Workshy Scrounger

Tag: Housing Benefit

Party like it’s October 2013

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”.

The real-life hunger games

The Tories’ divide and conquer strategy is certainly paying off. We had strivers vs skivers. We had unemployment benefits vs working tax credits. Now it’s time for private vs social tenants. To quote Suzanne Collins:

“Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favour!”

They are not but some people buy into the rhetoric anyway and believe the government. The recent upheaval is about private tenants not being subjected to the bedroom tax. This is not so.

Housing benefit for tenants is called local housing allowance. As a previously single and working person, I could have had a four bedroom house because I could afford it. Once I lost my job in 2010, my housing benefit would only pay for one bedroom. This is absolutely fair – either I pay more for the big house or move to smaller accommodation.

Since April 2012, however, they decided that a single person aged 25-35 is only entitled to a shared rate. This means that, living as I am in a one-bed flat, I would either have to pay the difference (£25 a week in my case) to stay here or rent a room.

So far, so good. Here are the problems with moving house when you are on benefits:

  • No DSS, no smokers, no pets restrictions in most ads – I cannot even arrange a viewing because the first question asked is: do you work? Why? I assume it is because landlords are fed up with people being late with their rent whenever the council screws up.
  • No money for the move – I don’t know anyone with a van. I don’t even have a car. Moving costs are extortionate. Impossible if you are struggling to pay for basic sustenance.
  • In my area, renting a one-bedroom flat costs exactly the same as renting a room (and it does not include bills).
  • The small problem of my disability. I do not want to go into details to preserve my anonymity but it does have impact on the household. You would not want to share with me if only so that you do not have to watch me suffer.

Our rents line private individuals’ pockets – the same people who contributed to the housing boom by artificially increasing demand by means of zero percent interest-only mortgages with tracker rates that actually meant that at some stages they were paying no mortgage at all as the interest rates were so low.

Private lets are usually in poor state of repair. LHA is paid at the 30th percentile of all rents in area. You could easily infer that they are in the bottom 30% of all houses available for rent. What follows are old boilers, draughty windows and threadbare carpets that soaked up tears of people affected by Thatcher’s government (mining was big in my area back in the day). Private let also means that you cannot change  anything in the house – you need the landlords permission for everything. Then, with a two-month notice period, it’s too risky to invest into something you might lose before the summer.

If you are poor, you are in the same boat as other poor people. It does not matter if you work, cannot work or cannot find a job. It does not matter if you are a social tenant, home owner or private tenant. You struggle with bills and shopping. You have no security and no hope. Don’t let the rich manipulate you. You and I are in this together – they are cushioned by their tax-free, offshore wealth.

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