Spare rooms are a luxury we can’t afford, according to Lord Freud. He is concerned the housing benefit bill is out of control. Only that isn’t how all of housing benefit works. Not at all. For Local Housing Allownce, private tenants, you get evaluated on the size of your family. Rachel and I were one adult and one dependent. When(and IF) you find a property, you don’t expect housing benefit to cover the whole property. You didn’t when housing benefit was supposed to pay for the bottom 50% rents in your area, the reality was that it went nowhere near. That is worse now it is only the bottom 30%. So just say you have a house where the rent is £500pcm, full housing benefit would only go up to a a maximum of say £420(I havent claimed since the drop in centile, so am not sure how much it would be now).  Rates are available for your area.

Then they evaluate what you need. How many kids you have. How old they are, what gender. Do they need a bedroom? They look at the house,  you get housing benefit according to how much of that house you need. I had a 3 bedroom house. I was entitled to the use of 2 bedrooms. So from the housing benefit allowance they deducted the equivalent of 1 room. Shelter estimated that the shortfall between rent and housing benefit was about £100 per month per claim BEFORE the housing benefit reforms came into The deficit would be much smaller for social housing tenants, a situation now being rectified.

 

They  look at your income, you are not allowed to be better off than the minimum the law says you need to live on, so you never have more than someone on say ..income support. No matter how much you earn, it is deducted and eventually it stops. That’s about £130 per week for a parent with a child to live on. Plus child benefit of £20 per week. But they are not allowed to recognise the shortfall between your rent and your housing benefit, so they assume it isn’t there even though they know it is. So out of that £130 per week, you need to find the shortfall between your housing benefit and your rent, before you even start. Before any other bills or costs.

 

In London you have to be earning a LOT of money before you don’t need housing benefit especially if you are paying childcare(and this is why SO many single parents claim housing benefit). They look at how much you earn after childcare, but the rest of the costs of going to work are not recognised.. My friend Molly used to commute from Surrey to London to work full time, was paid a decent wage, because of the cost of childcare needed £900 per month in housing benefit. You try to keep working, but you slip further and further into debt.  This year thousands upon thousands of women have been pushed out of work by existing housing benefit reforms and cuts to childcare allowances in tax credits. Molly was pushed right out of work, and has since repeated the experience a couple of times. Motherhood doesn’t really bring about many jobs that pay so much much more than the national average salary.

 

It takes time to live at a deficit, everything takes longer. You need hours available to deal with debt collectors, time to go that extra mile to save those extra few pennys. To cook, to shop cleverly. Stop treating cooking as a means of consumption and start treating it as a means of production, a way to make a little money go a long long way.  That takes time you don’t have when you leave the house at 7am and don’t get home till 6pm and you are too knackered to scratch your arse.Raising an entertaining a child takes time and money and energy. You need at least one out of the three. You need to be able to ensure that you are taking nothing out of the household budget that shouldn’t be taken, so that your child has their needs met. It is the kind of tired that doesn’t stop.

 

Housing benefit claimants understand the deficit better than politicians, because when you are already working and you cant reduce it, and know it will not reduce for years, you learn how to manage one and live. They know evaluating the difference between want and need is a matter of basic economic sense, they know which sources of growth you have to make sure are maintained and which can be let slide.

 

You become less able to afford the luxury of working, and because you only ever worked to keep yourself sane, you eventually stop. The conditions for claiming housing benefit, whether you work or not are horrendous. Maintaining a housing benefit claim if you are self employed(for instance) and your earnings vary, mean a claim that opens and shuts constantly. Every change in circumstances, a form. Each time, an interview, a thick claim form requiring 10-15 bits of evidence, and at least one home visit. They want to know everything, and while some council staff are wonderful, others appear to believe the fact you don’t earn enough not to need state support makes you scum. My stepson(still married to his dad legally) lived with us for a while. He was 21 at the time, and the housing benefit officer looked at me, and looked at him, and told me the neighbours must find it very odd. Then asked if I was sure he had his own bedroom.

 

Because when you were the person who made sure someone did their homework, went to school, and was fed, you end up sleeping with them….That particular local government employee won’t have made that mistake again in a hurry and bizarrely enough my housing benefit went up, because the empty bedroom was now in use by an adult non dependent. .It turns out he did have the right to ask how many nights a week my boyfriend stayed over, and was within his rights to warn me I could be taken to court for lying about it.
Lord Freud is right. The housing benefit bill is out of control. Wages are low, and our housing market is fucked. The housing benefit bill subsidises employers, landlords and banks. In 2008 about 10% of the housing benefit bill was working people. It was never going to be able to cope with the level of inequality our richest 1% demand for efficiencies sake. By 2010, working families made up half of all housing benefit claimants. The majority of the rest, pensioners. Then carers, the ill, disabled. The unemployed less so, because less than £70 a week just isn;t enough to bridge the gap between a single room rent and real rent when you lose your job, if you are under 35.

 

When Lord Freud says ‘we can’t afford’ spare rooms, it isn’t ‘we’ who pays. And his governments social policy, appears to be as credible as their economic policy. Only Labour were fairly clear that they knew about the housing benefit bill, and were also going to target those caught up in it, regardless of the impact on our housing crisis.

 

Given the use of housing and welfare benefits as the weapon of choice used by our political parties, I would like an examination of why the bill is out of control. Why politicians are lying about it, when they are supposed to be the elected representatives of those caught up in it. I know our radical and not so radical politicos weren’t that interested when these reforms went through, but I think our mushrooming housing benefit bill raises an awful lot of questions. I would also like to talk about the impact of housing benefits cut on other budgets. I do not see how it is possible that driving people out of work, into welfare dependency, and into homelessness saves anyone any money and am guessing that deficit is not reducing. The majority of homes that are ‘overoccupied’ those of pensioners, or those with illnesses and disabilities. Lala land social policy, pitting pensioners against young families to compete for housing resources. Wonder how many spare rooms Lord Freud has?
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