With anti-cuts protests starting to take hold across the country it seems as good a time as any to have a closer look at what the new Housing Benefit reforms are likely to mean in practice.
Firstly some home truths. The Sunday Mirror has revealed that of the one million people these cuts will affect, approximately 250,000 people are working and a further 50,000 are pensioners. The rest comprise of single parents, people with disabilities, those who are sick and the unemployed. With the recently announced job losses, it could well be safe to add another million to that figure.
So already that’s 4% of the country who may face losing their home. Toadying Lib Dem minions and their Tory overlords claim that this is scare-mongering. Proving to be both witless and chinless, Tory parasite Grant Shapps has said: “Some people will face a shortfall in their rental payments but in many cases they will be able to make up the difference themselves.”
Perhaps the thick, offensive fucker doesn’t realise that most benefit claimants and low wage earners don’t have any of their own money. We don’t have trust funds, rich parents, Tax Exempt Savings Account and Health Insurance. We don’t have fuck all. That’s kind of the point. Someone living on $65 quid a week who could be facing losing over a third of that isn’t scare mongering when they say they won’t be able to pay their rent. They are not being sensitive little flowers, or even rabid class warriors, they are simply poiting out a basic economic fact. Has anyone in this government of the rich seen the price of a fucking loaf of bread or looked at a gas bill recently? Perhaps they should ask the help.
The Tories and their dispicable lapdogs are set to pursue a series of ill thought out policies which won’t just result in misery, mass homelessness and destitution for the most vulnerable, they will also cost a fortune.
Let’s start with everyone’s favourite scapegoat, the single long term unemployed.
Those on Job Seekers Allowance for over one year face a ten percent cut in their Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the form of Housing Benefit most (but not all, more later) are claiming.
This means even those on modest rents are likely to find themselves a tenner a week short. Those in London or other inner-city areas who’ve managed to find properties below the caps could be facing a £25 a week cut from their weekly budget of £65. And it doesn’t stop there. The DWP has claimed that the decision to set Housing Benefit rates at the 30% rather than midpoint in the local market will cost the average claimant £9 a week. In many parts of the UK the figure could be much higher. So that’s some people’s incomes cut in half overnight. And there’s possibly still more to come with currently confusing talk about scrapping or curtailing Council Tax Benefit for claimants. This would allow a Tory Council, such as Westminster for example, to remove up to 10% of claimants Council Tax Benefit. Again this could cost a single JSA Claimant £25 a week. This would leave an impressive £1 a day for claimants to live on. Welcome to the third world.
Of course this is a worse case scenario. However the number of people on long term JSA is almost one million people and the number is rising fast. The number is set to rise even faster after single parents of chldren over 7 were moved over to JSA last week. The number will be greater still if Iain Duncan Smith manages to shift a million people off the sick and onto JSA – which is another story and one we will be examining in time.
So whilst a worst case scenario, it’s one that many people may find themselves facing soon. And we haven’t even mentioned the caps yet. Or the people between 25 and 34 currently living in their own flat who face having their benefits stripped and imminent homelessness. The outcome is likely to be unprecedented street homelessness, a return to the cardboard cities of the past and a rise in traveller sites and other itinerant lifestyles. And the subsequent costs of attempting to quash those lifestyles. More cops, more prisons, more expense.
‘Why should unemployed people be paid to live in £250 a week flats*, I wish I could afford a Central London flat’ read the letters in the right wing press (oblivious to the fact that Housing Benefit is available to those in work as well). Well people have to live somewhere, whether this is in a benefit subsidised flat, your doorway or the nice fields your back garden overlooks the poor will not just curl up and die just because some people want them to. Neither are they likely to find work, long term unemployment and homelessness, not being the greatest transferable skills that a job seeker may boast of as unemployment soars. The black economy will beckon, along with begging, squatting and crime. More cops, more prisons and more expense will duly follow.
* Quick reminder for the hard of thinking, when you hear claims of outrageous Housing Benefit claims, it’s the landlord that gets the fucking money, not the claimant. What the claimant usually gets is a shitty low cost flat from a flaky landlord who knows DSS tenants can’t afford to be too choosy.
But people should just move to cheaper areas cry the chinless ones. The problem is people can’t just move. A cursory scan of properties available for rent reveals two things. The first is the uniquitous phrase No DSS, present on almost Letting Agent windows, the second is the soaring demands for deposits, agency fees and rent in advance. This means to secure a new property many benefit claimants could be looking at finding two months rent (worst case scenario, two grand for a single person, renting at the levels of the caps in Westminster). That’s before basic removal expenses.
So they can’t just move. But what about the extra emergency funding bleat the Toffs. Yes folks, a whopping 10 million has just been set aside to address this problem in London. £10 million that will require a mountain of beaurocracy to access and if the London Councils figures are to be believed (and we believe them to be a massive under-estimation when all the new changes are taken into account), this works out at £40 per person affected by the cuts. Not that they will see it, with much of it already being swept up by London homeless charities who have long cared far more about following Westminster Council dictats and preserving their own salaries.
People can of course take direct action themsleves in the form of refusing to pay the shortfall in their rent, spend up to a year waiting for eviction hearings and bailiffs and then declare themselves as homeless with the local authority. This option, whilst only available to those with priority need i.e. kids, pensioners and those who are sick or diabled, will mean that the local authority has a statutory duty to house them in temporary accommodation immediately. This is why London Councils are currently block booking B&Bs on the south coast. But here’s some pure comedy. People housed in temporary accommodation by the Council are not paid Local Housing Allowance (LHA) but good old fashioned Housing Benefit, which is not subject to the caps.
This could mean, for example, that a family of four who’ve spent a year facing eviction from a grand a week Islington house, meaning personal trauma for the tenant and a big fuck off bill for the landlord (every cloud), could, as the system stands presently, simply be rehoused in the same house, at a cost of a grand a week. Or more depending on how charitable the landlord is feeling by this time. Most three year olds can join the dots better than this Government. So can Westminster Council who have started to lobby for amendments to the Housing Act in yet another attempt to punt homeless people in Westminster into their less well of neighbouring areas.
What does all this mean. For the hard nosed Tory scum out there, this means more bearocracy, bigger government, more forms, more checks, more appeals, more council snoopers, plus a whopping bill for landlords. Will these costs outweight the savings? Who knows, nobody’s even done the sums. What it does reveal is a government more concerned with smashing the welfare state than any cost cutting excercises.
And as to the social cost. Well apart from low income families being forced into poverty and homelessness, this will mean many of the working poor forced to move away from their work. With public transport fares set to rise may of them will no doubt realise it’s not worth the effort and look for jobs locally. The exporting of thousands of people, both the low waged and the unemployed, from areas of high employment into areas of low employment rates will bring devastating costs to some of the most deprived areas in the UK. And we haven’t even mentioned the public sector job losses.
But there is another factor still which will affect far more people than just benefit claimants. Many people seem to be under the apprhension that the Caps apply equally everywhere. This isn’t the case, the Caps only apply in areas where rents in the 30th percentile of the market are above the suggested caps. This means that you won’t be able to claim £250 a week for a one bed flat in downtown Bradford. Not yet anyway.
Whilst areas like Central London and other city centres are experiencing a bouyant rental market, the outlook in outlying areas is not so bright. With the recent recession and more lob losses to come, more landlords are likely to come round to the idea of renting to DSS Tenants. And, what luck, they can expect to see a flock of them after the poor are socially cleansed from the inner cities.
So as demand soars rents everywhere are likely to climb towards the levels of the caps. It ain’t rocket science after all. If you tell a group of children they can have three sweets each they will each take three sweets and landlords are likely to behave much the same way. How much this will push up rents in outlying areas (where most people live) is anybodys guess. No-one’s done the sums, again. What it is likely to mean is higher rents for benefit claimants and non claimants alike. And a much bigger Housing Benefit bill for everyone.
Our initial instinct back after the budget appears to be holding true. This shower of chinless wonders, cossetted as they have been by rich parents and public school, are simply not very clever. The Bullingdon boys and their fags may have a weird ideology based somewhere between Thatcher, the Daily Mail and Camberwick Green, but they aren’t even smart enough to pursue that properly. Not the sharpest tools in the box you might say (although they are tools). Imagine Tim ‘nice but dim’, except not very nice either. Not someone you’d want running a public bog, let alone a country.
Benefit Claimants Fight Back!