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The sheer brutality of the cuts must be made known

The stark Christmas being faced by hundreds of thousands of families across the north of England has been highlighted by a report this month from the Northern Housing Consortium. It shows that the proportion of households spending less than £20 a week on food has increased from a quarter to a third compared to a few months ago. It reveals that the number of people having no money left each week once bills have been paid is 51%, an increase from 39% in July.

But perhaps the most alarming and shameful fact of all is that the average spend on food per person per day is now £2.10, down from £3.27 the previous quarter. Such squeezed restrictions on access even to the most basic human needs, in a country which still has the sixth largest economy in the world, is a horrendous affront to any society that likes to believe it is civilised.

But the report goes further. The average level of debt per household is now £2,273, and the proportion of households having to make debt repayments of more than £40 a week has doubled since the middle of the year. It comes as no surprise that households are now spending a sixth more on gas and electricity, and a third of families now have council tax debt. Nor is it the case that they are not trying to get work. In looking for work or for more hours, they have made on average 40 applications in 3 months, but 70% didn’t even reach the interview stage.

How did they fall into a state of such abject impoverishment? There are several routes. In my own constituency for example a woman suffering from schizophrenia, agoraphobia and with quite difficult mobility problems was brought to the office very recently by a friend of hers. She lost her right to ESA because she allegedly failed to attend for an assessment in October (she said she never received the letter, a very common complaint) and also lost her DLA entitlement because she failed to renew in time (maybe her mental health condition played a part here).

There are other paths too that lead to destitution. One is benefit delays – when people apply for benefit they are often forced to wait weeks for a claim to go through, and if they are refused the delays become intolerable. Then there are ‘mandatory reconsiderations’: these were introduced earlier this year to try to prevent the huge backlog of appeals that were building up. Anyone who has a benefit refused or withdrawn for alleged ‘non-compliance’ is allowed a mandatory reconsideration whereby a caseworker looks again at the case.

But there is no time limit on how long this can take and the delays over weeks and months cause severe hardship. Worst of all, there are now at least 860,000 persons who have been ‘sanctioned’ – this means that they are penalised by loss of benefits for 4 weeks if they have been 5 minutes late for a job interview, or if they were in hospital and couldn’t attend a work programme (even though they had warned the DWP in advance about this) or if the letter had been sent to a previous address (though the DWP had been forewarned about the new address). This is not Zimbabwe, it is Tory Britain at Xmas 2013.


  1. Robert says:

    Only one party to blame the Tories no not the ones in now the other one you know Blair Brown and his gang, it’s mostly down to them and I doubt Miliband would be any different.

    What next we will all have to wear a sign of a wheelchair on our arms and attend work related camps no we already do that.

    believe me I’ve been hit hard with the mess which is ATOS and the DWP and I won my claim did not stop the DWP wrongly stopping my benefits, when I spoke to the labour party they said oh for god sake go and get a job.

    says it all really.

    Ms Reeves will be hammering down on if she wins what would that be gas chambers.

  2. David Calvert says:

    The only way to make sure this does not happen again is to make am example of the perpetrators look at this petition, it means a lot to me: via @38_degrees

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