The number of children in poverty is rocketing. Who is protecting them?

It’s telling that those zealots who want to defend the ‘unborn child’ are complicit in policies that impoverish women and children

Child on council estate
 ‘Avoiding this hypocritical ‘concern for children’ does not require a complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born.’ 

One of the most remarkable things that came out of the Irish referendum was the personal testimony of women who had been forced to journey to England for medical care. But some – poor or migrant or disabled women – recounted how even this option wasn’t available to them; unable to travel, they had no choice but to take the gamble of a pill bought from the internet. It’s a striking insight into the black-and-white thinking imposed on pregnancy: women who could not even afford a flight on Ryanair for a safe abortion were somehow expected to be able to afford to feed, house and clothe a child.

Beyond Ireland, this denial of the material reality of raising a child is an ongoing issue – in abortion debates and beyond. Indeed, the same voices so ardently protecting the “unborn child” are often strangely quiet when it comes to support for children once they are outside the womb. This convenient cognitive dissonance has long been a feature of rightwing attitudes: arguing to restrict a woman’s reproductive rights while supporting measures that push children into poverty. (Some British rightwing – often male – journalists couldn’t resist stepping in over the Irish debate too.)

Avoiding this hypocritical “concern for children” does not require a particularly complex position: a civilised society would give women the choice not to continue with a pregnancy and in turn support a child’s wellbeing if they are born. And yet it is a concept with which many still seem to struggle, including our own government. The Conservatives have long positioned themselves as the party of family – from cruel so-called protection of the “traditional family” such as the anti-LGBT Section 28, 30 years old this month, to David Cameron’s pledge to use the family to solve social problems, and 2017’s backbench Manifesto to Strengthen the Family, pitched as Theresa May’s key social narrative.

At the same time, their small-state ideology can make it devastatingly difficult for a low-income parent to look after a child. Look at the controversial “two-child” limit to child tax credits under universal credit (UC). From its inception, it was predicted the policy would lead to hundreds of thousands of additional children living in poverty, but it’s now emerging that some women are even feeling forced to have abortions because they can’t afford to go ahead with the pregnancy. “It wasn’t planned but it was very much wanted. I was crying as they wheeled me in,” one woman told the Mirror this month about her abortion; without the safety net of tax credits, she had no way to afford another baby. Women in Northern Ireland in similar positions have an even more restricted choice: the rape-exemption clause that gives some women on UC a financial reprieve endangers women who haven’t reported their attack to the police (in Northern Ireland, failure to report a crime is an offence) and, as the renewed calls for reproductive rightsin light of the Irish vote has highlighted, Northern Irish women have no legal access to abortion in their own country if they feel they can’t raise a child.

Recent years have in fact seen a determined removal of support from low-income mothers – everything from forcing single parents (90% of whom are women) to look for work once their child turns three or have their benefits sanctioned, to the benefit cap, a policy so regressive it was actually ruled to be unlawful when forced on single parents with toddlers.

Just this week, it came out that a third of low-income families are missing out on state-funded free food vouchers – a scheme designed to help pregnant women and those with young children afford fruit, vegetables and milk.

Much like Sure Start and child tax credits, these vouchers were brought in by a Labour government to reduce inequalities between wealthy and poor children, based on the understanding that if it takes a village to raise a child, it often requires a government to ensure they don’t live in poverty. It’s no coincidence that, as the welfare state has been pulled back, the number of children in poverty is rocketing to record levels.

In the post-crash austerity era, this sense of social solidarity towards children has noticeably lessened. Under each policy to remove state support from parents there’s a lurking narrative that working-class women are “breeding too much” or that low-income children are drains on the “hardworking taxpayer”. (“Why should I pay for someone else to have more kids?” is the rejoinder on most articles advocating child benefits). In the real world, pregnancy is rarely predictable – contraception fails, relationships end, and jobs are lost – and besides, even the most ardent individualist would admit low-income children have done nothing to “deserve” their own poverty.

We are at the point in which it is not rare to hear of infants living in B&Bssleeping on cardboard, or even scrambling for food in school bins. If the ongoing debate over abortion rights teaches us anything, it’s that there are no shortage of voices content to defend the “unborn”. It’s a shame few are willing to give the same care to those children who are already here. HEAR HEAR!!!

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If you can fit a bed in it, it’s a bedroom

Related image

Any one that follows my blog knows I have just started to help someone that I know with her bedroom tax and yesterday, I could have exploded at her local-social landlord. I don’t feel well after my 10-hr visit to A&E last week, but a promise is a promise and I went with her.

She informed them on the 25th September that she’d be liable for the bedroom tax, after one of her grown-up kids permanently moved out and they still hadn’t sorted it out with arrears accruing. Believe it or not, they can’t take payment for the rent until the council has sorted out her new housing benefit bill.

She [the tenant] said: ‘so you’re complaining about the arrears on my account, but, when I offer to pay you, you say you can’t accept it until the housing benefit is adjusted!’ I asked how long it would be because she got the award form so I could get her appeal started?

What are you appealing for she snapped? I replied: because the bedroom is less than 70 sq feet and not a bedroom. That’s nonsense she snottily replied, ‘if you can fit a bed in that room – it’s a bedroom!’

The [tenant] shot me a “please don’t lose it” look and I bit my tongue.

I curtly replied: so lets see if I can get this straight:

  • You’re telling her that a tiny boxroom is a bedroom? I could fit a bedroom in my downstairs cupboard, but it doesn’t make it a bedroom.
  • You’re saying she can’t appeal, because you don’t know about the 70-square-feet exemption?
  • She can’t move because what money she was saving towards downsizing – she now has to pay in rent, hence denying a family a three-bedroomed home because of the ‘catch 22’ situation you have put her in?

The housing officer said [in the same snotty manner] ‘I can’t talk to you because of the Data protection Act.’

The tenant said: ‘I will come back after I have been to see my local council about the delay in reassessing my housing benefit’ and ushered me out of the door because she knew I wasn’t well and fit to blow. I said: [on the way out of the door – so they could hear] the second you get the benefit notice, let me know and I will start your appeal!

When I calmed down, it got me thinking about how many people are paying bedroom tax and shouldn’t be, PLEASE if you are in the same situation as this tenant check to see if you are exempt and if they are as vile as the housing officer I spoke it then APPEAL AND COMPLAIN!!!! And MOST IMPORTANT don’t believe a word of the bile some housing and council officers give you because they either (a) don’t know what they are talking about or (b) they will do anything to put you off appealing.

Account of sanctions desperation leaves disabled peer in tears at WRAG research launch

Two women and two men stand outside the Houses of Parliament. One of the women holds a report
Report co-authors Jaimini Mehta (right), Ellen Clifford, Dr Ewen Speed (left) and Dr Danny Taggart
A benefit claimant left a disabled peer in tears after describing to a parliamentary meeting how the application of the government’s brutal sanctions regime by a jobcentre adviser had left him so desperate that he attempted to take his own life.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was chairing the meeting, which was held to launch a new report into the government’s “perverse and punitive” regime of benefit sanctions and conditions.

Academics at the University of Essex, in partnership with the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, had spent two years investigating the employment and support allowance (ESA) system, and particularly those claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those supposed to move gradually towards paid work.

Their research concluded that the system of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people placed in the WRAG – who can see all their benefits cut for weeks if they fail to carry out certain activities to the satisfaction of their jobcentre adviser – has a “significantly detrimental” effect on their mental health.

Researchers told the meeting that this approach was “psychologically toxic”, intellectually “incoherent”, counter-productive and “arbitrary”, and that it “rendered people into a state of almost constant anxiety”.

DWP’s approach is supposed to nudge disabled people in the WRAG towards work. But the 15 participants in the study – all current or recent ESA WRAG claimants – instead told the researchers how the “perverse and punitive” conditions imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) undermined their self-confidence.

The report, Where Your Mental Health Just Disappears Overnight, says the impact of sanctions has been “life-threatening” for some of those in the WRAG. It adds: “The underlying fear instilled by the threat of sanctions meant that many participants described living in a state of constant anxiety.”

While those taking part in the study wanted to engage in work and vocational activity, their presence in the WRAG forced them into less meaningful tasks, and even to understate their previous achievements on their CVs.

Ellen Clifford, Inclusion London’s campaigns and policy manager and a co-author of the report, told the meeting that she feared the continuing roll-out of the government’s new universal credit benefit system would “further entrench the conditionality approach”. She said DWP’s “direction of travel is towards more conditionality and more sanctions”, which was “one of the key reasons disabled campaigners feel universal credit needs to be scrapped”.

One of the 15 WRAG claimants who took part in the research, Andy Mitchell, from Somerset, explained to the meeting how DWP had told him he would have his benefits sanctioned if he did not remove his degree from his CV. But Mitchell also described how the system of unfair sanctions had left him penniless and had driven him to despair and a suicide attempt.

He had been claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance for just four months after a redundancy when a jobcentre adviser arranged for him to attend a business start-up course, paid for by DWP.

But when he returned from the two-week course – with “loads of ideas” for starting a small baking business – a new adviser told him he should have been carrying out job-search activity while he was on the course… and handed him a sanction. His benefits were stopped immediately, but he was unable to confirm with DWP that he had been sanctioned, and so could not apply for a hardship payment.

When his payments suddenly stopped, and with just £5 left, his pre-payment electricity soon ran out, as did his food, and he soon had to survive by helping himself to free fruit at the job club he attended, visiting the centre every day just so he had something to eat. His physical and mental health began to deteriorate, he couldn’t even afford toilet paper to clean himself, and as Christmas approached he was no longer well enough to leave the house to carry out the work activities DWP was telling him he needed to complete.

On Christmas Day, he sat in his house all day waiting for it to get dark so he could go to bed, trying to ignore the families he could see through his window enjoying the festivities. He was only able to switch the electricity back on after Christmas when an aunt sent him £20 as a birthday and Christmas present.

When he returned to the jobcentre after the Christmas break, the same adviser who had sanctioned him told him his sanction had shown her that he did not have a work ethic, even though he had worked all his life from the age of 16 until he had been made redundant. He left the jobcentre, went home and attempted to take his own life.

Because of the impact of the sanctions regime on his mental health, he was eventually moved into the ESA WRAG. After he finished speaking, Baroness Grey-Thompson struggled to speak as she wiped tears from her eyes and told him: “More people need to listen and understand the harsh reality. “This is why something needs to change.”

The co-leader of the Green party, Jonathan Bartley, was even more outspoken, telling the meeting that the system of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people, and Mitchell’s experience, was “a fucking disgrace”.

He gave his “whole-hearted support” to the report and said his party would be “spreading this report as far and wide as we can”. He said: “One of the things I love about this report is that it breaks through the noise and tells the stories that need to be told. “Our vision is about a welfare system that liberates, empowers, facilitates, not something to be ashamed of but to be as proud of as we are of the NHS.”

He said his party would scrap sanctions, and pilot a universal basic income system, with top-ups for Deaf and disabled people who needed extra support.

Dr Danny Taggart, a lecturer in clinical psychology and co-author of the report, said the idea that the WRAG regime of sanctions and conditions would help nudge disabled people towards paid work “just isn’t good science”.

Instead, he said, the “perverse and punitive” incentives “rendered people into a state of almost constant anxiety”, with some talking of how the fear of sanctions cast a shadow over every aspect of their lives. In some cases, he said, the impact of sanctions was life-threatening. He told the meeting: “A number of participants described a quite rapid deterioration of their mental health as a result of sanctions.” One of them told the researchers: “I feel as if someone has put a knife through my stomach.”

Taggart said: “More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want. “This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.”

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Little girl helps homeless man who had been kicked in the face

Why do [most] adults lose their humanity when they leave childhood?

Good Samaritan Alexandria Wright and her six-year-old daughter Avaleigh
Good Samaritan Alexandria Wright and her six-year-old daughter Avaleigh Credit: NCJ Media Syndication

Kicked in the face and left in pain, homeless Gavin Green felt so alone.

But Good Samaritan Alexandria Wright and her six-year-old daughter Avaleigh came to the rescue and gave him reasons to carry on.

Now the mum and daughter team are doing all they can to help Gavin get back on track and find him a home as winter kicks in.

And they are asking others to give their support as they get the ball rolling.

Alexandria Wright and her six-year-old daughter Avaleigh
Alexandria Wright and her six-year-old daughter Avaleigh Credit: NCJ Media Syndication

It came about when my daughter was doing random acts of kindness at school and we went out to give the homeless man we see in Low Fell a hot meal.

My mam lives just behind the shop where he sits and we went with a spaghetti bolognese for him. But when we offered it to him and he looked up at us, we saw his face. He said he had been kicked in the face on Sunday night. He was in pain but no one wanted to know. We felt really sorry for him and we wanted to help.

We gave him the spaghetti with garlic bread, along with some bananas but we then went back to get him pain killers, a blanket, a flask and then I returned again with a coat.

He says he wants to accept my help and now I’m doing all I can to get him a permanent home.

He deserves a home and a roof over his head. I’ve also set up a Gofundme page to raise money for him. He’s a really nice guy and I hope we can give him the help he needs.”

– ALEXANDRIA WRIGHT

Gavin Green lost his flat in Pelton Fell just four months ago after his benefit money
Gavin Green lost his flat in Pelton Fell just four months ago after his benefit money Credit: NCJ Media Syndication

Gavin, 35, originally from Birtley, lost his flat in Pelton Fell just four months ago after his benefit money was reduced and he couldn’t afford the rent.

He took to the streets with a bag of his belongings and chose Low Fell to sit as he felt safer there.

I can’t believe how nice Alexandria has been to me, she has brought me food, a blanket, hot drinks and she’s wanting to do more.

Her daughter has even drawn me a picture and written me a letter. There are some lovely people in the world but there are some awful ones as well.

On Sunday I was sitting on the Swing Bridge with my collar up because it was windy and someone went past and I felt wallop, a boot straight in my face. I got two black eyes and Alexandria noticed it. She’s done lots for me and is doing more, I can’t believe it.”

– GAVIN GREEN

Gavin was a roofer by trade but after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and becoming ill, he was claiming Employment and Support Allowance receiving £280 a fortnight.

But that was reduced to £128 a fortnight when he was moved to Job Seekers Allowance.

Gavin, says he has stayed out of trouble for more than eight-and-a-half years after being involved in petty crime in his 20s.

I couldn’t afford my flat so I have had to live on the streets.

My dad has died and my mam has a one bedroom bungalow so I had no where to go. Everyone deserves a second chance.

I miss having my own space and a place where I can put the key in the door and call it home.

I would even love a bedsit, just somewhere I can call mine.”

– GAVIN GREEN

 Now the mum and daughter team are doing all they can to help Gavin get back on track and find him a home as winter kicks in.
Now the mum and daughter team are doing all they can to help Gavin get back on track and find him a home as winter kicks in. Credit: NCJ Media Syndication

Since Alexandria asked for Gavin’s plight to be posted on the Real Low Fell Local Facebook Page others have helped.

A stranger dropped off a rucksack for him, along with coffee and a flask of hot water and a woman gave milk and chicken for him to eat.

In the meantime he needs hot water bottles so I can fill them and take them to him.

He has my flask and I am refilling that and I’m giving him food.

But I would love to see him have a home. He can’t get benefits because he doesn’t have an address and at the moment he is at a hostel in Sunderland but there are drug addicts and he says he feels unsafe there.

I feel so sorry for him.

He says he doesn’t want to tell the police about being assaulted because he says he’s homeless and people don’t want to listen to him.

There must be something we can do collectively for him. But this all happened because of my daughter. Without her wanting to do a random act of kindness, we wouldn’t have got talking to Gavin. I only hope others come forward and help. If we get him a home then I can get furniture that people donate and get him set up.

Winter is coming on and it would be lovely to have him all sorted before Christmas.”

[Does the] Scrapheap beckon for Universal Credit?

Esther McVey © Rex Features
Esther McVey: admits many families will be poorer under UC
[Is the] Tories’ big welfare reform set to be ditched. “It’s rare that a government pauses the implementation of a flagship policy,” says Isabel Hardman in The Spectator. “There’s so much ego involved in these matters that to do so is to admit a failing.”

But in the case of Universal Credit (UC) – the Tories’ plan to merge six existing benefits into a single payment – the government has been forced to delay plans to roll out the new system to more claimants as fears grow across Parliament “that those who are already receiving the benefit are severely struggling”.

Good in theory, bad in practice

The idea behind combining a number of different working-age benefits into a new single credit is “basically sound”, says the Financial Times. Sadly, the rollout of UC has been a “shambles”. All eight million Britons receiving benefits were due to be moved onto UC by October last year. Later, the target for completing reforms was moved to 2022. Now even that is regarded as ambitious.

What’s more, it’s becoming clearer that the scheme “is also a front for deeper benefit cuts”. Esther McVey, the work and pensions minister, admitted last week that millions of families could be up to £200 a month worse off when the roll-out is complete. No wonder former prime minister John Major has “bluntly warned” that pushing ahead “could lead to a repeat of the poll tax debacle of the early 1990s, which saw riots against the Conservative government”.

The evidence of impending disaster has led Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader who came up with the idea of UC, to call for a further £2bn to be pumped in to save it. Yet “the chances of universal credit working well with more money are slim”, says Phillip Collins in The Times. Its proponents should have been aware similar schemes have been considered several times by previous governments and rejected as immensely complex to implement.

On the other hand, “the chances of it working without are zero”. So given the prime minister is unwilling to put more money into it, logic suggests the best option is “to take the pain of the sunk cost and lost time and send the scheme for scrap”. But despite the recent concessions, “there is no sign of the government preparing to change course”.

UC CLAIM GAME

Burning down the government

That could be an expensive mistake for the Tories, as they battle to overcome the perception they are “a party of rich people that governs for other rich people, and neither understands nor cares about the poor”, says James Kirkup in The Daily Telegraph.

Arguing about whether UC “is a good idea being implemented poorly… overlooks some very deliberate choices ministers made to make the scheme worse”, such as cuts former chancellor George Osborne made to the amount that claimants can earn before they start losing benefits. Despite her recent talk of “an end to austerity”, Theresa May “has stood by that cut”. If UC “does burn her government down”, May “should remember she had the chance to douse the flames”.

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More Universal Credit News

The benefits ‘freeze’ is robbing our poorest families. Where’s the outrage?

The worst-off families in the UK face further hardship – yet no one in politics or the media has their corner

Paper chain of a family.
 ‘This year won’t be the first time those families have had money snatched from them: it is the fifth in a row.’

Next year, more than 10.4m UK households – more than one in three – will be left on average £150 poorer than they are today. Worse still, this loss will be concentrated on families already struggling, or even failing, to get by: those at or below the UK’s poverty line.

If you feel as though you’ve missed this headline, that would be no surprise: the news has barely attracted coverage, let alone reached the front pages, despite affecting some 26 million people.

What’s more, this year won’t be the first time those families have had money snatched from them: it is the fifth in a row. The reason isn’t a new tax, or unemployment, or universal credit. It’s the benefits freeze – perhaps the most important UK story that the media and politics persistently ignores.

Usually, each year, anyone receiving a working-age benefit – which includes working and child tax credits, which prop up low wages for households that need it – gets an increase in line with whatever the level of inflation is each September.

New study finds 4.5 million UK children living in poverty

Ever since 2015-16, the Conservative government has instead “frozen” these benefits – a false term, given that in reality each year these families are seeing their incomes cut. For next year, the well-respected Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) estimates the average hit to income at £150.

But the cumulative effect of five years ends up much higher, at something in the region of £700 to £800, taken from families who were hardly finding it easy to get by in 2015. Even for those in work, the relatively fortunate ones, wages are yet to return to their pre-financial crash levels, meaning the government has imposed a devastating double whammy on the people least able to cope with it.

This does save the government a fairly significant amount of money. The IFS estimates the freeze next year will save about £1.6bn, instead of allowing benefits to rise in line with inflation.

Keeping that freeze year after year – as the Conservatives have done – compounds these savings, meaning the measure has now probably reduced government spending by about £8bn a year. Given the Conservatives’ relentless rhetoric about the need to improve Britain’s balance sheet, some might conclude that this was a tough but necessary step.

Welcome to the UK in 2018, where babies are dying because of the cuts

It is not. It has been a sustained and deliberate reverse Robin Hood operation, a calculated raid on the poor to allow the government to give cash away elsewhere.

Ever since entering government, the Conservatives have made a series of cuts to corporation tax, reducing government revenues by between £12bn and £16bn a year – far more than the money saved by the benefits freeze.

The government did not need to take this money from low- and middle-income families. It made a choice, and has all but escaped condemnation for doing so. What amounts to a large-scale robbery has received hardly a fraction of the scrutiny universal credit has (rightly) garnered.

Part of this failure does lie at the door of the media. Few in that sector come from backgrounds where these cuts are likely to bite, meaning the issue – despite affecting 26 million men, women, and children in the UK – feels distant and technical to many UK newsrooms.

It’s also the result of deliberate and sustained demonisation of benefits and the people who live off them – leading to the bizarre situation where it’s easy to cut benefits, but virtually impossible to tax fuel properly, even as we struggle with climate change and deadly air pollution.

But while the bulk of the political blame for this situation lies with the Conservative party that instituted the policy – which shows up the “compassionate Conservatism” branding as a hollow lie – these families have also been dismally failed by the Labour party too.

The Guardian view on welfare shambles: ministers must be accountable

At no point did it offer to reverse the benefit freeze and offset its effects. It didn’t even contain the bare minimum: a promise to at least end the freeze and increase benefits to – or, better, above – the level of inflation.

Somehow the party of the workers forgot perhaps the most serious financial blight on millions of working families (and those looking for work) – and it has yet to make helping those families its stated policy.

In the UK’s ridiculous current politics, trying to enact a measure that would help 10 million families would be a tough political sell. But right now, no one is even trying to make it. As a result, 10 million families are being made poorer every year, and virtually no one in politics or the media has their corner. That urgently needs to change.

• James Ball is a former Guardian special projects editor, and the author of Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World

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Universal credit: Should the benefit be paid weekly instead of monthly?

 

Picture of people entering a job centre

Universal credit is paid monthly based on the idea that the majority of people in work are paid monthly. Its creators wanted to make the experience of budgeting on benefits feel similar whether a household is in work or out.

Across the UK, 85% of all employee jobs had monthly or four weekly pay cycles in April 2017, when this data was last released.

But shorter pay cycles are more commonly found in lower-paid sectors such as retail and hospitality. And research suggests most of the one in three universal credit claimants who is working receive their pay cheques on a weekly or fortnightly basis instead.

Lloyds Banking Group, in a piece of research for think tank the Resolution Foundation, looked at seven million of its bank accounts and found that of those belonging to new universal credit claimants, 58% had been paid weekly or fortnightly in their last job, in 2016-17.

So monthly benefits payments don’t mimic the in-work experience of most people on universal credit. But why could that be a problem?

The amount of universal credit claimants receive is worked out by looking at their net pay over the previous month.

People who are paid more than once a month will receive different numbers of pay cheques in different months.

Let’s say your income is being assessed from the first of the month and you’re paid £60 every Friday:

  • In November (a month with five Fridays), you’ll be paid £300
  • In December (a month with four Fridays), you’ll be paid £240

But your benefits for December- the month when you have less money coming in anyway – are based on your earnings in November. So, that month you’ll have less income from working and less money in benefits.

In an extreme case, according to the Resolution Foundation, you might even move out of universal credit eligibility and have to re-apply.

Why does this matter?

An assumption underlying universal credit is that claimants will have to get better at budgeting.

Unlike older benefits, universal credit claimants receive all the money they’re entitled to straight into their bank account once a month.

This includes, if you are eligible, money to help cover rent. It is then up to the claimant to ensure that this money reaches their landlord.

Photo of a woman looking at a receipt

Under the old system, housing benefits were paid directly to landlords and other benefits paid to claimants twice monthly.

And according to Department for Work and Pensions research, roughly 20% of universal credit claimants with some housing support also have their payment given directly to their landlord – because they have proven difficulties with budgeting.

Housing charity Shelter points out that people on lower incomes are less likely to have the financial reserves to deal with unexpected costs such as having to replace a damaged school uniform or losing hours at work.

And for families without savings to rely on, these unplanned-for circumstances can make them reprioritise money intended for rent, leading to them getting into arrears.

The fact that benefit money is coming in three or four weeks won’t help those urgent financial pressures. And if you are getting some of your income on a weekly basis from work and the rest of it through monthly universal credit top-ups, it can become difficult to budget.

The Resolution Foundation does, however, acknowledge that universal credit is a lot more responsive to fluctuations in people’s income than the old system.

Are there alternatives?

The Department for Work and Pensions says that a number of support mechanisms are in place, including budgeting support when claimants first receive universal credit.

Claimants can get an advance on the payment of their first claim, rather than waiting five weeks from claim to payment.

This is then treated as a loan that is taken off future benefits payments for the following year.

There are also mechanisms in place for those who “genuinely can’t manage their monthly payment”.

Claimants can request for the frequency of payments to change in some circumstances (but not for the assessment period to change) and request budgeting advances.

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Tory council blows £1,600 on feast for councillors – after claiming they’re too skint to help disabled kids

EXCLUSIVE: North Yorkshire councillors pushed through a “fundamentally wrong” cut to free transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities

Chicken beast with lemon and herbs was served

A Tory-run council staged a lavish £1,600 taxpayer-funded feast for councillors – moments after claiming they were too skint to help disabled kids.

North Yorkshire councillors overwhelmingly blocked a Labour motion to oppose the “fundamentally wrong” cut to free transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

After the vote, councillors gorged on pavlova, roast beef, salmon and a DOZEN different cheeses. The council’s now reviewing its spending, which one Labour councillor has slammed.

“In these times of austerity foisted upon us by this out of touch and uncaring government, it is imperative that every opportunity to ensure rate payers cash is ploughed back into the savaged front line services,” raged Cllr Tony Randerson.

“Not being a cheese eater, I haven’t noticed all these different types of cheeses but I have to say I’m rather surprised at the cost of this meal. “I for one will not be partaking in this buffet any longer and will instruct the authority of my position in order that they do not waste food.”

The meal, unearthed via the Freedom of Information Act, followed a February meeting where council tax was “reluctantly” hiked up.

Councillor Gareth Dodd 

Swingeing cuts in the region have so far resulted in libraries closing, buses axed and street lights switched off.

At the meeting, North Yorkshire’s Deputy Leader, Conservative Gareth Dadd, warned: “The financial challenges will last well into the next decade.”

However analysis of the costs revealed over £23 was spent per councillor present on the meal – and some taxpayer’s found the cost hard to swallow.

“So they can sit around eating cake and roast beef, but we have to walk home in the dark?” fumed North Yorkshire resident James Wainwright.

“We are all in this together – even councillors – so why do they need a dozen cheeses? “Could they not just bring a packed lunch or go get a toastie down the pub?”

Councillor Tony Randerson 

In total, £1,632.50 was spent on feeding the 72 councillors – although almost a dozen didn’t even attend the meeting,

The menu at Northallerton’s County Hall included:

  • Seared Chicken Breast with Lemon & herbs
  • Poached Salmon with Lemon & dill mayonnaise
  • Roast British beef and roast ham
  • Greek salad

And in a further blow to Yorkshire residents, it emerged the council had previously included a smoked Lancashire on the cheese board.

“It is as if the War of the Roses never happened!” added James.

Over 40 councillors blocked a motion to tabled by Labour’s Eric Broadbent to stop transport being cut, despite a passionate plea to find savings elsewhere.

“We believe that the changes proposed to transport for children with SEND are fundamentally wrong,” he said.

“Whilst we understand that the Council need to make savings, we believe that this area provides a valuable service to those who are amongst the most vulnerable in society and it is the Council’s duty to exhaust all other areas before removing free transport for young people with SEND.

“It is therefore proposed that the implementation of the cut is removed and the funding of the saving gap met from Reserves until such time as more acceptable proposals are developed.”

To date, over £140m has had to be shaved from the council’s books.

County Councillor Carl Les, North Yorkshire County Council’s Leader, stated: “Our full council meets four times a year and that is the only time that councillors are provided with lunch.

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