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Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Real Story Behind the UK Budget: Benefits

Behind the Budget: Benefits

This is the first in a short series of articles looking behind the headlines at the real effect of the ConDem austerity budget.
According to the spin from some newspapers and the ConDem coalition, individuals will only be worse off from the income tax and national insurance changes announced in the budget once their income gets close to £50,000.
But the reality is very different. Their spin does not take into account all the VAT and benefit changes.
From 2012, when many of the tax credit changes kick in, all households will be worse off, even the poorest.
The ConDem coalition want to slash welfare and benefits for the most vulnerable in our society.
They have changed the way benefits and tax credits will be uprated each year to match the consumer prices index, not the often-higher retail price index. This sleight of hand will cut benefits for the sick and poor year by year.

Undermining Families
The ConDem coalition is also slashing individual benefits. Over one million households will be ineligible for tax credits next year (all households earning over £40,000).
Currently nine in ten families with children can get some help from tax credits. By 2012–13 this will fall to six in ten.
Mr Osborne said he would abolish the universal "health in pregnancy" grant from April 2011, worth £190, and restrict the Sure Start maternity grant to the first child only.
Child benefit, to which all families are entitled, will be frozen for the next three years.

Pressure on the Disabled
The government will also introduce a medical assessment for Disability Living Allowance (DLA) from 2013 for new and existing claimants, specifically aimed at cutting down on the numbers claiming it.
DLA is the weekly allowance that can be claimed by people so physically or mentally disabled they cannot wash or dress themselves, can't eat unaided or use the toilet independently. It helps them pay for a helper.
Charities working in the sector have expressed alarm at the plan. Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, said: "The proposal to introduce a new medical assessment for DLA appears designed purely to reduce the number of people eligible for this support. DLA is not a benefit but a basic recognition that it is more expensive to live as a disabled person in our society."
The ConDem austerity coalition have not learned from history. In 1997, the New Labour government took over a similar project, the Benefits Integrity Project. This aimed to re-assess thousands of disabled people’s benefit entitlement. As news spread that disabled people were being forced into abject poverty and some were considering suicide, the government discovered that unfairly cutting benefits can quickly become very unpopular. The Daily Mail and its Sunday sister were particularly critical, and disabled demonstrators chained their wheelchairs to the gates of Parliament.

Caps on Housing Benefit
One of the most serious measures in the budget was the restriction of housing benefit to a maximum limit of £400 a week. From April 2011, Local Housing Allowance Rates will be capped at £250 per week for a one-bedroom property, £290 per week for a two-bedroom property, £340 per week for a three-bedroom property and £400 per week for four bedrooms or more.

The rates still look fairly high until you consider that they are often for households, not individuals, and that there is little affordable social housing anymore in our larger cities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that some families could find themselves forced into “poor quality, overcrowded housing” in areas where private rents were high, such as London and the south-east.
According to the UK homeless charity Shelter, up to nearly half of current claimants are already making up a shortfall in rent (not paid by Housing Benefit) of nearly £100 a month. Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, has said: “If this support is ripped out suddenly from under their feet, it will push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness.”
With thousands in the borough facing shortfalls in their rent due to Housing Benefit caps, at least one Council, Westminster, has warned [1]: “If you do not make up the shortfall in your rent, take insufficient action to resolve the situation and are evicted for rent arrears, you could be considered intentionally homeless.”
When someone is declared intentionally homeless this means that the council no longer has a statutory duty to provide housing, even for vulnerable residents. This can often apply to those with children. In the past this has led to some homeless families being informed that a council will house the children (by issuing care proceedings), but the parents are not eligible for help.
The attack on benefits for the poor and sick is accompanied by bank bailouts and the sight of those who got our country into this economic mess in the first place living high on the hog. We are clearly not "all in this together". Many are questioning how we as a country set our priorities. How is it that dropping bombs on Libya is more important than buying equipment for local hospitals?
Our welfare system certainly needs sensible reform, but this isn't it. There is a lack of value based on the family unit in cuts targeted at them. The British National Party recognises that families are the basic building blocks of our Nation.
The budget does not recognise the problems and additional costs of the disabled in our society. The British National Party knows that disabled people have a big contribution to make to our Nation but also need help and support to facilitate that.
The cuts affecting the unemployed are not accompanied by any strong programme of rebuilding our industrial and manufacturing base, protecting our home markets and investment and co-ordination of research. Housing benefit caps are being introduced without any strong programme of building affordable social housing. The British National Party will introduce a Base Technologies Project to co-ordinate national research in key economic areas. We will pursue an economically nationalist policy to rebuild our home market. We will launch major public works to build affordable social housing.
Whilst we support measures that crack down on those abusing our Welfare State, we still want to provide assistance for those in genuine need. We also want to give life-chances to all our people to improve themselves. Only economic nationalism that builds secure employment with good pay and conditions for our people will do this.
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