Long waits for payments biggest cause of food bank use, and are forcing people including terminally ill into debt and ‘survival crime’, inquiry evidence says
Britain’s social security system is failing thousands of its most vulnerable claimants, with delays and errors in processing welfare benefits leaving many sick and disabled people, including some with cancer, for months without income.
MPs have been told that long waits for benefit payments are the single biggest cause of food bank use and are forcing claimants into debt and “survival crime” such as shoplifting, as well as triggering stress, mental illness and homelessness.
Charities and local authorities say the millions of pounds they spend providing advice and help to vulnerable individuals left in crisis by avoidable benefit delays is unsustainable, and they cannot “shore up” the system’s failings indefinitely.
The claims are contained in over 60 evidence submissions by frontline charities, food banks, councils, housing associations, private landlords, academics and individuals to a Commons select committee inquiry on benefit delivery which starts on Wednesday.
A Guardian analysis of the evidence reveals:
- Widespread concern that a key design feature of universal credit, which requires new claimants to wait 42 days before receiving payment, will plunge thousands of families into hardship and debt.
- Anger from care organisations that claimants with terminal illnesses such as cancer are still subjected to delays to their benefit entitlements, despite government promises to fast-track such applications.
- Disquiet that official hardship funds are often not offered to vulnerable claimants facing long delays, forcing them to rely on charity help, take out doorstep loans, or go without food and heating.
Nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and pay day lenders after years of public sector pay freezes, a union has warned.
Undervalued nurses are forced to seek advice about debts, bankruptcy and homelessness, according to new figures from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).
More than 1,200 nurses called the union’s member support helpline between January and July, needing advice on welfare, ill-health, disability and other issues.
This included 231 asking for help with debts and bankruptcy.
The figures come as Janet Davies, the union’s new general secretary and chief executive, told the Guardian of anecdotal evidence that nurses are increasingly turning to food banks and payday lenders.
She said years of public sector pay restraint was leaving nurses feeling undervalued and could push some to leave the profession.
The union’s counseling service has also seen a rise in the number of nurses needing help with stress.
Problems filling rotas is also leading to an even greater reliance on expensive agency staff.
Ms Davies said: “These huge agency bills, nurses going to food banks – this is not a great place to be.”
She said more nurses were choosing agency or bank nursing because they could earn more money.
And she said a further pressure on pay was the increasing prevalence of “downbanding”, where a senior nursing post is re-evaluated and downgraded.
Read more here:http://streetskitchen.co.uk/?p=2855
More than 2.3 million families have lost their council tax support
After fleeing domestic violence, Eve found a new job and a home for her three children. The youngest was two years old. The pay wasn’t great, as so many families find now, but the situation drastically worsened when her council tax support was cut after April 2013. Eve became one of millions suddenly liable for council tax payments, when previously she would have been exempt due to poverty. Once you miss a payment, within 14 days you can find yourself in court, as Eve did, with a fifth of her income confiscated each month. Then the bailiffs arrived. In a rented, furnished flat, there was nothing to take, but the visits made her contemplate suicide.
Much attention has been paid to the bedroom tax, but remarkably little to changes in council tax. Often they affect the same people: 380,000 have been caught by the bedroom tax and 270,000 by both the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax support. But the scope of the cuts to council tax support are extreme: more than 2.3 million families have lost out, and in the first six months of the policy, almost half a million people were issued court summons for arrears.
And as of yesterday, 250,000 low-income families will see their council tax payments increase substantially because they live in one of the 27 areas that are raising or introducing the minimum payment. Families are expected to pay between 5% and 30% of their total council tax liability – what sounds like a small sum cuts drastically into the day-to-day budgets of people already in entrenched poverty. One woman I spoke to only drank cold water and ate sandwiches rather than spend money making tea or cooking food.
read the rest of this article here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/02/bedroom-tax-cuts-council-tax-support-poor-people
New Children’s Society report illustrates growing Council Tax debt problem
This morning (26th March 2015) the Children’s Society published their new report ’The Wolf at the Door – How council tax debt collection is harming children’. The report is a much welcome and very timely contribution to the evidence that Council Tax debt is a growing problem.
The report finds that 1.6 million children, living in 920,000 families, are now dealing with council tax debt. This is a growing problem with the number of court summons issued for non-payment rising by a third to almost two million between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Unsurprisingly the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and the introduction of minimum payment Council Tax Support schemes has played a significant role in these rising arrears. A third of families surveyed for the report said the changes to council tax support were a key contributing factor to finding themselves in arrears.
But the report finds that not only are these changes a problem but the way that Council’s enforce debts is making it worse. Just under half of families in debt felt their local council was either not helpful at all or extremely unhelpful when they contacted them to discuss their debt. To make matters worse council’s were also extremely unhelpful when families tried to negotiate a repayment plan, with nearly half saying it was challenging to negotiate or they were unable to negotiate at all.
Read the rest of this report at the Zacchaeus 200 blog here: http://z2k.org/2015/03/new-childrens-society-report-illustrates-growing-council-tax-debt-problem/