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Welfare reform: the ghettoes are coming

The enormity of the Welfare Reform Act is only just now sinking in and its impact on the vulnerable in our society will be profound. At a community meeting in my local area, it was pointed out to us that the DWP have already started sending threatening and uncompassionate letters to vulnerable people – some of whom are caring for their disabled children.

I accept that Universal Credit has its plusses, which means claimants will receive what they are entitled to under one “universal” system instead of having to work out which benefits to apply for. That’s where the plusses stop, because many thousands will fall through the gaping holes of what is meant to be a safety net to protect the vulnerable.

Stereotyping all benefit claimants as “scroungers” flies in the face of the notion that “we are all in this together”. Should we categorise a bereaved single parent trying to bring-up two children on a part-time wage, supplemented by benefits, as a scrounger? What about the carer looking after an elderly relative, or a profoundly disabled child – saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds?

The benefit cap is indiscriminate and aims to cut the housing element of the Universal Credit. In London, thousands will be forced out of the inner city. This will result in the social make up of our neighbourhoods to change for the worse, the rich diversity of our communities being lost forever. David Cameron is also on record attacking young people under 25, threatening that the next Conservative Government would take away housing benefit from them altogether.

The great Tory notion is that if anyone cannot afford to live in more “affluent” central areas they should move out. Interesting idea, but according to countless studies, a large proportion of the infrastructure support economy is sustained exactly by such people – move them out, and that economy collapses, because for them commuting to work in inner London, and indeed the centres of many our cities, will not be a viable option.

It is true that the housing benefit bill had gone out of control, ending up in the coffers of private landlords. However, the government is chucking out the baby with the bathwater by abolishing Housing Benefit altogether. Instead we need to bring in policies to control the private rental market which is artificially skewed in favour of private landlords instead of hard working residents.

We are a nation of people who take pride helping the vulnerable and the unfortunate in their time of need. A vast majority of people who are on partial benefits are productive members of society in one form or another, and of those who are on 100 per cent benefits, most return back to work within six months.

The Tory-led government is capitalising on the misinformed hatred of the few which is fuelled by a stereotyped “scrounger” mentality, simply to drive forward their divisive and ideological policy to cleanse the “unwashed” from their midst, banished forever to the ghettos beyond the outer fringes of our great cities.

The Welfare Reform Act makes the Poll Tax look like chicken feed. If you are opposed to it please sign my e-petition, and stand tall with those who are truly “all in this together”.

Meric Apak is a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Camden, and chair’s the borough’s housing and adult social care scrutiny committee. He blogs here, and tweets as @1Meric.

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