Monday, January 23, 2012
Why are Paddy and other Lib Dem Peers picking this Welfare Reform fight?
So, Liberal Democrat peers are preparing to stage a second major rebellion on the Welfare Reform Bill. The first, before Christmas, helped to defeat the Government's plans to cut Housing Benefit for those in houses with one spare bedroom.
Paddy told Sky News yesterday that he was intending to vote against the Government's plans to introduce a cap on the amount of benefits a family can receive of £26,000 in a year. Nick Clegg presented this yesterday as fair on the Andrew Marr programme. He said that it the system had to be seen to be fair to taxpayers, many of whom would find it hard to imagine that someone on benefits was given the same amount as anyone else earning £35,000.
Well, for a start, someone on benefits would have to have a pretty large family and live in a very expensive area to come close to getting the full £26,000 in benefits. What annoys me most about this is that Child Benefit, which the family earning £35,000 don't have to pay tax on, will be taken into account as income for benefit recipients. That to me is pretty regressive.
The tabloid press love to show examples of large families living in expensive houses getting a fortune in Housing Benefit. Well, what if you and your large family rent a house that suits your needs and then you lose your job. Now, you could be out of work for over a year in today's climate, no matter how hard you try. My husband couldn't have tried harder way back in 1994, and it still took him 10 months to find a job at half his previous salary. Bear in mind that if you're on Housing Benefit you don't automatically get all your rent paid. You only get a Local Housing Allowance based on average rents in the area, and you only get the amount for the size of property you are deemed to need up to a maximum of 4 bedrooms. The rates for Local Housing Allowance have already been cut by the Coalition. It used to be based on an average of the lowest 50% of rents and this has been reduced to 30%. We, the taxpayer, are not financing very many palaces, you can be sure of that.
Iain Duncan Smith says nobody will be made homeless by these changes. He is talking utter nonsense. He is not in a position to guarantee that. Is there really sufficient affordable housing for everyone who'll need it? Will market rents come down as the Government wants or will landlords just not bother renting to people on benefits. How often do you see "no DSS" on adverts for rented properties?
So, Paddy is right and our peers have good reasons for opposing this measure. I just find the whole thing a bit inconsistent, though. Why are they making a fuss about this and not on cuts to Employment and Support Allowance. 40 percent of people in the Work Related Activity Group will lose their benefit of £94 a week come April if their partners earn more than £7,748 a year after tax OR work for more than 24 hours a week. Explain to me why a cap at £26,000 is not justified while it's acceptable to take nearly £400 a month off a family on a low income?
I really, really don't get it. Not only have our peers voted in favour of time limiting ESA, against very recent party policy, but they haven't come forward to explain why and that annoys me, to be honest. At Conference, they should be closely questioned as to why they have made the choices they have. People I like, respect and trust voted in favour of these measures, but I really don't understand why.
The way it's looking the cap will be defeated in the Lords. I'd be surprised with any other outcome. This will no doubt spawn a whole load of scrounger stories in the Daily Fail, written by journalists who have probably never had to live on benefits, or had difficulty finding somewhere affordable to live.