Apparently the sensible decision of the House of Lords to exclude child benefit from the overall cap on benefits is an "insult to every working family" - the worst of it being that, in the debate a bishop referred to the Bible (!)
The Tories are however doing well in securing popular support for a policy calculated to create misery for some amongst a demonised and unpopular minority (benefit claimants). 76% - including 69% of Labour voters - back a policy which sets out to drive thousands more children into poverty and force families from their homes.
With Labour falling behind in the opinion polls, the timidity on the part of the Opposition Front Bench that has given the Tories a free hand to take on the supposedly "workshy" will probably only get worse.
Dave Osler makes the case simply, that there is no justification for a benefit cap set at any level (http://www.davidosler.com/2012/01/welfare-reform-bill-why-wont-anybody-say-its-wrong-it-principle/#more-4000). The Labour leadership's capitulation to right wing populism on this issue is symptomatic of the weakness which could doom us to years of Tory Government.
UNISON members whose work brings them into contact with those who will be hammered by these vicious benefit cuts can see through the lies - and UNISON Conference had the clear-headedness to adopt a policy position which would serve Her Majesty's Opposition far better than their current equivocation (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=1002157).
The following text from last year's Conference motion, highlighting areas of particular concern to Conference in relation to benefit cuts, provides some of the information which we need to use to shift public opinion;
1) Women - The Fawcett Society figures show that benefits typically make up 1/5th of a woman's income compared to 1/10th for men. This would make benefit cuts particularly pertinent for many UNISON members - two thirds of whom are women, many have caring responsibilities and almost half of whom work part-time. The majority are low-paid. Taking the cap on housing benefit alone makes the effect on women clear as more than 1 million women currently claim this benefit;
2) Carers - Carers save the UK £87bn every year in services that otherwise would have to be picked up by the state - a cut in benefits for people who have often given up or reduced their paid work to care for others is counterproductive in both social and economic terms. Currently 3 in 5 people will end up caring for someone at some point in their working lives, with 2 million people moving in and out of caring every year. In a recent survey it was found that 1 in 3 carers do not want to wake up in the morning because of "dire financial circumstances";
3) Children - A cap on total benefits package will almost certainly add to child poverty figures by 2020 leading to higher public spending for future generations. Already the UK has one of the worst rates of child poverty in the industrialised world with nearly four million of our children living poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculates that child poverty costs around £25bn a year in terms of poor health, educational inequalities, social exclusion and worklessness;
4) Housing - The reforms to housing benefit, including caps on the benefit that claimants can receive, a shift to up-rating benefit in line with consumer prices index, instead of retail price index, and reducing the value of local housing allowance risks driving thousands of vulnerable people from their homes in areas where housing costs are high. The cuts will also mean higher rents for many low paid workers and the recently unemployed, who along with pensioner claimants, make up the majority of households claiming Local Housing Allowance (housing benefit for the private sector). The housing charity, Shelter has warned that if housing benefit support is taken away, this will push many households over the edge, triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness;
5) Disability - conference has many grave concerns about the government's plans to reform Disability Living allowance into a 'Personal Independence Payment' (PIP) and cut the future budget by 20 per cent by 2013/14. Over 3 million people currently receive DLA (1.8 are people of working age) with the total amount spent on the benefit this year forecast to be £12 billion. Just some of the concerns about the proposals are:
a) extra conditionality and the doubling of the eligibility lead in time before someone is able to claim DLA will result in an increase in disability related poverty for many disabled people;
b) there will no longer be automatic qualification for certain conditions and the proposed approach to assessments, necessitating regular face to face meetings, is problematic as it fails to recognise that society is still largely inaccessible to disabled people, including those with less complex impairments and barriers;
c) the proposal intends to withdraw the mobility aspect of DLA funding if an individual is in hospital or a residential home 28 days, 84 days for children; the right to control independence and offset the institutionalisation of disabled adults and children will become even more critical and place additional, unnecessary strain on both health and social care workforces.
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