Coalition policies driving horrors of homelessness

marksimonbrown mark at
Sun Dec 9 08:47:20 GMT 2012

As church leaders and charities protest at Tory Chancellor and ex-Bullingdon Club member George Osbourne's assault on welfare, I am mindful of the quotation often coined by the German revolutionary socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg in the early 20th century 'Socialism or Barbarism' and how these changes to welfare with grotesque indifference and supine intransigence will effect the vulnerable in society so negatively, who Osbourne had the audacity to mock with chilling asperity in his budget statement on Wednesday 5th Dec, implying all those of benefit are work-shy. The devil is in the detail. For instance, as well as the cap on Housing benefit, local housing allowance base rates, which are used to calculate housing benefit for private renters, will rise in line with inflation next April but the rise will then be capped at 1 per cent for the next two years, and as with all government departments, the Treasury Local government budget will be hit by a 2% cut (which was already set 2 years ago). These further cuts have come about because a shrinking economy has meant shrinking tax revenues have meant the debt burden remains disproportionately high, as a result of a failed economic strategy (cuts too far too fast ...etc).

Note in below report, plans to remove housing benefit for under-25s were not included, thanks to resistance from the Lib Dems 

Coalition policies driving `horrors' of homelessness
by Tom Lloyd , Inside Housing
 4 December 2012

Government welfare reforms and housing policies are driving up homelessness, with young people and families hit hardest.

That is the message from a detailed study of homelessness published by charity Crisis and produced by Heriot-Watt University and the University of York.

Findings from the second year of the five-year Homelessness monitor study have been released this evening, and present a concerning picture of the interaction between housing policy and welfare reforms.

The report notes `almost all aspects of the coalition government's welfare reforms have problematic implications for homelessness', and that moves to limit social housing tenancies and increase affordable rents will `weaken the [social housing] sector's safety net function'.

It says the private rented sector is increasingly both a cause and the solution to homelessness, but adds: `The extent to which the private rented sector can be used to house those who are homeless and/or on low incomes is heavily dependent on housing benefit and will therefore be fundamentally shaped by the government's welfare reforms.'

It warns there will be a sharp rise in youth homelessness if the government pushes ahead with plans to remove housing benefit for under-25s.

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to give further detail of cuts to benefits in his autumn statement tomorrow, although some reports have suggested plans to remove housing benefit for under-25s will not be included.

In response to the report Crisis called on the government to withdraw the plans to cut housing benefit for under-25s, reverse other cuts to housing benefit, `invest substantially' in new social and affordable housing, and reform the private rented sector.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: `The coalition is sweeping away the safety nets that have traditionally saved people from the horrors of homelessness. Housing benefit, the duties of local councils and the security and availability of social housing are all being cut back.

`Young people are already bearing a disproportionate burden of the cuts and economic downturn, yet the government seems set to increase the pressure by abolishing housing benefit for under-25s.

`The research is clear – if we carry on like this, rising rates of homelessness will accelerate – a disaster for those directly affected, and bad for us all.'

The summary of the report published this evening covers Great Britain, with separate reports on England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow.

Housing minister Mark Prisk said: `This country has one of the strongest homelessness safety nets in the world, and it is misleading to suggest otherwise.

`The government has protected £400 million funding to tackle homelessness, which is actually lower than for 28 of the last 30 years, and we're reversing the dramatic loss of affordable housing under the previous administration by building 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015.'

George Osborne's savage attack on benefits is an affront to British decency

by Will Hutton	
The Observer, Sunday 9 December 2012

George Osborne in his autumn statement displayed a total contempt for the welfare of the less well-off

What constitutes a good society? What are our responsibilities and obligations to one another? To what extent is our humanity about looking solely after ourselves or being part of something we call society? The autumn statement, opening a new chapter in its rewriting of Britain's tattered social settlement, has suddenly made these the fundamental questions in British politics. The last vestiges of an approach to organising society based on a social contract have been shredded. In its place there is an emergent system of discretionary poor relief imposed from on high in which every claimant is defined not as a citizen exercising an entitlement because they have hit one of life's many hazards, but as a dependent shirker or scrounger.

David Cameron and George Osborne, repudiating the canons of the Enlightenment, the New Testament and the British commitment to fair play, think they are on a political slam dunk. Osborne gloried in his depiction of his actions in support of the nation's "strivers" and attack on the shirkers. With a populist centre-right press behind him, he thinks he has launched a political masterstroke. Does the Labour party dare to vote against next year's proposed welfare bill removing the link between inflation and the increase in benefits?

Everyone knows the coalition argument by heart. Fairness demands that the recipients of Britain's allegedly enormous welfare bill play their part in the crash programme to eliminate Britain's budget deficit.

Austerity must hit everyone. The welfare system, so the argument goes, has become a colossal scam encouraging systematic cheating and, worse, a culture in which idleness is rewarded and work penalised. What is more, support for social solidarity as a principle is disappearing. Polls reveal large majorities who support the coalition's propositions.

But can so much of our culture, and what it means to be part of western civilisation, be put aside so easily? The idea that the best society is one organised around a voluntarily agreed contract between its members who come together and acknowledge reciprocal obligations is not so lightly torched. It may be unfashionable to defend the conception of a social contract, but our religion and our culture enshrine the notion of mutual responsibility and obligation.

Life is risky and hazardous for everyone. The bad luck of a broken family, unemployment, poor health, unexpected expenses of old age, mental illness and physical incapacity can hit anyone, however hard working. These risks confront everyone.

A good society recognises these risks and insists they should be shared and insured against in an agreed system of collective insurance. The great thinkers of the Enlightenment proposed that if society was to get beyond theocracy, anarchy or despotism, then it had to be underwritten by such a social contract. To organise society as an individualistic war of one against another was barbaric, while the other models, slavishly following the rules of one religion or one supreme leader, denied freedom.

Cameron and Osborne will publicly say that they still respect such values, but, privately, they are pursuing a different agenda. The terms on which millions have made their plans and life choices have been torn up. The automatic link between inflation and the uprating of benefits is to be scrapped for at least three years. The tax relief available to those building retirement pensions is to be further withdrawn. This comes on top of the capping of benefits, whatever the need, the restrictions on housing benefit, further limiting of incapacity benefit and the shrinking of access to child benefit. Additionally, there is a new bridgehead further to remove employment protection in the labour market, trading employment rights for shares in the company.

Is any of this fair? The heart of fairness is to establish a proportional relationship between contribution and outcome to which everyone consents. People have made calculations about how they are to handle the costs of old age, bringing up their children, physical incapacity or the lack of work in their area on the basis of social contributions to their circumstance that they reckoned on being an inviolable part of the deal. Now they find it is all turned on its head by fiat and for which no one voted. A social contract is a bargain over time. I pay my taxes and national insurance contributions. I should get benefits back when I need them.

What is happening is both illegitimate and contemptible and as the proposals are rolled out, more and more people will start to think so as they are affected too. The anti-welfare opinion poll majorities will begin to dissolve.

Is this necessary? Osborne insists it would be a "disaster" to turn back from his target of balancing the budget within five years and social spending must share the burden. He is an economic illiterate. Economics 101's first principle is that if households, companies and banks are simultaneously saving and building up surpluses, as they are at present, then someone in the system has to have a deficit to compensate, otherwise there is a downward depressive economic vortex. That someone necessarily is the government. Its deficit is the counterpart of surpluses elsewhere. Osborne could and should have used his autumn statement to give the private sector the confidence to invest, to borrow, to innovate and to spend and so run down its vast £700bn cash stockpile. He should have adopted a bold target for the growth of nominal income, launched a multibillion pound infrastructure programme and cheap loan guarantee scheme. Then the pressure on the government's own books would have been relieved.

He did none of these, instead believing that financial repression and shameful withdrawal of benefits are the triggers of recovery. Is every last aspect of Britain's social contract defensible? Plainly not. As far as possible, a social contract should be designed to recognise labour market realities and not undermine incentives, restrict itself to insuring against inevitable risks and hazards and be supported by sufficient taxation and a government doing its level best to promote economic growth and jobs. Reform should take place within such a framework, but that is not what is proposed. Labour is steeling itself to do the right thing; if it can spell out what a 21st-century social contract looks like, this is an argument that can be won.

The Lib Dems also have to brace themselves. Osborne, his politics, economics and values, should be opposed to the last. Are they prepared to do what must be done?

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