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Benefit reform is a cover-up for relentless poverty creep
12:00pm Thursday 12th September 2013 in News
Buy this photo » Ruskin Students Union recently held a protest in Cornmarket Street against bedroom tax. Picture: OX59491 Damian Halliwell
A LOT of nonsense is talked by politicians (often those with millions in personal wealth) and some newspapers (with similarly wealthy proprietors) about people on benefits.
For instance, they convey the impression that those on benefits are all “scroungers” – yet many are in low-paid work, requiring housing benefit to assist with exorbitant rents, and receiving tax credits to give their children a basic standard of living.
They neglect the fact that 47 per cent of the welfare budget is actually made up of state pensions. You bet they don’t know what it’s like living life with a disability – otherwise they would not endorse a process which has seen thousands of cancer sufferers deemed fit to work after the notorious tests by the company ATOS.
Here in Oxford the benefit cuts have had a particularly unpleasant effect. From my own experience as a councillor, I know of people plunged into depression, even contemplating suicide.
Parents are worried where their children’s next meal is coming from. Families are desperately contemplating how to live in the same area so that grandparents can continue to look after their grandchildren while the parents go to work. A mum feels upset when she hears talk of “scroungers”, feeling a finger pointing at her for bravely raising children on her own.
Often, those affected don’t talk about their situation in public – quite understandably not choosing to parade their financial woes – but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. “Out of sight” should not mean “out of mind”, and responsible politicians, and newspapers, should indeed be concerned with poverty in our city.
Turning to some facts: the rate of “local housing allowance” (housing benefit for people living in privately rented housing) has been cut, so that, when I checked this week, not a single two-bedroom property, and only one three-bedroom property advertised on “Rightmove” are affordable to people on benefit in the entire city.
I was told by the welfare reform minister (who lives in a mansion himself) that the problem is that Oxford is just a “fantastically attractive place to live”.
I can only assume he has not visited some of the cheapest rented properties in Oxford, which are not “fantastically attractive” by any stretch of the imagination.
Meanwhile, 144 households are expected to be affected by the “household benefit cap” (a particularly malicious policy targeted at larger families) when it is fully implemented, including 590 children.
They lose an average of £120 per week – often money which is being paid straight to their landlord, and is certainly not funding a lavish lifestyle.
A further 850 households in social housing in Oxford (that is, council or housing association homes) are affected by the “bedroom tax” because they supposedly have a spare room.
This may, of course, mean that they’re not requiring two 15-year-olds to share a room; that a couple needs to sleep separately for medical reasons; or that additional space is needed to store medical equipment, such as oxygen, but the rules are blind on this point.
This situation will get worse as tax credits are cut or frozen, and many others rise by one per cent – while the price of food and other essentials goes up by more.
More families will be made homeless, more children will turn up hungry for school, and more people disabled people will find themselves told to overcome the pain barrier and find a job.
At Oxford City Council we’ll do what we can to reduce the impact – by supporting advice services, by making up the Government’s cut in council tax benefit and, most importantly, by building new affordable homes, but there is a limit to what we can do.
None of this means there isn’t abuse of the system – of course those who mislead the authorities about their situation must be caught and punished.
But the deliberate smear campaign, led by wealthy politicians and media proprietors, against those on low incomes is an attempt to generate political cover for plunging more and more people into poverty, while the rich get richer all the time.
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