11 February 2012     

Choices?

By Lynda Walker

The Welfare Reform Bill passed in the House of Commons last week will cost thousands of pounds to implement and will affect millions of people. The Commons voted through an £18 billion benefit cut, taking £1,400 from disabled children and £94 a week from sick children who do not die within a year.
     This bill is not just part of the cuts in the welfare state in Britain: it is part of the dismantling of it. The bill began its life in the Commons a year ago and is a massive document, and even experts will find it hard to interpret. During this year submissions were received from many organisations who were expressing opposition to the aspects of the bill that will cause increased poverty and deprivation.
     The key areas of the bill include the restriction of Housing Benefit entitlement for social housing tenants whose accommodation is larger than needed. Housing charities, among them Shelter, supported amendments to this section of the bill. When asked, the representative for Number 10 said: “I do think some people will have to move house. If someone is at work and their income drops then that may have an impact on where they live. There is no reason why someone who is on benefits should not have to make similar choices to people who are in work.”
     For those on benefits, choices are non-existent, and for those whose income drops, a house move is not an enviable prospect. This outlook on behalf of Number 10 is typical of people who represent the wealthy and who have never experienced low or unwaged living.
     Moreover, there is the continuing pitting of people who have a job against those who do not. As more people become unemployed and low-waged, families will have at least one member who is on benefits of one kind or another. Hopefully this will hit the support of the Con-Dems in the next election, though the alternative at the minute is nil.
     In this topsy-turvy world of the Con-Dems and capitalism, people are thrown out of work and blamed for the situation. In January it was announced that the rate of unemployment had increased, but the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, looks to McDonald’s UK, who say they “will open new outlets as well as shift to 24-hour opening . . . creating 2,500 jobs and provide a lifeline . . . More than half the new positions will go to under-25s.”
     Over 1 million 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed, according to official figures. Reducing benefits to levels below poverty is preparing the work force to work for peanuts.
     However, as the UK Uncut supporter Josie McDermott said at a protest against the bill in London, “the Welfare Reform Bill is cruel and unnecessary. The government is forcing marginalised people in society to pay for the economic downturn while letting bonuses run wild and rich companies continue tax-dodging to the tune of £25 billion.”
     The introduction of Personal Independence Payments to replace the current Disability Living Allowance is another key area that will affect thousands of disabled people. Macmillan Cancer Support and others who represent the disabled tried to amend this aspect of the bill, while Save the Children pinpointed issues like the reduction of free school meals, child-care costs and the introduction of a Universal Benefit paid once a month.
     The House of Lords “defeated” aspects of the bill on Tuesday 31 January, but the government overturned these amendments. Political pundits say the House of Lords can provide checks and balance that can stop the possible excesses of the Commons; however, they are like alligators with no teeth, and the abolition of this house would save the taxpayer money.
     It was noted that some of the Northern Ireland MPs made minor piddling comments about some parts of the bill, but none of them called for major rallies or civil disobedience to show opposition to the bill, while the DUP MP Nigel Dodds has told the Prime Minister, David Cameron, that his party supported government plans to put a cap on benefit payments.
     The information provided in this article is just a tiny insight into the reform bill that contains major changes to welfare rights. In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee wrote (3 February) that, starting last month, 670,000 households lose an average of £13 on housing benefit occupancy rules, and that “in council tax benefit, because pensioners are exempt, the rest of the low earners will pay an extra £330 a year. In April, tax credit cuts take £305 from 200 million households, while the bottom half are already £427 a year worse off in spending power, says the Resolution Foundation.”
     These statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, with the major cuts still to come. As families will struggle to look after each other, and as isolated individuals drop through the safety net, trade unions and other organisation will have to lead the fight back.

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