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Lutfur Rahman

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Let's Also Hope That the Labour Party Can Begin to Find its Voice Again

Posted: 09/10/2012 01:00

When David Cameron and George Osborne first coined the phrase "We are all in it together", I started counting the spoons. The idea that these multi-millionaire ex-Etonians, both of who have no experience of life at the sharp end should speak in such a glib manner was shocking enough. That many in the media would go along with this fiction, and also pretend that in this age of austerity 'welfare reform' could mean anything but 'welfare cuts' was even worse.

This week, as the prime minister and his Chancellor, George Osborne speak to their party conference in Birmingham, many in the media have picked up on a new refrain, asking the pair how both the rich and the poor can 'share the pain'. All of this in the same week that David Cameron ruled out a mansion tax for the very rich, but promised a further multi-billion cut in welfare spending for the poor.

We now learn that these new planned cuts will further impact young people aged under 25, whose access to housing benefit is likely to be axed. Their choice will increasingly be limited to living with their parents, or sleeping on the streets or in hostels. The idea that 'pain' is somehow shared between an unemployed, homeless youngster, and a wealthy businessman paying a little more tax is as ludicrous as it is grossly insulting.

But this is all before the current round of cuts starts to bite. In my borough of Tower Hamlets, which is one of the poorest and most overcrowded in the country, officers from the council and local housing associations are already planning to visit 1,500 social housing tenants and families in temporary accommodation to discuss how the welfare cuts are likely to impact them.

We believe that approximately 2,000 more private sector tenants are likely to be affected, which is why we have launched our 'Prepare and Act Now' campaign. For we know that many of the poorest in our borough have no idea how some of these welfare changes are likely to affect them. Some may be forced to move from the homes and areas they have known their whole lives. Children who had been expecting to start at a particular school may have to start thinking about taking a place somewhere entirely different, as what Mayor Boris Johnson of all people warned, could be the beginning of social cleansing on a grand scale.

You may well have noticed that the government, through the Department of Works and Pensions, is spending quite a chunk of taxpayer's money on television advertisements for the new work place pensions scheme. But then this is something that they would like the wider public to hear about, because it is good news. The bad news is of course conveniently buried. Unsurprisingly, they are spending next to nothing attempting to inform some of the poorest and most vulnerable as to how they will be impacted by the welfare changes. Which is why it is falling to us, and many in the third sector to bear the bad news and try and pick up the pieces of a collapsing welfare system.

Even before the latest swingeing cuts are announced, it may be worth reflecting for a minute on the scale of David Cameron and Nick Clegg's Coalition's broadside on the welfare state to date.

1. Cap on Benefits: From April 2013, the government is introducing a benefit cap of £500 a week. This includes the total amount given for Job Seekers Allowance, Child Benefit, and Housing benefit. If rent is £340 a week, which is a typical lower end market rent for a family with two or three children, it leaves about £160 a week to live on. The government says nobody will be disadvantaged when Universal Credit comes in in October 2013 - that's because the damage will already have been done by the introduction of the welfare cap.

2. Spare Rooms: In April 2013, all residents in receipt of housing benefit, and living in a property that the government says has more bedrooms than they need will lose some of their housing benefit. This doesn't include pensioners, but could have a significant impact on different types of 'care' provision including foster care provision, families with disabled children and disabled people living in adapted accommodation.

3. Non Dependent Deductions: Residents in receipt of housing benefit with non-dependent adults living with them will also see a reduction in their benefits. The amount will depend on whether or not those other adults are working - and the hours they are working. This will particularly impact on carers.

4. Disability Living Allowance (DLA): The government is to replace DLA with a new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Guidelines are yet to be confirmed but it is expected around 500,000 disabled people will not qualify under the new guidelines. Awards will be shorter and assessments more frequent and stringent.

The government is also removing the Severe Disability Premium that used to be paid to a disabled person with no support at home or who was being looked after by a young carer.

5. Single, under 35s: If single people are renting in the private sector, 25-35-year-olds will lose eligibility for financial support to live in a one-bedroom property.

6. In part-time or low paid work: A range of low-income benefits and tax credits will be replaced by the Universal Credit (from October 2013) but the benefit cap will affect those who have less than 16 hours a week ( if single) and 24 hours a week (as a couple).

7. Carers and vulnerable adults: The Disability Living Allowance will be changed to the Personal Independence Payments - leading to a loss of entitlement following a review. This could have a multiple effect as the claimant would lose the exemption from the overall cap and loose other prior entitlements linked to the DLA award.

Now we know that these cuts were simply the start, and for all of his brave words, the Works and Pensions Minister, Iain Duncan Smith has caved in to more - as has the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. David Cameron and George Osborne have already cut the top rate of tax for the wealthy from 50% to 45%, in effect handing over an extra £40,000 a year to each and every millionaire in the land. The fig leaf for pushing the still growing burden of Britain's defict and an an austerity programme made in Downing Street, was supposed to be Nick Clegg's one off wealth tax and a mansions tax. But now we know that messrs Cameron and Osborne haven't the slightest intention of listening to their Coalition partner.

So let's end this fiction once and for all that somehow "we are all in together" or indeed that the "broadest shoulders will carry the most weight". Let's also hope that the Labour Party can begin to find its voice again and stand up for those who will be carrying the greatest burden - the poor, the young, the old, the disabled and the unemployed.

 
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