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Defining the poor under the present Government

by
19 October 2012

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From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, - Your Question of the Week ( News, 12 October), "Do the Tories champion the poor?", fails to describe the circumstances of the people who need to be championed.

Research by the New Policy Institute shows that many councils will be introducing another poll tax to meet the ten-per-cent cut in central-government funding of council-tax benefit. The poll tax took 20 per cent of the tax out of weekly benefits in the 1990s. That means that the £111.45 a week Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) or the new Universal Credit (UC), after rent and council tax, will be taxed by up to £5 a week by some councils from April 2013. That is just one example of the inadequacy of benefits.

Many council-tax-benefit claimants will not be able to pay that £5, because benefits have been reduced since the move from RPI to CPI in April 2011; they have rent arrears, owing to the housing-benefit caps; the £500 cap on all benefits will hit large families with high rents; and the prices of necessities, such as food, fuel, clothes, and transport, are increased by the market, while the value of benefits is reduced, and safety nets such as the social fund have been abolished.

When people cannot pay the council tax, councils have to apply to the magistrates for liability orders adding up to £120 to the tax; the bailiffs will be sent in, adding a further £75 to £210, depending on whether visits are made.

Donald Hirsch, who manages the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) research into minimum income standards at Loughborough University, calculates that a single adult receiving £71 JSA/UC a week, after rent and council tax, needs the JRF minimum income standard of £91.58 a week just to pay for food, fuel, clothes, and transport. So a couple without children are already about £18 a week short of the minimum that they need; and the Chancellor proposes to take a further £10 billion out of benefits.

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

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