Category: Housing

Meet Helena McAleer: a humane, thoroughly decent private landord who cares about her tenants

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Five days ago, I wrote an article about why private landlords are calling for a ‘major overhaul’ of universal credit. I discussed why some are refusing to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants. Mortgage lenders often refuse to give mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants who claim welfare support. Universal credit has created further concern because of the larger shortfall in rent allowance and rent price, and the new policy is leaving large numbers of tenants struggling with hefty arrears in part because of the long wait for the claims to be processed, too. 

I also talked about Helena McAleer, a private landlord who was reduced to tears after NatWest said she had breached her mortgage terms by letting her two-bedroom property in Belfast to a tenant in receipt of support from the state. The tenant is an older woman, who suffers from mental health problems and would struggle with the moving process, Helena explained.

She was given the cruel ultimatum of making her tenant homeless or footing a £2,500 bill to leave the NatWest deal, after asking for a further advance from the lender. 

She told Mortgage Solutions: “I was angry at the fact that another human being could ask me to kick out another human being.

“It was very black and white…  they don’t think about that person, you’re just an anonymised piece of data… that’s what hurt me, that’s not fair.”

She added: “[The tenant] is a vulnerable older lady, she has mental health issues; I’m not putting her out on the street.”

The marketing innovation manager remortgaged to NatWest in January through broker Habito, providing information about her tenant’s situation to the digital adviser.

But when Helena approached NatWest about taking money out of the property to buy in London in September, the lender said it had not been disclosed that the tenant was in receipt of government support.

She refused to remove the tenant and asked NatWest to reconsider.

The tenant has been in place since 2016 and is set to stay for the foreseeable future.

Helena has been in touch to tell me about her petition, which calls on the government to stop banks discriminating against welfare recipients.

She says “Some banks refuse mortgages to buy to let landlords who let to welfare recipients. My bank instructed me to “seek an alternative tenant” if I wished to keep my mortgage because my tenant was a welfare recipient.

“The government must close these loopholes, as they are a breach of basic human rights.

“A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (welfare recipients).”

This isn’t only because landlords are discriminatory, many banks prohibit landlords from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. Welfare recipients are not 2nd class citizens they deserve access to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes as is their Human Right.

Helena goes on to say in her Facebook post: “You may not know this but I have a buy-to-let mortgage with NatWest and on the 27th September they asked me to “seek an alternative tenant” simply because my tenant is in recipient of “Social Security/Government benefits” or my other option is to find a new mortgage elsewhere and pay a £2500 penalty for moving.

“I was beyond disgusted by the statement. Actually more than that I cried my eyes out for hours, how could a bank, a person at a bank make the decision that I had to kick someone out of their home simply because of their circumstances, because fundamentally that’s what they are asking me to do.

“She has been an extremely reliable tenant for over 2.5 years and I have only had the NatWest mortgage for 6 months. They initially didn’t question the fact that the rent money was coming into my account from the NIHE (Northern Ireland Housing Executive), when questioned on this they said it wasn’t their job to check where the money was coming from only that i was receiving it. So as far as I am concerned they failed to do their due diligence and neither I nor my tenant should suffer because of this. They stated “the mortgage should not have been agreed by our underwriters if NatWest were aware the payments were coming from DSS.”

“Everyone here knows me, you know there’s no way I’d ever ever make someone homeless, so I am currently in the process of moving my mortgage to a more ethical provider and leaving Natwest, I mean moving my current account savings accounts the whole shebang. And knowing me, you’ll know that I won’t stop there, I will always fight to the end for something I believe to be right.

“However, what I have since discovered since this began, is that this policy is symptomatic of discrimination across the entire buy-to-let banking system. “A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (benefit recipients). A further 18% preferred not to let to them.” But this isn’t because landlords are necessarily discriminatory, that’s not the real story, this is because banks prohibit many landlords like myself from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. These people are not second class citizens they deserve the opportunity to live to the same standards as the rest of society.

“The facts are, that there are more than one million families in the UK waiting on the government to provide social housing. This could be alleviated by landlords being allowed to let to these families. According to Shelter, eight million people are only one paycheck away from being unable to pay for their home. This issue could affect us all, not just those currently receiving social benefits.

“In the last few weeks, I have spoken with several charities who have pledged their support, including Shelter who are supporting from a legal perspective, the battle isn’t over yet, so watch this space. I have spoken with the Labour Minister for housings’ office who is speaking directly with Natwest. The story has been published in the press and i’ve started this petition. I’ve been busy .

“So this is why I now need your help, I created this petition to get the government to put legislation in place that would prevent banks, even banks owned by the state, that’s you and me, from discriminating against people on benefits fundamentally denying them their basic human right to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes.

“To make this a success I need the support of as many people as possible, I need you to sign and share this petition as far and wide as possible to get the government to take action We need 100,000 signatures (that’s doable) to have this debated in parliament.

“Please sign the petition and share on Facebook, twitter and any other social platforms you happen to be on.

“We have a real opportunity to make a difference to so many people’s lives. We are lucky to live in a world where determined individuals can make an impact on the world in ways that might not have been possible before.

“If anyone has any contacts who would like to know more information to help me spread this story further, please get in touch.”

Please sign the petition and share this widely. 

Thanks.

Thank you Helena for your hard work. And for caring.

Some further information

Shelter has a guide on ‘convincing’ a landlord to rent to you. It says local councils may keep lists of private landlords who accept tenants on housing benefit, and that some websites such as SpareRoom allow you to select a “DSS OK” filter. There is also a website called Dssmove that connects tenants with agents and landlords “that say yes to DSS”.

Smartmove can also help tenants make a claim for housing benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments.

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on this issue. 

 

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Related

Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

 


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Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

A 2011 survey found the most common reasons for landlords to refuse tenants were antisocial behaviour, unpaid rent and damage.

Earlier this year, research by Heriot-Watt University highlighted that England has a backlog of 3.91 million homes, meaning 340,000 new homes need to be built each year until 2031. This figure is significantly higher than the government’s current target of 300,000 homes annually. 

The findings comes as rough sleeping has risen by 169 per cent since 2010, while the number of households in temporary accommodation is on track to reach 100,000 by 2020 unless the government takes steps to deliver more private, intermediate and social housing. The annual Homelessness Monitor shows that 70 per cent of local authorities in England are struggling to find any stable housing for homeless people in their area, while a striking 89 per cent reported difficulties in finding private rented accommodation.

Affordability is a big issue in the private rented sector and a major hurdle to many prospective tenants. The way in which housing benefit is calculated for private tenants has changed drastically in the decade, due to the introduction of the Local Housing Allowance system, (LHA), the erosion of both housing benefit and council tax support and the continued government cuts the welfare system. These changes have made some landlords wary and reluctant to rent to tenants in receipt of benefits.

Most tenants receive significantly less housing benefit than they are expected to pay in rent. While there is some conditional support available for some tenants, in the form of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), landlords say they are concerned about what they see as an increased risk of rent defaults amongst tenants relying on benefit payments. DHP is a solution only for the short term. 

Evidence in England shows that increasing numbers of private landlords are not renting to Housing Benefit claimants. The National Landlords Association gave evidence to the House of Commons Works and Pensions Committee stating that “…in the last three years there has been a 50% drop in the number of landlords taking people who are on benefits. It is now down to only one fifth; 22% of our landlord members whom we surveyed say they have LHA tenants, and 52% of those surveyed said they would not look at taking on benefits tenants.”

There are also significant worries that the impact of Universal Credit will make renting to people claiming housing benefit even less attractive to landlords. 

The Residential Landlord Association (RLA) have called for an urgent overhaul of how universal credit is paid, as more than half of landlords applied for the benefit to be paid to them instead of the tenant, which, on average, took more than two months to arrange.

David Smith, RLA policy director, said: “Our research shows clearly that further changes are urgently needed to universal credit. 

We welcome the constructive engagement we have had with the government over these issues but more work is needed to give landlords the confidence they need to rent to those on universal credit.

“The impact of the announcements from the autumn budget last year remain to be seen. However, we feel a major start would be to give tenants the right to choose to have payments paid directly to their landlord.”

As well as meaning claimants could get into debt, the system serves to dissuade private landlords from taking on universal credit tenants.

Last year, research carried out by Politics.co.uk revealed that private landlords across the country are refusing to rent out properties to people who claim Universal Credit. Sixty-nine per cent of estate agents contacted in areas where the new benefit has been rolled out said they had no landlords currently on their books who would accept Universal Credit claimants.

The head of policy at the National Landlords Association (NLA), Chris Norris said:

While the NLA supports the concepts behind Universal Credit, it is clearly divorced from the realities of many tenants’ lives. Problems with its implementation and caps to housing benefit mean that many landlords now view letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit or Universal Credit as high risk, because they simply do not have the confidence that rent will be paid to them on time.” 

I can’t help wondering precisely which ‘concepts behind Universal Credit’ the NLA actually supports, given the acknowledgement that it clearly isn’t meeting ‘many tenant’s’ needs.

Anti-discrimination legislation protects people from both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination occurs where a policy, which is not discriminatory in itself, if likely to impact disproportionately on people who are protected under the Equality Act.  Some people may argue that this type of policy could be seen as indirect discrimination if, for example, housing benefit claimants were predominantly female, disabled or predominantly from an ethnic minority group. However, this type of discriminatory practice can be legal if it can be reasonably justified.  

A landlord whose mortgage lender imposed certain conditions on him or her would be justified in adopting this practice, and some mortgage lenders already refuse to give mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants who claim welfare support..

Several major lenders have denied rumours that they are planning to refuse to offer mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants claiming universal credit. A survey of almost 3,000 landlords with universal credit claimants as tenants by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) in March and April 2017 showed 38 per cent experienced tenants going into rent arrears – up from 27 per cent in 2016. The average amount at the time owed in rent arrears by universal credit tenants to private sector landlords was £1,150, the RLA stated. 

However, now claimants owe on average almost £2,400 in rent payments, an increase of nearly 50 per cent on the previous year, where the figure was around £1,600, the RLA have said.. Almost two thirds of private landlords have seen tenants receiving universal creditfall into rent arrears, new research shows, amid growing concern the new benefit system is pushing people into poverty.

At the time of the survey those claiming Universal Credit faced at least a six-week wait before receiving their first payment, meaning they are already two months in rent arrears by the time of the first payment, the RLA stated.

Paul Shamplina, founder of eviction service Landlord Action, told FT Adviser: “The landlords we speak to on a daily basis through our advice line are increasingly concerned because for many, rent arrears could mean they fail to meet their own obligations to lenders.  

“Some lenders are even stipulating buy-to-let loans will not be available where tenants are ‘benefit dependent’ and so as a result, landlords are focusing on private tenants where they can achieve higher rents and the risk of arrears is less.

Many lenders do not lend to landlords with tenants who are welfare recipients, but a number of those that do said they had no plans to change their policies as a result of the switch to universal credit.

However, the State-backed lender NatWest told one of its private landlord customers to evict a vulnerable tenant because she was claiming housing benefits or pay up thousands of pounds in early repayment charges and find another lender. This was after digital broker Habito admitted incorrectly advising the customer. 

Helena McAleer was reduced to tears after NatWest said she had breached her mortgage terms by letting her two-bedroom property in Belfast to a tenant in receipt of support from the state. The tenant is an older woman, who suffers from mental health problems and would struggle with the moving process, according to McAleer.

McAleer was given the harsh ultimatum of making her tenant homeless or footing a £2,500 bill to leave the NatWest deal, after asking for a further advance from the lender.

She told Mortgage Solutions: “I was angry at the fact that another human being could ask me to kick out another human being.

“It was very black and white…  they don’t think about that person, you’re just an anonymised piece of data… that’s what hurt me, that’s not fair.”

She added: “[The tenant] is a vulnerable older lady, she has mental health issues; I’m not putting her out on the street.”

The marketing innovation manager remortgaged to NatWest in January through broker Habito, providing information about her tenant’s situation to the digital adviser.

But when she approached NatWest about taking money out of the property to buy in London in September, the lender said it had not been disclosed that the tenant was in receipt of government support.

McAleer refused to remove the tenant and asked NatWest to reconsider.

The tenant has been in place since 2016 and is set to stay for the foreseeable future.

McAleer said: “I have no doubt the tenant will be there for many years which, as a landlord, is great to know.

“Long-term security and payments, I couldn’t ask for a better tenant.”

But NatWest said it would not change its position.

A spokeswoman for the lender said: “The bank has specific lending criteria and is not able to offer mortgages in certain circumstances, including where the applicant or broker has advised they want to let the accommodation to Department of Social Security tenants.

“There are specialist providers who are better suited for customers in this circumstance.”

Habito admitted that it should not have advised McAleer to take out a deal with NatWest.

The digital broker is to pay any early repayment charges, as well as additional costs including new mortgage fees and charges.

A spokeswoman for Habito said: “We are aware of this issue and have been working with Ms McAleer to resolve it.

“We fully acknowledge that the buy-to-let mortgage product we initially advised her on was not appropriate, in light of Natwest’s policy on DSS tenants.

[It’s clear this policy has been in place some time, as the ‘DSS’ is no more, and was replaced with the DWP some years back.]

“With that, however, we are currently advising Ms McAleer on a remortgage and we will be bearing all the costs associated with it.

“Ms McAleer will not be financially impacted by this, nor will she need to make any changes relating to her current tenants.

“Great customer service is of the utmost importance to us at Habito and we look forward to resolving this matter swiftly and to Ms McAleer’s complete satisfaction.”

Lenders with outdated acronyms and outdated attitudes

If you check out the rental listings on websites such as Rightmove, or browse the window of your local lettings agent, you will often see “No DSS”. It means the landlord or agent won’t rent a property to someone on housing benefit or local housing allowance, though some younger readers might not even know what “DSS” stands for (it’s Department of Social Security, and was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions 16 years ago).

 A number of brokers told Mortgage Solutions it is difficult to find deals for landlords with tenants on benefits. 

Too many lenders have “draconian criteria” based on ‘particular views’ of tenants on benefits, according to Steve Olejnik, managing director of Mortgages for Business.

He said: “It’s a very outdated view of the type of property that attracts people on benefits… that they’re not going to look after the property properly and therefore going to potentially damage the security.

“I just think it’s wrong.”

Whether a tenant is claiming benefits shouldn’t affect the risk of the mortgage, so in theory there is no reason why banks or building societies will not lend, Olejnik added.

He said: “Lenders are underwriting the landlord. A decision to lend should be based on the borrower’s credit profile and ability to pay along with the quality of the security provided.

“It is irrelevant whether the tenant is in receipt of benefits and should not add any bearing to the risk decision.”

Olejnik has called for legislation to stop lenders discriminating against tenants.

Simon Nunn, executive director of member services at the National Housing Federation, said: “While there are still a handful of lenders that operate these kinds of outdated policies, the majority have abandoned these restrictions.

“Rightly, they recognise that banning tenants on housing benefit is both unfair and unenforceable, based on false assumptions and stigma attached to people who receive welfare support.

“We’d encourage all lenders to follow suit by scrapping these restrictions – there needs to be a step-change across the sector to get away from the view that tenants on housing benefit are unwelcome.

“This needs to be matched by renewed commitments from letting agents, insurers, landlords themselves and the government that they will not allow people on housing benefit to be excluded from the rental market.”

Shelter has a guide on convincing a landlord to rent to you. It says local councils may keep lists of private landlords who accept tenants on housing benefit, and that some websites such as SpareRoom allow you to select a “DSS OK” filter. There is also a website called Dssmove that connects tenants with agents and landlords “that say yes to DSS”.

Smartmove can also help tenants make a claim for housing benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments.

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on this issue. 

 


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Tory minister endorses making hostile environment for homeless people even more hostile

Kit Malthouse, the new housing minister, thinks that homeless people can be simply “incentivised” out of their homelessness.

The new Conservative Housing Minister has a very controversial record on homelessness, during his tenure at Westminster City Council – in that he wasn’t fond of there being any homeless people within Westminster and tried to clear them from the City. He once claimed that homeless people in the UK are “too comfortable” sleeping on the streets and suggested that “hosing them out of doorways” was the ‘right’ policy approach, it has been reported.

He’s not much of a housing enthusiast, evidently. Malthouse was previously elected to the London Assembly seat of West Central, and within days was also appointed by Boris Johnson as Deputy Mayor for Policing, a role in which he served for four years. In 2012 he was moved to become the first Deputy Mayor for Business and Enterprise, with a brief to improve employment figures in the capital.

Callous Christopher Laurie ‘Kit’ Malthouse, a former work and pensions minister, was appointed as Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by Theresa May, after Dominic Rabb was announced as the new Brexit Secretary in the wake of a rebellion and resignations over the Prime Minister’s approach to leaving the EU. 

Anyone hoping for a softer and more humane approach to Britain’s homelessness crisis are likely to be disappointed, because Malthouse has a shameless history of contempt and animosity towards homeless citizens.

As Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council, Malthouse was accused of being “ruthless” towards homeless people and rough sleepers, including supporting the idea of “hosing them out of doorways”, according to Mirror Online.

In April 2008 he boasted: “We certainly instituted a policy of making life – it sounds counterintuitive and cruel – more uncomfortable; that is absolutely right.”

He added: “One of the targets [I was] set was to [remove] more than halve the number in Westminster. 

“Working with a number of charities and groups across Westminster we analysed the problem, and one of the issues was that in many ways – it sounds counterintuitive – life was too comfortable on the street.

“I know that sounds an awful thing to say but let me finish the argument, OK?.”

It sounds a Conservative thing to say.  The Conservatives have approached the social problems that their own policies have created, such as increasing poverty and destitution – by blaming and punishing those affected by neoliberal policies. That approach isn’t ‘counterintuitive’, it’s brutal, callous and dishonest. This approach, dressed up in the language of nudge, is an attempt at propping up a failing system, and justifying Tory dogma. It’s a government that’s fond of meaningless management jargon and boardroom psychological woo woo. 

I have yet to hear of a homeless person who stopped being homeless because they were made to face even more ordeals. The idea that gratuitously punishing (euphemised as “incentivising”) poor and homeless people ‘out of’ poverty and homelessness is utterly barbaric . Punitive and hostile policies simply present people with further barriers to escaping dire circumstances and perpetuate the misery of poverty and homelessness. 

Malthouse continued: “There were, at the time, plenty, well-funded – we managed to get quite a lot of funding – night shelters and night centres; we managed to extract a cheque for £130,000 for St. Martin’s so it could stay open all night.

“The difficulty was getting rough sleepers into those centres so that they could be interacted with, their needs could be met.”

He has also been reported as saying: “The idea that everyone begging is down on their luck is a fantasy”, and claimed in the run up to the last General Election that people who are forced to visit foodbanks do so because they ‘cannot properly manage their finances.’

Malthouse, now MP for North West Hampshire, described the council’s campaign of “positive and negative incentives” as an attempt to reduce ‘begging’ in the area. 

After 27 homeless people were arrested by police in 2004, Malthouse argued that his “zero tolerance” approach to homelessness should be adopted by other local authorities.

Alexandra Morris, Managing Director of online letting agent MakeUrMove, said: “It is hugely disappointing that the housing brief is once again the poor relation. We’re staring down the barrel of a very real housing crisis.

“The Government needs to make housing a priority, and this starts with appointing an expert on housing with a firm commitment to the role.”

Malthouse was told to resign in 2016 as patron of the MS Society, the national charity that campaigns on issues surrounding multiple sclerosis, and was no longer seen as “suitable” for the position after he voted in favour of cuts to ESA that would see people with multiple sclerosis among hundreds of thousands of disabled people to lose critical allowances.

The charity Crisis was among those to take exception to Malthouse’s approach – called  Operation Loose Change – which was enacted by Westminster Council and the Met Police.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good. 

“The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people.”

It’s worth noting that according to TheyWorkForYou, Malthouse has voted:

  • Consistently for new High Speed Rail infrastructure (HS2) (2 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently for reducing funding to local governments (3 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Generally voted against increasing powers to local government (4 for – 11 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for phasing out secure tenancies for life (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions)
  • Consistently voted for charging a market rent to high earners renting a council home (5 for – 0 against – 0 abstentions).

Malthouse’s statement following his appointment at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: “I am delighted to be appointed as Minister of State for Housing.

“Building the homes this country needs is a top priority for this government. I am keen to build on the real progress that has been made and start working with the sector so we can deliver more homes, restore the dream of home ownership and build a housing market fit for the future.”

“I’m also committed to continuing the important work of supporting those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and ensuring people are safe, and feel safe in their homes.”

I can’t help but wonder, given his last paragraph, what “real progress” he is referring to.

Neoliberalism is based on competitive individualism. In such a competitive system it’s inevitable that there will be a few “winners” and many “losers”. That’s what “competition” means. It means no rewards for most people – inequality and poverty for the many, wealth for a few. It’s not possible to “work hard” to change this. Inequality is entrenched because of the system of governance and policy choices. Therefore it’s hardly fair or appropriate for a government to blame and punish people for the failings of their own imposed ideology – a political and economic mode of organisation – which most ordinary people did not intentionally choose.
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From the abstract to the concrete: urban design as a mechanism of behaviour change and social exclusion

Two very vulnerable homeless men left to die in sub-zero temperatures

Please don’t walk on by. We are better than this

 

 


My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. But you can help support my work on Politics and Insights if you like, by making a donation. This will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support and advice to others who are going through disability claims, assessments, mandatory reviews and appeals.

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A word of caution about Esther McVey’s ‘u-turn’ on housing benefit for young people

youth obligationThanks to Joe Halewood for the screenshot

A little background on the “Youth Obligation”.

Thenational living wage(which is actually an inadequate rise in the minimum wage) was one of the centrepieces of the Osborne budget back in 2015 – which does not apply to those people under 25. Osborne exhorted young people to “earn or learn” in a budget speech that also cut their entitlement to receiving benefits and student grants, prompting serious complaints that young people had been unfairly targeted.  

The policy to end automatic entitlement for the housing element of Universal Credit was announced by David Cameron and Osborne in 2014 and was introduced last April. Housing and homeless organisations warned last year that it will cause grave hardship and force cash-strapped councils to meet higher costs for emergency accommodation. The plans of a review, and potential for a government u-turn on the housing element payment for young people were actually announced last year.

The controversial policy has now been dropped to “reassure young people” they will “receive the help with housing costs that they need.”

McVey said: “The change I am announcing today means that young people on benefits will be assured that if they secure a tenancy, they will have support towards their housing costs in the normal way.”

Matt Hancock released details of ‘radical plans’ in August 2015 “to end long-term youth unemployment and decades of welfare dependency.” He “pledged that the cross-government Earn or Learn Taskforce he chairs will create a ‘no excuses’ culture to support youth employment. ” 

However, we know by now that ‘targeted support’ is a euphemism for draconian welfare conditionality and sanctions. Of course the Conservatives’ ideas were not original. They were imported from the neoliberal Tony Abbott led coalition government in Australia, who announced their ‘earn or learn’ programme back in 2014. Like our own Conservative government, the neoliberal Abbott administration framed welfare as a “trap”, claiming the existence of a ‘culture of dependency’, a radical New Right myth extended from the likes of Charles Murray, which has been thoroughly debunked over the last few decades.

To sustain an ideological commitment to ‘small state’ antiwelfarism, neoliberal welfare narratives are reduced to a language about creating ‘incentives’ and discipline as opposed the traditional established narratives that portray a safety net provision to support people in meeting their basic survival needs (food, fuel and shelter). 

The traditional justification for paying citizens social security in order to ensure they can meet their fundamental needs has been ludicrously turned on its head and presented as a ‘malfunction’ of welfare – apparently it ‘creates poverty’ instead of alleviating it – by neoliberals.

In addition, welfare dependency arguments are based on a number of false assumptions and prejudices, because of the ‘small state’ ideological commitments of neoliberals.  There is a long tradition, stretching back to the Poor Law Amendment act of the 1830s, of political capitalists trying to use welfare to ‘improve’ the poor. Conservatives and some of the economic liberals (as opposed to social liberals) tend to present ‘problems’ with welfare in a moralistic way – they say it systemises “perverse incentives”, or that it it rewards “immoral behaviour”. The goal of welfare reform from this perspective is therefore justified as being about paternalism: administering and imposing discipline, instilling the “right attitude” and coercing behavioural change, rather than alleviating absolute poverty.

The “Youth Obligation” is simply an extension of that approach.

Reservations’ have been expressed about the Youth Obligation’s mandatory requirement that young jobseekers apply for a training opportunity or work placement after six months of claiming support. 

The Youth Obligation programme, in areas where full universal credit is running, requires claimants aged between 18 and 21 to undergo ‘intensive job-support training, including work experience, skills workshops, mentoring, help with job applications and interviews, and training in maths, English and IT.’

Those young people still unemployed after six months are given compulsory vocational training and work experience in a sector with a high number of vacancies or encouraged to take up a traineeship.

The youth homelessness charity Centrepoint commissioned the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) to seek the views of vulnerable young people, as well as training providers and charitable organisations who work with them, to further explore the possible implications of the Youth Obligation for the most disadvantaged young people.

Young people surveyed, who had experience of unemployment and/or were living in supported accommodation, consistently stressed that they would only be encouraged to engage in a training opportunity or work placement if it was linked to their career aspirations, or if it did not present other barriers such as being too far to travel or not providing sufficient pay. If Jobcentre Plus were unable to provide access to high-quality opportunities they could see value in, many felt that they would simply disengage and stop claiming benefit.

Previous research has shown how homeless young people find it difficult to meet the conditionality terms of their benefit claim, and are disproportionately affected by benefit sanctions compared to the wider claimant population.

However, it is inexcusable that the state considers it is justified in withdrawing financial support that is meant to ensure people can meet their basic living requirements, if young people, living in a wide range of circumstances, cannot meet the inflexible, behaviourist conditionality requirements, including those of the work fare scheme.  

The ‘U-turn’ on housing costs for young people

 The UK government has announced today that it will amend social security regulations so that all 18 to 21-year-olds will be entitled to claim support for housing costs within the scope of Universal Credit provision. The announcement has been timed for the upcoming local elections in May.

The government says its ‘rethink’ is in line with their Homelessness Reduction aims, which comes into force next month, ‘reiterating its commitment to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027’.

Young people will also be given “comprehensive and intensive work-focussed support”, whether they are ‘learning’ or ‘earning’, as part of the ‘Youth Obligation’. Young people will need to sign up to this commitment to be eligible for housing support.

Work and Pensions Secretary of State, Esther McVey, said: “We want every young person to have the confidence to strive to fulfil their ambitions.

“For those young people who are vulnerable or face extra barriers, Universal Credit provides them with intensive, personalised support to move into employment, training or work experience; so no young person is left behind as they could be under the old benefits system.

“As we rollout Universal Credit, we have always been clear we will make any necessary changes along the way. This announcement today will reassure all young people that housing support is in place if they need it.”.

Denise Hatton, Chief Executive for YMCA England & Wales, said: “YMCA welcomes today’s announcement by the Government but we have long argued that the policy was flawed from the outlet and would not deliver what the Government said it would.

“Our 2015 research showed that scrapping housing benefit for young people wouldn’t drive them to ‘earn or learn’ as the majority would find it impossible to find training and employment without having a stable and safe home.

“By removing automatic entitlement to housing support, the Government took away a vital safety net from some of the country’s most vulnerable young people, who have no choice but to rely on it during their times of crisis and need.

“Reinstating housing benefit allows thousands of young people across the country to get the helping hand their need and support them to get their lives back on track.”

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “Labour welcomes this major U-turn and the fact that the Government have enacted another policy from our popular manifesto.

“However, housing support has been frozen until 2020 and young people still face major problems in finding affordable housing.

“The sight of young people sleeping on our streets has become all too common under this Conservative Government. Behind the homelessness figures, there are many young adults having to sofa surf or remain living with their parents.

“Labour will invest in genuinely affordable housing, regulate the private rented sector and ensure that all young people have a secure home.”

SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson Neil Gray said: “This major u turn from the Tories shows they have finally realised that penalising young people – as they had done until now – is simply callous and could only lead to a rise in homelessness for young people.

“Any change of policy in the shambolic and damaging roll out of UC is welcome – but we need to see detail from the DWP on what they mean by saying young people will need to sign up to a ‘youth obligation‘ before accessing this much-needed benefit – how that will work.

“We also need clarification on whether or not these changes will be linked in any way with sanctions. Our young people need support into work and into homes and not to be penalised as they start their life by having vital financial support removed from them.

“The SNP Scottish Government has always mitigated this callous policy and provided support to under 21s through the Scottish Welfare Fund, and the social security bill ensured this support would be in legislation – at an estimated cost of up to £6.5 million by 2020.

“It is shameful that it’s taken the UK Government till now before realising this policy was just wrong from the start.

“The Tories think they make any cuts in welfare and get away with it – £4bn in annual cuts to Scotland by the end of the decade. now they have u-turned on this, they can reverse all these cuts and realise people need a helping hand up not pushed into poverty.”

The other catch

As Joe Halewood scathingly points out, the amount of housing costs payable under Universal Credit to young people may be limited to the shared accommodation rate (SAR) for 18 – 21 year olds in private sector housing. There are limited exemptions from SAR, but some only apply to people of certain ages. The outcome of these changes to young people’s housing support is that the majority of single young people aged under 35 who are unable to work, looking for work or on a low income will be living in houses that have multiple occupation. 

Today’s announcement neglected to include the information regarding the reduced rate of housing benefit under the Local Housing Allowance rules. Social housing more generally is difficult to access, but young people are even more constrained. This is, in part due to  a decrease in the number of social housing completions. There is currently little political support for social housing from the government.

During the Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015, Osborne announced an intention to restrict the level of Housing Benefit, or the housing element of Universal Credit, claimed by tenants in social housing (council and housing association ‘stock’) to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. LHA rates currently apply to most Housing Benefit claimants living in the private rented sector and entitlement is related to household size. A delay in applying the LHA caps and an extension to all Universal Credit claimants was announced during the Autumn Statement 2016, after many charities and academics raised concerns regarding the likely negative impacts. 

Housing Benefit restrictions based on the size of the property occupied have applied to tenants in the private rented sector since 1989. However further changes to legislation were made in 2011, which restricted the number of rooms permitted per child under the age of 18 if they were same sex, and under 16 if they weren’t. Children under those ages are expected to share a bedroom. 

Theresa May dropped the plans to cap housing benefit for social housing and supported accommodation, which had been blamed for an 85% decline in new homes being built for vulnerable people last October.

The prime minister told MPs in the Commons that it would no longer roll out welfare changes that would have resulted in people living in sheltered accommodation having their housing benefit capped in line with private sector rents. The changes were set to save the Treasury £520m by 2020.

May said it was important to “ensure the funding model is right so all providers of supported housing are able to access funding effectively”.

Several schemes for new housing for vulnerable people have either been postponed, cancelled or face closure, a drop from 8,800 to just 1,350 homes, a survey for the National Housing Federation found last year . Uncertainty over the proposed changes to housing benefit have been blamed by many for the decline.

Critics said the LHA rates would have created a postcode lottery and had no relationship to the cost of providing specialist housing in supported accommodation, which include homes for war veterans, disabled people and women fleeing domestic violence.

The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said his party was “winning the arguments and making the running on government policy” but said it would look closely at the detail. 

Labour was due to call on the government to rule out cuts to supported housing during an opposition day debate, but following the climbdown, Healey said the prime minister now needed to commit to a system “which safeguards the long-term future and funding of supported housing”.

The Conservatives’ had originally planned the move to apply LHA rates to Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector, which would have meant that the SAR would also apply to council and housing association tenants under the age of 35 from April 2019 if they are in receipt of Universal Credit, or if their tenancy began or was renewed after April 2016 and they are not living in supported accommodation. (Source: House of Commons Library research briefing, 13 November 2017).

I can’t help but wonder what caveat Esther McVey was referring to in her dissembling use of the vague phrase “in the normal way”. 

‘Securing a tenancy’ isn’t an easy task for young people who need to on very low incomes. Young people tend to have low eligibility for social housing, with priority being given to families. There is a lack of social housing that is suitable for young people, also. Furthermore, The traditional presumption that younger people have recourse to the parental home has been challenged by the introduction of the ‘spare room subsidy’, which finacially penalises parents in social housing for keeping a room free in case their adult children may need to return.

The Conservatives have tended to place an emphasis on home ownership and the private sector in particular, for example: “We want to support the private rented sector to grow, to meet continuing demand for rented homes” (HM Government, 2011; Cameron, 2014).

It has always been the case, historically, that younger people are most strongly represented in the private rented sector,because this sector is the most readily accessible to this group.  A survey (Shelter, 2014) found that less than a quarter (23 per cent) of working adults aged 20-34 living in the parental home wanted to be there, and that the lack of affordable housing was the main stated reason for still living at home. At the same time, wider changes in the economy and labour market have made it harder for young people to enter, remain and progress in employment. 

Under the Localism Act, 2011, local authorities are now empowered to discharge their homelessness duty to households deemed statutorily homeless through the offer of a twelve-month private rented sector assured shorthold tenancy. Younger single
people, who as ‘non-priority’ cases have largely been excluded from social housing provision as a consequence of their perceived lower level of need, are now increasingly in competition for property with ‘priority’ households that have in the past been offered a social housing tenancy.

The failure to meet the housing needs of young people is predicated on a presumption that the parental home will always be available if affordable privately rented property is not available. However as I have stated, the bedroom tax prevents parents from keeping a room for their adult children, in the event of them returning home. The government has consistently failed to respond to the housing option constraints place on young people.

To date we have seen every indication that the implementation of Universal Credit is about cutting the level of support that people received under the old system, to the point where even some of its proponents have feared it has become too mean and inadequate to work for those it is meant to help.

Disabled people, for example, are set to lose the disability premiums under Universal Credit that are currently payable under the employment and support (ESA) benefit. The disability income guarantee is set to be abolished for new claimants who are disabled, and the cut will affect many of those who have a change of circumstances, too, such as moving to an area with full Universal Credit roll-out while they are still claiming ESA.

Crisis and other charities have campaigned against the SAR, saying that the modest single room rate would exclude people from housing and increase the risk of homelessness for people in the under-35 age group. (The definition of ‘young person’ was also changed by the government, from under 25  to under 35).

Charities were also concerned that there was not enough accommodation to cater for people under the age of 35 who would require rooms in shared accommodation. There were also concerns that people would be pushed into unsuitable housing or into sharing accommodation inappropriately.

In January, government statistics revealed it would not make the savings ministers had originally thought because most young people claiming housing costs fell within the exemptions that were published alongside the legislation. This indicates that young people claim housing costs because they need to, rather than just because of a ‘lifestyle choice,’ as the government had previously implied.

David Orr, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said: “It’s very good news the government are restoring housing benefit to 18-21 year olds.

“This benefit cut has been creating great confusion over whether young people were eligible for these vital funds. Housing associations have told us that as a result they have seen more young, vulnerable people sleeping rough, or forced to depend on unscrupulous private landlords and dangerous accommodation. This was a policy that made no sense and today’s decision is a positive sign they are listening on welfare reform.”

It’s only taken the government five years and immense amounts of pressure from the opposition, charities and academics to see the damage and harm that these policies are causing. The small concession has just restored provision for young citizens to meet a basic survival need, which should never have been removed in the first place, in a wealthy, so-called civilised society.

However, any support provided under Universal Credit is precarious, and constantly under threat from the extended, draconian sanction regime, which includes punitive financial penalties and the withdrawal of lifeline support to people in work but on low pay or working part-time hours. Even if young people manage to navigate the series of ordeals built into the rigid and old school behaviourist conditionality of the Youth Obligation, there are further ordeals awaiting, even if they find work.

Young people are very likely to be low earners who require additional Universal Credit support to meet living costs, and because the ‘national living wage’ is paid only to those aged 25 and over, this simply adds to the problems experienced by this social group. The government welfare ‘reforms (a euphemism for cuts) were never about “making work pay”. They were about dismantling our social security system, a cut at a time.

Now the government have perhaps realised that those social groups that have been disproportionately targeted for affected by their austerity programme are actually comprised of voters too. The Conservatives are currently attempting to engage with young people to persuade them vote for them. 

There is still a long way to go before we may celebrate such a small concession on the part of a government that has demonstrated over and over just how much it despises our vital social security safety net. The same government that introduced the bedroom tax and two welfare caps, cuts to disabled people’s vital lifeline support and has presided over a deregulated job market offering increasingly insecure, poor quality and low paid employment for the past eight years, whilst steadily dismantling our essential social safety net.

Image result for housing benefit claim


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Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

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Theresa May’s ritualistic Tory chanting: “getting people’s lives back on track”

Earlier this month, Theresa May surprisingly unveiled a £40 million package designed to prevent homelessness by intervening to help individuals and families before they end up on the streets. It was claimed that the “shift” in government policy will move the focus away from dealing with the consequences of homelessness and place prevention “at the heart” of the Prime Minister’s approach. 

Writing in the Big Issue magazine – sold by homeless people – May said: “We know there is no single cause of homelessness and those at risk can often suffer from complex issues such as domestic abuse, addiction, mental health issues or redundancy.”

“So I believe it’s time we changed our approach. We can no longer focus on tackling the symptoms and immediate consequences of homelessness. We need to put prevention at the heart of a new approach.

“As a first step towards this change, I’m announcing a new £40 million package to both prevent and tackle the causes of homelessness. This will include £20 million for local authorities to pilot innovative initiatives to tackle the causes of homelessness – helping to find solutions for families and individuals before they reach crisis point.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that under David Cameron’s administration homelessness in England had risen by 54 per cent since 2010

This reflected the sixth consecutive annual rise, with households becoming homeless in London increasing to 17,530 (9 per cent) in the last year alone and 58,000 households across the whole of England.

That’s during six consecutive years of the Conservatives in Office, and six years of savage austerity measures that target the poorest citizens disproportionately, by coincidence.

Or by correlation.

There are a few causes that the prime minister seems to have overlooked, amidst the Conservative ritualistic chanting which reflects assumptions and prejudices about the “causal” factors of social problems and a narrative of individualism. It’s a curious fact that wealthy people also experience “complex issues” such as addiction, mental health problems and domestic abuse, but they don’t tend to experience homelessness and poverty as a result. 

The deregulated private sector and increasingly precarious tenancies

“This Government is therefore, very pleased to support Bob Blackman MP’s Private Members Bill, with its ambitious measures to help reduce homelessness.”

Blackman, the Conservative MP for Harrow East, said he welcomed the Government’s decision. He added: “Throughout my 24 years in local government prior to becoming an MP, I saw the devastation that can be caused by homelessness first hand, with too many people simply slipping through the net under the current arrangements.

“By backing this bill, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to an agenda of social justice and also shows that it is willing to listen. I look forward to working with Ministers going forward in order to bring about this important change in legislation.”

Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, welcomed the Government’s commitment but warned that unless “MPs [need to] offer their support at the bill’s second reading on Friday, this historic opportunity could easily be lost”.

Jon Sparkes, the charity’s chief executive, added: “This is a credible and much-needed piece of legislation which now has the backing of the Government, the opposition and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The cross-party consensus is there, and we hope that MPs from across the political spectrum will come together on October 28 to vote on the bill.

“Helping people to stay off the streets and rebuild their lives is about basic social justice – it’s the right thing to do – but it also makes good economic sense. New research from Crisis has revealed how preventing 40,000 people from becoming homelessness could save the public purse up to £370m a year, or just over £9,000 per year for every person helped. The logic is clear: preventing homelessness saves lives, but also reduces public costs.

“For 40 years we’ve had a system that fails too many homeless people and turns them away at their time of need. The Homelessness Reduction Bill could help put an end to that injustice once and for all. It is a major opportunity to improve the rights of people currently shut out of the system, whist continuing to protect families with children.”

Lord Porter, the chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents councils and had opposed an earlier draft of the Bill, said granting councils the ability to build homes would be a more effective step towards ending homelessness and the housing crisis in general.

“Councils want to end homelessness and are already doing everything they can within existing resources to prevent and tackle it. However, there is no silver bullet, and councils alone cannot tackle rising homelessness. The causes of homelessness are many and varied and range from financial to social,” he said.

“After having worked closely with Bob Blackman, we are confident that the new Bill, if it does go through Parliament, will be in a better place.

“However, it is clear that legislative change alone will not resolve homelessness. If we are all to succeed, then all new duties proposed in the Bill will need to be fully funded. Councils need powers to resume our role as a major builder of affordable homes.”

The shortage of housing and the impact of the Government’s welfare “reforms”

The 2013 annual State of the Nation report by the charities Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) revealed that the number sleeping rough had risen by six per cent in England this year, and by 13 per cent in London. There has been a 10 per cent increase in those housed temporarily, including a 14 per cent rise in the use of bed and breakfast accommodation.

Writing just a year after the highly controversial Welfare Reform Act was ushered through the legislative process on the back of Cameron’s claim to the “financial privilege” of the Commons , the report authors explicitly blamed the Government’s welfare cuts for compounding the problems caused by the high cost and shortage of housing as demand outstripped supply. The researchers found found that the cap on housing benefit made it more difficult to rent from a private landlord, especially in London, and claimed the controversial “bedroom tax” has caused a sharp rise in arrears for people in public housing, particularly in the Midlands and North.

A separate survey by Inside Housing magazine showed that councils and housing associations are increasingly resorting to the threat of eviction, as the loss of an adequate social security safety net is causing increasing hardship for social housing tenants. The reduction of council tax benefit for people who were previously exempt from paying council tax has also contributed significantly to experiences of material hardship, too. 

Ministers have emphatically denied that their reforms have contributed to the return of homelessness. However, homelessness has now risen in each of the five years since the Coalition was formed – after falling sharply in the previous six years, and has continued to rise throughout 2016.

The government’s welfare policies have emerged as the biggest single trigger for homelessness now the economy has allegedly recovered, and are likely to increase pressure on households for the next few years, with the new benefit cap increasing the strain, according to the independent research findings in the Homelessness Monitor 2015, the annual independent audit, published by Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The housing minister, Kris Hopkins, said the study’s claims were “misleading”. Local authorities had “a wide range of government-backed options available to help prevent homelessness and keep people off the streets,” he said.

“This government has increased spending to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, making over £500m available to local authorities and the voluntary sector,” he added.

It hasn’t worked. This is because, despite Theresa May’s claims, the government tends to simply address the effects and not the real causes of homelessness. Unless the government actually address the growing inequality, poverty and profound insecurity that their own policies have created, then homelessness and absolute poverty will continue to increase.

Hopkins added that the government had provided Crisis with nearly £14m in funding to help about 10,000 single homeless people find and sustain a home in the private rented sector.

Julia Unwin, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Homelessness can be catastrophic for those of us who experience it. If we are to prevent a deepening crisis, we must look to secure alternatives to home ownership for those who cannot afford to buy: longer-term, secure accommodation at prices that those on the lowest incomes can afford.”

The Homelessness Monitor study 2015 found:

  • Housing benefit caps and shortages of social housing has led to homeless families increasingly being placed in accommodation outside their local area, particularly in London. Out-of-area placements rose by 26% in 2013-14, and account for one in five of all placements.
  • Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax contributed to an 18% rise in repossession actions by social landlords in 2013-14, a trend expected to rise as arrears increase and temporary financial support shrink
  • Housing benefit cuts played a large part in the third of all cases of homelessness last year caused by landlords ending a private rental tenancy, and made it harder for those who lost their home to be rehoused.

The study says millions of people are experiencing “hidden homelessness”, including families forced by financial circumstances to live with other families in the same house, and people categorised as “sofa surfers” who sleep on friends’ floors or sofas because they have nowhere to live.

Official estimates of  the numbers of people sleeping rough in England in 2013 were 2,414 – up 37% since 2010. But the study’s estimates based on local data suggest that the true figure could be at least four times that.

The Department for Work and Pensions also announced last month that it was cutting funding for homeless hostels and supported housing for disabled people by reducing supported housing benefit rent payments for three years. The homelessness reduction bill in the current policy context is yet another example of how Conservatives don’t seem to manage coherent, joined up thinking. 

“The Government’s proposals will compromise the right for people with a learning disability to live independently, and must be reconsidered urgently,” Dan Scorer, head of policy at the learning disabilities charity Mencap, warned after the announcement.

Meanwhile Howard Sinclair, the chief executive of the homelessness charity St Mungo’s, said the cut would leave the homeless charity with £3 million a year less to spend on services. 

“The rent reduction will threaten the financial viability of some of our hostels and other supported housing schemes and offers no direct benefit to vulnerable tenants who mostly rely on housing benefit to cover their housing costs,” he said.

It’s just not good enough that the Government simply attempts to colonise progressive rhetoric, claiming they stand for social justice, when they very clearly don’t walk the talk.

Conservative neoliberal “small state” anti-welfare policies are increasing homelessness. The bedroom tax, council tax benefit reductions, housing benefit reductions, welfare caps, sanctions, the deregulation of private sector, the selling off and privatising of social housing stock have all contributed to the current crisis of homelessness.

It was particularly remarkable that May claimed the government are “doing the right thing for social justice” yet the Conservative policy framework is, by its very design, inevitably adding to the precariousness of the situations those people with the least financial security are in.

Someone should explain to the prime minister that “social justice” doesn’t generally entail formulating predatory policies that ensure the wealthy accumulate more wealth by dispossessing the poorest citizens of their public assets, civilised institutions and civilising practices gained through the post-war settlement.

Devolving responsibility for the housing crisis and lack of adequate social security provision to local authorities that are already strapped for cash because of government cuts, and with an ever-dwindling housing stock, won’t help to address growing inequality, or alleviate poverty and destitution.

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Related

From homes fit for heroes to the end of secure, lifelong social housing tenancies

Update

Let’s Pressurise MP’s To Attend the Vote On the ‘Once In a Lifetime Homelessness Bill’ – template letter to MPs, courtesy of the Dorset Eye


 

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Mother who faced bedroom tax eviction after son’s suicide found hanged with note to David Cameron

An inquest has heard that Frances McCormack, a 53-year-old school cook, had been hounded for bedroom tax payments since the tragic suicide of her 16-year-old son, Jack Allen, in 2013. A handwritten note, dated 10 days before her death, was found in her bedroom, part of which was addressed to David Cameron, outlining the hardships and distress that the Bedroom Tax was causing her.

Ms McCormack’s body was discovered by her close friend Natalie Richardson at her home in Maltby, near Rotherham.

An eviction notice was served on Ms McCormack the day before her body was discovered, the court heard.

Frances McCormack had been helping Rotherham Council with its suicide prevention work following the tragic suicides of an increasing number of local young people.

Her ex-husband Jimmy Allen said after the inquest: “She was a strong-willed woman and a good, loving mother. This was a totally unseen body blow to the family.”

Close friend Natalie Richardson told the Doncaster inquest: “Frances had spoken to me previously about the property.

“She wanted to buy into it, it was where the three boys were raised and where Jack took his last breaths, ate his last meal and spoke his last words.

“She was a very strong woman, very strong minded. I felt she was getting a lot better with herself. She had decided to go out a bit more, she had started going to the gym, she was very focused and always had something to do.

“She never gave me any kind of inkling and was strong for me when my partner passed away. She was my rock.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Our sympathies are with the family of Ms McCormack. This is a tragic and complex issue and it would be misleading to link it to one cause.”

The cause of Frances McCormack’s suicide was the distressing impact of a cruel and punitive policy that is intentionally designed to target our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Frances was already vulnerable because she was grieving her son. But she was also bravely supporting others, in her contributions to suicide prevention work. It must have been profoundly distressing to receive notice that she was to be forced out of her family home.

How many more suicides will it take before this souless, indifferent government recognise the all too often devastating consequences of their “reforms” and engage with citizens, honestly and openly investigating their accounts, and those of campaigners, academics and professionals? There is an established correlation between Conservative austerity cuts and an increase in suicides and deaths that demands urgent investigation.

Surely what is needed, instead of a wall of oppressive political denial, is a democratically accountable impact assessment of the Conservative’s draconian and ideologically-driven policies. Denying other people’s experiences of inflicted political cruelty is the hallmark of Despotism. It’s not the behaviour one would expect from an elected government in a first-world liberal democracy.

Recent research by Iain Duncan Smith’s own department showed 78% of bedroom tax victims were penniless by the month’s end and at least half had to turn down their heating.

The study report was released on December 17 – the very last day of parliament before the Christmas break.

The Labour Party have confirmed the report was received by the Department for Work and Pensions on December 8 and signed off completely for publication on December 11.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted it was standard practice for there to be a week’s delay between reports being received and published online.

But the shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith said: 

“The Tories are right to be ashamed about a report showing the Bedroom Tax is driving people deeper and deeper in to poverty.

“Iain Duncan Smith should show some decency, by being honest about the damage his hated policy is causing. Then listen to Labour’s calls to scrap the Bedroom Tax at once.”

The government released 36 ministerial statements – compared to three or four on an average day – in a mountain of information on the last day of Parliament before Christmas. Anyone would think the Conservatives want to avoid any democratic scrutiny or accountability.

Alison Garnham of the Child Poverty Action Group said:

“The DWP’s own evaluation finds the ‘bedroom tax’ is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families – the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy.

“This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas.”

Department for Work and Pensions sources maintain that the bedroom tax is “fair”, claiming that it was “wrong” that “taxpayers had to “subsidise” benefit claimants to live in houses that are “larger than they require.”

However, most benefit claimants have actually worked or are working in low paid jobs, and have therefore contributed to their own provision.

It would be far more reasonable, credible and valid to object to the “taxpayer” having to subsidise big businesses who are avoiding paying their taxes. The public are paying for a grotesquely greedy level of bonuses and multimillion figure salaries awarded to incompetent private sector CEOs. Only a quarter of government revenue comes from income tax, with much of the rest coming from national insurance and indirect taxes such as VAT, paid by the population as a whole, including by those people needing social security. But tax avoidance is widespread amongst much of the corporate and wealthy elite that benefits so much from state handouts. There’s a real “culture of entitlement” that the Conservatives happily endorse. And it is costing us far more than the welfare state, established for those in need, after the war.

In the Conservative benefit-cutting climate of austerity Britain, one of the wealthiest nations of the world, disability charities have reported that the despicable scapegoating “scrounger” rhetoric has provoked a significant surge in abuse and hate crime towards disabled people. But the behaviour of state-funded private contractors such as G4S and Atos must surely raise the question of who the “scroungers” really are.

In April 2014, Atos was forced to abandon their contract with the government because of a growing backlash, but not before they had syphoned off very large sums of public money. Meanwhile, sick and disabled people have had their support brutally slashed to the bone, people have died as a consequence of that. Yet our welfare state is being used as a sporting arena for big business profit-making, eating up public funds that were supposed to help people who have encountered difficulties meeting their basic needs through losing their job or becoming ill. Now there is a cause for public and political outrage.

The selling of our public services and lucrative contracting out of state functions to private companies who exchange public money for a notoriously poor service is a prominent feature of Tory “small state” Britain. Tax-funded corporate welfare has never been more generous. Another such woefully inept business is A4e, a welfare-to-work company dogged by controversy over poor performance and corruption. Former chairman Emma Harrison paid herself £8.6m in dividends, all courtesy of the taxpayer. In February 2014, four former A4e employees admitted committing acts of fraud and forgery after charging the state for working for clients that did not even exist.

The Conservative’s draconian policies, which they claim were intended to “solve” Britain’s housing crisis, have done nothing but actually make it worse. The Tories have overseen the withdrawal of the right to lifetime tenancies, introduced a dubious “help to buy” guarantee that further inflates housing costs and they have imposed an arbitrary benefits cap, applied indiscriminately whatever a family’s size or needs, which will see an exodus of poorer people, effectively bringing about a “social cleansing” of the capital and other major cities.

Few groups have suffered more than disabled people from this government’s five years in office. Though the human rights of women and children have also been violated by this government’s grinding and unrelentlessly discriminatory legislative machine.

I wrote earlier about the grave concerns regarding the impact of the next round of proposed housing benefit cuts on the most vulnerable social groups from within the housing sector. A specialist housing association has warned that people under the age of 35 in mental health accommodation face rent shortfalls of almost £200 a week under  government plans to cap housing benefit for social housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance rates. Financial modelling shows that at least 95 per cent of supported housing providers would be forced to evict their tenants if the government succeeds in slashing housing benefits.

Capping benefits at the level of Local Housing Allowance (LHA), the council-administered benefit for people in the private rented sector, would affect almost everyone in supported housing.

Every single Tory austerity measure targets the most vulnerable and those citizens with the very least to lose, and not “those with the broadest shoulders,” as Cameron claimed would be the case in 2010.

Charities, mental health professionals, campaigners and researchers have warned the government that austerity cuts are causing mental distress and are linked to rise in suicides.  Research published in September 2015 by Mind, the UK’s largest mental health charity, reported that for people with mental health problems, the Government’s flagship back-to-work scheme, the Work Programme, made their distress worse in 83 per cent of cases. 

A letter, published before the 2015 election, signed by 442 professionals ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists, stated:

“The past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, families forced to move against their wishes, and, perhaps most important, benefits claimants (including disabled and ill people) and those seeking work being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.”

Psychologists Against Austerity, an alliance of mental health professionals, formed with the aim of directly challenging the cuts and welfare changes that they said were adding to mental distress. The group produced a briefing paper that includes five “austerity ailments” that contribute to worsening mental distress and despair. These are: humiliation and shame, instability and insecurity, isolation and loneliness, being trapped or feeling powerless, and fear and distrust.

The government continue to deny any “causal link” between their draconian policies and an increase in suicide, refusing to carry out an investigation into the impacts of their callous legislative authoritarianism that not only treats our poorest and most vulnerable citizens with disgusting contempt, but also systematically and shamefully contravenes their human rights.

 

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Government housing benefit cuts will have “catastrophic impact” on the most vulnerable social groups

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John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing and Planning, has warned that housing providers could be forced to close accommodation for the most vulnerable because of housing benefit cuts.

Mr Healey responded to a recent survey released yesterday which reveals that 95 per cent of specialist housing providers could be forced to close accommodation for the most vulnerable because of housing benefit cuts. He said:

“Last month, we revealed that George Osborne’s cuts to housing benefit support for thousands of elderly, disabled and homeless people could mean that vital supported accommodation across the country could close.

This new survey confirms the catastrophic impact these cuts could have.

George Osborne must halt these dangerous plans, publish a full impact assessment and consult fully with housing providers to safeguard this essential housing for those who need it.”

Grave concerns regarding the impact of the proposed housing benefit cuts on the most vulnerable social groups have also arisen within the housing sector. A specialist housing association has warned that people under the age of 35 in mental health accommodation face rent shortfalls of almost £200 a week under  government plans to cap housing benefit for social housing tenants at Local Housing Allowance rates.

Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) have said that its fincancial modelling of the impact of capping housing benefit for social tenants, including supported housing tenants, at Local Housing Allowance rates revealed that 70% of all its homes would be unaffordable to under 35s under the plan, as they would only qualify for the “shared room rate” – the cost of renting a room within a house.

All its general needs housing in Brighton would become unaffordable to under-35s by between £12 and £32 per week. In its specialist supported housing, under-35s would face a shortfall of between £52.60 and £193.49 in 71 of 101 mental health units. There would also be shortfalls of up to £75 per week in specialist drug and alcohol units, homelessness hostels and young people’s accommodation.

Tenants older than 35 would also be unable to afford many of the homes, although the benefit gaps would be smaller.

BHT is a specialist housing association which provides for tenants with support needs, even in much of its general needs accommodation.

The association has warned that the government’s offer of additional Discretionary Housing Payments to plug the rent shortfalls would be insufficient.

The housing sector is urgently lobbying for an exemption for supported and sheltered housing from the LHA cap.