…and Ill-informed rubbish. Those were the words today from George Osborne about those who have criticised his departments changes to the benefit system. I have argued, as have many much better educated than me, that there needed to be a change in the welfare system – I would like to see us revert back to the original purpose by helping those at the very bottom of society supported and raised up to a living wage and way of life. What Mr Osborne has done is hit everyone across the board which is not really the same thing.
Here are the changes as summarised by the BBC:
- 1 April: Cut to housing benefit for working-age social housing tenants whose property is deemed to be larger than they need
- 1 April: Council tax benefit changed to council tax support and run locally
- 8 April: Working-age benefits and tax credits to rise by 1% – a below-inflation cap
- 8 April: Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment
- 15 April: Introduction of cap on total amount of benefit for working-age people
- 29 April: Universal Credit rolled out in test areas
So if this is, as Boy George says an example of “depressingly predictable outrage” then let’s look at each example of change. (NB I am all for change in the right context, but to often changes are made for posturing reasons and not for genuinely considered and mapped out reasons – I believe the majority of the Government’s moves to be to look tough and not to help the most vulnerable.)
1. Cutting Housing benefit – The Bedroom Tax. If you are living with a partner who has a disability and are in social housing you will be in a two bedroom house minimum. This means that although a couple has been put here they are going to be punished because the partners have to sleep in separate rooms due to the disability or illness suffered by one of them.
2. Council Tax rises – Council tax has been held down artificially across the country – in Scotland the SNP told local authorities they had to freeze council tax or be punished in spending reviews; in England much the same deal was made and therefore there has been a year on year increasing shortfall n the income for local authorities. Effectively this new Council Tax Benefit is hiding this fact while at the same time finally allowing local authorities the chance to increase the tax. The local council looks bad and the Government hide behind that.
3. 1% cap on tax credits & benefits – this will penalise those on low or minimum incomes. The raising of the personal allowance does not cover the difference this change will make and it allows the government to effectively make a real terms cut to benefits. Those who cannot work – or there are no jobs for in their area (North of England, Central & Southern Scotland, Rural Wales…) will be punished because the jobs are not there and thy cannot actually get work.
4. PIP replacing DLA – being a general award this new system does not take account of the different and varying needs of those on each disabilities scale. Wheelchair users may have to consider how to ensure the maintenance of their chairs; blind claimants may find that not all their needs are covered by the new payments, at the moment they will receive money towards carers and others to help keep their homes clean and safe and there is no provision for this in the PIP; for someone who is deaf as well as blind they will receive no extra as compensation for this double disability and will be expected to survive on the same as others. None of these measures take the individual into consideration. The irony being that it is called Independence but in many cases will reduce what that individual can do themselves.
5. Benefit Cap – the example from yesterday with the Market Stall worker who would have to survive on £53 a week is covered here. Iain Duncan Smith still hasn’t said if he will actually attempt living on this himself as he said he could on yesterday’s “Today” programme. The stall holder works between 50 – 70 hours a week to make ends meet and is still being hammered.
6. Universal credit – one size fits all again? The fact this is being piloted suggests there are serious flaws in the system that they need to look at and see in action – so people who need these top-ups to give them a living wage are going to be guinea pigs for an unpopular new payment system. So far these types of pilot projects have seen many people suffer financially so good luck folks. Remember the fiasco with the Child Tax credit with overpayments and underpayments – it’s about to get worse.
So Mr Osborne – still think critics are speaking “Rubbish” and “Nonsense”? That nine out of ten families will be better off? That no-one will fall through the cracks?
And if you can tell me how this will help plug the £1.2 trillion national debt we have when the total spend this year on Benefit is estimated to be £117 billion – around 10% of the national debt? Tell you what Chancellor, you should check your maths on this one – it doesn’t add up.