Welfare Cuts: What They Mean.
The Guardian today carries this excellent investigation,
“The government is three years into a savage programmme of welfare cuts. Coalition ministers say they aim to save billions on benefits and help ‘hard-working people’ while ending a culture of dependency. But what does this mean for people who need support?”
People contributing to Ipswich Unemployed Action have their own stories, but these are worth looking at (extracts).
Just before Christmas two years ago McPhillips received a letter that declared in angry red block capitals: “Your benefits are being cut.” Two days later he took an overdose and would have died if his brother hadn’t discovered him in time, and rushed him to hospital.
McPhillips, 59, has serious mental-health problems, which forced him, several years ago, to leave the job as an industrial saw sharpener he had held for 25 years. He depends on a handful of benefit payments – disability living allowance (DLA), employment and support allowance, and housing benefit. News of the looming wholesale benefit changes unsettled him so profoundly that he has since tried three times to take his life.
Antonia McKnight’s experience demonstrates the massive disconnect between the picture painted by the government of benefits claimants and the reality experienced by some of those who are seeing their payments cut.
No one could suggest that she is living in luxury or enjoying a lifestyle that could inspire envy in others. The small flat where she lives with her four-year-old daughter has views on to brick walls, the wiring has gone, so there is no light in the bathroom or her bedroom, and the furniture is secondhand and broken. The rent is £500 a week.
Since August, McKnight, 38, has seen her benefits capped at £500 a week, under the coalition’s new £26,000 benefit cap – introduced with the aim of bringing “fairness into the benefits system”. Since her weekly rent is exactly equal in size to her benefits, she is already in serious financial trouble.
Whether McKnight’s flat represents a dream is questionable, but it is clearly very expensive. For anyone unfamiliar with the extraordinary, unfaltering rise of the London property market, a rent of £500 a week will seem unthinkable, but soaring rents are the reason that the housing benefit bill has become so huge. Council accommodation would be far cheaper, but there is a huge shortage of it in central London, and McKnight is still waiting.
If you look at her flat you will see just how exploitative landlords are today.
This story relates to a lot of us.
In the past few years, Tony Marcola, 46, has experienced the dual pressures of the downturn and welfare reform. Having worked all his life, he lost his job as a van driver for a fruit-and-vegetable wholesale firm in 2008, when fuel prices went up, and the company’s owner decided he could no longer afford to offer a delivery service. Not long after, companies started closing offices in Burnley.
“First the jobcentre was empty and then suddenly it was packed full. People were losing jobs left, right and centre,” he says.
He attended courses, learned how to use a computer and write a CV, and continued to apply for jobs but without success. “Burnley was going down a black hole. At the time I was expected to get a job, there were a lot of places shutting down,” he says.
DWP figures show that there was a 24% increase in the number of sanctions from July 2012 to July 2013. Although the principle of getting people to show that they are seriously looking for work in order to qualify for benefits payments is one that Citizens Advice supports, they are concerned that very harsh sanctions are being applied; the charity has seen a 46% increase in problems related to sanctions in the past year, and Guy says problems such as those experienced by Marcola are “systemic”. “The system is all stick and no carrot.”
As part of the government’s drive to reform the system, much harsher conditions have been introduced to ensure that those who are receiving jobseekers’ allowance are seeking work. The use of sanctions – periods when benefits are stopped as punishment – has increased dramatically.
In July, Marcola was told that there would be new conditions attached to the benefits he received, and he was told that he had to prove that he was applying for 20 jobs a week. “I said: ‘Well, I’ll do my best.’ It jumped from four jobs a week to 20, it’s a quite a leap,” he says. He began by meeting that target, even if it meant applying for jobs that he was not qualified for, and stood little chance of being selected for, but one week in July he only managed to apply for 15 positions. He was struggling financially anyway, with increased gas and electricity costs, and a new £20 bedroom tax charge for the spare room in the house where he’d brought up a child, who was no longer living at home. After bills, he was left with about £13 a week for food. Applying for jobs involved finding places with free internet, because he couldn’t afford to have internet access, let alone a computer, at home.
There is more – you can see it through the link above.
The article ends with this,
An online campaign group, the WOW petition, which organises resistance to the “war on welfare”, has gathered over 100,000 signatures, calling for an end to the work capability assessment and a cumulative impact assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people.
Already Food Banks are being touted as way to meet the needs of those in dire poverty, often caused the failure of the welfare system.
The situation will get a lot worse next April when Workfare, run by greedy private companies and ‘charities’ is introduced.
We need a complete change of policies:
- A Party that’s committed to end the war on welfare and create a just system for claimants.
- An end to the punitive sanctions regime.
- Get rid of the welfare-to-work parasites running the Work Programme and replace them with real training and real paid jobs.
- The Living Wage for all: so that when we are in work we do not have to rely on benefits.
- A solution to the housing crisis: build council homes, and introduce rent controls.