By Sandra Webster
In the last week, when most of the media were caught up in the froth of the latest chapter in the soap opera which is the royal family, news of the impact of benefit cuts managed to fight their way to prominence.
These are the stories that matter and which touch the lives of many. The benefit cuts were the first of the Tories’ so-called reforms. The aim was to introduce Universal Credit – indeed it was expected by now that the whole system would have been rolled out across the UK.
Instead it was announced that its flagship reform will only be introduced in London and some other pilot areas. Although this offers some short term relief, especially to those with disabilities, many people have found that they are among the first affected.
Despite widespread condemnation of the Bedroom Tax, the Tories seem determined to carry on regardless. The TUC recently published an impact report from councils all over the UK. Scottish authorities were among the greatest affected with four in the “top ten”.
Clackmannanshire reported 67 per cent of their tenants had fallen into arrears while Dundee was close behind with 49 per cent. Usual rent arrears are less than 10 per cent but now they estimate that 31 per cent of social tenants are now in rent arrears.
This is having a huge impact on revenue and budgets for services are being severely restricted. Although some shortfalls are being met by Discretionary Housing Payments, what happens when they are no longer available?
Many people with disabilities and the organisations that represent them are relieved that the controversial new Personal Independence Payment or PIPs introduction has been held back.
This new payment will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Disabled people have been united in criticising the new assessments and criteria people have to meet in order to receive PIP. Despite the ConDems stating it is not a cut, the fact that it is estimated 20 per cent of people who receive DLA will not be eligible for PIP claims says otherwise.
Motability, a charity which helps disabled people to hire cars to help with mobility, expects thousands of their customers to be affected by the new mobility rule. The distance which one can walk unaided has been changed from 50 metres to 20. So many families and individuals rely on their Motability car for transport and many again will lose out.
More and more people are being forced into the appeal system to claim benefits. One especially nasty piece of legislation that was passed through recently deals with what happens when someone who is currently claiming DLA is reviewed as the result of someone claiming they are not entitled. Even if it was found to be a mistake or sheer vindictiveness, they will automatically have to apply for PIP.
The mind boggles at the thought of ATOS phoning the benefit fraud helpline. This is just the beginning and portents of what is to come.
Universal Credit, when it is eventually rolled out to all, will affect all of working age in receipt of benefits. We will have to watch the testing grounds of London and the other pilot areas.
We must keep an eye closer to home in West Dumbartonshire and North Lanarkshire which are included in the pilot. North Lanarkshire have recently stated that tenants owe them £2.5million in arrears due to the Bedroom Tax. They also called for tenants to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments.
This backs up SSP activists’ stories of many people not being aware of how to apply for one in many different area of Scotland.
It is already affecting vulnerable tenants who yet again will have to face the impact and challenges Universal Credit will have on them. Councils claim there will be no compulsory evictions if tenants “work with them” but give no definition of what that means.
Meanwhile, more and more tenants find themselves worrying about owing money and all because of this ConDem policy which claims to be fairer – but fairer to who?
Some think that the changes in dates for bringing in Universal Credit and other changes to existing benefits are signs that the machinery of cuts is failing but these cuts are at the heart of ConDem policy and will be pushed through at any cost. Indeed, the human cost will be high, causing misery and further despair to many.
Independence offers an opportunity to be free of the inhumane diktats that Westminster continues to spout. We need to grasp the opportunity for change.
Courtesy of The Scottish Socialist Voice