“Vive la Revolution Republic” This week the French managed to bring their country to a standstill because their government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62!
It was a site to behold, our banner waving French neighbours marching (and rioting) from Paris to Leon. But I wonder how they view us here in the UK? As we sit sipping tea, silent, our blood boiling, as the new Lib-Con Coalition present a government spending review that will save 81 billion, but hurt the poorest 10 per cent.
As George Osborne announced the final departmental spending cuts on Wednesday , it was the sinister smiles from the ministers who manage those departments that give away the underlying agenda of the coalition, revealing that ideological change is firmly at the heart of these cuts and that getting the country back on-track was the justifiable smoke screen.
But not everyone’s blood is boiling, many view these cuts essential and are supported by 60 per cent of the populace, passing many of then by. Infact, the goverment expect a surge in opinion polls in their favour. So when it comes to revolution, I will not hold my breath.
Areas of concern for people living with HIV and far reaching and will affect: the most vulnerable and sick, the homeless, single people and mothers with small children.
CONTRIBUTION BASED ESA REMOVED AFTER ONE YEAR
The welfare budget received extra attention yesterday with 7 billion in cuts announced, bringing in an estimated 18 billion of savings by 2014/15. With those in receipt of housing benefit, disability payments and tax credits taking the brunt.
One of the most controversial announcements yesterday was with regard to the employment and support allowance (ESA) the new benefit for people who can’t work due to illness or disability.
Since October 2008, ESA has been phased in to replace incapacity benefit for new claimants. Existing claimants of incapacity benefit will be gradually moved over the ESA from February 2011.
There are two types of ESA. Contributory ESA is paid to people who satisfy the national insurance conditions. It is not means tested. Income-related ESA is paid if you pass the means test. It is for people who are on low income and incapable of work. You don’t have to satisfy NI conditions.
Those in the: support group category that are severely disabled or terminally ill will not be affected by the one year rule. However, those in the: work related activity group who need the support before they return to work, will loose their benefit after a year, even if they have not recovered and are in reciept of contribution based ESA.
This has prompted a back lash from charities. Deborah Jack, CEO of the National Aids Trust (NAT) has criticising the Chancellor’s decision to put a one year time limit on the length of time a person can claim ESA, pointing out that it is likely to be detrimental to those living with a disability, including people living with HIV. See the fornt page for Jack’s reaction to the cuts.
I can also reveal that where the Work Capability Assessments has been used to assess new benefits claimants with illness and disability as many, as 68 per cent have failed the assessment. However, 50 per cent have had a ESA granted after appeala, highlighting the poor standard of the assessments.
In another worrying development, those that are returned to job seekers allowance will loose 10 per cent of their housing benefit after one year, if they are still unemployed.
SHARED ROOM RATE TO BE EXTENDED 35 YEAR OLDS
The single room restriction on housing benefit that applies to the under 25 now, will be raised to 35 from April 2012. This will affect anyone living with HIV that is not in receipt of middle and high rates of DLA or living in social housing. Anyone that wants to live alone will have to share or make up the difference from their benefit.
In the emergency budget in June the Chancellor set a maximum local housing allowance. Meaning that there will be a cap on how much housing benefit you cam claim based on the size of your property and the area that you live in.
TAX CREDITS FROZEN
The tax credit freeze will have an impact on both families and single people that have returned to work and are on low incomes. Because there will be no inflationary rise in tax credits for this parliament, many will find that they are worse of a few years down the line.
We heard about the changes to changes to DLA in the emergency budget back in June when welfare cuts came in at 11 billion. However, I will recap anyway because I have learnt today from the Terrence Higgins Trust THT that the government have admitted that there are only 0.5 per cent of fraudulent DLA claims, but still seem committed to reaching their 20 per cent reduction in claimants, meaning that some people who should be entitled to the benefit will loose out because of targets.
SOCIAL HOUSING AT RISK FROM THE TORIES AGAIN!
The link between bad health and housing amongst people living with HIV is well documented. Many housing professionals have little understanding of the condition and remain unaware of the effect poor housing can have on the lives of those with HIV according to a joint study by NAT and Shelter in 2009.
Changes to social housing include:
- new tenants will be given a new type of council tenancy instead of the current secure tenancy.
- tenants’ circumstances will be assessed after a period of time to see if they still need subsidised housing.
- those whose financial circumstances have improved are likely to have to buy a home on the open market or rent from a private landlord (even if they can’t afford it).
The changes will not affect you if you are an existing tenant – it will only apply to people who are allocated a home after the legislation has been implemented.
The last 15 years have been complete disaster for social housing. It is true there have been more homes built, but what of the quality of those homes? Some housing associations have become debt heavy and were hit hard in the housing slump and many councils totally gave up and farmed out their housing stock to Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMO’s).
There has been no real vision or national plan for social housing, and it has been communities that have paid the price. However, housing associations have enough spare cash to borrow up to £2.7 billion, according to a new study by the Tenant Services Authority.
So why have the government waded in with sweeping reforms and massive cuts in the housing budget? Simple answer, they have no interest in the concept of social housing. Margret Thatcher gloriously demonstrated the fact back in the 80s, when she created a housing boom with the sale of council houses, pocketing the cash to-boot. Councils never recovered.
Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb said: “It is a huge blow to see that housing, one of the most basic needs for every single person in this country, is facing some of the biggest cuts. A succession of governments has failed to address our housing crisis and today’s announcements suggest the coalition has firmly joined them in denying responsibility for an entire generation’s ability to access decent, secure, affordable housing.”
The average rent for a three-bedroom council house is £85 a week (outside of London), but under the plans that could triple to £250 a week. The idea of asking tenants to pay for housing development is ludicrous, a concept in my opinion we should resist vigorously.
TOUGH TIMES AHEAD
So there you have it, a spending review that will have far reaching implications for many people living with HIV. For years now Cameron has created a mirage of a NEW Tory that listens and understands the needs of the most vulnerable in our society, a deception that unravelled yesterday, and one for the history books no doubt.
If Lady Thatcher was not in in hospital I am sure she would be patting David on the back and saying “Well done my boy, well done .” I doubt we will manage to replicate the French’s taste for disorderly or orderly behaviour, but I suspect that activists around the UK will be waiting for their moment to strike. “Vive la Revolution.”
To find out how the cuts will affect you go to www.tht.org.uk
To back shelters campaign for affordable housing go to www.shelter.org.uk