Tuesday, 28 September 2010

One Nottingham - They're on YOUR Side (and They Want You to Know It)

One Nottingham has given its Board a briefing on changes to benefit rules introduced by the Tory government (yes, I know it's got Lib Dems in as well but if I was a Lib Dem I'd be keeping very quiet about that).

They really want you to know about this, there was an article fed to the Post even though it was an internal document. They care you see and they want to make sure you know it.

What I can't work out* is why the sudden concern? Of course, most of the changes are horrific, especially those around Housing Benefit and those Lib Dems currently on secondment to the Conservative Party really ought to be throwing themselves under buses with shame.

But, just like in 1997 when New Labour hit the ground running with many of the Tory initiatives that had been started, especially those around benefits administration, the ConDem cuts are pretty much an extension of what Labour was doing anyway, but with knobs on. Let's look at a few of the issues that has them shaking in their boots now and contrast them with the things they didn't give a shit about when their lot was in charge.

The briefing starts off with a general preamble on the numbers claiming working age benefits, they rightly point out that most are claiming incapacity benefits rather than Jobseekers Allowance. Exactly the people who stand to lose out thanks to the previous government's change to Employment Support Allowance then, which is discussed later in the briefing. The new medical test has resulted in huge numbers of  people being refused ESA and being forced onto JSA instead. Furthermore, if you don't take part in 'work related activities' you only get a rate equivalent to JSA anyway. Current IB claimants are to be moved onto ESA in the next year or so (again, previous government). Yet it's taken until now for ON to notice all this in a paper that purports to describe the NEW government's cuts. Strange.

Next, Tax Credits and they are on fairly strong ground here, the cuts proposed are completely new. Working families with children were one of the few groups (along with pensioners) who emerged relatively unscathed from New Labour. On the other hand Tax Credits was always an administrative disaster and the alleged advantages were somewhat overblown so not too much credit for the previous government here.

It goes downhill from there. Of course I agree it's shocking that the Health in Pregnancy Grant is to be abolished and the Maternity Grant limited and I applaud anybody shouting about it from the rooftops. But, as the report does accept, the moves to force lone parents to sign on is a continuation of the previous government's policies. Was there a briefing when that was originally announced? I think we should be told.

There's a brief mention about benefits for mortgage interest which will now be paid at the 'average' mortgage rate. This is another inevitability, the current flat rate of 6% was only ever meant to be an interim measure unfortunately.  If I sound too comfortable about this I'm not; this one catches me. I'd very much like the 'interim measure' to remain.

More devastating for some was the previous government's measure to cap mortgage help for those on JSA to two years which was introduced at the same time as the increased standard interest rate. It was all packaged up as, I kid you not, measures to prevent repossession during the recession. Obviously its success depended on who you are. That one should be hitting the first claimants next year.

As for housing benefit, well as I say, words fail me at the injustices here. But let's have a look at the cuts brought in by the previous government shall we?

Initially there was a change from benefit being based on your actual rent to being based on some mythical average figure that always seemed to be lower. This was followed more recently by the introduction of Local Housing Allowance which, while being a bit of a swings and roundabouts affair certainly left plenty of scope for taking out the good bits. In fact the previous government proposed the removal of the right to keep excess benefit if you negotiated a lower rent (this was a key selling point when LHA was initially proposed), they abandoned this when the election loomed. Having won the election the Tories picked this one up and ran with it. We also had the reduction of maximum backdating from 12 months to 3 and the reductions in benefits if you're found guilty of anti-social behaviour (it took Labour two goes to get that one in. The first attempt caused an exodus of local Lib Dems when the party rightly argued against it. Yes Cllr Rob Lee, everyone's staring at you). And, not strictly benefit related but it was Labour who introduced introductory council house tenancies, thus ensuring that new tenants on benefits had no legal defence against eviction when their Housing Benefit claim was inevitably delayed. What's that you say? Surely NCC wouldn't evict tenants in that situation...?

Next we move onto *suffers series of nervous ticks* Discretionary Housing Payments, which I've written about comprehensively in the past. In a nutshell the government appears to be offsetting some of the Housing Benefit cuts with a big increase in the DHP budget.

Essentially this will be a disaster for Nottingham as the Housing Benefits service has consistently demonstrated a total inability to administer DHPs for the nine years they have been in operation, consistently underspending their allocation causing following years' allocations to be reduced. Obviously this doesn't warrant any mention in the ON briefing. I estimated that this fact alone had cost Nottingham tenants around half a million pounds between 2001-09 and that was being conservative. Meanwhile, the Post was reporting that evictions due to rent arrears had shot up by 42% in 2007.

I could go on.

But thanks One Nottingham for finally making it to the party. Where were you when the previous government were vandalising the benefits system with gay abandon? You were cheering them on, that's what you were doing because it was your sons of bitches wielding the wrecking ball**.

You don't give a shit about poverty, you only care about the tribe.

* I can really.

** Not that that excuses the current hate on poor people, a plague on all your houses I say.

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