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No to a Cap on Benefits

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The latest hammer to fall in the vast experiment in human despair which the coalition calls an economic policy is a cap on welfare benefits of £500 per week per family. This is assuming it passes through the Lords, of course, which at time of writing is still to vote on it.

Over the past few days we've been regaled with the government's attempt to posit this attack on the most disadvantaged sector in society as a positive measure that will 'encourage' people back into work. Orwellian language aside, the sheer cruelty and brutality of this particular reform should leave no one in any doubt as to the utter disdain it reflects towards those living on the margins, especially as there are no jobs to encourage people into. According to figures released by the think-tank IPPR North (Institute for Public Policy Research), up to 20 jobseekers are currently seeking every vacancy in parts of the UK. And this figure is set to rise with more redundancies on the way in the public sector.

A leaked internal document from the DWP, the findings of which were published in the Observer, reveals that up to 100,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a direct result of the government's cap on benefits. Yet despite this the coalition remains determined to push ahead with these reforms, which if passed by the Lords will come into effect probably at the start of 2013.

When it comes to the specific issue of housing benefit, those on the receiving end, painted as people and families living the high life in exclusive parts of London and elsewhere at taxpayers' expense, are in fact victims of the lack of social housing that continues as a festering sore in society on the one hand, and a private housing sector that is crying out for rent control on the other.

Since Thatcher destroyed the country's stock of council housing when her government introduced Right to Buy legislation allowing tenants to buy their council houses at a huge discount, no government since has addressed the housing crisis that occurred as a direct consequence. In particular, this stands as an indictment of Labour's 13 years in office, further evidence of its rightward shift and embrace of free market nostrums.

The housing charity, Shelter, estimates that currently there are 1.7 million households on the waiting list for social housing in England, while in Scotland the figure stands at just under 200,000.

Increasing the mendacity of the coalition's attempt to package this measure as anything other than an attack on the powerless, is its determination to turn low paid workers against benefit claimants on the specific issue of housing benefit. It is an argument that unfortunately will carry some weight with many, utilising as it does the race-to-the-bottom logic of which the Tories and their Lib-Dem equivalent are fond. If they aren't trying to pit public sector workers against their private sector counterparts on the issue of pensions, heterosexual couples against homosexual couples when it comes to marriage, they are pitting those on low wages against those on no wages when it comes to welfare reform.

Housing charities are already seeing demand reach unprecedented levels, with more and more people unable to meet the shortfall between high rents and benefit levels. London Councils have estimated that 133,000 households across London will be unable to afford their rent as a direct result of the cap on housing benefit. The difficulty in finding cheaper alternative accommodation, with added demand leading to higher rents everywhere as landlords take the opportunity to cash in, has left entire families facing homelessness. Moreover, the stress incurred as children are forced to change school and location for those fortunate enough to find a cheaper alternative has come in for sharp criticism from children's charities.

According to the DWP's own impact assessment, the cap on housing benefit will mean that

• 45% will lose up to £50 a week (in 2013-14)
• 26% will lose between £50 and £100
• 12% will lose between £100 and £150 a week
• 17% will lose more than £150 a week

As if the aforementioned isn't enough of an indictment, Church of England bishops have entered the fray with the publication of an open letter warning of the danger to the welfare of children living in vulnerable households as a direct result.

Attacking the poor for an economic crisis caused by the rich has been the coalition's overarching objective since coming to power. It fits in with Tory values that hark back to a Victorian era mantra of poverty being the result of a congenital moral and character deficiency within those afflicted by it. But make no mistake, society as a whole will suffer as the maladies that are associated with poverty rise in line with its increase - i.e. crime, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, and so on.

This argument will not find a sympathetic hearing on the Tory benches, however, as their religious attachment to austerity blinds them to anything other than ensuring that the poorest in society are purified with pain.

What was it Nye Bevan said again:

"No attempt at ethical or social seduction can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin."