Author Archives: johnny void

Boom Time For Landlords, The UK’s Soaring Housing Benefit Bill

landlord-772876Whilst the Tory Party pat themselves on the back at conference for the misery their welfare reforms have caused, recently updated benefit expenditure figures  make a mockery of any claims that these vicious cuts were carried out to save money.

Housing Benefit (or Local Housing Allowance) makes up one of the largest parts of social security spending and every last penny of it goes to landlords.  Ever since this government weren’t elected they have made brutal cuts to this vital benefit which pays for the UK’s poorest people to have a roof over theirs heads.  Despite this the Housing Benefit bill is soaring and expcted to rise even further.

£24.8 billion was handed out to landlords in the form of Housing Benefit cheques in 2012/13 – the latest year for which exact figures are available.  This is a rise of £2.7 billion, in real terms annual spending on Housing Benefit since the Tories came to power.

Much of this increase is in payments to private sector landlords rather than towards  housing association or council rents.  But it is not soaring private rents that have caused the increase in spending, Housing Benefit rises are now capped at 1% annually whilst total caps on the amount landlords can receive are in place in high rent areas such as the South East of England.  It is claimants who have had to absorb the cost of rent rises, out of already meagre benefits.

Nor is the rise due to people who are unemployed.  Less than £4 bilion of the £24.8 bilion total Housing Benefit spend pays for accommodation for people on unemployment benefits.  Much of the rise is due to new claimants who are in work, which shows the true picture of the UK’s labour market.

Housing Benefit provides a good indicator of how many people in the UK are poor.  It is available to those in or out of work, as well as pensioners.  The only criteria for help with rent payments is an income low enough to qualify and less than £16,000 in assets.  The Tories may claim that the recovery is in full swing, and thousands of pretend jobs have been created, but that doesn’t change the harsh fact that there are now more people poor than at any point since the Housing Benefit system began.

This is reflected in the number of people actually claiming the benefit, which hit a record 5.05 million in 2012/13.  This figure has fallen slightly since last year – by around 25 thousand – but is forecast to rise again and is still almost half a million people higher than in 2009/10.

Surprisingly, another factor that may be driving up the Housing Benefit bill could well be the bungled attempts at cost-cutting reforms – the most notorious being the Bedroom Tax.  There has been no better gift to the landlord class than this nasty policy which is driving people out of secure homes at low, social rents and into the out of control and hugely expensive private sector.  Even the Benefit Cap might be increasing spending on Housing Benefits as families evicted due to no longer being able to afford the rent are rehoused by local authorities in emergency temorary accommodation which can be eye-wateringly expenisve.  Last year the BBC reported on families being placed in £3000 a week hotels after being made homeless due to caps on housing benefits.  The most recent homelessness figures showed the number of families living in B&Bs is at a five year high.

Many tenants are struggling with desperate poverty after cuts to Housing Benefits.  Some Bedroom Tax victims are now paying up to a third of their meagre benefit payments towards the rent.  Yet the cost of Housing Benefit is soaring.  All Iain Duncan Smith has created is more poverty at more cost to the tax payer.  Whatever your political persuasion that is nothing to be fucking cheering about.

You can download the most recent Benefit Expenditure tables at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-expenditure-and-caseload-tables-2014

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Something Is Stirring In The Capital: The Fight Against Social Cleansing Bursts Into Life

poor-doorsWith the Tory’s threatening a new benefit cap and cuts to Local Housing Allowance if they win the next election, it is unsurprising that London’s fucked housing market is emerging as a key site of struggle in the capital.

Two diffrent events this week will highlight the grotesque inequality in a city where global billionaires buy luxury penthouses to keep empty as investments whilst people sleep in the streets below

Wednesday (1st October – tomorrow!) the biggest demonstration against the Poor Doors so far is set to take place.  This weekly protest, outside 1 Commercial Street E1, began after it emerged that the residents in the meagre supply of social housing in this yuppy block of flats are forced to use a different door to the toffs who occupy the luxury properties.

The protests are now in their 10th week and are growing.  Last week the lobby of the building was briefly cccupied, whilst veteran anarchist and fellow blogger Ian Bone, who has supported the protests, was arrested.  Unbowed Bone says tomorrow is likely to be the crunch as Redrow* and the TSG (riot cops) throw their resources into maintaining apartheid in central London…..we’ve got to win this one.”  Get down to 1 Commercial Street, E1 from 6pm, Wednesday October 1st and show the rich they are the ones who are not welcome in the East End borough of Tower Hamlets. 

*Redrow are the property developers behind the poor doors, you can find them on twitter @RedrowLondon

Then on Thursday 2nd October the Focus E15 mums have called for support outside the courts where Newham Council will attempt to have them evicted from the flats they have occupied on the Carpenter’s Estate in Stratford.

This group of local single parents have been fighting for secure housing for their children ever since they were kicked out of a hostel that Newham Council decided to close to save money.  They have been told they face being socially cleansed from the city and could be rehoused as far away as Manchester.

After repeatedly being snubbed by nasty piece of shit Robin Wales, the Labour Mayor of Newham, last week the group occupied several empty flats on the Carpenter’s Estate which is set to be demolished – no doubt to make way for more yuppy flats.  The council are seeking a possession order at Bow County Court this week and the E15 mothers have called for support – be outside the courts at 96 Romford Rd E15 4EG from 9.30am Thursday October 2nd.

You can also follow the campaign on twitter @FocusE15 and @E15OpenHouse or join them on facebook.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have also been fighting against evictions due to welfare reforms and rampant gentrification, follow them @HousingActionSL  Residents of West Hendon Estate in Barnet have faced arrests after fighting the destruction of their homes to make way for million pound flats.  Join their facebook page for more details.

And that’s not all as resistance to austerity, forced work and shit housing bursts back into life.  Next week sees a Week of Action Against Workfare with events already announced in Edinburgh, Bristol, Brighton, Haringey, Central London and even Amsterdam!  Online actions are also set to take place, keep an eye on the Boycott Workfare website for full details.

Meznwhile Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are calling on people to crash the Tory Party Conference Twittersphere by hijacking their hashtag #CPC14.  Send your own tweets or visit DPAC’s website for some of theirs.

Please tweet, blog, share and spread the word about all events and join in if you can.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Permanent Workfare, Housing Benefit Cuts, Food Stamp Style Smart Cards And School Children To Face Jobcentre Harassment – The Latest Rantings From Iain Duncan Smith

IDS-slugSchool children will face Jobcentre harassment from the age of 15 whilst claimants thought to have drug and alcohol problems will be paid benefits on smart cards if the Tories win the next election said Iain Duncan Smith in his speech to the party’s conference today.

18-21 year old who cannot find a job are to be placed on permanent workfare, whilst further caps on Housing Benefits will see yet more cities become unaffordable for anyone currently unable to work – whether this is through sickness, disability, high unemployment or having young children to care for.  And if this wasn’t enough then benefits are to be frozen for two years, meaning a real term cut in the incomes of the UK’s poorest people, whether they are in or out of work.

The smart cards will be for people Iain Duncan Smith thinks have fallen into a “damaging spiral” and are spending all their money on drugs, alcohol and gambling.  Whilst details so far are scant, it seems likely to be similar to the Australian Basics Card which aims to control how benefit recipients spend their money.  The scheme has already proved hugely expensive and has led to people unable to shop at cheaper stores such as Aldi, who government officials say do not meet the “set criteria”.  Predictably Basics Cards have not prevented claimants buying drugs, alcohol or tobacco.  In the UK it is likely to stop people who have genuine problems with drugs or alcohol from seeking treatment in case the Jobcentre find out.  It is a stupid idea, as unworkable as it is callous.  You can see why it would appeal to a nasty fucking idiot like Iain Duncan Smith.

Permanent workfare for 18-21 year old is equally draconian, and equally unworkable – so unworkable that it was actually first announced in George Osborne’s Autumn Statement last year and then never implemented.  Already there isn’t enough workfare to go round, and with resistance to workfare showing no signs of dying down, there will be few community organisatins willing to take part in such an explitative programme.  Meanwhile sending Jobcentre busybodies to harass schoolchildren when they should be studying for their GCSE’s and aren’t likely to be looking for a job or eligible for benefits for two or three years seems little more than a waste of everybody’s time.

With Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms unravelling in all directions and poverty not seen in generations returning to haunt the UK, there was nothing in his conference speech to suggest he has learnt anything from his failure.  The scary thing is, he thinks he is doing a wonderful job – even still pretending that Universal Credit will eventually be rolled out across the country.  Yet across the UK millions of people are facing a Winter where they will face the bleak choice between heating or eating and many will not be able to afford either.

It is horrifying that the Tories seem to think they can win an election by making poor people poorer.  Perhaps more frightening is that the Labour Party have eagerly embraced this vile competion to attack and scapegoat those with nothing.  Whoever wins the next election it will be down to us – unemployed claimants, disabled people, parents and low waged precarious workers – to fight these bastards.  It will be the struggle that defines the neo-liberal age as capitalism run rampant drives people into the the ground in the name of making more profit for the rich.  We must continue to fight, and we must win.

Crash the Tory Party Conference Twittersphere with DPAC!!  (@Dis_ppl_protest).  Use Hashtag: #CPC14 to send your own messages or tweet DPAC’s!

Then join the week of action against workfare next week and support the Focus E15 mums fighting for decent housing for all of us – for more details follow them @E15OpenHouse or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Hard Working Families To Face Triple Whammy Of Benefit Cuts Announces Multi-Millionaire Osborne

gideon-osborneThe lowest paid working fmilies are to face a triple whammy of in-work benefit cuts multi-millionaire George Osborne announced today.

Those with jobs, but on shit wages, will see Tax Credits, Housing Benefits and Child Benefit all frozen in a real term cut to the incomes of the very poorest should the Tory Party be re-elected next year.  According to The Guardian the Tories are planning to freeze almost all benefits for two years including: “jobseeker’s allowance, tax credits, universal credit, child benefit, income support, the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance and the local housing allowance.”

Despite Tory lies to the contrary disabled people are also likely to be the hardest hit by these changes.  Whilst Osborne claims they will be protected, the inclusion of most claimants on Employment Support Allowance means that hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people will see already meagre incomes shrink even further.  If they have children, or live in rented accommodation, then they too will also face cuts to child and housing benefits.

At a time when rents are soaring in many parts of the country it is the inclusion of Local Housing Allowance in these plans that is the nastiest cut of all.  There are already huge numbers of people facing homelessness due to soaring rents, slashed social housing and the refusal of many landlords to rent to tenants on any form of benefits.  Osborne’s plan will make this situation far worse, and will affect those in and out of work alike, along with many of the poorest pensioners.

For those on the lowest benefit rates, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, these policies will cause devastation.  Welfare cuts already made mean that unemployed people, living on just £72.40 a week (or less if they are under 25) often have to use that money to top up their rent, pay the Bedroom Tax, or pay Council Tax.  With the price of heating and transport soaring Osborne’s cuts will mean many more people queuing in foodbanks instead of having the time to look for work.

Once again the Chancellor has shown his utter contempt for those who, unlike him, were not handed a vast fortune on a plate due to their parents wealth and privilege.  Despite the rhetoric, he couldn’t give a fuck whether his cuts hit low paid so-called hard working families, unemployed or disabled people or the children of struggling parents.  If you are poor you are fair game to this Government who, if they are re-elected, plan to make you a lot poorer.

Crash the Tory Party Conference Twittersphere with DPAC!!  (@Dis_ppl_protest).  Use Hashtag: #CPC14 to send your own messages or tweet DPAC’s!

Then join the week of action against workfare next week and support the Focus E15 mums fighting for decent housing for all of us – for more details follow them @E15OpenHouse or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Benefit Sanctions Are Political Admits Welfare To Work Boss As Housing Charities Flee Work Programme

sanction-sabsThe Chief Executive of ERSA, the trade body established to lie on behalf of the welfare to work industry, has said that benefit sanctions are ‘political’ and called for a better evidence base for the current regime.

Kirsty McHugh made the comments in an interview with Inside Housing magazine discussing the number of homelessness charities and Housing Associations that have ended their involvement with Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  According to McHugh:

“(Work Programme) Providers want to be able to make a judgement themselves as to whether there is good reason why a client has or hasn’t broken the conditions of their benefit. But right now the system does not allow this.

“For political reasons, this government likes a “stick”, but I think we need a better evidence base.”

This flies in the face of the DWP’s current position, which is that benefit sanctions ‘help’ people gain work, even giving them a ‘welcome jolt’.  In reality, as those involced in the Work Programme know only too well, they often destroy people’s chances of finding a job as those sanctioned sink into poverty, destitution and ill health.

Inside Housing also spoke to the boss of SHP – the homelessness charity who pulled out of the Work Programme saying that sanctions were causing people to beg and steal to survive.  Chef Executive Liz Rutherford gives a vivid description of the type of people who face losing their benefits: “They might be people who were sleeping rough, or with severe mental health difficulties or people with an addiction. They were people who basically needed to deal with these [issues] before looking for work.”

This sentiment is even shared by the odious Bromford Group, the welfare reform loving housing association who recently quit the Work Programme after whining that they weren’t making enough money out of it.  According to John Wade, boss of Bromford Support, they were having people referrd to them that weren’t expected to get a job ‘in a million years’ by the welfare-to-work companies running the scheme.

Both SHP and Bromford have spotted the huge scam that underpins the welfare-to-work industry.  As SHP point out there is an “‘assumption that something like 30% of those referred to the Work Programme will get a job anyway” whilst Bromford say: “[Prime contractors] would have already modelled, for example, that, if they got 28% of every 100 people into work, then they’ve done fine [as a return on their investment].”

In other words, the welfare-to-work companies represented by ERSA can do precisely fuck all and still get paid billions of our money.  Their Chief Executive even admits this is going on, warning that there is a danger people on the sickness and disability benefit ESA are being ‘parked by the system’.

ERSA’s criticisms of the Work Programme show an industry panicking that the game might be up as the dreadful performance of the scheme has shined new light on their grubby little racket. But no matter what they plead, they are fully culpable for the horrific suffering that benefit sanctions have inflicted, often on some of the most marginalised people in society.

The welfare-to-work industry was born with the emergence of Tony Blair’s New Deal, the first attempt at mass workfare and compulsory training for those over 18.  For the first time large companies like Reed and Manpower were given eye-watering sums of money to harass unemployed people by forcing them into endless pointless activity.  The so-called training they offered was so sub-standard that the only way the government could make people attend was by threatening to take their benefits away.  As such the welfare-to-work sector has always been dependent on benefit sanctions for its survival.  Their fake concern now is merely them attempting to be given even more power over claimants lives by pleading that they should make the decision about who gets sanctioned, not the Jobcentre.  They will want more money for this responsibility of course.  The tragedy is that the DWP is currently being run by such a bunch of fucking idiots that they will probably get it.

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Cranky Jobcentre Psych Tests Are Unethical, But Will Anyone Except Claimants Care?

look-into-my-eyesThe news that unmployed people will face psychological testing in order to determine how much Jocentre harassment they should receive has prompted warnings from psychologists concerned about the ethics of the scheme.

Esther McVey recently announced that Jobcentre busy-bodies will soon  be expected to quiz new claimants to assess their “attitudes, behavioural norms and levels of self-belief”.  A small pilot scheme is currently taking place which is soon to be extended to 27,000 unemployed people.  Those who fail this cranky assessment and are judged ‘disengaged’ or ‘despondant’ will no doubt face being ‘helped’ with forced unpaid work and benefit sanctions.

According to the British Psychological Society (BPS): “It is critical …  that all assessments are conducted by experienced users of psychometrics – ideally under the supervision of a chartered psychologist. The success of a psychometric assessment of jobseekers will depend on sensitive, constructive and meaningful feedback about the results.”

Of course these tests will feature nothing of the sort.  A PCS Union briefing for Jobcentre staff says that management have told them these assessments will take just “2 to 5 minutes to complete”.  There is no mention of any specialist training being provided to claimant advisors and certainly no sign of a chartered psychologist running the show.

What this means is that Jobcentre workers, already under pressure due to short-staffing, will now be expected to administer tests which psychologists regard as unethical.

Whether the BPS or PCS plan to actually do anything about this situation remains to be seen.  Don’t hold your breath, but you can ask them @BPSOfficial and @PCS_Union.

H/T @lynnefriedli and @boycottworkfare

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Number of People Claiming Sickness Benefits Hits Two Year High

ESA-claims1The number of people claiming out of work sickness or disability benefits has hit a two year high provisional statistics from the DWP show.

2,510,000 people are estimated to have been claiming either Employment Support Allowance, or the benefit it is replacing Incapacity Benefit, in July 2014.  This is around 70,000 higher than a year earlier and the higest number since Summer 2012.

With Atos assessments finding people with cancer and other serious health conditions ‘fit for work’, there can be no doubt that these claims are genuine.  Yet despite hundreds of thousands of people having benefits slashed due to the bungled health tests, it seems that people are still getting sick.

This is hardly suprising.  Despite the endless propaganda from the DWP, the UK did not have significantly more people on out of work sickness or disability benefits than comparable economies even before the current callous regime was introduced.  In any society there will be some people who are not able to work due to a health condition, accident or serious disability.  No amount of assessments, workfare or benefit sanctions will change that.

It would come as a shock to the out of touch bureacrats at the DWP that there have always been many people on long term unemployment benefits who in reality shold have probably been on the sick.  Some people feel making a claim for sickness benefits is giving up, others, particularly those with mental health conditions, may not be diagnosed or have a full understanding of their condtion.  One reason for a rise in sickness benefit claimants – at a time when unemployment is allegedly falling – may be that workfare and the endless ‘work related activity’ imposed by Jobcentres is making these people too ill to stay on unemployment benefit.

There is some evidence for this.  A DWP evaluation in 2012 found that people referred to Mandaory Work Activity were more likely to make a claim for sickness benefits than those who didn’t face workfare.  Other evidence shows that the assessment process for sickness benefits may be having a devastating impact on people’s mentak health.  Other reports have shown how benefit sanctions have caused people to be unable to meet special dietry needs, or going hungry, or being forced to beg or go through bins to find food.

Whatever the reason, and the huge backlog in sickness benefit assessents will be another factor, the number of people unable to work due to sickness or disability now looks set to have risen steadily over the past seven months.  It increasingly looks the case that all Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have done for people on sickness benefits is make them sicker.

You can read the latest figures at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/dwp-statistical-summaries-2014

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