feasible.

How will this help children develop and bring children out of poverty?

What baffles me is that the welfare reforms do not consider everyday situations, exceptional situations or extreme situations. They just do not make sense, yet people seem to just carry on regardless. I find it bewildering.

The Government tries to distract the public with cases of ‘benefit cheats’ and silly stories. And, to some extent, this distraction works. The public’s view and perception therefore becomes skewed and blighted. Of course, cheats etc do exist but that does not negate the genuine cases. These are real people.

The reality is that genuine, sincere, good people could be hurt by these policies.

This is not to say reforms are not necessary at all. However, reforms should be well-considered, not ill-considered; they should be thought-through, including evaluations of knock-on costs . They should be refined, adjusted and amendments should be made where appropriate. Why would a government have impact assessments from experienced, relevant sources if they do not debate them, listen or take heed?

We have seen this evidenced several times already by the Government in other areas, where they have been forced to listen. They called it ‘listening’; the reality is they did not listen or take notice the first time and they did not think policies through. They got it wrong. I don’t like the phrase ‘u-turn’ – but so many of them is evidence that the Government’s approach to devising policies has been shallow, flawed and blinkered.

For each of these areas, where was the investigation and gathering of information and data that would be needed to even begin to establish the needs and requirements? Where was the analysis and debate on the needs and requirements? How was policy devised? How were the needs and requirements translated into policy details if the needs were never identified properly? Where was the investigation into the feasibility of detailed proposed solutions? And the associated costs? Consideration of secondary, knock-on and long-term costs? Critical path analysis of the policies’ implementation management and general ongoing management? To me, their approach to making policies has seemed very shallow and puerile, and there has not been adequate deliberation of the details.

I apologize for getting off the topic a little, though it is related.

If people are made homeless, this costs the nation and taxpayer far more in the long run. Increased homelessness costs the nation in support and places more burden on the NHS, which also means more costs. It’s also something we, as a nation, should not wish to advocate.

If a disabled person can no longer afford their rent due to Housing Benefit LHA caps, the cost of care to the nation and taxpayer is significantly higher if that person has to move into, for example, a nursing home.

Similarly, if they have to move, only the nation can afford to foot the bill for the changes and adjustments that will undoubtedly be needed at the new property. This is a far higher cost and burden than the cost of the benefits to that person – let alone the savings via cuts and caps.

There are lots of examples I could cite where the policies just do not make sense and have little or no financial credibility.

Because the policies have not been considered properly and thoroughly, there are going to be huge knock-on costs that the Government has failed to identify.  Holes will also appear over time that the Government will have to fill, which will be further costs that were not ascertained originally.

Tough times or not, we should not be treating people with disabilities or long-term illnesses in this way.

I think it is important to remember that it is not all about the money.  We should not discriminate and we should stand up and protect the most vulnerable – which should also include the elderly.

I hear too much from the Government and Media that represents this country as though we are just a ‘nation of taxpayers’. How did we arrive at accepting this kind of thinking? We are a nation of citizens; of individuals; of people.

To be fair, this year the Government and Media have leaned more towards portraying all people on benefits as cheats or scroungers. This misrepresents the disabled and long-term ill up and down the UK.

Despite what you see on TV or read in the papers, many thousands of disabled people work. They are taxpayers too. And, I am also not forgetting pensioners.

Many disabled (and long-term ill) are forced out of work and onto benefits as a result of their disability, condition or disease getting worse.

Up until that time, they have paid their dues and taxes.

But after that point, it can be an awful downturn. Many do end up exhausting their savings, having to downsize and eventually move into rental properties, using money from their house to pay for their rent and care. Wives, husbands, children or others become carers, reducing or removing their ability to work and earn. In the worst cases, one can lose everything and end up dependent upon benefits and the kind care of family and friends. I have personally met a few people who have gone through this and it is devastating.

My cousin’s wife is disabled and works in the IT sector as contract software developer. She is angered and disappointed by the Government’s portrayal of disabled people. As she pointed out to me, she earns £45 per hour now and came from a very poor background, getting to where she has through hard work and merit. But she has had her own experiences of discrimination in the work place. However, she feels the Government have done nothing to empower people. As she put it to me, if I can do it, there is nothing stopping other people who are fit and able improving their earning potential and getting a better job. It’s often that, in different areas, jobs or training don’t exist, training is not affordable or people do not want to change what they do for a living.

She went on to say that, eventually, her condition will get worse and she will be forced to give up work altogether. It might be in 2 years time or 5 years time but it will happen. She is fully aware that she could go from where she is now to having to rely on benefits; savings and investments only go so far or last so long.

She also mentioned that compared to the £49 per week her friend receives on DLA, that she does not see how her friend is expected to have any less. She feels embarrassed and guilty when she meets with her now; that she earns in an hour what her friend receives in a week.

In all of this, it’s easy to forget that many long-term disabled and ill people do not get to enjoy things that, in general, fit and healthy people take for granted. This might be, as just a few examples (as there are simply too many), not being able to see, hear, talk, walk – or any in combination. It could mean that they don’t get to play with their children as they might otherwise, or see them grow up. It could mean that they are unable to cook or eat for themselves;  or unable to go out to places with friends and family. Of course, it’s not the same for all – but it is for many. For some, for example, holidays are difficult or even impossible.

People with long-term disabilities and/or illnesses did not ask for them; it was never something they chose.

It’s not all about money; people in these situations are often stripped of elemental and intrinsic things, through disability or illness, that most people take for granted.

These are things that people in general take for granted but that, over and above money, make for a good quality of life. I think some people also forget that many are also often in severe pain daily, have very hard daily lives and may also need medication (which can itself cause problems). I don’t think we need to throw more problems at them.

I very much sympathize with people working on low earnings or the national minimum wage. I know and understand how hard it can be and have family and friends in that boat.

However, I do not believe that one negates the other. In addition, many disabled/long-term ill who cannot work have costs they have to meet that only exist due to disability. These are often (shockingly) high, not met by any specific benefit and these people do not have the choice of looking for work or a higher paid job. In general, these extra costs are not expenses that fit and healthy people have to meet.

In families with a disabled parent and disabled child, the costs can be extreme and even hopelessly high. Again, it’s not the same for all. However, such families do not deserve to have more taken away. They should not bear so much of the cuts. They do not deserve to be put in a position, through no choice or doing of their own, where they may face more debt, risk homelessness or where their health or condition may suffer. Such results only lead to more costs for the country.

I think it’s worth pointing out too that, whilst the Government is trying to push these cuts and caps on the most needy, they do not themselves do their bit. Cameron’s words were “we’re in this together”. Hmmn. Yet there are very wealthy and millionaire ministers and MPs that continue to take their £64k+ per annum salary and claim huge expenses.  The disabled and long-term ill cannot claim the expenses they incur due to disability etc. Please – let’s not be naive or hoodwinked into thinking that MPs and the Government are somehow being altruistic in this.

The unhappy truth is starting to get across to people, though, and people are starting to see things for what they are really.  The Government will be forced to fight for its controversial housing benefit reforms in court, after a child poverty charity won the right to challenge their legality. You can read more here:

http://carerwatch.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/charity-wins-fight-to-take-government-to-court-over-benefit-reforms-inside-housing/

I would ask people not to just take what they see on the TV news or what they read in the paper on face value. If you have no personal experience, find out for yourself, find people and talk to them. Find out the truth for yourself.

Of course, not everyone will be affected severely but our concern should be focussed on those who will.

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 but this Welfare Reform Bill is a big step backwards.

 

Please help by signing this e-petition: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/20968 – thank you.

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Male. Married. 3 Children. No Pets. Concerned about the changes the new Conservative Government are introducing. Very concerned about changes that adversely affect the vulnerable and disabled people. Commenting on current affairs, music and life in general.

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5 comments on “Who Benefits?
  1. davidhencke says:

    Tom
    you are quite right. Since I left the Guardian I have noticed – as a freelance journalist and blogger- that the press is not really interested in exactly what is going to happen to literally millions of people at the bottom of society. The information is beginning to become available and it is not that Paul Dimoldenberg, the opposition leader of Westminster Council, is not publicising this – his press releases are not being taken up by the media. Journalists on the declining national media and TV are not given time to look into this – even though occasionally there are good investigations. this is why in the end the public will start trusting the web rather than the official media.

    David

  2. Mike Clarke says:

    Hi Tom
    I have to agree with your thoughts that the Con-Dem Government doesn’t care and is telling us via the media what we think we want to hear.

    The idea behind the welfare reforms were to limit Government spending and pass on the consequences to us landlords in the PRS (Private Rental Sector), a tried and trusted method that local authorities have employed for a number of years.

    ie. If they made a benefit overpayment to a tenant they recover the money from the landlord not the tenant and all shortfalls are left to the landlord to chase.

    The reforms mean that the Con-Dem Government can continue to operate with any cash shortfall being someone elses problem.

    The only option open for PRS landlords is to join a landlords association and get your voice registered alongside of thousands of other landlords in the hope that the lobbying will be heard.

    Mike

  3. Phil Dodd says:

    Yes agree with all what you say.What worries me most is those people affected most,are made to look like outcasts from our society,and this govt. is encouraging this.Also saying these vunerable people should not be helped.This in turn promotes an uncaring society,as we saw in the Thatcher era.This a dangerous path as history tells us.

  4. Yes Agree!!!! you have written from the heart and experience of a majority in this country – as weare affected by gross poverty which we grin and bear and hope that someone out there in the echelons of politics and parliament will address – disability, children, pensioners, unemployed and so it goes on majority issues not even minority but affecting every home, every street. I just loved your article and salute you for being honest and thoughtful to spill it out. Well done!

  5. My LHA has been cut, not because the rate is now below my actual rent, but because the council changed the ay they work it out. My rent is £450 a month. I used to get it all paid. Because they worked it out as a weekly sum instead of a monthly sum I now have to pay around £35 towards the rent. I’ve got 3 children in a 3 bedroomed house. It’s nothing fancy, it’s a small terrace. Contrary to what politicians say working people aren’t jealous. I’m seriously considering moving to a 2 bedroomed house. My 12 year old is already sleeping in the same room as her brother and sister (both under the age of 4) because the house is so cold due to me not being able to afford the gas bills if I turn the heating on. Of course then we will be overcrowded but IDS an co won’t care about that.

    Other aspects of the welfare reform bill scare the living daylights out of me. I’d love to work but I can’t afford the childcare, not to mention the fact finding a job with suitable hours would be almost impossible at the moment as there aren’t enough jobs to go round anyway. I’ll be expected to find employment when my youngest is 5. No one knows how much Universal Credit is going to be either. Am I going to be put on the Work Programme if I’m unable to find a suitable job? Working full time for benefits, a punishment for there not being a job that will fit in around my children?

    There is also the changes to CSA, where the government want to charge for the service. I am very lucky that i don’t use CSA anymore. They never actually got me any maintainence from my ex husband anyway. I would have been charged up to £100 for that, and if I’d been lucky enough to receive a payment they want to take an admin charge out of every payment. In my opinion that’s stealing from the very children who need that money the most.

    Its a fact that children from single parent families are more likely to live in poverty, yet the welfare reform bill abolishes the tax credits that would enable me to actually go to work, the tax credits that paid my rent back in 2007 when I was working a full time job as a single parent. My childcare bill right now would be about £450.00 before child care credits. After that I’d be paying around £135.00 a week. I’m not likely to earn much more than that!

    They also conveniently forget to mention that over half of housing benefit claimants are actually in employment. All the rhetoric about the feckless, lazy benefit claimants is a lie and an insult to all those people working so hard and still cannot make ends meet without a benefit.

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