Z2K amendments will now be moved on Wednesday

As the debate around the £26,000 household benefit cap lasted late into Monday night, Z2K’s two amendments [62A and 62ZC], which aim to protect benefit claimants from unfair sanctions and any resultant damage to thier mental health, will be moved early in Wednesday’s session. We are pleased about this as many Crossbench peers we hope will vote for our amendments had left the chamber by the end of last night.

Read about the amendments in Sunday’s Observer.

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An open letter to Lord Freud

To The Minister for Welfare Reform.  

Listening to the debate on the benefit caps yesterday, and their obvious responsibility for increasing the unaffordability of housing for many of the poorest citizens in the UK, it became ever clearer that tenants are being asked to carry the pain of deficit reduction for the landlords and landowners;  who are untouched by the ferocity of measures in the bill creating debts, eviction and misery. That injustice is spelt out in the following letter which was put together with my colleagues in the Pro-Housing Alliance.

There is a fundamental injustice at the heart of deficit reduction in the UK . Landlords have annually taken billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in housing benefit by raising their rents to keep up with a housing market in short supply,  but awash with the reckless lending of many financiers in the City of London since deregulation was allowed by Parliament in the 1980s. It rose to £21 billion in 2010. Around £3.5 billion was paid to sustain the unhealthy tenancies of neglectful landlords that give rise to significant but avoidable costs for the NHS in 2009, when 4.7 million (21%) of England’s 22 million homes were unhealthy, unsafe and poorly maintained.

The coalition’s response to the inevitable crisis has been to take a total of £18 billion from welfare claimants and nothing effective from landlords. It would be squeezing an already dry lemon to expect claimants to take any more cuts. Parliament should look for alternatives which require landlords and landowners to pay their share. It is essential to create  a coherent national housing and land policy, the first in living memory, to cover every aspect of housing for all, rich and poor, that puts decent housing at the heart of national health and wellbeing.

Parliament should also explore how a land value tax could replace council tax, business rates, and abolish the other inefficient taxation measures such as stamp duty, capital gains exemptions, and second home council tax discounts that have helped create the current inequalities of health and wealth in our society.

Stephen Battersby, President, Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Peter Ambrose, Visiting Professor in Housing and Health, University of Brighton.

Peter Archer, Chair, Care and Repair, England.

Stephen Hill, Director- C2O futureplanners.

Rev Paul Nicolson, Chair, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust.

Welfare Reform: amendments to protect claimants

Our Chairman, Rev Paul Nicolson, had this letter on Welfare Reform published in yesterday’s Observer:

This week peers will discuss two amendments to the welfare reform bill tabled by Baroness Hollins and Lord Ramsotham, related to the coalition’s careless imposition of damaging debt on our poorest fellow citizens. They are supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Mind and 20 other NGOs. Officials of job centres and local authorities are currently legally prohibited from enforcing recovery of overpayment of benefits against claimants who could not have known they were being overpaid; that sensible bar has been removed by the Commons. Peers will try to retain it.

They will also endeavour to ensure that officials will make themselves formally aware of the facts and circumstances of claimants, including their health, before they decide to reduce their poverty incomes by imposing sanctions and penalties, and therefore debts. This is the normal legal procedure, but ministers have expressed their disdain for the law by saying they prefer officials to use “common sense” and that appeals to tribunals don’t need legal aid.

The Dangers of Localising Council Tax Benefit

The Communities and Local Government Select Committee today expressed their concerns over plans to localise Council Tax Benefit (CTB) under welfare reform. For some time now localisation of this assistance has been identified as a potential cliff edge for Universal Credit. Cliff edges occur in instances where a decision to take on more work results in a withdrawal of benefits which offset any extra earnings. This goes against the stated aims of the Welfare Reform Bill that extra work should always pay.

In the Select Committee’s report they identify further risks. Firstly the 10% squeeze on funding for the support will likely mean that vulnerable working age recipients lose out as Councils fulfil obligations, such as support to pensioners. This limits their choices over how, and to whom, to deliver CTB; making the localisation ‘illusory’.

Second, council tax already has one of the lowest rates of take up of any means tested benefit. These moves are unlikely to encourage them to improve this.

Third, CTB is currently paid out of a flexible ‘annually managed expenditure’ pot while councils have no extra funds to call upon. If councils wish to support continue supporting people with Council Tax at the current levels they will have to cut other services. Or even, as the Select Committee and London Councils point out, put themselves “into a perilous and unsustainable financial position”. It is assumed that Councils will make up the short fall in funding because of policies designed to encourage Councils to boost economic growth locally. But as Clive Betts, chair of the Committee, points out, this ignores a lot of good work many councils are already doing in this area. For them there is not much scope to do more.

Z2K believes the failure to deliver CTB through Universal Credit is one of the reasons why it and the Welfare Reform Bill will prove detrimental.