It’s only a month until huge benefit cuts – and no-one knows how many people will be affected or how it will play out

18th February, 2013 10:52 am

Last Tuesday it rained. Along with other Labour councillors I was in Hackney Town Hall to be briefed on the government’s upcoming benefit cuts. It was a public, publicised meeting but such is the level of awareness and interest that apart from us and council officers were there. The only Conservative councillor present left as the briefing got underway.

What was coming was laid out to us in stark terms. In April, people across the country, young and old, in big families and small, unemployed or in work, will begin to be hit by a range of changes to the support they receive from our welfare state. By September these changes will be fully in place. The ‘bedroom tax’, council tax benefit reform, the benefit cap, the end of a national system of crisis loans and community care grants – taken individually, each of these measures would be a really significant change to our welfare state. Collectively, they are complex, ill-though-out avalanche that will hit the most vulnerable in our society.

The awareness of the full reach of these changes is low, both among the country as a whole and those who will be hit. While there have been some prominent voices raising the profile of some aspects, I have seen no sustained effort to lay out the impact of these measures as a whole. Some may assume that because universal credit has been delayed, these other changes have been too. That’s sadly not the case.

In Hackney, officers tell us that more than 4000 households will be affected by the bedroom tax, and more than 1000 by the benefit cap. More than 25,000 households in the borough will be hit by council tax benefit reform. That means one in four Hackney residents will be impacted. You will find similar stories in every London borough, every city and every county across the country.

No one knows what the full impact of these changes will be. If people were to look to move to a smaller home, they will be competing with thousands of others – there are not enough of the right sort of houses available. Those looking for work are lucky to find any – in Hackney for each job on offer at the job centre there are twenty people claiming job seekers allowance. At the meeting we also heard that the DWP can’t even provide the Council with accurate data as to who should and shouldn’t be affected by the benefit cap.

We do know that Labour Councils up and down the country will bear the brunt of this. We are expected to implement the benefit cap – it will be council-distributed housing benefit which will be top sliced in line with DWP instructions. We are expected to pass on the council tax benefit cut, with our actions limited by a straightjacket drawn up in Whitehall. We are expected to help local residents unpick the impact of these changes – and whilst we and local partners have already started to do this, the size of the task is enormous, and the peak that will occur when these changes actually hit threatens to be overwhelming.

A clear a taste as any of what councils have to come was given by a DWP minister on the Today programme a couple of weeks ago. Asked about a case where a disabled lady and her husband stood to lose the home she’d had specially adapted for her, Steve Webb MP said that Councils had been given funding to make up ongoing shortfalls that the bedroom tax would cause. That is simply not true – Councils have been allocated a small pot that will be able to do no more than mitigate short run pain. We will have no money to pay for shortfalls on an ongoing basis, no matter how deserving the case. It appears that government ministers are going to tell the country something else entirely.

In just over a month these changes will begin to hit the most vulnerable members of our society. No one knows how it will play out, only that across the country thousands upon thousands of people will be affected. And in that uncertain, complex and draining environment, it will be Labour councils that are on the frontline.

  • http://twitter.com/chriswcheeetham Chris Cheetham

    Just imagine how worrying it is when you live in area with a Tory Boruugh Council and a tory County Council who have privatised the delivery of benefits!

    • ste

      a terrible policy that targets the very poor, the children, and indeed family life!. its disgusting!!! shame on the tory councils and central government! The country will remember your attacks on our society for decades to come!

  • Dave Postles

    Someone has to pay for the open-cheque subsidy to EDF for nuclear generation and degeneration.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/feb/18/nuclear-power-ministers-reactor

  • aracataca

    Steve Webb MP said that Councils had been given funding to make up ongoing shortfalls that the bedroom tax would cause. That is simply not true……..

    Hang on a second! A Lib Dem telling a lie? Well I never!

  • robertcp

    People on low incomes spend most of that income, so these cuts might also be bad for the economy.

  • http://twitter.com/PaulBHalsall Paul Halsall

    I do live on a council estate, and I know that many people have only just grasped what is about to happen to them. I live in a one bedroom flat and so am OK, for the time being.

    It also turns out councils and housing associations have a major problem. No one really disputes that they can evict people who won’t pay their rent, but now they are facing an issue where many people can’t pay the rent. They are also completely unprepared for organised widespread refusal to pay efforts (i.e. rent strikes).

    In Bury, where a Labour Council is trying to do its best, all at risk tenants (i.e. those who may be deemed to be over occupying) have been sent letters referring them to Citizens Advice Bureaux , but there is simply no way CAB can cope with the coming onslaught of cases. (Never mind dealing with all the WCA/ESA and other benefits cases, and the coming implementation of PIP over DLA).

    In other parts of Greater Manchester is now social housing policy not to put families into tower blocks as these are deemed unsuitable for children. So we could have the cases of single people or couples being unable to stay in a tower block flat, but not freeing any space for families.

    And of course, the idea that working class people on estates may have built up social networks upon which they depend (my neighbours and I regularly lend each other £10 the day before pay day) and which they actually like is beyond Tory comprehension.

    The sheer cruelty in the eyes of Iain Duncan Smith on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday was horrible to behold.

    • AlanGiles

      If Duncan-Smith had any conception of the idea of integrity he would resign: he is a proven liar, lying on CVs and of course about his outrageous “expenses claims”. He may have been an army officer, but he is not and never has been, a gentleman. Having lied so brazenly who expects him ever to utter a word of truth about anything.
      I imagine this story will be back with a vengence in October when the next stage of his plans come to fruition

  • Monkey_Bach

    I bet the next Labour government won’t reverse any of the pernicious measures introduced by the Coalition or do much about the social evils that the Coalition has wrought. All of the major political parties are now rotten from top to toe, peopled as they are by egotistical amoral careerists. Eeek.

  • kb32904

    There is going to be a huge shock to many many families come April. The media pay lip service to it and eyes glaze over among the public because they think its just more political stuff and don’t realise it may affect them or their relatives and friends directly.

    I’m not sure how else we can make the public aware of the changes if they refuse to listen or acknowledge the information.

  • FredChukkawakka

    I have mixed feelings on benefit cuts. When I hear cuts I think about my brother-in-law who lives off of “uncle sucker,” with his wife and his five children. He married a woman who was on benefits and lived with her family so he did not have work. He has no GCSEs, and refuses to get any more education. It was not until the cuts came that he was forced to look for a job and he could not longer live on the gray train being provided by “uncle sucker.”

    He lives in a Council home and I believe he may be forced to move since each kid has their own room while they keep their benefits. When I think about it, my wife and I cannot afford a six bedroom property and we make good wages. So, where does fairness exist? Why should some who plays the system be rewarded then someone who plays by the ‘rules?’ Hopefully if he looses his Council home it will force him to get the education he needs to get a better job.

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