Housing benefit claimants versus hard-working families, what does Grant Shapps want us to think?

Today the news is carrying a story about Newham Council who, for various reasons, are unable to provide housing for the tennants in their borough.

For anyone that doesn’t know, possibly the journalists reporting on it and their commissioning editors, this is how Housing Benefit works:

  • Claimants can claim up to the maximum housing benefit based on the local housing allowance.
  • Local housing allowance is supposed to reflect the current market rental rates.
  • A claimant’s housing allowance is based on the number of bedrooms they are entitled to, this is based on the number of people that live with them.
  • Children under the age of 10 are expected to share bedroom, regardless of sex, only when children reach 10 are they credited with privacy for a sibling of the opposite sex.  If they are same sex siblings they are expected to share a bedroom until they are 16.
  • Housing Benefit is a means tested benefit, as a claimant’s income increases the amount they are entitled to decreases.

And here is something that the housing minister Grant Shapps might like to consider:

  • Families on working tax credit can be eligible for housing benefit.

Here is Mr Shapps as quoted in The Guardian today;

 ”It can’t be right to have people on housing benefit living on streets which hard-working families cannot afford to live on.”

This quote suggests that Mr Shapps either doesn’t understand how Housing Benefit works and who is eligible to claim it or he is deliberately using divisive language to vilify claimants and reinforce the notion of benefit claimants as an undeserving, potentially fraudulent underclass profiting at the expense of the upstanding workforce of the country.

I’ve written about this before, I doubt I need to point you at the usual suspects in terms of the press coverage that supports and reinforces this notion, but in Grant Shapps we can see an MP actually briefing against the people his department should seek to protect and represent.

Here are some other things Mr Shapps and his cronies in power might like to consider:

  • If there was more social housing owned by councils Housing Benefit monies would be paid back into the government coffers rather than into the deep pockets of landlords.  Think of it as economic recycling.
  • If Housing Benefit is supposed to reflect market rates but market rates increase as government caps Housing Benefit, you are reducing available housing stock.  Where are people to live?
  • As the government seeks to claw back taxes by reducing benefit payments, yet rents and living costs increase, where is the extra money to come from from the budgets of hard pressed families to come from?  For many there is no such thing as “disposable income”.
  • When the minimum wage is not a living wage, most “hard-working” families are also in receipt of some kind of “benefit”.  Go figure!
There is so much more that could be drawn out and discussed, but this is my point today: I’m sick of this rhetoric, this fiction that there are “hard-working” people and there are “benefit claimants”.
If our elected officials are breifing against the people and the media, both left and right, tabloid and broadsheet, repeat without question these briefings they are giving the divisive language and views expressed therein credence.  People may not believe everything they read in the papers, but given a long term drip, drip, drip language becomes powerful and “views” become “facts” in our minds.
Those below us on the social or economic scale become other, we loose sight of what we have in common and it is easier to belittle, to despise and to close our minds to our understanding and our hearts to our compassion.
Grant Shapps, I’ve no idea what you are like as a person, but your quote on this matter suggests to me that you are either without knowledge or without compassion, neither are things I’d like to see missing in a Member of Parliament.

5 Responses to Housing benefit claimants versus hard-working families, what does Grant Shapps want us to think?

  1. ThinkingFox April 24, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    Great post!

    For the avoidance of doubt…

    1. Children are only considered to live with you if you are in receipt of child benefit for that child, regardless of any court orders or arrangements with the other parent

    2. Local housing allowance, whilst supposed to reflect current rental prices frankly doesn’t. In my experience it seems to be at most 60% of the current rental rates, and bear in mind that this figure is based on the property that the council consider that you *should* be living in, not your actual property. This means that despite you living in a 3 bed house you can quite easily be assessed as “should be living in a 1 bed or studio flat” and your benefit calculated accordingly

    • Ruth April 24, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

      Thanks for clarifying those points. I wasn’t aware of the first point as that’s outside my own experience, so good to have those facts presented, its an important detail that I’m sure must affect many families.
      I didnt make the second point explicit for the sake of brevity, but it bears further explanation.

      Thanks for taking the time to read & comment, I hope you pass again Mr. Fox.

      • ThinkingFox April 24, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

        To elaborate on the 2nd point in context: if they think you should be living in a 1 bed flat and these rent for around 900 a month in your area, they’ll calculate your entitlement on 600 a month less any means testing… This can mean you get nothing. In my case we live in a 1,200 a month 3 bed house which was “assessed” at 400 a month… Taking into account “means testing”, also based on “technically having no children” as I don’t receive the child benefit, meant we got zero.

        I’ll try and pass this way more often ;-)

  2. bob greig April 25, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    Ruth a fab post and one that needs to be heard and understood.

    At OnlyMums and OnlyDads we are increasingly flooded with requests for help and support on housing matters:

    http://www.onlydads.org/expert_housing.html

    …offers a flavour of what is going on (at least with single parents and their children).

    I use the expression “housing crisis” – and as you highlight in your post, my feeling is the Government don’t really understand what is going on.

    Bob

    • Ruth April 25, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      I agree Bob, the government don’t really understand what is going on.
      But the cynic in me thinks they don’t want to understand what is going on because then they might have to admit they are a part of the problem.

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