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Opinion: How families have survived the benefit cap is beyond me

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Opinion: How families have survived the benefit cap is beyond me

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments

Opinion: How families have survived the benefit cap is beyond me Opinion: How families have survived the benefit cap is beyond me

By Neil Goodrich, performance analyst at Orbit, writing in a personal capacity…

Working in housing can some times feel as rewarding as head-butting a rather unforgiving wall. The circular nature of policy announcements can be as perplexing as it is incomprehensible. This week has perfectly summed up how relentlessly negative parts of working in housing can be. The blue half of the Coalition Government lining up to give a financial kicking to those it deems unworthy of financial support. The yellow half still unsure what to do or how to position itself, presumably they are pre-occupied by having to look at alternative forms of employment post 2015. As for Labour, well, Ed Miliband, need I say more?

Last year George ‘nobody likes me’ Osborne tested the waters over reducing the benefit cap whilst earlier this year the Tories put feelers out over cutting access to housing benefit to the under 25s.

This week Policy Exchange, a think tank closely aligned to the Conservatives, has again called for a reduction in the benefit cap. I have (unintentionally) experienced what it has been like to try and live in a household surviving on circa £26,000 per annum.

Living a modest life (no wild parties, cocaine and hoes for me) running a car on finance and a two bed house with two dogs is hardly excessive. Yet at the time me and my girlfriend had sod all money at the end of the month. How families have survived the cap at the current level, and with child dependants is beyond me.

Reducing the cap to £23,400, whilst admittedly higher than the originally mooted figure of £18,000, will serve to drive already struggling families even further into poverty (and perversely into an even greater state of dependence). The notion of cutting housing benefit to the under-25s is so arbitrary, so grotesque and so skewed from real life (not everyone can rely on family and friends) that I feel disgusted giving it even some credibility by talking about it. It has had only a smattering of airing since first being suggested but still, back to the drawing-board Tory HQ.

I get the political motivation behind these moves. It plays very well with the Tory bread and butter support, pushes Labour into a sticky situation on how it would approach the issue and the Blue brigade get to look tough on benefit ‘scoundrels’. Apparently looking tough is a good thing in politics, they should get out more methinks. It is a move that is largely doomed to fail as it doesn’t address the fundamental issues driving up HB payments i.e. the lack of genuinely affordable housing (well housing full stop) and the rising cost of living. It will simply punish the poor unfortunate sods who fall foul of yet another moving of the goal posts.

Most frustratingly, as the cost of living and house prices continue to outstrip wage growth more and more are having to rely on housing benefit to make ends meet. The powers that be still don’t seem to understand the nature of the problem at hand or what needs to be done to resolve it. Of course it is a lot easier to further marginalise a minority with little political clout than address the systemic failings of our housing system. Investing in desperately needed social housing (at levels that will actually yield positive results) seems to be a pipe dream at the moment.

And just as help to buy and right to buy have served to ratchet up housing demand without facilitating increased supply, withdrawing state assistance to the poor will serve to magnify their dire situation. Housing costs, and housing benefit payments will continue to rise until the housing market’s flaws are resolved. Period. No amount of redefining eligibility for housing benefit assistance will change that. As Shelter’s tweet earlier this week neatly sums up, the increase housing costs facing you, I and t’others is getting ridiculous.

The Government will point to recent employment figures as proof that things are improving. Yes there may be more people in work than seen for many years but the security, pay and nature of the work out there is debatable. On this I can only really speak from personal experience. But despite having both a 1st Class Degree (OK it is only in Social Policy and Sociology) and Masters (in Housing Policy and Practice) I have only ever had jobs on fixed term contracts. My lady-friend has been through two spells of unemployment and I have mates who are still on the rock ‘n’ roll. Regardless of the official figures it ain’t easy job-wise at the moment for us young’ns.

I find it utterly bizarre that politicians constantly look to implement policies that treat symptoms and not causes of problems (perhaps I am a tad naive). And I hope the announcements mentioned above are merely political posturing in the run up to next year’s election. Alas I cannot help but feel they have a distinct possibility of becoming reality. Both moves would mean further hardship, but this government seems to be able to cast a blind eye of such realities in the name of ‘progress’ being made elsewhere in the economy and gains at the ballot box. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. You judge a civilised society by how it treats its most vulnerable and in need. On this measure we are failing miserably.

You can follow Neil on Twitter: @ngoodrich87 and view the rest of his blogs at https://ngblog2013.wordpress.com.

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