Right now I’m trying desperately not to rant, which is not easy given how difficult the last couple of weeks have been.
As is becoming more and more apparent to anyone with their eyes open, the bedroom tax, or “spare room subsidy” if you prefer, is fast becoming an unworkable policy because of the increase in arrears and costs to local housing associations. The temptation to say “I told you so” to both the government and supporters of this policy is great. I will resist.
When the bedroom tax came into force my wife and I made a decision to pay it whilst looking for a smaller property. It has been a decision that has caused nothing but stress and increase hardship for us both, but we both felt it was the right thing to do. We could have decided not to pay the bedroom tax and risked arrears and ultimately eviction to make a stand against the policy that we do not agree with – a stand we thought long and hard about – but ultimately chose not to. In doing so, we had no alternative but to make changes in our fortnightly budget, and therefore cutting down on essentials or not paying bills. It has not been easy.
As anybody with a disability or illness will tell you the last thing that you need is more stress on top of an already difficult situation. The bedroom tax does exactly that. So, last week we decided that enough was enough, as cutting back simply wasn’t an option any more and that we couldn’t afford to pay the bedroom tax any longer. We were told our housing association of our intention to stop paying and explain our reasons.
Less than a day later we were offered a one bedroom flat that would, hopefully, be suitable for our needs.
At this point you would think that this would be the end of the anxiety and difficulties, right? Sadly, if anything it has increased our troubles. Moving home is one of the most stressful things to do, even when it is by choice and not being forced on you. We will be moving a very small distance, but we will still have to find a removal firm and do all the usual things that come with a house move. This, of course, means that we have to pay for this help – but where are we supposed to find this? And not only do we have to find the money for removal costs, there’s also the cost of packing materials, connection of a gas cooker or an electric cooker if there’s not a fitting, new curtains if needed, decorating costs, carpets, and all the other things that come with having to move.
Ridiculous isn’t it?
Removal firms alone can cost £200 and upwards. Add in the others and it’s getting really expensive. But it’s a Catch 22 – stay in the property and keep paying a bedroom tax we cannot afford, or move and take on expenses we cannot afford.
I asked my local council, Pendle Borough Council, if they would be able to give any assistance. Their reply?
“Unfortunately Pendle Council is unable to help with the cost of moving property.”
So I’m being forced to move due to their implementation of the bedroom tax and yet they’ll not help me move. It sickens me, and proves to me that this policy is simply about taking money from the least well off in society. I’m exhausted from the stress and arguments this has already caused between my wife and I – I hate seeing my wife upset and worried about this. The worst thing, of course, is the fact that we were moved into my current property 18 months ago because of my worsening health condition. Moving again so soon is the last thing we needed.
Did I ever mention how much I hate the bedroom tax?
| 2 notescrazybladeuk: The Unseen Cost of the Bedroom Tax
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There was a time that I felt a sense of excitement at hearing the morning post being pushed through the letterbox. As a child it was the promise of a letter from my numerous pen pals from around the world, or perhaps a parcel from a grandparent or a note just to say hello. As I grew into adulthood it changed from excitement to an expectation of bills, bills and more bills with the occasional mail order goodie thrown in for good measure.
Today, it’s a fear of an A5 sized brown envelope dropping onto the doormat.
If you are receiving social security benefits you will undoubtedly be nodding in agreement right now. There is nothing worse than seeing that brown envelope lying there on your doormat, as you instinctively know that it could be about one of a hundred things and very rarely are any of them good.
Being disabled, my biggest fear is the letter will contain a referral to Atos again. Despite having severe mobility problems, amongst other things, I spent the whole of last year appealing the decision on my employment and support allowance (ESA) which when all the way to tribunal despite the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) own paperwork stating that I was “unlikely to work in the longer term”. In fact, on the morning of the tribunal they telephoned me and, with no small amount of incredulity in his voice, told me that I did not have to attend and that my appeal was successful and I was placed in the support group.
Unfortunately, despite my condition being one that will only get worse, the tribunal decision will only be for a set period (which I have not been told) and I will have to go through the whole process again. With all the stress that it caused both myself and my wife, I am petrified of that letter arriving.
Of course it could be one of the numerous letters that we receive from both the DWP and our local council informing us of changes that we already know about – sometimes even changes that happened over a year ago. I dread to think how much money the DWP and the local council wastes on sending letters for the tiniest of changes. I once had EIGHT letters on the same day with regards to the same change, which I had already been informed of and therefore wasted unnecessary time and money. In a time where we are supposed to be saving money it seems crazy for this to be happening.
Or the letter could be one of the several that either my wife or I have received where the mistake has been made and our money, for whatever reason, has been changed or stopped, through no fault of our own. I wish I could say this is a rare occurrence but sadly that’s not the case, and the stress that that causes it is hard to describe. Please remember, when you live on benefits you don’t have the money to “prepare for any eventuality”. You live within a very strict budget, and that means only getting the food that you need to your next money, only having money from bills when that bill needs paying. That means that when a mistake is made it can leave you in real trouble, with no food or power or heating. In winter that is the most frightening part.
So no, I no longer relish the postman arriving and while everyone worries about bills, social security recipients worry about living from day to day. And ironically as I end this blog, the post has arrived and with it another brown envelope. Here we go again…
| 1 notePinkWaferBelle: Universal Credit and the Disabled Child.
As the youngest of four, we knew from an early age, that our son was “different” “quirky” and had delayed developmental milestones. As his Mum, I vividly remember bombarding the health visitor and doctor telling them that this child was different from his older brothers. After many tests we were told he was autistic.
I could not return to work. This child needed me there full time, 24/7 as he struggled with night terrors and seeing the world through a unique point of view. I was able to claim carers’ allowance and my son to claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA), but with four sons I also needed my husband to help care for the family too so he decided to become self employed, working two jobs to be flexible enough to fit our son and the older boys needs into our lives.
Part of the “extra help” which Gordon Brown was quick to realise back in the early 2000s was that low paid workers who claim working tax credits and have a disabled child, need a bit extra money to cope with all the added costs that are incurred with disabled children. Currently as long as a child up to their 16th birthday is in receipt of either the High Rate (HR), Middle Rate or Low Rate Care Component of DLA the family receive a “Disabled Child Tax Element” on top of their Working Tax Credits. This element is paid at the rate of £57 per week for ALL disabled children. Many people with children ask why this top up is needed and I never tire of telling them:
Can your teenage child catch a bus? Yes? My son cannot. He cannot go on public transport without adult supervision because he may have a meltdown, get highly anxious, or be bullied for staring at people or asking people personal questions.
Tucked away in Universal Credit, is a little known clause on the Disabled Child Tax Element. The DWP, in order to save money on the welfare bill, have decided disabled children also need to be scrutinised. When UC is rolled out, only those children who are ” the most severely disabled” will continue getting the disabled child tax element at £57pw. These children must be in receipt of HR care DLA only. Those children who receive Middle Rate and Low Rate Care will receive half the amount at £28pw. It is also noted that the DWP say this is “per household” so people who may have more than one disabled child will lose out enormously, as the claim is based on one child only.
The DWP say the reason is to align adult and child payments thus removing the “cliff-edge” in the current system that exists when young people transfer in a planned transition to become independent adults. It has been noted by organisations such as The Children’s Society and CAB that those families most severely impacted will be those losing £30pw who have children with fairly severe disabilities who are in receipt of Middle Rate Care on DLA.
As well as this loss, families with disabled children have always been penalised with childcare costs if they work. Any childcare to enable a parent of a disabled child to work is as rare as hens teeth! This traps parents into being a full time carer on the measly £58pw Carers Allowance (which thankfully is not included under UC).
Take that support away as the government are planning to, and the outcome would be a lot different: less independence, less outside activities and a frustrated, angry child. I pity any parent with a baby or toddler with a disability who would like to work this year. I think this government may well take away your choice.
It’s been a difficult week for me, dear readers. Like many ill and disabled people right now, I’ve had to deal with a lot of different things all at once and it’s causing a huge amount of stress and anxiety at a time when I really could do without it.
As I’m sure you can imagine, my health has to come first, and dealing with worsening and constant pain is very difficult. I have a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome which affects both my legs, from my knees down to below my ankles. The pain is constantly there and is, at times, excruciating and worsening. Last Monday my doctor doubled my painkiller - a weekly patch that I wear on my arm. So far it’s not lessened my pain but has made me extremely sleepy.
So sorry, George Osborne, but I may have had my curtains closed a little more.
It’s a fine line for those that suffer with chronic pain, finding the balance between managing the pain and dealing with the side effects. I feel dizzy and nauseous sometimes in addition to the exhaustion. It’s not fun.
This month the changes to Social Security, under the welfare reform Act 2012, started to take effect. I’ve mentioned my thoughts on the Bedroom Tax previously. Despite the “spare” bedroom in our property being smaller than a bedroom under housing regulations, we’re still having to pay £10 a week towards our rent, and £5 a week towards council tax thanks to localisation of council tax support. That’s £15 a week from an already extremely tight budget.
Our problems with bidding for a property to move to have continued. We’re finding that the properties that would be suitable for me are age restricted, usually to 55s and over, and the housing associations concerned are unwilling to bend on that. The flat I mentioned in the previous blog is still empty, despite being listed three times and, as I write this, still has ZERO bids on it this week.
It makes an absolute mockery of the situation and makes me question why I should be forced to pay the bedroom tax.
The amount of anxiety this is all causing me has become a real problem over the last week. And George Osborne has the nerve to call this a “lifestyle choice”.
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Before you continue to read this diary entry, I’d like you all to do me a favour. Take a moment, and think about what springs to mind when you think of Social Security payments.
So, what did you think of? Was your first thought to those most desperately in need of help? Perhaps you were mindful of the recent rising unemployment figures? Or maybe some of the key words the Coalition has been using to characterise claimants came into your head, words like “skivers” or “scroungers”?
I guess that many of you also thought of the £26,000 benefits cap that this government introduced in four London boroughs this week.
It’s a catchy thought, isn’t it? The idea that they are restricting how much a social security claimant can claim every week and ensuring that it is “fair” is certainly what many people have expressed a desire for. The policy seems to have the support of the general public right now. The problem is, the benefits cap of £26K for me is, to a very large degree, an utter and complete fallacy.
I could go on for ages about how the government is spinning this latest policy. I could also go into the details of how the benefits cap is simply not logical but this Guardian editorial does that particularly well for me.
What worries me, however, is that because the government has pushed this £26,000 figure so heavily, it’s kind of becoming the norm to think that all social security claimants are receiving this amount (it’s important to note that the £26,000 is for a household, not a single person). The rhetoric of “giving tax payers value for money” is almost proof enough of this - after all, all social security claimants, no matter how much they receive, are tax payers as well.
As a disabled man in the support group for employment and support allowance (ESA) I am exempt from the benefits cap (please see the earlier link for a list of exemptions), but that doesn’t mean that the rhetoric doesn’t effect me. In fact, my wife and I get substantially less than £26,000 (less than half if my disability living allowance is not included) - we actually get less than what one of us would receive before tax for a full time job on minimum wage. And remember, with the introduction of the bedroom tax and changes to council tax support the amount we have is being eroded even further.
The rhetoric and demonisation of social security claimants only helps to compound the difficulties of living when you have a serious disability, like when George Osborne equates it to a “lifestyle choice”, and the benefits cap adds to that rhetoric. And maybe that’s the idea - another divisive policy to further alienate those worst off.
It certainly feels that way.
| 24 notes'Disability living allowance has been my lifeline' - meet benefits diarist pseudodeviant
I’ve decided to write some entries for the Guardian Benefits Diaries project. This is my first one by way of an introduction to myself and to a couple of the issues I will be talking about.
I’m disabled. I’m a wheelchair user with a lot of nerve damage and hypermobile joints as well as a person with post traumatic stress disorder. I can’t do much in the way of work because my condition fluctuates daily. In the morning I may feel great, by lunch I might be unable to move without crying and by the evening I might be a bit better again or knocked out on some pretty strong pain killers. As a result I claim benefits; employment support allowance (ESA), disability living allowance (DLA) and housing benefit (HB). Last year after a three year battle I moved into an adapted one-bedroom bungalow with my partner so we also rely on social housing.
In 2010, when the coalition government came to power many of us started to feel uneasy when they began to talk about welfare reform and we began to read in tabloids about “fake disabled people”, “high fraud rates” and “scroungers”. I grew up under Thatcher and Major and I remember how they would demonise single mums in very similar terms before using the outrage they had whipped up to savagely cut support. I didn’t want to see it happen to disabled people. When the government released the welfare reform bill (WRB) in 2011 some of us rose up to try to fight it and our numbers grew as it progressed through the commons and huge chunks were defeated and amended by the Lords. We keep fighting the changes, because we have to but up until now a lot of what we have done has been academic. We’ve talked about the potential harm these changes could cause when they come into effect but as of this month things have changed.
Many of us called the 1 April “Black Monday” - the day many of us campaigning against the welfare reform bill have been dreading for a while. It signalled the start of a whole tsunami of cuts to the incomes of some of the most vulnerable individuals & families in the UK. I wrote a blog post about it called “Is resistance futile?” which was inspired by the gut wrenching feeling that I had waking up that morning when I remembered what was happening.
I, personally, have been pretty fortunate. The benefits cap doesn’t effect me and as it stands nor does the bedroom tax. That said, if my partner and I tried to move to a two-bedroom home (something that we are entitled to do because my issues make it near impossible for him to be able to sleep in the same room a lot of the time) we would be hit by it. That’s quite upsetting. If my condition gets worse and we start needing a second bedroom desperately then we’ll have to factor in not only the extra costs of heating it but also of paying an extra £14 a week for it. Why? Because the bedroom tax (or “spare” room subsidy) currently doesn’t recognise that partners/spouses where one is disabled and the other is a carer/also disabled may not be able to share a room.
I will be hit by the abolition of DLA and it’s replacement by Personal Independence Payments (PIP). DLA has been my lifeline, being awarded it changed my life for the better. When I first became disabled I had no idea just how expensive it would prove to be. It was 18 months before I had a NHS manual wheelchair. For those first 18 months I spent a lot of my time trapped not just in my house, but upstairs in my house. I lived in my bedroom and bathroom because more often than not I couldn’t manage the stairs, let alone travel out of my house. When my partner came back late from work and was too tired to cook then we simply didn’t eat. We suddenly couldn’t cover our bills or rent but, because I was disabled we couldn’t find a privately rented flat that came even close to being both affordable and accessible. Without money and therefore without the ability to “buy” help to get me out of the house or into a more accessible home or to buy care services our lives crumbled. We both feel into deep depression. Then, over two years after becoming disabled I was granted DLA, higher rate care & mobility and backpaid. I could suddenly buy a electric wheelchair so I could go out on my own. I could afford basic adaptations so I could leave the house. I could afford to get a taxi so that I could visit places when a bus wasn’t an option. I could pay for personal assistants to come and support me so my other half could live his own life and actually work or train. When we were both too exhausted to cook then we could have pre-prepared food in the house. It was amazing. Now they are getting rid of that and I’ll be part of the wave of people being reassessed in 2015. PIP is supposed to be much harder to claim than DLA, the government said from the outset they foresaw 20% of DLA claimants either getting a reduced benefit or none at all. Given DLA has a fraud rate of 0.5% according to the DWP the vast majority of people loosing out will be disabled people, just those who are not judged to be “disabled enough”. I won’t know my fate until 2015, but there are others with shorter term awards and some new claimants who will be being moved onto this new system as I type.
I’m going to leave this entry for now because I’m exhausted, but I hope it has given you a quick introduction to what I am going to be talking about and why it concerns me so very much.
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Despite my need for our second bedroom and the space it provides, I am doing the “right thing” and also looking for a new home which, under the criteria of the “bedroom tax”, is “more suitable and adequate”. I don’t like it, as I’m sure you can understand, but it is the right thing to do.
In east Lancashire, lettings for social housing are dealt with through a centralised website which lists properties on a weekly basis and asks potential tenants to “bid” on properties which are of interest. So far, so good. Right?
Well, no, sadly. And this is where the ridiculousness of the bedroom tax comes in to sharp focus.
As a disabled man I’m somewhat limited as to the type of property I need. You’ll forgive me if I don’t go into all the details. And do you know how many suitable properties, up until this week, have been available since I registered?
Crazy isn’t it?
This week, however, a miracle has occurred. There’s two properties available to bid on. But I found myself unable to bid on both because I’m younger than 55, despite them both being extremely suitable to my needs. Naturally, I was very unhappy with this so have spent the last few days in discussions with the company and this morning they removed that barrier. But that’s not the end of the problem.
The properties are a one-bedroom flat and a one-bedroom bungalow. The bungalow has three people bidding on it (with bidding ending today) so I’m not entirely confident that I’ll be in the running for that. The flat, however, has one bid on it - mine. And it is perfect for me and my wife. So we went to have a look at it - only to be told that someone else is being considered for it outside of the bidding process and is in line to be offered the property, making a complete mockery of the whole process!
Hence the brick wall and a headache.
It’s important to also note that both the properties I’ve bid on are actually more expensive (almost £20 a week more expensive in both cases) than the one we’re currently in, but will be fully covered by housing benefit and therefore cost the council more, making a complete mockery out of the government’s reasons for doing this.
And these are the reasons the bedroom tax does not, and will not, work.
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