#Slave #Britain: Local council ‘forced’ to interrogate benefit claimants about spending #bedroomtax

EdinburghLabour and Scottish National Party-led Edinburgh Council has said it is forced to implement a policy which rejects applicants for discretionary hardship payments to help with the ‘bedroom tax’ if they spend too much on ‘luxuries’.

In an interview in Inside Housing magazine, Cammy Day, vice-convenor of the health, well-being and housing committee, told the magazine  “As a result of a policy imposed by the Conservative Party we are having to do this, otherwise our entire DHP allocation would have been spent in the first three months [of the financial year]. It is a horrible position to be in, having to make a judgement on people’s lifestyle choices.”

The council is the first in the UK to implement a policy of closely examining claimant’s expenditure. Part of the assessment process is for claimants to fill in a form detailing expenditure on satellite television, mobile phone contracts, and ‘general entertainment’. Edinburgh Council also include columns for alcohol and cigarettes, which the council states could be a deciding factor which could affect the decision of whether or not to grant the payment.

Many councils in the UK have seen a huge rise in those seeking additional financial help to cope with the effects of the ‘bedroom tax’. With cuts to their housing benefit, other government cuts, price increases (especially the unjustifiably high price of energy), and a national shortage of one-bedroomed accommodation, many families are forced into a very difficult situation.

Stuart Macdonald, editor of Inside Housing, told the Independent “This shows the extremes councils are being forced into due to the increased demand for DHPs caused by the government’s welfare reforms. Although the amount available for DHPs has been increased by government, this is already proving insufficient and it is inevitable that other councils will have no choice but to follow Edinburgh’s lead.”

A concern is that as council budgets become tighter, how far will they have to go in assessing the suitability of an applicant in the future, and who will decide what ‘luxury’ expenditure is and what is not? Will we see a time when those receiving benefits will be subjected to food rationing and so on?

People who are on benefits have to cope with a tight budget, and it may mean giving-up things that they once took for granted – but it is their decision if they choose to spend on something at the expense of something else. Benefit payments have already been calculated as being the minimum someone needs to live on, and any additional financial stress is bound to have a significant effect – especially something like the bedroom tax which takes away a significant percentage of a person’s benefit payment.

Perhaps the government won’t be content until all those on benefits have to sit around one candle in the middle of winter eating tins of cold baked beans and children become street ragamuffins searching bins.

Child Poverty Action Group’s head of policy, Imran Hussain, said: “It’s really important we do not lose sight of the fact there are children in many of the households affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ who could be badly affected if the family ends up being made homeless for rent arrears. Local authorities aren’t going to be helping families or themselves in the long run if they withhold much-needed support.”

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8 thoughts on “#Slave #Britain: Local council ‘forced’ to interrogate benefit claimants about spending #bedroomtax

  1. Reblogged this on Grannie's Last Mix and commented:
    A powerful account about the latest Tory assault on the poor. I’m no expert on legal matters but this sounds to me like a gross breach of the Human Rights Act i.e. the right to a private life. If they get away with this without challenge will it set a precedent and mean that anyone dependent on the state for any amount of financial support is exempt from human rights? One step closer to slavery…

  2. I think this highlights genuine concerns about how claimants are being marginalised in society, and made to appear as spendthrifts, and irresponsible workshy spongers. However, at the risk of being unpopular, is it not reasonable to assume that there are more important things in life than a Sky package costing in excess of £50 a month, when a multitude of channels can be accessed via Freeview for a one-off cost of less than £25? It only gives Murdoch more money anyway.
    I hold no brief for these new laws, and I am certainly not against people receiving benefits, but surely homes displaying huge TV screens, and ownership of Laptops, expensive phone contracts, and Tablets are hardly indicators of poverty, in anybody’s estimation. Or am I just too old?
    Regards, and good work with an important blog. Pete.

    • Thanks for your valuable comment Pete.

      You certainly raise very valid points.

      There would be no justification for someone on benefits expecting extra help if they are spending money on top-end TV packages (some costing up to about £80 a month or more). If someone chooses to spend money on things like that then they have to take the consequences and have to adjust other spending accordingly. We all have to cut our cloth to meet our means.

      Perhaps the main concern is how the authorities define ‘satellite TV’ and ‘luxuries’, which seem to be a ambiguous statements. How far will they go in their definition? Will we reach a point where having electricity for more than a few hours a day is considered a luxury?

      A concern we have is that they have not targeted the genuinely work shy – who do exist – or attempted to resolve the lack of employment opportunities for the unemployed. They have gone for soft targets to gain short-term results rather than putting effort in to addressing real problems. Although this will probably backfire on them as they realise that their policies are costing significantly more taxpayer’s cash.

      We know how devious the government is, and how they introduce their policies through the back door over time to minimise public awareness.

      But yes – those who choose to spend on unnecessary items do need to rethink their priorities before claiming poverty.

      • Thanks OOT, I didn’t want to come across like a Daily Mail reader. I think that there have to be balances, even from the likes of me, on the Extreme Left. There are many incredibly deserving claimants, especially the disabled ones, falling foul of these shameful new laws, and I would be the first to suggest scrapping them, and hanging the people that promote them. I just don’t want to be blinkered into believing that every one who gets benefits deserves them, because, as we all know, that just isn’t true.
        Keep up the good work! Pete.

    • Many people have a package not solely for the TV. For example, As a disabled person? I find the internet access in mine invaluable, since I often order shopping online due to being unable to leave the house, I also socialise online and print out coupons to save money. I also have a special phone package that actually lowers the costs of my calls because I call a lot of 0845 numbers because a lot of hospitals have 0845 numbers.

      Other people might have the same uses or different ones like job hunting online. Especially with the government proposing to make everything online only, there will come a time when everyone needs internet access. It’s easy to assume we’re all just sitting around watching daytime soaps, but the reality is the internet opens up a whole world to people and most people need it.

      • Hi Dawn,

        Good points.

        Your situation is a good example of when bureaucrats start to make assumptions and put things in ‘categories’.

        Something which may have been considered a ‘luxury’ a couple of decades ago has now become an essential tool in many people’s lives, and in your case (and for people in a similar position) it can help take the strain off already stretched finances and provide social interaction which would otherwise be difficult.

        This is the problem.

        How can those in the government and local authorities decide what a ‘luxury’ is when they have no (or little) perception of the world outside of their own bubble?

        As you say, on one hand they are insinuating that ‘satellite TV’ is a luxury without considering that there are other factors involved – like internet access and cheaper phone calls – and on the other hand pushing for everything to be done online. It is a contradiction.

        In recent trials of Universal Credit, a high proportion of applicants did not have internet access, or were unable to use the internet for various reasons – causing significant problems for the applicant and the administrators of the system (and of course, increasing costs far beyond government projected savings).

        This is where the whole argument of the government falls apart. Once we start getting into the ‘death by assessment’ scenario, where every little detail is subject to ‘official’ scrutiny, we are getting into fascist territory.

        As in our reply to Pete, the government have gone for ‘soft targets’ instead of addressing the real problems.

        Instead of wasting taxpayer’s money on ‘new’ systems, they should have concentrated on improving systems already in place to catch real benefit cheats – then the real abusers of the system would have been more likely to have been caught.

        Under current government changes the abusers are still able to operate. In fact, because resources are so stretched in trying to implement these ridiculous government ideas, there are less resources to catch the real cheats.

        As for the ‘bedroom tax’, that is just a downright idiotic idea that is nothing more than social engineering. There is no benefit whatsoever to the taxpayer as more people are going to be forced to move into much more expensive private accommodation sector – which will cost much more than the government states it will save.

        We have no particular political leanings, and are only concerned with people being treated as human beings in a fair, sensible, and realistic way. It is obvious that this government falls very far short of fair, sensible, and realistic.

        Whether someone has ‘satellite TV’ or not should be of no concern to the government. If the benefit system was run properly, people would get set money based on realistic criteria and there would be no need for the likes of Edinburgh Council to have to implement such intrusive polices – which take up more of their resources.

        Again Dawn, thank you for raising valuable points.

      • That is a fair and valid point Dawn. I am using the Internet to publish my blog, and I also shop online sometimes. I wasn’t really attacking the use of the Internet, or the right to access it, more how it appears, when claimants have all the latest gadgets that many people working cannot afford. Most of us can get reasonably-priced packages for all these things, but do not actually need all the sports channels, and other extras, that push the costs up to around £60 a month.
        It may not seem it, but I am on your side. Regards, Pete.

      • Pete, do you not think claimants get gifts? I have a lot of gadgets for the days I’m confined to bed, some of them were presents, others I budgeted for, brought as cheap as I could and look after.

        Also most people are only unemployed for around six months at the most, people being on benefits long term are unusual, not the default. So many of these things were brought or contracted before they became unemployed, also there are ways to get things cheaper. I have expensive looking clothing, many items were brought wholesale, second hand or were gifts, costing me often less than £10 and due to care have lasted years. One particularly item I own is sold originally for hundreds, I paid 50p for it. You can’t tell by looking at people how much they paid for something or how/when they got it. You don’t know if the person with the flash item was given it as a gift, found it for a bargain, brought it before they lost their jobs or carefully budgeted to get themselves one little treat. So think before you judge.

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