Monthly Archives: January 2012

Atos on the Run – the PIP contract is a poisoned chalice

Back when the con-dem government weren’t elected, few people other than benefit claimants had heard of French IT firm Atos Origin, the company Labour shamefully employed to carry out the Work Capability Assessment.  This  health and disability assessment was designed to strip sickness benefits from as many people as possible and has caused untold suffering with some people driven to suicide by the process.  Over the last year this has led to countless protests around the UK outside Atos’ offices and online as the infamy of the company has soared.

The world must be a very different place in Atos’ Public Relations Offices these days.  ‘Atos’ is now a dirty word, synonymous with the worst of corporate cruelty.  As well as demonstrations outside their offices, the internet is awash with websites and stories of people’s experiences at the hands of these bastards, who have declared people with terminal illnesses as ‘fit for work’.

Atos fought back, with legal threats demanding the closure of some websites, which only served to further disseminate information about their activities around the world.  When Atos objected to their logo being used in satirical images budding digital artists came up with new and increasingly creative uses of their corporate identity, based around such  phrases as ‘Atos Kills’, ‘Atos don’t give a Toss’  and ‘Atos Macht Frei’.  A google image search for ‘Atos Kills’ reveals the extent of the anger aimed at this company who have been dubbed the Euthanasia and Racial Purity Arm of the DWP.

Atos’ involvement in the Paralympic Games should have been a PR victory for the company, instead quite the opposite happened.  Poor old Steve Cram, who was appointed as the Atos Olympic Ambassador, has virtually disappeared from view after hundreds of people contacted him to ask what he thinks he’s fucking playing at taking money from these sharks.  Already one demonstration targetting Atos has been held outside a Paralympic Test event.

With demonstrations set to continue Atos appear to have backed off on their aggressive legal campaign to silence critics.  A disabled man and a pensioner were arrested and charged with ‘aggravated trespass’ for peacefully entering one of their assessment centres at a Nottingham protest before Christmas.  After a well supported solidarity campaign in support of the arrested it seems to have been Atos who made the decision to have the charges dropped.

None of this looks like the actions of a company that is confident in their activities.  This is hardly surprising for a firm which was previously largely unknown and is now having to manage the ‘corporate challenge’ of being despised by millions of people.  Atos insiders have claimed morale is at rock bottom and they are finding it increasingly hard to recruit medical staff to carry out their assessments.  The PR damage to the company for taking on this contract is incalculable.  Of course they could hand the contract back any time they want and this would all go away.

The Tories are ploughing ahead with the flawed process regardless as they re-assess benefit eligibility for 2.6 million people claiming Employment Support Allowance.  Should the Welfare Reform Bill become law then they also plan to re-assess over 3 million people claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the stated aim of stripping benefits from 20% of disabled claimants.

Behind the scenes however the whole system is a shambolic mess.  Atos are staggeringly behind their contract commitment to assess 11,000 people a week, having only completed around 20% of that figure.  40% of people appealing against Atos’ decisions are successful and the appeals system itself is in meltdown due to the number of cases.  Citizens Advice have pointed out that many people losing their benefit at their assessment are simply re-applying and going through the process again.  More and more Doctors and other medical professionals are raising concerns about the medical ethics of the scheme.

This is bound to impact on Atos’ other healthcare business interests, such as the Occupational Health services that are increasingly inflicted on public sector workers and used to dismiss staff for health reasons.  After all Atos boast on their website that they specialise in ‘Headcount Reduction’.  Atos’ healthcare professionals may now recommend you are laid off your job for health reasons whilst finding you fit for work when you apply for sickness benefits.

That the situation is unsustainable is obvious.  Even if Atos are managing to make a profit the damage to their reputation this contract has inflicted is enormous.  When a protest was held outside the BMJ’s annual recruitment fair last years many doctors stated they would not dream of working for such an unethical company.  With medical assessment positions going unfilled it seems that Atos literally can’t get the staff.

All of this should serve as stark warning to Atos or any other company thinking of bidding for the contract to carry out the assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).  A more poisoned chalice has rarely been offered by a government.  With 3 million more people now set to be forced to undergo these brutal and flawed tests, which ignore the opinions of GPs in favour of a short computer based assessment, the resistance to the process is likely to be fierce, and more importantly, to prove expensive.

Whether it will even be physically possible to find enough healthcare workers to carry out this testing procedure is in doubt.  Like much of the Welfare Reform Bill, it is the implementation of Iain Duncan’s Smith’s crazy schemes that will see their undoing.  The changes proposed to Housing Benefit and disability benefits, along with the roll out of the doomed Universal Credit, will be disastrous as the numerous contradictions in the bill emerge in reality.

This will be of little comfort to people whose lives are set to be devastated by the changes.  Just like coppers, just because this Bill is stupid it doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.  It will be the most vulnerable in society who will suffer as the system breaks down.  One thing’s for sure is that when the whole thing goes tits up the government will seek to blame anyone but themselves.  Whether it’s Atos or prison company G4S who take on the PIP contract, they are very likely to be hung out to dry as soon as it becomes politically convenient.

No matter what Iain Duncan Smith attempts to ram-raid his bill through parliament, opposition to his plans will not stop just because the bill becomes law.  In fact it is likely to intensify as more and more people are forced into a fight for their very survival.  Poverty pimps like Atos risk becoming collateral damage in what may yet prove to be the undoing of this government.

The heroic action by DPAC and UK Uncut which brought the West End of London to a standstill on Saturday shows a new militancy on behalf of campaigners.  Despite Atos and the CPS dropping the charges against the Nottingham protesters, a demo is being held anyway this Friday 3rd February.  In London protesters will be paying a lunchtime visit to Atos Headquarters in Triton Square in solidarity on the same day.

There will also be a vigil/protest against the Welfare Reform Bill on both January 31st and February 1st outside parliament meeting at Old Palace Yard from 1-3 pm.

The fight to save the Welfare State is just getting started.  The likes of Atos could do themselves a favour by getting out of the way.

Dr Hans-Christian Raabe: Homophobic Scum Tries to Win Back Job Dictating Drug Policy

Mad bastard Dr Hans-Christian Raabe is whinging in the Daily Mail again after being granted a judicial review to challenge Theresa May’s decision not to appoint him to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Dr Raabe had initially been appointed to the committee in January last year when Theresa May decided to throw reason and objectivity to the wind and employ the Maranatha Christian cultist to advise on drug policy in place of a real scientist.

When it later emerged that Dr Raabe had co-authored a report attempting to link homosexuality with paedophilia and had previously deceived the Government by not revealing his links to anti-abortion campaigns, he was promptly sacked less than a month later.

This was all a huge embarrassment for the Home Secretary May who would rather her own backward and bigoted views on sexuality were kept firmly in the closet.

But now the intrepid Dr Raabe is back, claiming that he was the victim of a witch hunt and that he was called was called a ‘bigot, scum and a mad ba****d’ on the internet of all places.

Dr Raabe claims this isn’t true, he loves the gays but he couldn’t suck a whole one. Despite his previous utterances Dr Raabe says he would never discriminate against gay people, in fact he’s no doubt tried to cure many of them. The Maranatha Community, of whom Dr Raabe is a prominent member and has worked as a medical co-ordinator, have released this document discussing curing homosexuality.

It appears to argue that it would be unethical for a Doctor not to attempt to warn their patients of the evils of gayness:

“A doctor who is treating a smoker for lung and heart diseases would be considered irresponsible if he/she did not strongly emphasize to the patient the adverse effect of smoking and encourage him/her to quit. To advise a smoker to change his lifestyle and to quit smoking is considered to be good medical practice. However, to point out the dangers of homosexual lifestyle to a homosexual one risks being labelled as being “homophobic.”

This man isn’t fit to be a GP, let alone a government advisor.

Dr Raabe is been able assisted in his noble cause by James Dingemans QC, who calls himself a Human Rights lawyer but actually appears to favour the rights of non-existent sky pixies over human beings. He acted (and lost) for the couple who refused to rent out a room in their B&B to a gay couple. Another high profile case he lost was when he defended civil registrar Lilian Ladele who refused to preside over a Civil Partnership due to  her Christian beliefs. Here he is warning of the terrible dangers that might befall the church due to the Gender Recognition Act. No agenda there then.

His losing streak is set to continue with this case against the Home Secretary as well, but it’s worth mentioning simply because the Tories are somewhat vulnerable to sex and drugs. Whilst Cameron pretends to be pro-gay, the truth is his cabinet is saddled with homophobic old pricks like Iain Duncan Smith who has voted against every piece of LGBT rights legislation since 1998.  Meanwhile Tory Liz Truss called on Question Time this week for those found in possession of drugs to be prosecuted and potentially imprisoned. Whether this should apply to the Prime Minister, George Osborne or Louise Mensch who recently admitted hoovering Class A drugs is unclear.

Iain Duncan Smith is a Lying Bastard

Iain Duncan Smith revealed himself as a sad and desperate man with his pitiful outburst aimed at the Bishops last weekend.  So intent is he on pushing through his inept and brutal Welfare Reform Bill, the lies have been dripping from his tongue with such frequency it’s unlikely if he even really knows what the truth is anymore.

During his crazed outburst last weekend IDS suggested that children who share a room are classed as homeless, fibbing that:

‘The definition (of homelessness) inside government and places like Shelter is that children have to share rooms.”

Shelter’s  Chief executive Campbell Robb  has hit back saying that this is simply not true,  and that Shelter used the same definition of homelessness that everyone else does, which is laid out in the Housing Act.  Children of the same sex are expected to share a room until they are sixteen whilst those of the opposite sex are expected to share until they are 11.  This applies not just to Housing Benefit eligibility but also Council House allocations.  Even teenagers of different sexes sharing a room would not be deemed as homeless, although they would be eligible for council housing assistance, which can take a long time.  These are all things you would presume the Secretary of State would know.

Now his grand claims made of the Work Programme Scheme are falling apart.  The DWP has claimed that 40% of people on the new mandatory forced labour scheme will find work.  However the National Audit Office claims that the figure is likely to be only 26% based on previous schemes carried out in more positive economic times.  IDS’ clone and underling Chris Grayling says this figure is based on ‘guesswork’ by which he presumably meant to say ‘evidence’ unlike the DWP’s own figures which appear to be pie in the sky.

And pie in the sky is exactly what a recent government insider called claims that Universal Credit, the new and vastly expensive replacement for Working Tax Credit and other benefits, will be ready to roll out in Autumn 2013.

Perhaps this is over-exaggeration, unlike the other outright lie frequently told by Duncan Smith this month, which is that low income working families couldn’t afford to live in the same properties as Housing Benefit Claimants.  In fact they could, and many do, by claiming Housing Benefit themselves, which is an in work benefit.  This distortion of the truth has been told so many times it has become repeated as fact by ministers, the media and the DWP alike.

Now it seems that the recent shock horror statistics that 371,000 migrants are claiming benefits weren’t actually government statistics at all but in fact were part of a research report.  Sir Michael Scholar, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, explains:

“These statistics are both highly relevant to public policy and highly vulnerable to misinterpretation,”

“There are important caveats and weaknesses that need to be explained carefully and objectively to parliament, and to the news media at the time of publication,”

This didn’t stop employment minister, Chris Grayling, and the immigration minister, Damian Green running to the right wing press in howling outrage over the figures over the weekend.  According to the Guardian Iain Duncan Smith has said this kind of fuck up won’t be repeated.  It will be a different kind of fuck up next time.

It’s hardly surprisingly IDS is getting desperate.  With six defeats now inflicted on the Welfare Reform Bill in the Lords the truth about his shabby attempts at Welfare Reform are unravelling.  The bill is rotten and incompetent from top to bottom.  Few Ministers and even fewer Lords have any understanding of Welfare and many have been sucked into the claimant witch-hunt by the drip of misinformation from the DWP and the press, but even they can recognise a shambles when they see one.

The response from Labour has been predictably  inept, even from those former Ministers who grappled with welfare themselves and should know better.  It is entirely possible that this is because they see the car crash coming for Iain Duncan Smith and have no desire to put on the breaks.  There are already whispers that the Welfare Reform Bill could become this government’s poll tax when it’s full effects are unleashed on the populace.  They may have what they think is public opinion on their side now, but the public are fickle bastards.  When it’s their granny losing her DLA or their neighbours kids being made homeless attitudes will change very quickly.

Homelessness is already rising and could soar beyond even the most pessimistic predictions.  The Atos disability assessment system is in shambles, and they’ve barely even begun re-assessing the 2 million people on sickness benefits.  As of November last year they had only completed 56,000 Work Capability Assessments, just around 20% of the target of 11,000 a week since the process began back in April.  Add to this 3 and a half million to be re-assessed as part of DLA’s replacement, the Personal Independence Payment, and the upcoming disaster is plain to see. Already the appeal courts are in chaos whilst private companies involved in Welfare Reform are at each other’s throats.

As New Labour found out after spending billions on the failed New Deal, workfare doesn’t work.  The new Work Programme, which IDS claims will help all those stripped of sickness and housing benefits find work, will be a disaster at a time of high unemployment.  Even in more favourable economic conditions all that ever happened is that all those who would have found jobs anyway did so.   Private workfare sharks like A4e and Reed simply picked up a fat cheque for pretending to help young people who got jobs themselves.  Unemployment rates were barely affected, if at all.  At least the New Deal had a training element to help those with lower skills and greater needs, IDS’ Work Programme contains no such provision.

The reforms to Council Tax benefits could see Local Authorities chasing the poorest families in their boroughs for just a few pounds a week, a situation directly comparable with one of the most unpopular aspects of Thatcher’s Poll Tax.  And the Universal Credit, dependent as it is on creating the largest and most complex IT database ever attempted on the planet, is doomed to be yet another failed government IT project with hundreds of millions currently being pumped into a black hole.

Resistance continues to spread against all aspects of the Bill, with UKuncut joining disabled protesters planning a daring and disruptive act of civil disobedience aimed at the Welfare Reform Bill this weekend.  Pickets of workfare exploiters are planned with Brighton Benefits Campaign taking action against Poundland on Saturday.  Court cases are also on the away challenging the forced labour scheme and groups such as Boycott Workfare are going from strength to strength.  Protesters have vowed to continue the campaign against Atos, who carry out the Work Capability Assessment so vital to the welfare reforms, and a demonstration is planned in Nottingham on February 3rd with the promise of more action to come around the UK.  The Spartacus Report forced so many concessions out of Lord Freud on disability benefit reform that chaos seems inevitable.  Finally the PCS, whose members will be expected to carry out these reforms, are embroiled in industrial action over pensions that doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

So there is little surprise that Iain Duncan Smith is pushed into ever more desperate behaviour as his long cherished dreams of an all out assault on the poor crumble before his eyes.  That’s no excuse for telling porky pies though.  There was a time when deliberately misleading the public was a resigning offence (if you got caught).  It now seems that senior Government Ministers can lie outright, time and time again, and still remain in post.  Why on earth should anyone ever believe a word Iain Duncan Smith says again?  And more importantly why should someone so utterly incompetent be trusted with the lives of millions of the country’s poorest families?

It’s Landlords Not Tenants Getting Rich on Benefit Payments

As a somewhat naive, northern teenager I found myself in London with no money and nowhere to sleep. After some days and nights wandering I ended up in a night-shelter. It wasn’t very nice.

Sharing a room with four others, we were booted out at 10am and not allowed back on the premises until 6pm when we were fed a meal of out of date frozen pizza and oven chips donated by the local supermarket. For this we paid £10 a week, whilst Housing Benefit covered the considerable rent of around £150 a week.

After a few weeks of this I opted to move into the salubrious surroundings of a DSS B&B in Paddington. This time I shared a small twin room with just one other person, an ever so slightly psychotic heroin addict. The room was barely large enough for two single beds, with a small shower unit in the corner that didn’t work properly.

The nearest toilet was down two flights of stairs and was shared with around 15 other residents. It was rarely, if ever cleaned and the task of scrubbing away the dried shit and blood did not appeal. There was no kitchen. The manager was an amiable enough geezer with a hint of menace about him. He claimed dealing with dead bodies was a regular part of his job. Before even being handed the keys I was required to fill out a Housing Benefit form. Aside from a letter informing me I had been awarded Housing Benefit of £148 a week that was the last I heard of it. The cheques went straight to the owner of the B&B, whoever that might have been.

This was in the early 90’s under the last Tory administration and long before Paddington began to move upmarket. Housing Benefit rates were somewhat random back then. It seemed the trick the B&B owners employed was to apply for £250 for everyone and then take whatever came back. My room mate was receiving about £180 a week for the exact same room, although his bed was nearer the window I suppose.

All the residents agreed it was a fucking rip off.  Dodgy bastards providing sub-standard hovels at huge cost to the tax payer. It was impossible to secure employment, which was forbidden under the terms of the B&B’s licence agreement, in case it affected our Housing Benefit.  What I didn’t realise until this government was that this was all my fault.

These are the circumstances some of the families affected by the new benefit caps will be enduring. Despite repeated claims made by the Government of luxury houses many are in grotty temporary housing which will cost the state a fortune, of which they themselves will never see a penny. Unable to move because they can’t afford the huge deposits demanded by landlords these days, they will also be unable to stay because they can’t afford the rent. Huge swathes of the South East will now be out of reach for large families.

Some of these families may be unemployed, some may be to ill to work, it matters not to Iain Duncan Smith. As many as 100,000 people, children, parents and pensioners could find themselves in an impossible position. Local councils are also now placed in a paradoxical situation. The Housing Act attempts to ensure that no child is ever forced to sleep rough. Many Tories, including Eric Pickles and Westminster Council are desperate to change this.

At present however they are legally bound to place homeless people with children in emergency accommodation. The problem is the temporary accommodation they have used traditionally will charge rents which places them out of reach due to the Housing Benefit cap. If IDS noticed this gaping hole in the legislation, which may cause some councils to either break the law or fund huge rents via Council Tax revenues, he didn’t care.

The DSS B&Bs have long gone from most parts of London. Where I stayed in Paddington caters to tourists now. Much temporary accommodation is now privately rented flats and houses or hostels. Hostels, many run by charities, say they need high rents to pay staff. It is quite possible these cuts will force their closure. Private landlords will no doubt give their properties a lick of paint and rent them on the open market, one of the few sectors that appears to be booming. There is no evidence to suggest that landlords will cut rents to accommodate the changes to Housing Benefit. The opposite seems to be happening.

Councils will very likely claim that families facing eviction are ‘intentionally homeless’, a sinister phrase that means you and your family are stripped of all rights to support. Eviction for rent arrears has long been a way for council’s to avoid responsibility for homeless families. Whether that will still apply if the arrears were due to benefit cuts will no doubt form the basis of a court case at some point. In the meantime Local Authorities will try it on as much as they can.

Councils will offer to take the children into care, the parents will be told to fend for themselves. This is not scare-mongering, it already happens to families deemed intentionally homeless. When these new reforms come into effect, if you become sick, disabled or unemployed you will face not just losing your salary, but possibly your home and even your children.

It’s true the Daily Mail has been able to find the less than a handful of families living in what appear to be nice properties at huge expense. All systems will create anomalies. However a cap that makes most of London out of reach to families on benefits is obviously not intended to address the 2 or 3 families who were living in 2 grand a week Kensington pads.

Most people are living in average accommodation, in average areas. Not just Kensington, but Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark and in fact almost all London boroughs will now be out of reach to low income families. Housing Benefit will already now only pay for rents which are in the bottom 30% of the market up to the point of the caps, which are far below rent levels. Children are already expected to share rooms, up until the age of 11 if they are the opposite sex or 16 otherwise. Many families affected by the caps will have rented the property before the relentless onslaught of gentrification sent private rents soaring in London.

It is true that soaring rents and unaffordable housing is a fuck up on a national scale. Greedy buy to let landlords and a desperate shortage of Council Housing are largely to blame. This Government instead has chosen not just to blame the tenants, who never see a penny of the Housing Benefit payments, but to force them into homelessness. The costs of this, both financial and social, will be huge. It seems even in times of banker enforced austerity the purse is bottomless when it comes to dismantling the Welfare State.

Meanwhile IDS and his vile cronies continue lying that people living on a pittance, vulnerably housed in some of the shittiest properties London has to offer, are somehow living it up at the expense of the tax payer.

I was in the B&B for about four months and then managed to secure a place in a longer stay hostel. With a list of rules and regulations so long it was similar to an open prison, but at least I had my own (tiny) room. Housing Benefit were paying around £170 a week. I could be evicted with only 24 hours notice, and almost was more than once. Whilst not written into the licence agreement, working was discouraged, again because it would affect my benefit entitlement.

I managed to last a year in the hostel before we became decidedly intolerant of each other and I moved into a squat. And got a job.

The reason I had found myself in this position was my previously declared naivete. Up north back then few landlords charged deposits and for those that did you could apply for a Social Fund loan. I assumed the same applied in London. It didn’t. After a couple of days trawling LOOT for properties I thought were cheap enough to be covered by Housing Benefit and another couple of days sat in DSS offices finding out they wouldn’t lend me the deposit I realised I was in the shit. It didn’t help that the vast majority of landlords refused to rent to benefit claimants anyway, although I had no real scruples about lying to them about my circumstances. Eventually I threw myself on the mercy of a now closed advice centre for young homeless people who referred me to a night-shelter.

Had I been eligible for a Social Fund loan I would have easily been able to secure much lower cost accommodation all by myself, saving the state thousands. And I’d have had to pay the money back.

Tomorrow the Lords will be discussing an amendment in the Welfare Reform Act which will abolish the Social Fund completely. Yet another piece of car crash legislation that will cause social chaos. That the impact and cost of all these changes may well see the undoing of Iain Duncan Smith’s political career will be of little comfort to the children and families whose lives will be devastated by the upcoming carnage.

As unemployment sky rockets more and more people are going to be forced into poverty and desperation as the the state support they paid for is stolen to fund tax cuts for the rich and new nuclear bombs. It is difficult to predict what hundreds of thousands of people who can’t afford to feed their children will look like. Last Summer’s riots may well be seen as little more than youthful exuberance compared to what could be about to come.

This government should be careful what they ask for, because they might just end up getting it.

Take action against the Welfare Reform Bill this Saturday 28th January.

Iain Duncan Smith Attacks Christian Values

Has there ever been a more odious immoral cunt in British politics than Iain Duncan Smith?  Not content from stripping benefits from people with terminal illnesses and disabled people he is now turning his attention on some of the UK’s poorest children.

Fake Christian Smith has today attacked Bishops who plan to vote against the benefit cap in the Lords tomorrow saying:

“I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don’t have as much money as they would otherwise because they’re paying tax for all of this. Where is the bishops’ concern for them?

“It’s all very well for the bishops to express a political opinion, but I would love them to ask about the poor people on low incomes who are working hard, whose families share rooms, who are doing the right thing.”

What Iain Duncan Smith doesn’t say (but knows) is that many of those hard working families are exactly the people who will be forced into homelessness by the Housing Benefit caps which have already come into force in London this month.

Smith and his cronies have lied and lied again about families living it up in plush London houses which hard working families couldn’t afford, just like he lies above about hard working families forced to share rooms.  IDS knows full well that the children of Housing Benefit claimants are also expected to share rooms.

Housing Benefit is an in work benefit and only 1 in 8 claimants are unemployed.  Any working low income family could have lived in London and claimed housing benefit and in fact tens of thousands did.  When calculating the benefit the only factors taken into account are income, the amount of rent due and whether you have savings of over £16,000.  Whether the claimant is in work or not does not enter the equation.

The constant portrayal of benefit claimants being offered properties that low waged earners couldn’t afford is even enshrined on the DWP’s website:

“The measures announced will provide a fairer and more sustainable Housing Benefit scheme by taking steps to ensure that people on benefit are not living in accommodation that would be out of the reach of most people in work, creating a fairer system for low-income working families and for the taxpayer.”

In London a salary of over £30,000 a year could still have been topped up with Housing Benefit in some areas – meaning that these properties were absolutely in reach for most people in work.  This is not a distortion by Smith and the DWP, this is not an exaggeration, it is a Government Department and the Secretary of State telling a bare faced lie to the public.

So when heathen Smith lectures the Bishops he is actually instructing them to feel sorry for the people on considerably better salaries than the people at the very bottom, rather than extend their piety towards those on low wages, who are unemployed or unable to work due to disability or illness.  You don’t need to believe in sky pixies to know this is the exact opposite of Christian charity.

Smith has even made the ludicrous claims that the benefit cuts will help the poor.  It seems when you take money away from tax payers they deserve Christian pity, when money is taken from the very poorest you are doing them a favour.

The situation will be devastating for many families who aren’t in work if the benefit cap of £500 a week is introduced.  Whilst this sounds like a large sum what is rarely mentioned is that the bulk of it is paid to landlords.  This is actually another attack on Housing Benefit which was designed to ensure that those on low incomes are actually able to afford a roof over their children’s heads.  It is not the fault of the poor that housing has become unaffordable in vast swathes of the country.

As the cap on Housing Benefit is currently at £400, then this will leave larger families who have done the ‘right thing’, and moved to the few areas of outer London and the Home Counties where a 3/4 bed property can be found for that figure with just £100 a week to survive.

Take a family of four with both parents working.  Even if they spend considerably less than average on gas and electricity, meaning their children go cold in the winter, it’s safe to assume that £20 a week of this is likely to be spent on energy.  A further £10 can reasonably assumed for water and the most basic landline telephone package.

With transport fares soaring it is not unlikely that travel to school could eat away another £20 a week of the families income.  This would leave a family of six with just £50 a week, just over a pound a day each to buy food.

This of course does not include other expenses such as clothes, stationary, household costs, toiletries, washing, school uniforms, replacement of household items etc.

Forget Sky TV or broadband, so far this family can’t even afford a television licence.  As for days out, pocket money, Christmas and birthday presents, not a chance.  We are also assuming that this family are not in any debt.  Finally these calculations also don’t take into account one of the more insidious aspects of Welfare Reform, which will see local authorities able to scrap the bulk of Council Tax Benefit.  As if these people aren’t poor enough already, their council are likely to hound them for what little scraps they have left if this bill goes through.  It is not inconceivable that by the time some low income families have paid their rent, council tax, fares and bills that they may found themselves with more going out than coming in before such luxuries as food and clothing are taken into account.

This is third world poverty being introduced in British cities.

Of course Smith would claim the parents should find work, but with unemployment sky rocketing this may not be possible for some people.  High unemployment’s like that, it means some people can’t get jobs.  So now, the children of the unemployed are to be punished for the government’s trashing of the economy.

For those in central London facing homelessness a low waged job won’t help anyway since the introduction of the Housing Benefit Caps will still mean their rent is unaffordable.

Perhaps they should move claim the tories.  But rents are rising across the South East and the upcoming influx of benefit claimants into the Home Counties is only likely to exacerbate that.

Possibly Smith’s vision is that the poor will all move up north where they can be subject to the kind of ‘managed decline’ that the tories planned for Liverpool in the 80s.

It remains to be seen if the Bishops will remain true to their faith and block this part of the Welfare Reform Act in the Lords tomorrow.  But it should be made very clear, any who do not may well find that places in their imaginary heaven  are not allocated to those who would abandon the poor and vulnerable so callously.

Which means they will burn in hell along with Duncan Smith and the rest of the godless tory vermin.

A Vigil and Lobby will be held on Monday and Wednesday this week and Tuesday 31st January as the amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill are debated in the Lords:  http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/2012/01/22/welfare-reform-bill-vigil-and-lobbies/

There will be further action opposing the bill next weekend: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/message-from-the-invisible

Kosovo Begins, The Social Cleansing of London

This month families and claimants in London will receive notices explaining that their Housing Benefit payments are to be capped at levels far below their current rent. This will force tens of thousands of people, many with children, into homelessness and poverty as properties across vast swathes of London will be taken out of reach of the low waged, disabled people, pensioners and the unemployed.

It is difficult to understate the devastation this will cause to some of the most vulnerable people in the capital. Even those living in inner city areas earning enough not to need Housing Benefit will not remain untouched.

From the middle of the month if you are made redundant then you are very likely to lose your home as the welfare state will no longer provide enough money to enable you to pay your rent. If you become sick or disabled and are no longer able to work the same will apply. Even many ‘young professionals’ are unlikely to have the necessary savings to cover their rent should they lose their jobs and are unable to find work immediately. Public sector workers may find themselves not just unemployed but facing imminent homelessness should their jobs fall victim to cost cutting.

With little or no Social Housing provision available, even for the most vulnerable, the safety net of the Welfare State has been abolished for the vast majority of Londoners living in the private rented sector.

The tragic irony is that this will mean people being forced to move away from where work is available – a far cry from the traditional Tory appeal that people should get on their bikes to find a job.

Landlords, the true beneficiaries of the £21 Billion a year Housing Benefit bill, are not lowering rents to accommodate the changes as Cameron made up they would. As home ownership becomes an unaffordable dream for ever more Londoners, rents are predictably soaring. Whilst the Housing Benefits Caps drive low waged workers and claimants to the outskirts of London, increased demand means rents will rise even in the few remaining affordable parts of the capital. The boroughs not affected by the caps will see Housing Benefit costs soar, whilst Inner London Councils are set to be swamped with homelessness applications. The social costs will be devastating for already struggling Local Authorities as tens of thousands of claimants, pensioners, disabled people and low income families are forcibly relocated into the Outer London boroughs.

People forced to move will not just have their lives uprooted, they may well find there is nowhere to move to. ‘No DSS’ has been a demand of the vast majority of landlords in London for some time. Already benefit claimants and the low waged are often forced to lie about their financial circumstances to prospective landlords in order to be able to secure accommodation. The huge deposits demanded by landlords have long been a driver of homelessness in London. The bare minimum just to secure a tenancy usually involves paying a month’s rent as a deposit plus another month’s rent in advance. Even for properties with rents far below the levels of the Housing Benefit caps this means benefit claimants forced to move will face a bill of up to £2000 before any further expenses incurred in moving. Securing a new home away from central London is just not going to be financially possible for many people.

Housing Benefit has long been a crude sticking plaster which has mitigated the impact of the short sighted and unsustainable market driven housing policies the UK has suffered from for 30 years. Even the so called ‘affordable’ housing being built is unaffordable for most working class people. The mass sell off of council housing, which began under Thatcher, was continued by Labour, and is being escalated by Cameron, resulted in government housing subsidies increasingly falling into the pockets of private landlords rather than being invested in developing genuinely affordable housing provision. The result was a chronic shortage of housing for those on low incomes. Unlike many European countries with large private rented sectors, in the UK tenant’s rights were diminished and rent controls abolished. Buy to Let mortgages quickly became a way to make a quick buck as the housing shortage grew and rents rocketed.

In some parts of the country rents soared to such an excessive levels that Housing Benefit was forced to pick up the slack, not just for pensioners and benefit claimants but also for those on low, or (in London) even average salaries. This crude attempt to mitigate the insanity of the housing market has led to anomalies. At one extreme people this has meant people sleeping in doorways as they are unable to pay a deposit to get them on the rented property ladder, at the other a handful of landlords have received huge housing benefit payments for renting out modest properties to families in expensive areas. Even Housing Benefit has not prevented the hundreds of thousands of ‘hidden homeless’, sleeping on friends floors, in squats, B&Bs, hostels or night shelters.

The answer to these problems of course is a huge increase in the provision of social housing, made available at a ‘living rent’ with secure tenancies. There are few private tenants who would not exchange in a heartbeat their over-priced, low-security shoe box for good quality Council accommodation. Once again social housing, which often makes a profit for local authorities, would no longer be seen as a hand out, but a valid, secure and respectable choice for working class people. In the meantime rent controls could curb some of the excesses of parasitic landlords.

Of course Cameron is doing the exact opposite. Social Housing is to be gradually eroded, council rents are to be forced up to unaffordable market levels and the idea of a home for life is being abandoned. With high rents and no security of tenure then it is reasonable to ask what is the point of social housing?

The system is so fucked that even Boris can see the upcoming social disaster. Describing the Housing Benefit Caps as Kosovo Style ethnic cleansing he has pledged “On my watch you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have always been living and where they have put down roots” and then proceeded to do fuck all about it. Meanwhile Ken makes vague noises about rent controls which he won’t be able to enforce even if he is elected.

The housing crisis is a systemic problem – the result of the free market run rampant. The housing benefit changes will remove close to one million homes from the reach of people on low incomes and cause unprecedented levels of homelessness. Unlike the US, trailer parks and cardboard cities are not welcome here – the recent violent eviction of the Dale Farm community is testament to that. The question is where are the poor supposed to go?

Lobby of Parliament to oppose the Welfare Reform Bill & benefit caps