Welfare Reforms – They Don’t Affect Me – Do They?
There is a great myth building promoted by the Government and their allies that the Welfare Reforms are all about identifying the “scroungers, lay-a-bouts and those who are leeches on society”.
It is natural that hard-working families who are having a difficult time may have bought into it and quite rightly why should they suffer when there are people who simply take everything from the welfare state and give nothing back to society?
It is an attitude and view that everyone who has any sense will agree with and I am no exception.
But and it is a big but,
Is it only those who are abusing the system who are being targeted?
The Welfare Reform Bill is complicated legislation and encompasses more than most people realise so they haven’t had the opportunity to consider the implications on them or on the people in Northampton.
So what is in the Welfare Reform Bill that is going to affect many of us whether grandparents, parents or children across the whole of the Borough?
It is true to say that the Bill is the biggest single reform to the welfare system for over 60 years.
One of the major impacts is a “cap” on Housing Benefits will be introduced based on the under-occupancy of socially rented homes.
Effectively if people live in a house with spare bedrooms they will be penalised by having their Housing Benefits reduced by 10% for every “spare bedroom”.
This does not apply to those who are over 60 but does raise a number of real issues to Northampton residents who are under 60 with children and grandchildren who have flown the coop.
Do they accept the cut in benefits to carry on living in the homes and community where they have lived for years and have the space to be visited by the families and friends, or do they apply to be moved, to “downsize” to smaller properties away from their friends and support network?
If they choose to move where do they move to when we already know that there aren’t enough homes available to reduce the 8,000 people already o the housing waiting list?
The assumption by many is that it is only Council Tenants who receive Housing Benefits when in fact across Northampton there are many, many families in private rented accommodation who are in receipt of Benefits and who under the reforms are going to see a reduction in their support.
What the reforms bring with them are huge challenges and risks to thousands of families who will feel that their homes are at risk and through no fault of their own may well run into debt and eventually find themselves turning to Northampton Borough Council for housing when they become homeless.
The changes that will see a single direct payment to the claimant may well put private landlords off renting their properties to people who are on housing benefits for fear that they will because of the pressures of inflation, unemployment and reducing incomes fall into arrears.
What the Welfare Reform Bill is designed to do is to simplify the system, but at what cost.
Northampton has already seen an increase in homelessness applications with 40 families in temporary accommodation and 20 of those in what is surely unacceptable for the 21st Century position of being in Bed and Breakfast accommodation.
The Conservative administration at the Guildhall have in this year’s budget agreed that to address the issue of homelessness they will use Council Housing Stock for Temporary Accommodation which then may well become a permanent tenancy for those families.
The obvious problem of course is that the council homes used in this way are not available to those on the waiting list and what happens if families in need decide that this may be a shortcut to getting re-homed?
What Northampton Borough Council housing and benefits staff are fearful of is seeing an increase in the level of debt, an inability to pay off debts because of reduced incomes and an increase in homelessness at not only the financial cost to the taxpayer but more importantly the social impact on families and children.
It may well be that many people will think, “it doesn’t affect me and mine” which is of course the ideal situation for those who have made and decided on the policy through the simple device of labelling all of those who receive any form of benefits as fraudsters and scroungers when in fact the vast majority are nothing of the kind.
The majority of people who receive some level of benefits are our friends and neighbours who work hard but need a level of support so they are able to live decent lives and bring their children up to be constructive members of society.
The Welfare Reforms Bill will have an impact and affect all of us as we see whole families suffer the consequences of its implementation.
There is one saving grace and that is the Northampton Borough Council staff who will be on the front line in dealing with what are going to be very difficult cases, people who have a real commitment to supporting those who find themselves in difficulties.
They will need and deserve to be well supported by politicians from all parties as the number of issues and cases start to increase with demands for instant answers.
My hope is that people will take the opportunity to ask for help before they find themselves in a crisis situation and from my knowledge of the Borough Council staff they will receive a very professional and sympathetic response from highly committed people.