In October 2013 the biggest change to the benefits system since 1945 will begin. The changes are profound. Over 1 million people will be affected in the first 6 months alone and by the time the new system is fully in place, in 2017, it will be relied on by as many as 6 million households – 19 million people.
The Government has announced that in order to promote fairness between those in work and those receiving benefits, from April 2013, benefit payments for individual households will be capped at around the average earned income after tax and National Insurance for working households.
It is estimated that the cap will be set at £500 a week for couple and lone parent households and at £350 a week for single adult households. Approximately 50,000 households stand to receive lower benefit payments as a result of the cap, subject to their circumstances and eligibility for transitional protection.
As a Labour councillor, I am opposed to these changes because they target the vulnerable and the disabled. The changes specifically caps the Housing Allowance element of a so-called “Universal Credit” which will drive up homelessness and cause inner London local authorities to procure temporary accommodation outside London in order to meet its statutory obligation. This policy flies in the face of the notion that “we are all in it together”.
Ed Miliband has now formally put Labour firmly against benefit caps and leading the fight to repeal the welfare changes. There has been some backpedalling from the government, and newly emerging details on the regulations of the Act suggest that the Government has been spooked by the opposition to its welfare reforms. However Iain Duncan Smith remains determined to push on and we need to keep the pressure on.
Stereotyping us all as scroungers flies in the face of the notion that we are all in this together. Should we pigeonhole widowed parents bringing up two children on a part-time wage supplemented by benefits, as scroungers? Or carers looking after relatives, or a profoundly disabled child, saving taxpayers thousands? We are a nation of people proud of helping neighbours in their time of need.
The majority of claimants are productive members of society, and of those who are on 100% benefits, a vast majority return back to work within six months. The Welfare Reform Act (WRA) proposes that we kick our fallen neighbours and relatives instead. The Coalition government is capitalising on the misinformed hatred of the few, fuelled by a stereotyped “scrounger” mentality, to drive forward their divisive, ideological attack on the vulnerable, to cleanse the “unwashed” from their midst, banished forever to the ghettos of our cities’ outer fringes. We oppose the WRA and demand it is scrapped forthwith.
Meric Apak is a Labour councillor and housing committee chair in the London Borough of Camden. Sign Meric’s e-petition against welfare reform here.