I don’t understand why the introduction of direct payments to social tenants is such a big issue (no pun intended). It’s been the case for private tenants for years and the landlord would be paid directly by the council in only a handful of cases. Having money earmarked for rent is no different to budgeting for energy or other bills. If you don’t pay the bills, you get cut off. If you don’t pay rent, you get evicted. I don’t see the difference really.
I understand that it’s tempting to spend that money on necessities like heating or food. However, I think we are doing social tenants a disservice by saying they would spend their housing benefit on parties or Christmas. It makes them look feckless and only after a good time just like the Daily Mail has been suggesting all along. Let’s not give them the ammunition.
Those on minimum wage also have to make the same choices (food vs heating) and are probably in the same position when it comes to festivities. They will be all the more likely to support IDS, if they think we are partying it up on our housing benefit. They will think we are unable to manage our money adding more gravity to IDS’s plan to introduce the Universal Credit. His reasoning is that the move from fortnightly to monthly benefit payments will ease the move towards employment. If we suspect ourselves that we will squander the money before the week is out makes it look like IDS is right.
Whether paid direct to the landlord or to the tenant, housing benefit is to cover the rent. Nothing changes here. The money is not yours. If you spend it on anything else, you are effectively committing fraud. Do we really need to add fuel to the benefit fraud debate?
Don’t get me wrong – celebrations are important. They are especially so if every day is a struggle full of difficult choices. When every purchase, no matter how small, has to be considered. When you buy your groceries in ten different shops to make use of all the offers on basics (oh, sugar is on offer here but we will buy milk in the other shop because it’s 10p cheaper). When it’s cold all the time and you do not put the heating on because that would put you into debt. Instead you sit under a duvet and put gloves on even though it’s nearly the end of April. It is nice to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries even if just to forget for a few hours about the bleak reality.
However, these need to be budgeted for and, in my opinion, they come last after essential bills (inc bedroom tax and rent), food and clothing. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it. Dipping into rent money is not the answer. It just perpetuates the damaging stereotypes. Saying you can’t afford to buy or make a cake for your child’s birthday or buy them presents is only going to elicit the standard response of “go and get a job then, sponger”.