By abandoning ‘hardworking families’ to poverty, have the Tories finally gone too far?

From child tax cut restrictions to universal credit, the government has crossed its own red lines. Soon millions more children will go hungry

Exactly four years since Britain’s first wave of cuts came into force – and as this month’s new measures begin to take hold – we’re entering what we may call the next stage of austerity. Where, at first, particular sections of the poor and marginalised – the disabled, people with mental health problems and the unemployed – were targeted, now it’s free rein on anyone who’s struggling.

While the policies of April 2013 – the bedroom tax, for example, or the original benefit cap pilot – were sold by politicians as protecting “hardworking” families, the policies of April 2017 – from child tax credit restrictions to the impact of universal credit – cross even the line the Conservatives themselves have spent years creating. This is no longer a case of “tough love” against the coalition’s so-called shirkers but, on top of further cuts to out-of-work disabled people, it is the gutting of support for the low paid and their children.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the reduced aisle in supermarkets, 19p for spaghetti and 20p for chopped tomatoes,” says Cydney, 23, from Bournemouth. Six months ago, Cydney’s partner left her and their four-year-old boy, Oscar, and she’s since been struggling to afford regular meals. Cydney had a wage coming in – she worked part time in marketing for an insurance broker, as well as caring for Oscar – but 80% of it went on childcare alone. The rest had to stretch for all her bills: rent, utilities, phone, and council tax. Her £20 a week child benefit helped but barely made a dent. Often, after all her outlays, there’d only be £5 left for a whole week’s food shop.

To be able to feed her son, Cydney ate one or two meals a day: skipping breakfast, eating lunch at work, and then going without dinner. “I’d give Oscar baked beans on toast,” she says. “There were times I’d go to bed early because I was hungry.” With her mental health suffering and no way to pay the bills, Cydney’s only choice was to give up her job to move back in with her mum in Buckinghamshire.

Cydney’s is not a rare case of course, but rather a snapshot of reality for families all over the country. Research by the Young Women’s Trust last month found that half of young mums are now regularly skipping meals because they’re struggling to afford to feed their children. A quarter have had to use a food bank. This is even before this month’s benefit measures kick in. It is part of the same normalisation of hardship that means there are now 11 million people in this country who are not only living far below what the wider public view as “socially acceptable” living standards but who are on the precipice of what the Joseph Rowntree Foundation call “severe poverty”.

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/13/cuts-hardworking-families-tories-child-tax-cut-universal-credit

Eight things you should know about the benefit cap

‘Fairness’ was the word Lord Freud used to justify the lowering of the benefit cap. But there is no fairness to be found in a policy that ignores assessed need, mostly affects people who can’t work to increase their income, and hits households with children in 94 per cent of cases.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefit cap:

  1. The cap breaks the link between what you need and what you get. People are assessed for social security support according to need, but if that help goes above the – arbitrary – level of the benefit cap, it is restricted. In other words, the needier you are, the more likely you’ll be hit by the cap.
  2. When the cap was originally set, the amount (£26,000) was based on the premise that non-working households shouldn’t receive more than the average earnings of working households. But this isn’t comparing like for like: it’s comparing incomes with earnings. A working family on £26,000 could also receive a range of benefits and tax credits.
  3. The new – lower – amount (£20,000, or £23,000 in London) does not have a rationale. And it has come in at a time when the cost of living is going up.
  4. One of the stated aims of the cap is to incentivise people to move into work. But only 13 per cent of people affected by the benefit cap are on Jobseeker’s Allowance – i.e. expected to be actively trying to get a job. The vast majority of people affected by the cap are not expected to work because of disability or ill-health, or because they have very young children.
  5. Ministers claim people capped are 41 per cent more likely to move into work. That sounds big, but actually the effect is relatively small. The government’s own evaluation showed about 16 per cent of people moved into work shortly after being capped and that 11 per cent of people would have moved into work anyway. That difference in rates (4.4 percentage points to be precise) is where the 41 per cent figure comes from. About 75 per cent of people move off JSA after 6 months, 90 per cent by 12 months.
  6. More than 116,000 families will be affected by this new cap – and more than 319,000 children. It’s not just larger families either. Most families affected by the lower cap have two or three children.
  7. The Supreme Court has said that the benefit cap breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that ‘it cannot possibly be in the best interests of the children affected by the cap to deprive them of the means to provide them with adequate food, clothing, warmth and housing, the basic necessities of life’.
  8. The only other way to become uncapped is to move house somewhere cheaper. Yet a family with two young children will not be able to find a cheap enough home in 60 per cent of the country to escape the cap – including the entire southeast and southwest regions.

Families with very young children and people with disabilities – who are most likely to be affected by the cap – ought to be given the strongest possible protection against the deprivation this policy leads to. That would be fair.

read more here: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/eight-things-you-should-know-about-benefit-cap

Early warnings about the lower benefit cap

Kirsty McKechnie from the Child Poverty Action Group highlights worrying examples of how the benefit cap reduction is hitting people in Scotland

The reduction of the benefit cap from £23,000 to £20,000 per household is currently being rolled out across Scotland.

If someone is entitled to benefits and tax credits in excess of the cap, they will have their housing benefit reduced.

As the person who gathers case evidence for CPAG in Scotland’s Early Warning System (which looks at how welfare reforms impact on families) I can tell you about some of the people who are already being affected by the lower cap.

The DWP announcement regarding the lower cap, stated the intention behind the reduction was to make work pay more than ‘welfare’, at the same time as supporting those who cannot work.

However, in practice, it appears that not everyone who cannot work is exempt from the cap; and that the support pledged for those who are affected by the cap may not be available.

The case studies we have received include:

  • A refugee with six children who will be affected when they move into their permanent tenancy shortly.
  • A homeless person staying in local authority temporary accommodation with a rent of £305 a week. (The cap for a single person is £257 a week, which is all they will receive to cover their housing costs and all other living expenses)
  • A couple, with children, who work from October to February, are affected by the cap in the months that they are not working. They would need to have worked for 50 weeks out of the previous 52 before they would be exempt.
  • A young couple with two children of their own, who also have their nephew living with them, are subject to the benefit cap and the local housing allowance cap on their private sector tenancy. Any financial support they receive for the child they provide kinship care for is having to be paid towards their rent.
  • A lone parent has four children between the age of one and ten, the youngest of whom has recently been diagnosed with a severe disability, but is not likely to be entitled to disability living allowance (and therefore exempt them from the cap), until the child is older. The parent was already subject to the higher benefit cap, receiving a discretionary housing payment, but still having, and struggling, to pay £120 a month from income support and child tax credit towards her £900 a month rent. The lower benefit cap limit means she will now be required to pay £172 a week! To be able to work the client would require childcare for her four children, including someone who is specially trained to look after the child who is disabled.

Announcing the lower cap, the DWP assured: “to support those affected by the benefit cap, over £1 billion of discretionary housing payments will have been provided to local authorities by the end of this parliament.”

However when one client applied for a discretionary housing payment after their housing benefit was reduced by £33 a week, the response stated:

“due to funding constraints within our discretionary housing payment budget and the increased number of cases, we are not in a position to award discretionary housing payments for cases affected by the benefit cap.”

With the Scottish Government anticipating that 4,000 families will be affected by the new benefit cap level in the first year, that is a lot of families facing difficulty paying their rent, who may not be able to work, or access discretionary housing payments.

Read more here: http://www.scottishhousingnews.com/13556/blog-early-warnings-about-the-lower-benefit-cap/#

Mum-of-four faces losing home after 75% housing benefit cut

Keiley Messham, from Rhewl, has had her support cut from £124 a week to just £34 since benefit cap brought in

A single mum of four says she and her children are facing homelessness after her housing benefit was slashed by 75% this month.

Keiley Messham, 27, from Rhewl, received a letter from HMRC informing her that her housing benefit has been cut from £124 a week to £34, after the government brought in new benefit caps which affect people receiving housing benefit or Universal Credits.

Keiley says she had no idea her housing benefit was going to be reduced, and says she and her children will be forced to move from their privately rented home where they have happily lived for the past five years.

read more here: http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/benefit-cap-housing-north-wales-12228343

Benefit Cap – a real example of Arbeit macht frei |SPeye Joe | WelfareWrites

The BBC local news covered a story about “John” (not his real name) from Wirral in Merseyside who has had a Benefit Cap letter from the DWP The above is the letter or a screenshot of it… Source: Benefit Cap – a real example of Arbeit macht frei

via Benefit Cap – a real example of Arbeit macht frei |SPeye Joe | WelfareWrites — Britain Isn’t Eating

Brutal reality of lower benefit cap hits home for struggling families

Tens of thousands more UK households will see their benefits capped on Monday despite little proof it grows employment

Life had already been a struggle for months when the letter arrived from the Department for Work and Pensions last week telling Alana and Mark they would be benefit capped. From Monday, it said, the amount they would receive in housing benefit support – which is already £260 a month less than their actual rent – would be cut by £50 a week.

It was a none-too-subtle signal for Alana that life was about to get several degrees harder. “Saving an extra £200 a month is going to be impossible. We can’t cover the outgoings as it is. No amount of budgeting can save that sort of money. There’s only so much you can save on buying basic label baked beans.”

Both Alana and Mark, the parents of two small children, have lost good jobs through redundancy in the past year. They have scraped by since on her maternity allowance, borrowed cash from family and friends, and sold furniture. The cap in effect now provides them with stark alternatives: either one of them gets work (thus exempting them from the cap), or they fall rapidly into rent arrears and eviction.

Alana and Mark are not alone in being handed such a brutal choice. Estimates vary, but between 88,000 and 116,000 struggling UK households have received similar benefit cap letters from the DWP in recent weeks. On average they will lose £60 a week, though in some cases it could be as high as £150 a week. For many there will be no choice: they cannot work or are unable to find it, and as a result face hunger, impoverishment and homelessness.

read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/06/brutal-reality-lower-benefit-cap-hits-home-struggling-families

Creating child poverty for a whole new generation. Take a bow, Theresa May

I have seen how the new household benefit cuts will tear poor families apart. Even Margaret Thatcher would have balked at this

In a little council house in Birkenhead, Steve is panicking over how he’ll find an extra £304 rent money a month. He has just days to magic up an answer. If he can’t, he can guess what will happen. “Eviction. Come the end of November, I won’t have a roof.” As a single parent, Steve won’t be the only one slung out. His four boys, aged from three to eight, would also lose their home and probably be taken from their dad. “I’d be fed to the dogs.” Everything I’ve tried so hard for …” – a snap of his fingers – “Nothing.”

It’s not a landlord doing this to Steve; it’s our government. It’s not his rent that’s going up; it’s his housing benefit that’s getting cut. And he’s not the only one; on official figures, almost 500 households in the borough of Wirral face a shortfall of up to £500 a month.

From next Monday 88,000 families across Britain will have their housing benefit slashed. They will no longer have the cash to pay their rent. Among all those whose lives will be turned upside down will be a quarter of a million children. That’s enough kids to fill 350 primary schools, all facing homelessness.

Those figures come directly from the Department for Work and Pensions. Plenty dispute them, which is unsurprising since DWP officials keep changing their minds. Some experts believe the number of children at risk could total 500,000.

This is the biggest benefit cut that you’ve never heard of. The newspapers will waste gallons of ink on Candice Bake-Off’s lipstick and Cheryl’s apparent baby bump. But about a government policy that could disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives, there is near silence.

So allow me to explain. From next week Theresa May’s government will extend the cap on household benefits. Poor families in London will not be allowed more than £442 a week. Those outside the capital will be cut to £385 a week. In some areas the cuts will be brought in straightaway; in others with a slight delay. But in the end, families above the limit will be hit twice over. First, they will be pushed further into poverty. And, like Steve, their housing benefit will be docked, so they will be left scrabbling just to make the rent and keep a roof above their heads.

How those families will manage is anyone’s guess. When Steve opened the letter at the end of July he had a “panic attack”. All that went round his mind was one question: “How the hell am I going to pay this?” Then came what he calls “a depressive state” that lasted nearly two months. Now he bottles it up, for the sake of his boys. “When they’re not around, that’s when I cry. When they’re out at school, when they’re asleep: that’s when I break down.”

It’s the fear of losing the boys he fought so hard for custody of that haunts him most. So worried is he about a social worker taking them away that he requests a false name.

Like many of the families that will be hit, Steve’s options are very limited. He can borrow from his mum, although she’s hard up. He can try to land 16 hours’ work a week – and has already been giving out his CV – but not too many employers will be able to fit around his school runs and meal preps. Or he can ask Wirral council to top up his rent, by filling out a complicated form that asks for proof of his weekly spend on everything from cigarettes to toiletries. And that would only cover him for a few months.

Even before next week’s cuts, Steve is already bumping along the bottom. He has one jumper and one coat to last him the entire winter. He sometimes gets by on a single bowl of cornflakes a day. Anything spare goes towards the boys. But they don’t get fresh fruit or veg, subsisting on frozen meals from Iceland.

The three-year-old comes into the kitchen for a drink, and as Steve opens the fridge, I can see it contains nothing apart from a half-full bottle of milk. The house is empty to the point of desolation: no shades for any of the lightbulbs, none of the usual family photos or decorations.

George Osborne’s benefits cap was always a rotten policy that played well in focus groups. But when introduced in 2013, it hit a relatively small number of poor families in high-rent London. And, some on the right would whisper in the ears of biddable journalists, the poor really had no place in the world’s biggest property bubble. The cuts that start next week will be a step change. They will hit low-rent areas such as Wirral and Darlington. They will render family homes rented out by housing associations “financially toxic”, according to the housing expert Joe Halewood: tenants will no longer be able to afford them, and housing associations can’t afford to leave them empty. And they will rip through the budgets of already cash-starved local councils, who will now have to find emergency accommodation and cash funds for displaced families.

read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/31/child-poverty-theresa-may-housing-benefit-cuts