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Government cuts, the cost of benefits, and the effect on the poor

by
01 September 2010

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From Mr David B. Taylor

Sir, — Canon Tilley (Letters, 27 August) seems to be warning us that any attempt to reduce benefits will result in an increase in crime figures. To quote an ancient saying, this was well-known even before Theognis was born; and politicians, even though they have never actually said so, are well aware that lavish benefits help to lessen crime.

This does not of itself mean that cutting them at a time like the present is unwise, immoral, or even unnecessary. And the problem does not lie, as Canon Tilley seems to suppose, with “cheats and benefit fraudsters”: the cause of the problem is the scale of benefits that are legitimately claimed.

This statement, I know, will cause an immediate outcry, because there are many who are trying to live on benefits that leave them well below the poverty line. On the other hand, there are more than 10,000 families living on benefits that are higher than the average family income. That is the kind of area where the cuts need to be made, and to make them will undoubtedly cause an upsurge in the crime figures.

It is argued that the “poor” should not have to bear the costs of mis­takes made by the “rich” (bankers). It sounds plausible, but the financial crisis is not, in fact, the cause of the deficit. The truth is that no one was concerned about the deficit until the financial crisis suddenly made it look threatening; the actual cause was over-lavish public spending, which now has to be cut, even if the foreseeable consequences are threatening.

Paying out benefits to keep crime figures down is paying a kind of Danegeld, and the consequences of doing that are always the same. The amount of money required goes up and up until it can no longer be afforded — as is the case with us; and then we are all in the (I’ll leave it to the reader to fill in the blank).

We now face the deserved consequences of our long-continued folly.

DAVID B. TAYLOR
15 Ty’n y Maes, Ffestiniog
Gwynedd LL41 4NW

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — The circumstances of a family we are helping might help your readers understand what is happening to the poorest house-holds as a result of the cuts.

A mother and father with four children were homeless, in the sense of having no settled accommodation for 2.5 years. They applied to Westminster for help in May 2009, and eventually were able to move into appropriate accommodation in April 2010, because of the help in arranging a deposit provided by Hackney Social Services. Westminster provided no help whatsoever, despite there being four relevant children to whom Westminster owed a duty under the Children Act.

The family has suffered appalling stress through living in overcrowded accommodation and because of the continuous and imminent threat of eviction when in temporary accom­mo­dation. The health, education, and behaviour of children is known to suffer when they come from overcrowded and insecure homes.

The father suffers from psoriasis, a condition aggravated by stress, and the mother has problems with her heart. These medical conditions were made known to Westminster, who took no notice.

Without our intervention, this family would have been on the streets. Their situation remains precarious, because they cannot afford the only accommodation they could find. The rent is £1800 per month, and the local housing allowance (LHA) for four bedrooms in that area is £1495, leaving them to pay £305 per month above their housing benefit; they are very worried about getting into arrears again, as the father is on a very low wage.

None of the rise in the price of houses or rents in London over the past 30 years is the responsibility of housing-benefit claimants, but they are being punished for the errors of the 1979 and 1997 governments in deregulating lending and abolishing rent control in a housing market in short supply; this forced rents and prices to explode, and allowed landlords and banks to profit from the means-tested housing benefit at the expense of the taxpayer. Some of the landlords we encounter live, and hold passports, in nations not particularly friendly towards the UK.

The LHA was introduced by the Labour government as a response to the £21-billion cost of housing benefit to the Treasury. Claimants are now required to pay the balance of rents above the arbitrary caps of LHA out of means-tested wages or unemployment benefits, all of which are below the Government’s poverty threshold, which will be increased by two per cent less in perpetuity, because increases will be related to the Consumer Price Index, not the Retail Price Index.

The coalition plans to abolish the LHA and limit housing benefit to £400 a week for a family and £250 for an individual. It is certain that there will be a public outcry when the misery of thousands of cases of eviction of vulnerable debtors start going through the county courts. It is estimated that 750,000 of the households will be affected in the UK, 4500 in Westminster.

PAUL NICOLSON
Chairman
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
34 Grosvenor Gardens
London SW1W 0DH

From the Rt Revd John Davies

Sir, — The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, is the latest politician to jump on the bandwagon of “Get people off benefits and into work.” Thousands ought to respond: “Where are the jobs?”

Many people with disabilities are more than ready, willing, and able to work. A man of 50 in my family is typical: he has been trying to get a job for years, but we have lost count of the number of unproductive interviews, unacknowledged applications, and fruitless visits to the Jobcentre, in spite of interven­tion by his MP. Now he is told that he can’t even get further training: he is overqualified. People like this can validly claim, “No man has hired us.”

Will the Government match its rhetoric with a requirement for employers to give fair opportunity to people with disabilities? If not, it is merely adding to the degrading and depressing culture of blaming people on disability benefit for being on disability benefit.

JOHN D. DAVIES
Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG

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