From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — Canon Giles Fraser (Comment, 23 July) should look below the surface of the Big Society campaign to find a very limited application of a very old principle. Loving your neighbour as your self inspires people of all faiths and many of none. It involves more than giving to charity and volunteering for good works. It should also run like a current of electricity through all government policies.
That is not what is happening. The dire poverty left behind by the Labour government is being made worse. Two issues worry us most: maternal nutrition and housing. The unemployment benefits of adults already render it impossible to buy a healthy diet on at £51.85 a week up to 25 years old, and £64.45 above, and slightly less when paid to a couple. The Government has cancelled the health-in-pregnancy grant that can be applied after the 25th week of pregnancy, and the Sure Start Grant to all but the first child.
This was because a family only needs one pram; no reference whatever was made to the need for a healthy diet for pregnant women and in the first months of a baby’s life to prevent poor cognitive ability, mental and physical illness throughout life, even cerebral palsy.
The cap on housing benefit will mean that some rent will have to be paid out of the unemployment benefits of a very large number of people who were put into expensive private rented accommodation because there is a severe shortage of affordable housing; many will be unable to pay, and will be evicted through no fault of their own. Debt and eviction are common causes of severe depression and family breakdown.
The Chartered Institute of Housing predicts that there will be increased hardship, shown by the increased demand for counselling services and rising arrears, greater demand for homeless services, over the long term the concentration of low-income people in cheaper low-quality housing, and a concentration of poverty in their schools. Landlords will be unwilling to take tenants paid housing benefit.
Whether intentionally or not, the Big Society is a smokescreen for worsening the condition of the poorest citizens and the implementation of extreme free-market policies in the field of housing.
Chair, Zacchaeus 2000
38 Ebury Street
London SW1W 0LU