Friday, September 27, 2013

#Lab13 Welfare Reform: Coping with Change?

Lunchtime conference fringe on welfare reform, chaired by Helen Simpson from Circle Housing Group. First up was East Ham MP and Shadow Minister for Employment, Stephen Timms speaking about the Labour plan to tackle welfare by job guarantees for the long term unemployed. He sees housing associations as playing a key role in this as a gateway for unemployed tenants into work.

A future Labour Government will get rid of the bedroom tax. Which is a punishment for people over something they can do nothing about. When he goes canvassing in East Ham he meets people in fear of the Bedroom tax. Which will mean more people leaving social housing for the private sector and costing even more in housing benefit than they did in the social sector. There is a complete debacle over the introduction of universal credit. While the principle ok the implementation needs to be rescued.  We need a contributory element to benefits to rebuild trust in social security.

Sian Williams from London East End Toynbee Hall (Clement Attlee and William Beveridge) pointed out that it was not just beneficiaries who will be struggling to cope with the change - so will local authorities, Government and the 3rd sector. The cuts and caps will mean less money and more administration. There are some good points, such as it may result in a better relationship with providers, if beneficiaries are seen as customers. But massive costs to society such as forcing children to move schools. 

Christopher Smith also from Circle, told us that they had 3500 households impacted by bedroom tax and 200 by total benefit cap. Big fear that direct payment of housing benefit will result in greater arrears.  36% of households have a member who is disabled (this in in their general needs properties - not care projects). Some residents will be losing £300-350per week in London (Old Ford and Circle 33 properties). The new benefit universal credit is supposed to be "digital by default" yet 45% of residents report that they have no internet access.

Since April this year to date 24% of households affected had paid a part of their bedroom tax, 25% have paid nothing.  This is quote "a major challenge". Finally, Universal credit may bring about a risk based approach to new tenants. If arrears continues then it will have an impact on their ability to build new homes.

Last speaker was journalist Sunny Hundal who gave a more philosophical prospective about welfare reform. 1. People don't pay attention to detail 2. They don't care about facts and prefer emotional stories 3. Views on welfare are very difficult to shift.

People still think Tories are hard while Labour soft on welfare. They support only what affects them eg pensions, child care but not unemployment benefit. Labour should be more honest and not pretend to be tougher than Tories since people will just not believe them. There is a future for universal services such as Surestart but not handouts.

My question to panel started off as a statement (doesn't everyone?) that Labour should be more honest about welfare and explain that a decent social security safety net for all does cost more money that that all of us need to pay more taxes not just the very rich.

I also asked where was the voice of tenants in this debate? You have the voice here of the Labour Party, the unions, housing associations and the housing great and the good? If tenants had a voice would the Tories had been able to get away with Bedroom tax? (as usual with my questions, I didn't get an answer but time was short as we all had to rush off to hear Ed's speech).


Anonymous said...

"He sees housing associations as playing a key role in this as a gateway for unemployed tenants into work."

How would they do this?

John Gray said...

I think anon that many HA already have training and employment schemes for residents.

Also some HA's are forcing contractors to offer apprentices work as condition of contract.

Circle said they must employ one apprentice per £500k worth of work.

treborc said...

That is not what Byrne stated today, he stated he be using the private sector and he'd be funding people to be paid the min wage, but he did not say for how long, lets say it's six months what happens after this. because he stated that people would only get JSA for two years, so would people be allowed back onto JSA.

What happens if an employers does not like the long term person or he turns out to be a problem or the employers decide he's not pulling his or her weight would they be allowed back onto JSA.

This is Labour looking again at America and saying this is it, as we all know New labour loved America style work schemes.

Labour has a lot to explain on this before I would say ok, it look more and more like a warning to people to take out a UNUM Provident insurance for unemployment.

3 million job in the private sector being paid for out of state funding, what happens if we have another down turn this smells to me a warning to people to not expect to be kept by the state, in my area even during labour so called good time we had large numbers of people unemployed then I live in the Welsh valleys.

John Gray said...

Hi Treborc

Please reference your points since I really don't know what you are going on about.

Anonymous said...

Well I live in the Scottish heartland of Lanarkshire and I’m saying the same as treborc. During Labours boom years there was never a boom here. There has been a serious unemployment issue in my area since 1980. The unemployment figures may have come down but a lot had to do with the fact that unemployed people no longer claimed any benefit because the way they were treated and the pittance they received, it basically wasn’t worth claiming. People like me are now terrified in becoming unemployed because going to the job centre to sign on is akin to asking a workhouse for entry and it was like that under Labour long before Eton boys latest ‘work for your dole’ The way the last Labour government treated the unemployed was a disgrace. Labour has got a lot to answer for. They really betrayed a lot of there core voters and a lot of people see the Labour party as no better than the Tories and just Tory light.

John Gray said...

Hi anon

Labour was never perfect but you are talking nonsense.

Let me tell you my tale of misery. I was brought up in North East Wales during the 1980's when under the Tories there was a decimation of the local Steel and Texile industry which resulted in 33% Male unemployment.

A whole working class generation was wiped out by the Tories. They thought it was a price worth paying.

I was also an active member of Lothian Claimants Union and Citizen Rights Office in the late 1980s. Tory unemployment, poverty, bad housing and despair was still decimating communities even then.

Look, this is what Tories do. I'm not at all surprised with what is going on at the moment.

You can make genuine criticisms of Labour during its 13 years of power. Not everything they did was right or wise but don't make yourselves look stupid by comparing life under Labour with the Tories past or present.

If you want to defeat the Tories in 2015 then support Labour. If you want the Tories to win (in coalition with UKIP?) - then don't.

Anonymous said...

Aye…anything is better than the Tories