Thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsize before the bedroom tax came into force.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force – half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
“It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference – they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
> Hmmm…call me a cynic, but might that not just be circumvented by offering absolute shitholes that no-one wants to live in, then penalizing people for not wanting to live in them.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.
New research published today debunks the myth that social housing residents are characterised by high levels of benefits dependency.
The latest Real London Lives research report, commissioned by the University of York, reveals that rather than being blighted by long-term unemployment and low aspiration, there is a strong commitment to work among social housing tenants, despite difficult circumstances and personal vulnerability.
Two-thirds of residents in social housing who can reasonably be expected to work do, however three-quarters were only ‘holding steady’ financially, due to low wages and a shortage of working hours.
Much like the experiences of other workers, jobs taken by social housing residents do not necessarily guarantee financial security and don’t always offer a steady wage.
Social housing tenancy is supporting people through many of the challenges they face in life, protecting and strengthening the family unit and insulating vulnerable people who may otherwise become homeless.
Social housing provides tenants with the opportunity to achieve independence from benefits, says the report.
The research also lays to rest the myth that migrants gain access to social housing easily. Contrary to common public perception, migrants have ‘no advantage in the allocation of housing’, say researchers. Indeed, the report found that access to social housing is anything but easy for all groups of applicants.
Research also reveals how the government’s controversial ‘bedroom tax’ housing policy is not incentivising tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit to downsize to a smaller property. 50% of residents who did wish to downsize to a smaller property said it wasn’t because of ‘bedroom tax’, but more to do with the home itself. Those who chose to stay put and accept the hit on their benefits did so because of a long-standing emotional attachment to their home.
Mark Rogers, CEO of Circle Housing and Deputy Chair of the g15, said:
“The lazy stereotypes about social housing residents are simply wrong. There are people in professional careers, people working part-time, people on zero hours contracts, some holding down two jobs, others in training, and some with no real prospect of employment due to physical or mental health problems.
“This research shows there are no easy answers for policy makers. Social housing residents are not ‘shirkers’, but a diverse, complex mix of ordinary households trying to get by and thrive in the best way they can.
“Together, we must use this evidence to make informed policy decisions and have a collective responsibility to ensure that the voices of this diverse community of Londoners are heard.”
The report aims to achieve better understanding into the lives of Londoners living in social housing and their ‘financial resilience’ in the wake of welfare reform and a changing labour market.
Researchers surveyed 1,648 working-age social housing residents of the g15 group of housing associations.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 19 Nov 2014
Campaigners have pointed out that rail tickets near the Prime Minister’s own constituency are cheaper that those in the North-East.
Teesside passenger group Coastliners spoke out after David Cameron said the region’s decrepit Pacer trains would be replaced – but fares would have to rise to pay for the new rolling stock.
It was revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister had declared that “those trains are going” when asked about the unpopular Pacers, which run on Northern Rail lines across the North of England.
Mr Cameron rejected his own Government’s suggestion that the 30-year-old carriages could be modernised rather than replaced.
Instead, bidders for the Northern franchise will be asked to draw up plans to replace the trains.
But the Prime Minister said fares must rise to pay for the upgrades when the new contracts start in 2016.
However, research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, suggests it is a myth that North-East fares are cheaper than those elsewhere in the country.
Coastliners’ Peter Walker said:
“Don’t forget that Campaign for Better Transport‘s London-based staff have admitted that we in the North pay as much as if not more than those living further South.”
“Oxford to Tackley, nearly in Mr Cameron’s constituency, is nine miles, and the day return is £3.50, or £3.40 single.
“If the fares level decides what type of rolling stock is provided, his argument implies that Pacers should serve Tackley and Class 166 diesels should be sent to our coast line forthwith.”
Mr Walker pointed out savings to users of the Oyster card meant that many London journeys of similar length similar to, or greater than, those on the coast line were far cheaper :
“London to East Croydon, some 13 miles, works out at £3 single for an Oyster-card holder.”
Mr Walker also questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that Northern Rail fares were the most heavily subsidised in the country.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 2014
The idea of ‘welfare ghettos’ full of streets where nobody works is a myth, according to research carried out in Middlesbrough by a Teesside University academic.
Professor Rob MacDonald says the concept of ‘benefits streets‘ – brought to the public’s attention by the television programme currently filming its second series in Stockton – don’t exist.
Residents of Kingston Road on Stockton’s Tilery Estate will feature in the next run of the Channel 4 show, due to be broadcast early next year.
A popular misconception of such areas, Mr MacDonald says, is that they are dominated by families who haven’t worked over generations and that unemployment is the preferred way of life.
Instead, his research found, even in deprived areas most households contain people who work and younger people want to find jobs.
The first series of Benefits Street, filmed on James Turner Street in Birmingham, was met with tabloid headlines about “90% of residents on hands-out” and “the street where 9 out of 10 households are on welfare“.
But Mr MacDonald says those figures are misleading.
His research, conducted along with Professor Tracy Shildrick from Leeds University and Professor Andy Furlong from Glasgow University, was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Their studies in Middlesbrough and Glasgow focused on 20 families and aimed to find out whether some popular ideas about the unemployed were actually myths.
Mr MacDonald said:
“In seeking neighbourhoods to test out the ideas, we selected areas with very high levels of worklessness – perhaps like the makers of Benefits Street.
“Even with these extreme cases, the majority of local people of working age were not on unemployment benefits. This is a far cry from the situation where an entire community sits on benefits for life.”
In James Turner Street recent statistics have shown that between 62% and 65% of households have somebody in employment – meaning that 35% to 38% of households could be described as workless.
Mr MacDonald said:
“In this sense, James Turner Street is very similar to the neighbourhoods we researched in Glasgow and Middlesbrough.”
Confirmation that Benefits Street was being filmed on Teesside caused widespread anger.
The Gazette’s photographer was egged while taking pictures of film crews on Kingston Road, Boro fans have displayed banners protesting against the series and families have started petitions against the programme.
Love Productions, the company behind the series, insists its intention is to give the communities taking part “a voice“.
In the university research, of the younger people interviewed who did not have jobs, most had brothers and sisters who were working.
Mr MacDonald added:
“This throws into doubt theories that rely on the idea that individuals are so swamped by negative role models and so bereft of positive examples of people in jobs that they learn that worklessness is the norm and to be preferred.
“The idea of ‘benefit ghettos’ where unemployment is a ‘lifestyle choice’ is a powerful one that helps justify the government’s cuts to welfare budgets. Yet our research has demonstrated that this is a myth, in the sense that it does not reflect the facts of the matter.
“If a culture of worklessness cannot be found in the extremely deprived neighbourhoods we studied, then they are unlikely to explain more general patterns of worklessness in the UK.”
In response to the research, the government insisted that “sadly, joblessness isn’t a myth”.
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said:
“In 2010, the number of families with no one working peaked at over 3.9 million.
“Latest figures show that this has fallen by 450,000 suggesting we were right to implement a radical overhaul of the welfare system.
“We are very careful about the language we use – making it clear that it is very often the system itself that has trapped people on benefits.”
The study that Mr MacDonald contributed to, ‘Benefits Street and the Myth of Workless Communities’, was published in the Sociological Research journal.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 12 Sept 2014
The number of impoverished households has more than doubled in the 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, the largest study of deprivation ever conducted in the UK has concluded.
The research found that rises in the cost of living mean a full-time job is no longer enough to prevent some people from falling into poverty. One in every six adults in paid work is now defined as “poor“.
Last night the Government’s poverty tsar Frank Field said the study’s stark findings proved the Coalition’s approach to the problem “isn’t working” and called for the leaders of all political parties to make manifesto pledges to reverse the rise.
The Poverty and Social Exclusion project, based on interviews with more than 14,500 people in Britain and Northern Ireland carried out by eight universities and two research agencies, reported:
- More than 500,000 children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
- 18 million people cannot afford adequate housing conditions
- 12 million people are too poor to engage in common social activities
- About 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing
The survey showed that the percentage of UK households which lacked “three or more of the basic necessities of life” has increased from 14 per cent in 1983 (around 3 million), to 33 per cent (around 8.7 million) in 2012, despite the size of the economy doubling in that period. Researchers used the “three or more” formula as it is directly comparable with methods used to study poverty and deprivation in 1983.
Academics said the findings dispelled the myth that poverty is caused by a lack of work or by people shirking work. Almost half the “employed poor” were clocking up 40 hours a week in work or more.
Professor David Gordon of the Townsend Centre for International Poverty Research at the University of Bristol, which led the project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said the Government’s strategy of tackling the root causes of poverty had “clearly failed”.
> Arguably, the Government’s strategy has been directed towards increasing the root causes of poverty.
Mr Field, the Labour MP who was tasked by David Cameron to examine poverty in 2010, said the study “sadly emphasises that working doesn’t now eliminate a family’s poverty”.
> Can’t help feeling Field cries crocodile tears… his views on the poor and how to make them suffer even more often seem to rival Iain Duncan Smith‘s.
A DWP spokesman said: “There is strong evidence that incomes have improved over the last 30 years, despite the misleading picture painted by this report. The independent statistics are clear, there are 1.4 million fewer people in poverty since 1998, and under this Government we have successfully protected the poorest from falling behind.”
Unfortunately that spokesman was unnamed.
Read the full story in the Independent
Source – Benefits & Work, 20 June 2014