Wednesday, 25 January 2012

More on the Benefits Cap...

I may be banging on about this, but benefits is a huge business in the UK and the current generosity with benefits makes life for those like myself, on low wages difficult.

I've already outlined the perks you get on benefit, that someone like myself doesn't get like free school meals, free prescriptions, etc. The way the system works is that one benefit unlocks another: you have to be receiving benefit in order claim another.

There is no assessment of need, or means testing. You receive such and such benefit, you are then entitled to x y and z benefits too.

We came a cropper on this a couple of years back when the wife was employed and I was out of work. Now because I wasn't working, I stupidly assumed that we'd get some help like maybe council tax relief, housing benefit, or tax credits, or maybe something to offset the fact that 90 percent of the wife's wage was actually going on paying the rent and keeping a roof over our heads.

In fact we got no benefits, other than my jobseekers, which ran out after 6 months.

Actually much worse than that... the council assumed that because we were so badly off, we would be entitled to some housing benefit and started paying us. Only 3 months later to send us a letter demanding all they'd paid us back, because we weren't claiming or entitled to certain other benefits. I'm actually still paying that back in small instalments. And while I was out of work, we survived by not paying bills such as council tax, gas and electricity. Mainly because we couldn't pay them! Again, I'm still paying off a few of those debts, which doesn't help.

This is where the system is totally wrong. Had my wife left her job, then we would have been able to claim all the benefits under the sun. But being proud and my wife actually likes her job she didn't want to give it up just to sponge. Or if I'd moved out, splitting up a perfectly functional family we would have both received benefits in our own rights. But being together with just one person working, we got penalised.

There should be no circumstances in any system of benefits for the non-disabled, where it is more advantageous to be on benefits than it is to work.

Actually the system of benefits we have in the UK hugely skews certain markets. Take for instance rented accommodation; with the demise of council houses, the rented sector is now the domain of the private landlord. Because of housing benefit, rents are pushed to the absolute upper limit, rather than what the market would normally stay at. That's because its the government paying a large proportion of rent to private landlords. Its pretty obvious when you look at the discrepancy between true social rents and private rents that the ability of the government to pay no matter what, pushes up the cost of rents by around 50-100%. I've seen some horrid homes rented out for stupid money by unscrupulous landlords, but the local councils still pay  the money. Of course in that situation the tenant has no hold over the landlord like the option of withholding rent if certain work isn't done to maintain the property. Its a pretty shitty cycle of no maintenance and landlords getting inflated rents for doing sweet fa renting out shitty houses that get shittier over time.

Its a cycle that also has to stop. State-funded rents need to be capped to bring down rental costs across the board.

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Benefits Cap and Caveats.

I've heard much hand-wringing and wailing about the government's proposals to cap benefits at £26,000.

Now to me, having to work full time and only bring in £15,000 before tax (more like £10000 once tax has been prised from me), £26,000 (before or after tax equivalent) looks to be heaven.

Given of course the disparities between the two.

For instance, someone on benefits gets free prescriptions, I pay 8 quid for each item the doctor prescribes me. The person on benefits pays no council tax, I pay the full amount. Etc, etc ad nauseum.

The thing is, the wife is a carer and get paid a similar amount; her wages solely go on paying the rent, with a bit left over for things like clothes. We had to tailor our housing expectations to the amount we could afford, not the other way around. The same should apply to someone on benefits. There should be no god-given right to live in a particular area, or in a particular size of house. You get given a budget and that's what you work with. The rule should apply across the board.

On my pay I'm expected to buy food, pay all the household bills, and run a car so as to be able to transport myself to work 5 days a week. Just running the car costs me over a third of my wage these days.

So for around £20,000 (lets be generous and say £22,000) take-home pay, me and the wife can rent a house, pay the bills and run a car. I'm not saying its's easy, as things have to be prioritised; we don't have holidays, we make-do and mend when necessary and if we need something, we save for it. We are always prioritising and by no means are comfortable. But by no means are we on the poverty line.

But then again by no means do we get any of the "perks" of being full-time on benefit either: we pay for everything and receive nothing.

My daughter is at college and has had a weekend job since she was 15. She uses it to pay for transport to college thanks to EMA being scrapped last year. Yes, we are above the threshold for her to receive any help towards her education, something again the child of someone on benefits would be entitled to.

This is the grey area that government is addressing, the thousands of people that are low-paid and see those on benefits getting more money, more perks and.... just more.

There's a guy at work with a sister who is long-term unemployed. Her partner is also unemployed. The sickening thing is that on benefits his sister can do more, buy more than he can, yet he faithfully turns up to work every day and wonders if it would be better on benefits. Its that environment that is  killing this country and the government is right to readjust.

Now of course I'm not a wholehearted enthusiast of the government's benefit reforms: I'm dead against the restructuring of benefits for the disabled from DLA to the new PIP.

One interesting fact before I start is the lack of reportage of the proposed transition. Compared to the number of articles about the benefits cap the change in disability benefits has very few articles of the BBC website. Strange, especially as they are a known mouthpiece for the left.

Why is it that disability issues are so poorly represented on  the BBC news? I'd love to have an answer.

Anyway, back to the DLA reform. The government have stated that their target is a 20% reduction on the disability budget. To me that says that the government will deliberately remove people off DLA and offer no alternative.

Some of my older readers will know my older son is disabled: he has Asperger's Syndrome, one of the shades of the Autistic Spectrum. The best way I can explain autism is that parts of a person's personality refuse to develop over time. For instance in my son who is considered a higher functioning autistic, he can talk to you normally, he loves video games and mostly can lead a normal life. Yet there are aspects of his personality that haven't developed, so much so that he needs a support network in order to keep him safe.. One of his major problems is he does not think through or link actions and consequences. He also avoids confrontation and consistently says what he thinks the other person wants him to say in order to be (in his eyes) friendly.

I can imagine him attending a benefits interview and saying "yes, I'd love a job" and have not a clue about how much trouble that one statement would get him into. Especially as there is very little chance of him holding down a job as he doesn't understand the consequences of not being punctual, for instance.

Its exactly the sort of person, with complex needs that will be ensnared by the DLA reform, as benefits officers are given that target of 20% of people to dump. Of course those that are on DLA as a way of staying on long-term benefits, those the government want to kick back into the jobseekers environment will understand this and be a lot more canny on making sure they stay on whatever disability benefit is available in future.

My son on the other hand, will not understand why he loses the money that allows him to live a relatively independent life.