Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

coalition consequences logoI have posted before about the impact of the Coalition’s welfare polices in Greenwich, and Blackheath Westcombe ward in particular, and about the cuts in housing benefit which could force many people – including families with children – to have to move out of areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park.

Since the “Benefits cap” came into force (it is being phased in between 12th August and September 30th 2013), we are beginning to see what the real impact is on families in the borough.

In a nutshell, the government’s new policy is that total benefits cannot now exceed:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)

  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them

  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with themold dover road

According to figures from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, about 340 families in the borough are affected by the Benefits Cap. Of these, the council is already advising 110 families – of which 68 (well over half) are in private rented accommodation, not council or housing association homes. Read more of this post

Coalition Consequences: forcing children to move home isn’t fair – and won’t save a penny of public money

The penny has finally dropped for the Liberal Democrats: the Government’s changes to welfare benefits will do little or nothing to reduce public spending overall, will unfairly demonise the poor and jobless, and will prompt a mass exodus of poorer people from many parts of London to poorer districts – and in many cases out of the capital entirely.

So says former children’s Minister Sarah Teather (the Lib Dem MP for Brent Central)  in an interview in today’s Observer, belatedly echoing concerns that many community organisations, trade unions and housing and family charities – and the Labour Party – have been raising for many months. Read more of this post

Is it back to the 1990s?

Sitting in Blackheath Halls for the recording of BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions two weeks ago, I realised how reminiscent of a recent decade our politics is becoming.

No, not the 1980s (even if Michael Heseltine, Chris Patten, Lord McAlpine and several other 1980s political figures have featured heavily in the news media recently, for a variety of reasons). It is the 1990s that seem to have started replaying.

The John Major Government of 1992-1997, with its limited ambitions, sluggish economic growth, splits over Europe, Hospital closures, by-election disasters, and petty and regressive measures to curb benefit entitlements, seem eerily similar to the current Government’s travails. It is too simplistic to label the current Government Thatcherite – I think Majorite is much more spot-on.

On Any Questions, local Labour party member Jean Bloch (a council candidate in Blackheath Westcombe ward back in 2006) asked one of the best questions of the night – should Government force people to cut their cloth according to their means (a reference to that week’s announcement that benefits may be capped for claimants who have two or more children). Read more of this post

We are all vigilantes now

There will be many feelings a week on from the start of the riots. Anger that large numbers of people feel so detached from society that they feel the need to loot and commit arson. Surprise that, for one night at least, the police appeared to have lost control of our streets. Exasperation that areas of London that are already deprived – Tottenham, Peckham, Hackney and Woolwich – will now be further stigmatised by the riots, and will now have to overcome that stigma to attract investment.

Commenting on this kind of social unrest is, as always, a minefield for politicians. For Labour, raising concerns over government policies that may encourage more people to join such rioting can be misinterpreted as sympathy for criminals.

Equally, as the Government is realising, it is difficult to simultaneously take credit for restoring peace on the streets, praise the police, and  ignore their warnings that cutting police numbers will make future disorder more likely. While both the police and politicians were recently dealt a blow by the phone hacking scandal, the police retain a bedrock of public trust which politicians have completely lost, possibly for ever.

But there are clearly some questions for the police to answer. Locally, as late as the early evening of the Monday (August 8th) the police said that they did not expect any trouble in Woolwich – with hindsight, not a good call as a few hours later there was serious unrest in the town centre. There clearly are questions about the shooting of Mark Duggan earlier this month, and the way the police communicated with his family and friends afterwards. Read more of this post

The economy, “fatherless families” and the tale of the goldfish

Saturday 1st May, 2010 …12.30p.m and Roy Preston looks at his watch…

‘We’re done now, Pat; I’ll get the car and we call it a day……’
These words have been uttered ever so often since Roy, Rita Stephen and I mounted a Labour Stall in front of Marks and Spencer’s at the Royal Standard these past few weeks as the campaign picked up. The difference today is we were packing up for the last time before the 6th of May, our D-Day! It was with mixed feelings that we said our good-byes. As Roy drove off and I headed for the bus stop, I knew he wa asking the same question as me ‘Have we done enough?’ ‘Will our efforts be crowned with success?’.
We have indeed done enough… and that set me reflecting on our activities in Blackheath Westcombe ever since Alex, David and I became Labour candidates. We have been at the doorstep through thick and thin, even in the thick of the snow at the close of 2009 and early 2010! It has been gratifying having residents recognise Alex as having solved this, that or the other problem in the course of his duty as a Labour Councillor. Alex has been what residents would describe rightly as a ‘visible and effective Councillor.’
As my mind went through the various campaign activities, I thought of the Hustings organised by the Westcombe Society at Mycenae House on 17th April, 2010. My curiosity to meet candidates from the other parties took the better of me, overcoming the terror of sitting in front of the distinguished audience. Gordon Baker, the chair for the evening’s proceedings (bless his heart, for he must have known how terrified I was) did all possible to set us at ease, and one after the other, us candidates proceeded to let the distinguished gathering assess our capability to be their representative for the next five years.
Needless to say, I could only hear bits and pieces of the proceedings; one thing though that I heard perfectly clear was a reference to ‘Fatherless families’
– probably because I am the Women’s Officer for the CLP of Greenwich and Woolwich, but more so perhaps because I am too familiar with the negative connotation behind that accolade. Surprisingly, I was slightly bemused as the reference seemed to suggest that such families do so out of choice.
Shall we be more charitable and consider some of the causes:
– Death of the breadwinner
– Illness or incapacitation
– Physical or emotional abuse leading to a breakdown of the family unit
– Divorce through no fault of mother or children of such unions
– Rape
– Countless and many countless reasons…….
We should pause and reflect over which is the better of two measures to mitigate the negative effects of any of the above reasons for such ‘Fatherless families’
(i) Support from government to prevent a spill-over into society due to extreme poverty and hardship of such households, or
(ii) A reward system for households who are fortunate enough not to be hit by the axe of any of the above misfortune.
In my opinion, the government should go a step further beyond ‘support’, and teach those who ‘wilfully’ create fatherless families’ a lesson from those who get it right.

I reflected also on the debates…in particular the last one about the Economy.
Not because Maths and Economics were my strongest points in school, but because of the similarities I could draw from management of the budget of my own household in these harsh economic times.

To my mind, now more than ever when I have to stretch meagre resources, must I make sure that the nutrition of my family is not in jeopardy; now more than ever must I ensure that I am still able to run between school gates and after-school-clubs (and don’t come cheap!) Paying for school trips, purchasing extra resources to help with homework etc should be a priority even in the tightest of family budgets. This is no time to cut such resources, for therein lies the future of the children, and indeed of the whole family!!

In a sense, listening to Gordon Brown last Thursday made me see how right he was in his plan for managing the economy of the UK in these difficult times.
Much more needs to be pumped in to maintain frontline services-to get the vital sectors like the NHS, Education, and the Police running smoothly. It makes common sense to me, that keeping these sectors running at all cost is indeed an investment in a future generation that we cannot afford to fail.

As Thursday, 6th May, 2010 approaches, let us remember the tale of the goldfish who wanted a change of environment from its aquarium – let’s not avoid jumping onto the dry land of disaster!

Pat Boadu-Darko