Thursday, 7 June 2012

Sod calm, get angry

'Keep calm and carry on' was the commercial theme of the Jubilee referring to the Queen's grace and fortitude and a glance back to Britain in adversity during the second world war. I was struck that Prince Charles in his short speech after the concert on Monday evening referred to the difficult times that so many people in the UK are experiencing. The Archbishop of Canterbury in his sermon at the service of Thanksgiving on Tuesday morning contrasted the collective happiness and sense of safety felt in the Jubilee events with "... the traps of ludicrous financial greed, of environmental recklessness, of collective fear of strangers and collective contempt for the unsuccessful and marginal" which are the norm. And the Bishop of London published a pamphlet in which he advises us to use the Jubilee to consider "How fair is our society? How much poverty and inequality is there? How much consideration are we giving to the well-being of future generations? What care are we taking of our shared environment? – these are questions we should not shirk." The UK is a far more unequal society than we were 60 years ago and life is set to worsen for the poorest.

Back in March the Institute of Fiscal Studies said that so far we have seen only 12% of all the cuts planned to welfare benefits. From October 2013 most in and out of work benefits will be replaced by the Universal Credit which is supposed to 'simplify welfare benefits and make work pay'. Families will receive the same benefit both in and out or work but it will taper off as they earn more. This is to be welcomed if it ends having to wait up to 6 weeks between making a claim and receiving a payment as in the current system which results in people running up debts when their job ends. However assessment for Universal Credit will be of family rather than individual income, only one person will be able to claim for the whole family. Imagine what that might mean for women forced to rely on whatever their man chooses to give her from 'his' money. The Credit will be paid monthly instead of fortnightly making it much harder for many families to budget.

People receiving Universal Credit while in work will be required to work a minimum of 24 hours a week (already increased from 16 hours) per family; and they will be required to increase their hours or get a better job in order to remove reliance on Universal Credit. They will be expected to travel up to 90 minutes to work instead of the existing 60 minutes. Remember too that support for child care has dropped from 80% to 70% of the cost of child care while you go to work.

Universal Credit will be capped, the DWP estimate the cap will be £500 a week (including other income such as Child Benefit) for couples and £350 a week for single people. The government's own Impact Assessment estimates 67,000 households will experience a reduction from their current level of income from benefits in the first year; 69% of which have 3 or more children. Once your assessment for Universal Credit has been made your entitlement will remain the same unless your total income drops more than £2,500 a year. Responsibility for Community Care grants and Crisis Loans (currently the last safety net for families with no money) is to be transferred to Councils, whether you get one or not is much more likely to depend on where you live.

Keep calm and carry on? I don't think so, time to get angry.

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