The Politics of ...

The Politics of ...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Housing gloom

I came into possession of details of how the Housing Benefit changes will affect those people claiming in the county. Below is a rough guide to changes being implemented; it makes grim reading if you are on benefits already.

The New Scheme will begin in April 2011

The Headline changes are as follows:

Existing Claimants
will retain their current level of LHA until the Anniversary of their current claim, plus 9 months;
For example, if a family claimed LHA in Nov 2010 they would be protected until Nov 2011 and then for a further 9 months.
Any change of circumstances after March 2011, such as change in income benefits, anyone moving in or out of the household, will result in that claimant coming under the new scheme immediately.

These will all be reduced from the middle to the lowest third of Rents in the local area (the single room rent is already set at this level).
Please see attached rates on PDF attached. Briefly there is a reduction for each bedroom you are entitled to rent by £5 a week; i.e. a 3 bed property will receive around £15 a week less. The rate for 5 bedrooms disappears altogether.

UNDER 35’s
The rules that previously applied to under 25s - that they are only entitled to privately rent a room in a shared house (currently £58 a week in the county, apart from Northampton where it is £55) - will now apply to every individual claimant under the age of 35, once their period of protection has expired or their circumstance changes.
For example: A 34 year old in a one bed flat will see their rent reduced from £85 a week to £58 a week should there be a break in their income support or JSA, such as having a weeks work.
This is likely to have a significant effect on those who may live separately from their children but have them at weekends.

Long Term Unemployed
Claimants who have claimed JSA continuously for 12 months from March 2011 will have a 10% reduction in their LHA. This is cumulative i.e. 2 yrs out of work will result in a 20% reduction, 3 years 30%. This applies to Social Housing as well as those in private rented.

Non Dependency Deductions
These are where there are children in the household who have turned 18. For each of these a reduction will be made in the claimants LHA of £9.40 a week
Previously this would be waived if the non dependant provided proof of no income or on State benefits. The New Scheme does not seem to allow for this.

Previously people living in supported accommodation (such as "Hostels") were exempt from the general rules, particularly in respect of the Single Room Rent.
There is as yet no confirmation that these exemptions will still apply (apparently, a local hostel manager has privately stated that without these exemptions being reinstated they would not be able to accommodate under 35s).

Council Rents
The intention is for these to rise to be consistent with the Private Rented sector.
This is in line with the proposed abolition of secure Social Housing Tenancies where the stated aim is for new entrants to Social Housing to be given short term contracts and annually assessed to see if they can be moved into private rented sector.
The 10% reduction in LHA for being on JSA for 12 months still applies to those in Social housing.

Supported Accommodation Providers
Following the Closure of the two YMCA hostels in the County, most Supported Accommodation providers appear to be pessimistic of their continuing in their present form.
It seems highly likely that there will be few, if any, projects offering on site staffing and support in the future as their present contracts run down. The preferred model now is for people to go into general needs housing and then for support staff to visit them there. Even Women’s Aid is under review, my source understands.


Be scared:
The Guardian is no longer a socialist newspaper; they supported the Liberals at the last election (a bandwagon they jumped on that I'm sure they now regret, regardless of what Deborah Orr says), but this paints a very even handed picture of Britain in 4 years - the pros and the cons. It has to be said that as a socialist the most haunting aspect of this forecast is that if things stay as they are and Labour get back in in 2015, they might not have enough money to make any changes and Britain might just end up being a decaying island with, as the Sex Pistols once said - No Future!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Digital Nightmare

Did you know that there are an estimated 700 young people in Northants that will be cut off from using television at the end of March because they are either living in hostels or are below the poverty line and do not receive the right benefits to be eligible for the free installation?

I was harping on about this as long as 5 years ago when I wrote an article for my then blog and somewhere else about the digital switchover and how it would be punitive to the poor and the ignorant and how the press is just ignoring this because most of them have a vested interest in the switchover.

The 700 young people in this county alone will be deprived of their main source of entertainment and will either have to go without something else - many of them pay for their licence fee on a fortnightly charge already - or will not pay their licence fee and face prosecution.

I personally know a young person who lives in supported housing in Towcester; he survives on income support because he has learning difficulties and is an Asperger's sufferer. His rent is paid for by the council, as is his council tax. However, he is actively seeking employment - goes to the job centre twice a week at the cost of £10.60 (it's a £5.30 return from Towcester to Northampton) and he gets no subsistence for travel. Now, when this young person's support worker approached the people doing the switchover and explained the circumstances of the young person and other young people she works with, she was told that you can obtain Freeview boxes for £10 now and they do not believe that £10 is too much for a person to pay.

Obviously, people like us can agree with that - £10 isn't a lot of money, but for this lad and at least 700 others £10 is a shitload of cash. Also bare in mind that this kid also doesn't have a mobile phone because he can't afford one. He gets about £110 a fortnight; £16.50 of that goes on his service charge; £21.20 on bus fares, £30 on food, £7 on TV licence, £20 on bills. That's just a few pennies short of £95. It leaves him with £15 for himself, to buy a decent Freeview box he would have to go without something else. Are you aware that £10 Freeview boxes come with a 6 month guarantee and are inclined to go wrong inside a year? Which suggests spending a minimum of £30 on a box that will have decent quality and last the purchaser a few years.

I know I sound like a bleeding heart pinko liberal, but in the course of talking about this with people in my office, many of them social workers; they know of families that once everything is paid for, literally have nothing to last them a week, or just pennies and this is with the dad working - not just families with both parents or a single parent on the dole. With the cost of living going up, these people actually face massive debt just to survive and because they are classed as lower than pond slime in the eyes of banks etc, the only way they can borrow money is from places like Wonga, LoveMoney, Ocean Finance or other companies that advertise on the less frequented cable channels, where they pay about 500,000% APR.

These people are not going to deprive themselves of their only constant form of entertainment; they're not going to stop their kids from watching the telly, so they are going to end up worse off to satisfy a need. Yes, it's only a one off payment, but it's punitive. There is a sheltered housing complex round the corner from where I live, there are 58 people living in it and each one has to buy a Freeview box. For the complex to have just the one box and one TV licence, all the residents would have to remove the locks from their flats and if that wasn't bad enough, they would be restricted to watching just one channel at a time.

This was something that Labour advocated and I think that was despicable of them; I cannot expect the current administration to be more benevolent. In the North-West and Cumbria, there is an estimated 1000 households that didn't switch over. There is no way of ascertaining whether this was because of financial constraints or they just saw it as an opportunity to switch off for good. Once upon a time, paying your licence fee was a guarantee you would get a picture; now you can only do it if you fork out more money.

Buying a colour TV was a choice. Buying a video player was a choice. buying a DVD was a choice. Buying a cable TV package was a choice. Buying satellite TV was a choice. Want to continue watching TV in the digital age? You have no choice but to buy the right equipment!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Higher and Higher

It's all over the news this morning; the higher than expected level of inflation. It wouldn't be so bad if it took into account such things as the higher than inflation rise on public transport, the spiralling out of control cost of fuel and, of course, the 2½% rise in VAT. The chances are that the current 3.7% rate will bust through the 4% barrier very soon and the hoped for rate of 2.3% will be a distant and unobtainable memory.

But remember, we're all in this together and that includes the private sector who are supposed to be the the chaps who are going to take up the slack and employ the majority of the public sector workers who are going to lose their jobs this year. Of course, the private sector needs conditions to be right for them to expand and at the moment none of them are doing so and in fact many of them are facing having to make cuts because of the higher cost of operating.


The Oldham east and Saddleworth by election raised a few eyebrows. The two biggest were that the LibDems share of the vote increased by 0.3%, not much, but approximately 99.7% more than expected. The second was that the Tory vote dropped by 7,000. Not unexpected considering they a) threw their weight behind not stopping the Lib Dems and b) they were in a traditionally Tory hating suburb. The incredible thing about it was that voters seemed to be saying they don't blame the Liberals for the impending mess.

In many ways this is a good thing, because the sad truth up to that by election was that the Tory's had managed to totally screw Clegg's Crew by doing nothing more than offering them a power share.

8 months into the coalition and things were looking grim for the Liberals and it had got to a stage where it seemed the Tories could do anything and the Libs would have to go along with it because their popularity rating was hovering in the minus figures. Damned if you do, damned if you don't seemed to be the best way of describing them. Popularity at an all-time low, Nick Clegg less popular than Maggie Thatcher and the Tories dismantling the country with no objections from the party, all because dismantling the coalition would end the Liberals chances of governing again until 2200 when everyone's great great grandchildren had forgotten what they did in 2010. It seemed that the Liberals were given a choice - do as we say or be out of work very soon. The by election seemed to suggest that in Liberal areas, the Liberal vote would remain strong and this must be a massive worry for Tories in Liberal marginals, because they're now going to be realising that if things don't get better, it's them who will get the blame come the next General Election.


Speaking of General Elections... I think the AV referendum in May is going to be won by the No voters and that is going to put the relationship between Cameron and Clegg at a crossroads. If the Barnsley by election is won, as expected, by the Labour candidate and the Liberals come second then the message sent out could be one that suggests it's time for the Liberals to jump ship if the AV referendum goes against them. Their members and the country as a whole would feel more comfortable with them tempering Labour than them bolstering the Tories.

My confidence is not that strong on this forecast, but I can't help thinking we might be back at the polls by September. Cameron may be left with a minority government if the Libs jump ship and the first major defeat will call a Vote of Confidence motion, which, regardless of public opinion and most of us not wanting another election, will end up with a General Election. Should that happen and we end up with a hung parliament again - quite possible, but with the current situation slightly reversed with the Labour party having the most seats but not an overall majority - then the Liberals would be well placed to form another coalition and remain in power.

The reason I think the Tories might be running scared is that even lifelong supporters of theirs are voicing concerns about the speed and ruthlessness of the cuts and changes they are trying to push through. Even grass roots Tories would like there to be a semblance of Britain left in a few years.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Rough Justice?

I would never condone what Edward Woollard, the 18 year old student protester did with his fire extinguisher, but it raises one really important question. Was this young man rail-roaded through the court and judiciary system to be made example of?

It took the courts less than 6 weeks to try and condemn this young man, yet as someone who works in the Criminal Justice arena, most cases take up to 6 months to go from the charge to the sentence. This is unprecedented in UK courts; for it to be whizzed through at such a high speed smacks of the government interfering to ensure a message is sent out to other student protesters - don't mess with us or you will go down!

Woollard deserved a sentence; what he did was reckless endangerment at best and had the extinguisher hit anyone it would have killed them - no question. But why did it get pushed through the court system so fast? I have worked on cases involving everything from theft by finding to murder and they have all taken 6 times longer to get to court than this.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Woo (and indeed) Hoo

VAT is going up; Public Sector workers are facing a bleak 2011, students are revolting, prisoners are rioting and the government does this: You have to admire them. No, really, you do. Only this government can spin such a non-story. With councils seeing their budgets being slashed, they are, of course, going to reduce their revenue by reducing parking charges. It's obvious isn't it? Oddly enough, even Conservative councillors are admitting that it really doesn't mean the reduction of parking charges in town centres; yes, they have the option to do it, but it's unlikely to happen. As unlikely as Nick Clegg becoming popular again.