A single mother living in Tottenham has had her housing benefit cut to 50 pence a week by the government’s £500 overall benefit cap. Tottenham is in the borough of Haringey, which is one of the four pilot areas for the cap. The 50 pence housing benefit will be swallowed by 20% of the council tax, or £5.10 a week on band C, imposed by the Haringey council.
Her benefit income net of rent and council tax was £537.78 a week plus £245 housing benefit. The £500 cap with the council tax wipes out the housing benefit and leaves her with £277.68 to pay for food, fuel, clothing, transport and other necessities. Continue reading
The most recent child poverty figures for the UK were published today as part of the DWP publication Households Below Average Incomes 2011/12 (HBAI). Although the figures are mixed the overall picture shows that progress on tackling child poverty has ground to a halt as families across the country feel the impact of falling incomes.
The Child Poverty Act 2010 sets out four income related targets that the government must meet by 2020, the figures for three of which are included on the HBAI release. The first measure, of relative child poverty, shows the number of children living in households below 60% of the median household income in the UK. In 2010/11 the number of children living in relative poverty in the UK was 2.3 million, or 18% of all children. Although this figure has remained the same for 2011/12 this does not indicate that the incomes of poorer families have not fallen in the past year. Instead, real incomes for households near the bottom of the income distribution fell by roughly the same rate as real incomes for households at the average, so everyone is getting poorer!
The other measures show a mixed picture. The absolute low income measure increased by 2%, taking 300,000 further children into absolute poverty. However at the same time the third measure, of material deprivation, fell by 1% over the past year.
The government will no doubt seize on the small fall in material deprivation in an attempt to argue that welfare reform and austerity isn’t hurting low income families, however this would be misleading. The data used for these figures lags by two years and as such does not show the cumulative impact of most recent welfare cuts, including the 1% uprating cap, the bedroom tax and the overall benefit cap. What is clear from these figures is that even before the effect of these vicious cuts are felt incomes are falling across the board and this is always most painful for those at the bottom.
Indeed, the latest Institute for Fiscal Studies projections strongly suggest that child poverty is rising on all measures primarily as a result of tax and benefit changes. They estimate that by 2020, relative child poverty will have increased to 3.4 million while absolute child poverty will have increased to 3.9 million. Meaning if the government continues on the same road they will fail to meet their commitments in the Child Poverty Act.
Although the government may think that welfare reform is popular it’s impact on child poverty is not. A recent End Child Poverty poll shows that 82 per cent of people think that tackling child poverty should be a priority, and 64 per cent say that the Government aren’t doing enough to address it. If the government is serious about tackling child poverty it need to take urgent measures to address the structural issues of low pay and lack of secure affordable housing, not driving low income families further into poverty.
The real impact that welfare reform has on people’s lives always seems to get overlooked by those who are not affected. In reality most people find it difficult to cope with change, especially when they have in the past relied on the council to provide what they need, when they need it.
A clients I have assisted with obtaining accommodation is one of many such cases. ‘James’ is a single male in his early fifties, who has worked all his life, but due to ill health was forced to stop work. His employer informed him that restructuring meant that his job no longer existed and he was offered a lesser paid job for when he was able to return to work. After his sick pay almost expired he applied for Housing Benefit for the first time, which he received and Employment and Support Allowance, an application that has now been pending for over three months.
During this period, he made a homelessness application and was turned down by the council because he had rejected a number of offers of accommodation. The council had assisted his family with council housing in the past and this client strongly believed that now he was in need that they would assist him again, especially since the rent for this accommodation was no longer affordable. It was not until four days before he was due to be evicted that he finally accepted his situation and asked me to speak to Westlets to make a further offer of accommodation. As a result he had to spend two nights rough sleeping before he was offered a place in Brent that he accepted.
Fear of the unknown, denial of the seriousness of being made street homeless, not being in control of their lives and being totally reliant on other people, makes otherwise rational people act in very irrational ways, despite the advice they receive.