Archives For council tax reduction

1) Failed austerity plan spells more cuts in Spending Review 2013

Chancellor George Osborne announced further cuts in the Spending Review on Wednesday, blaming the slow recovery on ‘lower than expected’ growth.

In a bid to save £11.5bn in 2015, cut-backs will be made on most of the country’s already reduced departments, with only education, defence and intelligence escaping the axe.

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

George Osborne Image: The Mirror

Some of the new measures for welfare included a 7 day wait in between a job loss and a claim (which could mean a wait of up to 38 days because Universal credit is paid monthly), weekly sign-ons and more time with job centre advisors, a national welfare cap set every four years by the government (taking into account inflation) and a requirement for all claimants to learn English before being eligible.

The review has been met with criticism from campaigners who say the reforms will increase poverty, use of food banks and also short term loan use, and also that the Chancellor was making political moves with the reforms, as they lie close to the next election.

To find out how welfare will be affected read more here. 

For a full report on the Spending Review read more here. 

2) Independent campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, releases report on the DWP’s mis-use of statistics

Independent organiusation DPAC released a report that listed 35 cases where the DWP and it’s representatives gave false or mis-leading statsitsics relating to welfare and the benefits system.

They said in the report:

“We believe that this demonstrates a consistent pattern of abuse of official statistics by Ministers of the present Government to paint a false picture of benefit claimants in the UK in support of policies which are aimed at cost cutting to the detriment of jobless, sick and disabled people.”

Each case is presented, sourced and then dis-proven in the report. A ‘culture of truthlessness’ in the DWP perhaps?

Download the report here.

3) Job centre tells staff to sanction 30% of claimants each week 

Image: Welfare News Service

Image: Welfare News Service

A post made by Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland has raised serious concerns over the targets given to Job Centre staff over sanctions.

The post said:

I’ve just got back from Leith Job Centre in Edinburgh and have been told unofficially that a new manager started this week and she has instructed staff to put 30% of claimants on sanction EACH WEEK. The staff are up in arms but can’t do anything about it.

“I just want to warn everyone signing on to make sure their paperwork is in order so they have no excuse to catch anyone out. I’ve emailed my MP because as far as I know, they should not be working to sanction targets.”

Sanctions can dock or entirely remove benefit payments for up to two months, leaving claimants with no income. Since the coalition came to power there has been around 2.25 million sanctions brought against claimants raising fears that powers have been abused and sanctions imposed without reasonable condition.

See more about the post here.

4) Lord Freud offers direct payment ‘guarantees’ to social landlords  

In a talk at the Chartered Institute of Housing in Manchester, the minister for welfare, Lord Freud, agreed to concessions and guarantees for social landlords in a bid to appease them in light of the controversial policies introduced by the coalition government.

Lord Freud commented that ‘collaborations’ between the government and housing associations were essential to making the Universal Credit system successful, and revealed plans to identify tenants who should be exempt from direct payments. In these situations, benefits would be passed directly to landlords to prevent tenants from falling into arrears.

Thousands of tenants have already fallen into debt since the bedroom tax was introduced a couple of months ago. However, while the plans offered up by Lord Freud will see landlords paid correctly, tenants will still fall into poverty, and direct payment may be abused by landlords who want to charge a rent as close to the top bracket of housing benefit as possible.

Read more about this story here. 

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

Lord Freud Image: The Guardian

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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1) A third of Britons worry they will not be able to keep up with rising housing costs

Research from the Chartered Institute for Housing (CIH) and Ipsos Mori has found that 10.3 million Britons are worried about meeting mortgage payments and rent prices in 2014.

Over 11 million people said that the situation was causing them stress, and homeless charity Shelter reported a 40% increase in calls to its helpline from people worried about meeting rent or payments.

The LSL buy-to-let index shows that rent prices in England and Wales are increasing faster than the rate of inflation, with an average 3.5% increase in the last 12 months. These increased rents, cuts to benefits and reforms such as the bedroom tax, have pushed people into debt, with an increasing amount of social landlords reporting that tenants have gone into arrears.

However, there are more cuts to come – with the introduction of the benefit cap due to start later this year.

Grainia Long, Chief Executive of the CIH said: “The fact that one in three people are worried they won’t be able to pay their mortgage or rent next year – and almost a quarter are already concerned about their ability to pay at the moment – is extremely disturbing.

The number of people worried about their housing costs will continue to rise because we have failed to build enough new homes for decades. Recent government announcements have shown ministers understand the importance of fixing our housing system, but we need housing to be understood as a national priority if we are to have any chance of dealing with this deepening crisis.”

Read more about this story here.

Image: The Guardian

Image: The Guardian

2) Call for national demo against NHS cuts at Tory conference

Britain’s biggest unions have united in support of a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation, to be held outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester later this year.

Unite, Unison and GMB will join with campaign groups outside the conference on September 29th.

Campaigners hope to highlight and stop a dismantling of the NHS, with increased cuts, job losses and a fragmentation of the service which critics say will allow private sector companies to buy up parts of the health service.

Read more about this story here.

2) Judges asked to explain decisions on fit-to-work appeals

The government is asking judges making decisions on appeals from those found fit-to-work, to explain their decisions, in the hope that they can monitor and improve the process.

The controversial assessments carried out by ATOS, have been condemned by campaigners who say they are weak and often wrong, with many decisions being over-ruled at appeal.

Reports and feedback from judges will be analysed by the government this summer.

Read more about this story here.

3) Unison starts judicial review against ‘brutal’ charges for employment tribunals

The country’s biggest public sector union, Unison, has applied for a judicial review against new rules to charge workers £1,000 to take companies to tribunal.

The fees, which will affect workers seeking trial for unfair dismissal or discrimination, are due to be rolled out by the coalition next month.

However, there are concerns that the excessive fees will stop some employees from seeking help for genuine grievances, and will cover the backs of big business.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary said, “They want to take away our employment rights with punitive charges to access justice” adding that Unison would pay the fee for any of it’s members upfront if needed.

Read more about this story here.

Unison General Secretary - Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

Unison General Secretary – Dave Prentis Image: The Mirror

5) Over 4,000 turn-out for the People’s Assembly against Austerity

On Saturday, over 4,000 people joined in a movement against austerity at the Central Hall in Westminster. The day was filled with talks and debates from  a range of speakers including Union Leaders, councillors, journalists and campaigners from up and down the country.

As well as providing a space for people to unite and discuss the problems of government and cuts, the People’s Assembly hopes to now help unite and mobilise local groups to take action against the attack on welfare being carried out by the coalition. Several days of action have been announced, including a day of civil disobedience on November 5th. There was even talk of creating a new political party formation, in light of Labour’s lack of assurance to reverse the cuts.

Find out more about the People’s Assembly and read their first draft statement here.

One of the most inspiring talks was given by comedienne, writer and actor Francesca Martinez, who has also been a supporter of the WOW petition which calls for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and a fairer deal for sick and disabled people affected by the reforms.

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass
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Take a drug addict who sells her body, a cagefighter, a shoplifter, an unemployed father of 7, a troubled child with a few school exclusions under his belt, some teenage pregnancy and a good dose of patronising narration, and you have the making of a new Big Fat Gypsy-esque assault on the welfare rhetoric, courtesy of Channel 4.

Image: The Telegraph

Image: The Telegraph

The channel has, in the past, been known and revered for it’s documentaries, often pressing deep into sensitive areas, many of which the BBC has shied away from. ‘Skint’ is something rather different however.

With a continued rise in unemployment in the UK,  more and more people are facing the difficulties of finding work and living off benefits, or taking pay cuts, short term employment or working fewer hours. And while the labour market struggles to provide jobs for many work hungry and indeed, hungry, Brittons, Channel 4 presents us with the documentary series ‘Skint’.

A programme that perhaps many had hoped would see the independent broadcaster reveal the plight of the thousands struggling to make ends meet, looking into the real social and political problems stifling the jobs market in the UK and its effect on communities. Instead, the show demonises and pretty much ridicules the unemployed, and the welfare system itself.

The characters followed on the programme have been hand-picked to fit the tabloid press description of ‘scroungers.’ Let’s take a look at just one of the stories.

Dean and Claire are parents and step-parents to 7 children between them. Dean had a job at the steelworks, but now the family survive off benefits, or the ‘social’ as the narrator likes to casually call it, as if Dean and his giro are old pals.

While hinting at the effect of the redundancies from the local steelworks, at no point does it delve deeper into the reasons why there is unemployment in North Lancashire. Over 20,000 people lost their jobs from that one industry in the local area. But Channel 4 skims over the real causes and issues, in order to provide light entertainment from the poverty of others.

It might be titillating to viewers to watch the people on Skint like they would animals in a zoo, but for those who are between jobs and are actively seeking work, being grouped in with the characters on the programme might feel like being kicked when they’re down. The programme has foundations in an ‘us and them’ mentality, ‘us’ being ‘hard-working’ members of society, and ‘them’ being benefit claimants. And many took to Twitter to echo that:

Some Twitter comments following the show.

Some Twitter comments following the show.

And this family is like ‘many other families round here’ apparently. Cue the children telling the camera they know families with 7 kids, 8 kids, 5 kids. We are left to assume that they don’t work either. But we don’t know that. The idea that there is a culture of families having lots of children on benefits is another tabloid favorite. In truth, there are around 3,200 families with 7 children in the UK, claiming ANY sort of out-of-work benefit, just over 1000 with 8 children, and around 30 families with 11 kids:

Families by number of dependent children receiving any type of out-of-work benefit Image: The Guardian

Families by number of dependent children receiving any type of out-of-work benefit Image: The Guardian

The voiceover is often nothing less than patronising and shows the flippancy with which the programme’s creators are approaching the problem of poverty and unemployment in Britain. “Not everyone’s on the dole here…but most are” says the sneering narrator. Yet, according to figures released by ONS, only 5.9% of the population of Scunthorpe claim the dole. But perhaps that was too much of a non-patronising mouthful.

Tom Sutcliffe from The Independent picked up on the lack of depth to the programme:

“Skint doesn’t actively mock Dean. It doesn’t make him jump through hoops in some reality format or snigger at his lifestyle in an obvious way. But it does enjoy him and leaves you wondering whether that enjoyment is entirely seemly.”

And it’s true, the programme doesn’t actively mock the people on Westcliffe Estate, but it’s faux compassion towards their struggle is just as undermining.

There are some moments where the locals begin to talk about their situation. One young man began saying “I’d rather work hard and get a decent wage at the end of the week, but there just isn’t any work about”, but rather than focusing on why this may be, the editors prefer to cut to shots of kids riding motorbikes and drinking Special Brew.

The Twitter reaction was mixed, some slamming C4 for their ‘poor bashing propaganda’, and labelling ‘Skint’ as ‘sensationalist voyeurism’. In the backlash against the anti-welfare tweets some posted the TUC’s statistics vs misconceptions poll results:

TUC myths about welfare. Image: falseeconomy.org.uk

TUC myths about welfare. Image: falseeconomy.org.uk

Screen shot 2013-06-04 at 21.54.29[1]

The programme’s steeped in distaste and is unsuccessful in shedding light on the reality of people on benefits. The summary of the programme declares it shows ‘the real impact of worklessness – both today and over generations’. A JRF report has already de-bunked this idea of worklessness culture, and called on politicians to stop using this false idea. However, it seems the creators of this C4 documentary were looking for it whether it was there or not. And a few edits can stop us from thinking otherwise.

‘Skint gets behind the headlines’of ‘people, often maligned for their lifestyle’ the Channel 4’s synopsis says. And it does. It helps to prop those headlines up.

 

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Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

Tower Hamlets Protest Begins to Gather

With lower numbers than expected due to a protest in Woolwich, locals from around the Tower Hamlets area gathered outside the Housing Association to make a stand against welfare reforms last Saturday. Despite the smaller turnout, the day united communities around the country to make a stand.

We spoke to some of the people there. Here’s what they said:

“This is the place from which people are told that there’s nowhere in Tower Hamlets that you can be re-housed and actually you’re going to have to go to Northampton or Luton or wherever. And that is happening everyday, and that’s partly why we chose to come here. Because of the bedroom tax and council housing tax, a lot of people are being evicted. We are all fighting benefit cuts and we all need to stand together and that’s why we’re all standing here today.”

Eileen, Tower Hamlets Benefit Justice Organiser

“I have a spare bedroom. A small, spare bedroom. I’ve lived where I’ve lived for 30 years. Because of ill health, I can’t move. There’s nowhere in my housing co-op with one bedroom. I’m here because it’s criminal what the government are doing. It’s a huge swathe on honorable, hardworking people.

“We need to get the message out to the people that they are not alone, and get them on the streets. The Tories will realise that though we are not well-off, or are ill or disabled, we are a force to be reckoned with.

“A good judgement of society is how it treats it’s weak.”

              Elsbeth, Protestor

“I’m not affected by it personally, because I’m a pensioner. But I think the big problem is that there aren’t any places for people to move to. If they’ve got an extra bedroom there’s no housing available in Tower Hamlets. We’ve got thousands of people on the waiting list.

“A woman just stopped who has two sons. She’d been waiting 8 years for a two bedroom place. It just doesn’t work because there are queues of people waiting for smaller places. They haven’t really thought it through. They don’t know the impact it’s going to have on people.

“Same with the NHS. I’m involved with trying to stop what they’re doing to the NHS as well. It all kind of fits together, like, ‘If you can get it through and people don’t realise what you’re doing to them, just get on and do it.’ The [government] don’t have any morals it seems to me. Fortunately, I’m not affected by it myself, but I can see lots of people suffering badly because of it.

“And who’s the money going to? The thing is the rents are too high – that’s the problem. If we can get the rents controlled and lowered, they wouldn’t be such a drain on the benefits. Because housing benefit pays very rich landlords a lot of money. So that’s the basic fault with it. What we need is more housing and controlled rents, and that would solve the problem. Not picking on individuals.”

                                                                         Myra, 80, Protestor

“I have been out campaigning for the last three years because we have a dangerous, sociopathic group of people in charge of government.

“We need to let the people speak, but they won’t until there are massive numbers of deaths, which will happen because they are also decimating our 999 services.”

                                                                                                       Gabriel, Protestor

“I’ve been affected by the bedroom tax, and I will be affected by the benefit cuts. And we’ve got the council tax. So it’s going to be three – the bedroom tax, the benefit cut and the council tax.

“I can’t afford to pay it. I’m not in a position to take in a lodger. They suggested people take in a lodger. It’s not really going to solve the problem, because if you have a lodger, you’re still going to have your benefit cut anyway. There was a time when you had a network or a community. The networks now are not necessarily that safe to say I’m going to take Tom, Dick or Harry or Lucy or Jane in, because you have to think about who you’re sharing your house with.

“It’s easier to attack the weaker ones rather than the stronger ones. They need to build more housing, and not luxury flats. They need to assume that everybody who is on these benefits is NOT a lazy sit around. A lot of people are becoming unemployed and they can’t live on fresh air.

“And it doesn’t matter who you are, wherever you’re working. If you’ve worked, and you’ve paid your tax, you’re entitled to have some relief if and when you‘re not well, that’s why it was there wasn’t it?

“And when I’m saying the benefit, that goes down to the NHS and the Fire Brigade and whatever. And they’d all be willing for us to burn in our extra bedroom. That’s what they’re trying to do if you don’t move out. But where can we go?”

 Margaret, Petitioner

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

Continuing on from yesterday’s interview with Jon Leighton, in today’s second part we talk about what we can do to better knowledge ourselves, and what the future of welfare is looking like…

image  Photo: Jon Leighton

How can people access better information?

Find a reputable advice agency or a support provider. Avoid commercial, profit making enterprises at all costs. The number of times I’ve seen our vulnerable clients seek solace from a payday lender and become further impoverished as a result, is too numerous.

“Rising need and diminishing services is now a common topic of discussion in most services supporting the vulnerable.”

This is tricky though. Given the withdrawal of legal aid for benefits casework, access to justice is being diminished in this area. Go to any local CAB [Citizens Advice Bureau] and they’ll tell you the same story. Rising caseloads and falling revenue. The advice sector is struggling and supported housing is not faring much better. Recently Derby City Council agreed an 83% cut to their ‘supporting people’ budget. This has effectively signed the death warrants of the majority of hostel accommodation and floating support provision. Leicester City Council are following suit this week with a 50% cut. Rising need and diminishing services is now a common topic of discussion in most services supporting the vulnerable.

What other subjects do you feel need a better light shown on them? 

Without question this would be Housing Policy. Housing Benefit is out of control because we subsidise the private sector landlords to the tune of billions each year. We need a social housing revolution in the UK.

BUILD. MORE. HOUSES.

Rent Rises UK

 Photo: This Is Money Figures: National Housing Federation

What do you think is the future of the welfare state in the next few years? What will change?

In terms of overall spending, I doubt little will change whichever colour party gets elected. The truth is, you can only cut Welfare so far. Go too far and other areas of government inevitably pick up the tab. The idea you can strip out billions from say, the Housing Benefit budget is ridiculous if you are not prepared to attack the supply side of the problem and build a million new houses. Take the benefits cap being trialled in London right now; some of the families displaced by this policy will cost the exchequer in another way, whether it be bed and breakfast accommodation, referrals to social services, expensive temporary accommodation or claiming other benefits. The government are selling the idea you can arbitrarily cut costs without there being consequences. You can’t.

What should change?

The government should expend their energy negotiating some common taxation policies with their European / G8 partners. At least then tax avoidance could be tackled domestically. A common taxation system would stop private sector hawks upping sticks and moving to a more favourable tax haven. Ergo, welfare cannot be tackled in isolation, we need a meritocratic society where talent is nurtured and effort is rewarded. Our welfare system should be firm but fair, effectively supporting all people into work, whatever their circumstances. The ones who are unable to work should also be supported to find their own vocation, a client centred pathway for them to contribute positively to society.

“Welfare cannot be tackled in isolation, we need a meritocratic society where talent is nurtured and effort is rewarded.”

As it stands, we have a government hell bent on dividing people into shirkers and strivers for political gain. And I for one do not recognise that in the overwhelming numbers of people I meet. Folk want a fair crack of the whip and an equal stack of chips but at the moment all they have is an increasingly unequal society, where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider.

@Welfare_Reform

Follow Jon on Twitter via @Welfare__Reform

And his blog here http://pokerfiend71.wordpress.com/

KS

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ToniIn 2010/11 I had an accidental gap in my university studies and ended up moving from London back to my home town of Leeds. I had a full time job from September 2010, which I ended up losing in January 2011. It was a mixture of the contract coming to an end, illness (I had anxiety and newly-found food allergies) and not fitting in with my colleagues that led me to feel like I couldn’t continue my employment. I’d also been under-performing and having a lot of time off due to my illnesses. It was never suggested that my contract would be extended, and when I discussed it with my manager, he said if I chose not to continue then they would be happier anyway. Which was rather charming!

Upon leaving, I had enough money to give me a good month of job-hunting. Three weeks in, I still had nothing. I applied for, on average, around 5 jobs a day, some of which I was absolutely not interested in, some I was overqualified for and a ridiculous amount of bar and kitchen jobs for which I had 6 years of experience. I was living with my partner, who was working full-time and, without my half of the bills and rent coming in, financially things were tight. It obviously also put a strain on the relationship too, I was getting more and more fed up and, quite rightly, so was she.

I was entitled to nothing

The more I spoke to people, the more I was advised to swallow my pride and go to the job centre. I was 24, and I’d never been before, but it’s there to help right? I went in and made an appointment to see someone who advised me to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit, this would give me an automatic application for Council Tax Reduction. As it turned out, I was entitled to nothing. Zero pounds, zero pence. I wasn’t eligible for Housing Benefit, JSA or help with Council Tax, as my partner was working full-time. Their advice? “Get your partner to quit her job.” That wasn’t something we weren’t interested in. We just needed help topping up our income, plus, we actually wanted to work as much as possible!

She didn’t quit her job and we ended up going through a three day break-up, lost our flat, got back together, she handed in her notice and we went to live with my parents down the road in Wakefield. We immediately made an appointment at the job centre.

They added us to their system which took weeks as I hadn’t taken myself off the register at the Leeds branch. We then received a letter saying we were entitled to the full income based JSA of £112.55 a week between us whilst we were both looking for a job, but we had to attend our first appointment to receive anything. We went and filled in every form they gave us, including one saying that my partner did volunteer work one day a week and I did ten hours a week in a pub near my parents’ house. We attended all our appointments and checked the bank two weeks later to see that we had been sent no money.

After calling them to see what was going on, we were advised that they were recalculating as we hadn’t declared our part-time work, and to carry on going to our appointments as usual. So we did. Two weeks later, we were owed four weeks worth of payments (£450.22) and checked the bank to see that we had still received nothing.

The whole process was beginning to spiral out of control

We called them again, and made an appointment with our advisor, who told us we had completed the wrong forms on our part time work. We had to take these forms away, fill them in, and bring them back on Monday. Meanwhile, we got a letter saying we were now entitled to less money each week, off the top of my head it was around £45. By this point, the whole process was beginning to spiral out of control and, week after week, we continued to attend all our appointments, going to job fairs, and desperately hunting for any work, during which we were still receiving no payments. In the end, they owed us close to £700, in fact it was probably more. We put a claim in for back payment after speaking to a different advisor but were told that we would not receive back-payment due to ‘missing an appointment in June’. We had no idea about this appointment, arranged for a date they had apparently sent us a letter about. We received their next letter though. Saying we were now entitled to a mere £6 a week between us, which we received for 4 weeks, by which point the tax man had been kind to us, a hopeful PPI claim had come good, and I’d got into university, so we signed off having received a grand total of £24 in the five months we were claiming. Laughably, they sent a further letter to our new address three months later saying we actually owed them £60. We didn’t pay it.

All in all, the experience was absolutely ridiculous, to a point where we gave up trying to fight for the money we were genuinely owed. It seems like it’s so easy, to walk in and just pick up benefits. It’s not at all.

AL

Have a story or view on employment, disability rights, housing or any other aspect of welfare? E-mail us at info@realfare.co.uk or tweet @RealFareUK