The UK Government’s cap on benefits is “capable of real damage to individuals”

High Court rules application of the revised benefit cap to lone parents with children under two amounts to unlawful discrimination “with no real purpose”

Single parent family - credit drinks machine

Single parent family – ‘drinks machine’ images

The UK Government’s cap on benefits is “capable of real damage to individuals”, according to a judge in the High Court.

Mr Justice Collins ruled in favour of a group of single parents of children under two years old who argued they should be exempt from the cap on total benefits to £20,000 a year or £23,000 in London.

The application of the cap to these people amounted to unlawful discrimination, he ruled.


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The cap includes housing costs, meaning the majority can go to private landlords.

Currently parents must work 16 hours or more to avoid the cap.

The judge said he was “satisfied that the claims must succeed” against the UK Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke.

“Whether or not the defendant accepts my judgment, the evidence shows that the cap is capable of real damage to individuals such as the claimants,” he said.

“They are not workshy but find it, because of the care difficulties, impossible to comply with the work requirement.

“Most lone parents with children under two are not the sort of households the cap was intended to cover and, since they will depend on DHP (Discretionary Housing Payments), they will remain benefit households.

“Real misery is being caused to no good purpose.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said it intended to appeal against the landmark ruling. [Quelle Surprise]

“The benefit cap incentivises work, even if it’s part-time, as anyone eligible for working tax credits or the equivalent under Universal Credit, is exempt,” said a DWP spokesman.

“Even with the cap, lone parents can still receive benefits up to the equivalent salary of £25,000, or £29,000 in London and we have made Discretionary Housing Payments available to people who need extra help.”

The benefit cap was revised in November and has a significant impact on single parents.

SNP MSP Sandra White said: “This is an absolutely damning result that highlights the real human impact of the Tories’ austerity agenda.

“Theresa May and her government should be ashamed. Their obsession with making low-income families bear the burden of austerity is having a real human cost – and for no good reason.”

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ANOTHER DWP ATROCITY: DWP force severely autistic, blind teen to attend eligibility check to see if he deserves benefits

SOURCE

Ciaran Vassie had been told he would receive his benefits for life but the new PIP payment means he is being forced to attend a meeting.

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Ciaran with his mum Colette Vassie (Photo: Colette Vassie/Deadline News)Subscribe

A teenager who is blind, severely autistic and barely able to speak has been ordered to attend a meeting – to check if he should continue to receive benefits.

Ciaran Vassie, 16, was told four years ago that he would receive disability living allowance for life as his condition won’t change.

But now that benefit is being replaced by the personal 
independence payment, which is for a maximum of £141.10 a 
week, he needs to be reassessed – and faces going through the process every three years.

The Department for Work and Pensions have refused to carry out the eligibility check at his home in Clarkston, near Glasgow, because Ciaran’s “unpredictable” behaviour could pose a risk 
to staff.

It means his mum Colette, 
45, who is also disabled, will have to fork out for a taxi to take Ciaran into the city centre for his assessment.

She said: “It’s 
ridiculous. They know the 
condition he 
has and what is he going to say 
in an assessment anyway – he doesn’t speak?

 

Ciaran as a tot in 2002 (Photo: Charles Donnelly/Daily Record)

“This is causing stress to us, yet the DWP aren’t even willing to relieve some of the stress of the situation by coming out to the house. This money is for essential adjustments to Ciaran’s life – he needs braille books, which are very expensive, he needs to get taxis and, if he wants to go out, he might need to pay for someone to go with him.”

Colette said she contacted Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson and her MP, Paul Masterton, to ask them to go along to the assessment.

She added: “It was their party who introduced changes to PIP and I want them to see the process. It is ridiculous.”

The Tory Government have been slammed for their welfare reforms, with opposition parties accusing them of treating 
disabled people with contempt.

In April, it was reported that private firms Capita and Atos, who run the assessments, 
stood to earn nearly £700million from the work between 2013 and this year.

Inclusion Scotland policy director Bill Scott said yesterday: “We have a lot of concern about this new system. It was originally estimated that the DWP would only need to do face-to-face assessments with 60 to 70 per cent of people but now 95 per cent are being seen.

“We believe the reason is that there is a fee of approaching £200 for each assessment. There is a financial incentive for the private companies.”p

Ciaran was born 11 weeks premature and was left blind at the age of five after suffering a serious eye infection.

A DWP spokesman confirmed the department were reassessing his case.

But he added: “We’re looking again at whether a face-to-face assessment is required.

“We’ll be in touch with the decision as quickly as possible. In the meantime, his benefit payments will continue as normal.”

Grenfell Tower is a human rights tragedy

GUARDIAN

The tragic fire remains a symbol of what has gone wrong in housing for poor people, despite my warnings to the UK government not to ignore human rights

In 2013 my predecessor, Raquel Rolnik, the UN-appointed special rapporteur on the right to housing, visited the UK and warned that the government’s roll-back on investment in social housing and its emphasis instead on investment in the private rental market was having a deleterious effect on the availability and adequacy of social housing stock.

Last April, alongside several colleagues, I communicated human rights concerns(pdf) to the UK government about the impact of austerity measures on housing standards. And after that a UN committee of independent human rights experts expressed similar concerns and recommendedthat the government “take corrective measures to address bad housing or sub-standard housing conditions …”. We were all echoing the voices of thousands of residents who had been systematically and repeatedly raising their concerns with their councils and the government.

Perhaps in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy that killed at least 79 people – a devastating illustration of the impact of substandard housing on the lives of poor people – local councils and central government will begin to recognise that international human rights standards regarding adequate housing are not hogwash, but are in place precisely to preserve human life.

From my vantage point, Grenfell Tower is also emblematic of a global phenomenon where rich and poor live side by side on starkly unequal terms and where housing is rarely viewed as a right, but instead promoted as a commodity.

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Grenfell Tower is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Not only is it the most expensive borough in the country by some estimates, it is considered prime real estate for foreign investors, many of whom don’t live in the borough. While more than 1,200 properties sit vacant in the borough, the residents of Grenfell lived on top of each other in a densely populated, 24-storey building. The exterior was refurbished to make it less of an eyesore for more affluent onlookers using a cheap material banned in a number of countries including, reportedly, in the UK for its flammability.

The management of Grenfell Tower was handed over to the private sector. Kensington Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) is responsible for managing the tower block as well as 10,000 other units [pdf] and it is paid handsomely to do so. Apparently, KCTMO’s responsibilities did not include heeding the concerns of the UN, let alone those of the tenant association, which for more than four years had expressed distress about fire safety in the building.

As horrific and singular as the Grenfell Tower firewas, it represents the new world order. The idea of housing as a social good for which governments are responsible has largely been abandoned. There is an ever-growing list of cities where governments prop up the financialisation of residential real estate, promoting the idea that housing is a place to safely park huge amounts of capital and grow wealth without any investment in local communities. This is despite the fact that it pushes up the cost of housing and drives out low-income residents in cities around the world, including Hong Kong, Singapore, San Francisco, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Vancouver.

Allowing big corporations to manage the needs of tenants is also not unique to Grenfell Tower. The Blackstone Group – the world’s largest real estate private equity firm – spent $10bn to purchase repossessed properties in the US after the 2008 financial crisis, and emerged as the largest rental landlord in the country. Tenants in their units complain that their needs and concerns regarding the adequacy of their housing fall on deaf ears, with management companies accountable to investors rather than to them.

The Grenfell Tower tragedy should see off austerity. But don’t hold your breath

If failing to uphold human rights was, at least in part, the cause of the Grenfell Tower disaster, then surely upholding internationally recognised human rights is the way forward. Only a human rights approach lays out universal standards of what constitutes “adequate” housing, such as protecting against physical threats like fire and floods.

Brian May savages Tories and calls for ‘radical restart’ of policy after devastating Grenfell Tower fire

Only a human rights approach lays out what’s required after a disaster like Grenfell – that tenants must be provided immediate alternate accommodation in their existing community. Only a human rights approach is crystal clear that it is governments that are responsible to low-income and marginalised populations, and that this will require regulating tenant management companies and other third parties to ensure they are not jeopardising the state’s human rights obligations.

Grenfell Tower will remain a symbol of what has gone wrong in housing for poor people. It’s a horrible human tragedy, but it should also be remembered as a human rights tragedy.

Over 170 years after Engels, Britain is still a country that murders its poor

A wall of condolence near Grenfell Tower on 16 June.
A wall of condolence near Grenfell Tower on 16 June. ‘This, Theresa May, is what a people’s public inquiry looks like.’ Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

This, Theresa May, is what a people’s public inquiry looks like. The sign-writers and passersby talking in the streets around Grenfell have grasped a truth that cabinet ministers are still fumbling towards: whatever and whoever a judge finds at fault – this procedure or that subcontractor – the true causes of the failures go far wider. They lie in the way Britain is run.

While in Victorian Manchester, Friedrich Engels struggled to name the crime visited on children whose limbs were mangled by factory machines, or whose parents were killed in unsafe homes. Murder and manslaughter were committed by individuals, but these atrocities were something else: what he called social murder. “When society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual,” he wrote in 1845, in The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Over 170 years later, Britain remains a country that murders its poor. When four separate government ministers are warned that Grenfell and other high rises are a serious fire risk, then an inferno isn’t unfortunate. It is inevitable. Those dozens of Grenfell residents didn’t die: they were killed. What happened last week wasn’t a “terrible tragedy” or some other studio-sofa platitude: it was social murder.

Grenfell Tower is a terrible betrayal of human rights

By all means, let’s wait for a judge to confirm the reports that the tower was covered in banned cladding, and that the 79 men, women and children confirmed to have died in the fire (at the time of writing) possibly did so for a grand saving of £2 a square metre.

But we can draw our own conclusions about whether well-heeled renters in a luxury tower would have received the contempt dished out to Grenfell’s council tenants after they published detailed reports on their homes being firetraps. Those local politicians who gave council taxpayers a sizeable rebate even while starving local services of funds have evidently chosen whose side they are on – and it’s not that of the families who have been made homeless.

The 19th-century industrialists who resisted the factories acts would recognise a kindred spirit in Boris Johnson, who has claimed “health and safety fears are making Britain a safe place for extremely stupid people”. The next TV interviewer to face the foreign secretary should ask him either to repeat those words or apologise for them. But the deadliest rationale came from David Cameron, who as PM wrote off the legal protections given to workers and consumers as “an albatross around the neck of British businesses”. I cannot remember a more brazen recent statement of profits before people.

To look after its properties, the council created the largest management organisation of its type in England – unfeasibly large, it turned out, and unaccountable to its own tenants. This was the £11m-a-year body that handed the £10m refurbishment contract to the builder Rydon. The best that can be said of such outsourcing – whether in managing flats or running council departments – is that the public ends up paying more for a service that’s worse. It allows big companies to profiteer from basic public needs, and to evade democratic control.

Spectacular examples of social violence, such as Grenfell, are thankfully rare. They usually occur out of public sight. This decade of austerity has been a decade of social violence: of people losing their cash income for not being disabled enough, of families turfed out of their homes for having more than two kids or a bedroom the state deems surplus to requirements. These are tales of private misery, of a person or a household behind a closed door plunged into stress, anxiety, depression or worse.

Last year I met a Parkinson’s disease sufferer, Paul Chapman, who after being put through a fitness-to-work assessment and having most of his benefits cut told his wife, Lisa: “I’ll clear off and I won’t take my tablets or my insulin. And it’ll be over then. I won’t be here.”

Others have told me of friends who didn’t only express such impulses, they acted on them. Their last days will have been soundtracked by a government deriding “skivers”. Years of public bullying and official harassment of the poor have funded the £93bn of tax breaks and bungs chucked at big corporations, property developers and outsourcing firms.

Austerity is at the heart of the Grenfell story. Think of the firefighters, who have seen stations closed and colleagues laid off by May, when she was home secretary. Consider the nurses treating the dying and the maimed, who will be on lower pay now than they were in 2009.

Most of all, remember this: the cuts made since 2010 were the poor picking up the tab for the venality of rich bankers. The two are jammed up next to each other in Kensington and Chelsea, one of the richest and most unequal patches of land in the world. Just minutes away from Grenfell, you can find a house for sale at £30m (albeit “in need of full modernisation”). The residents of the investment-starved Tower died last week did so partly because of the greed of their neighbours.

Spending cuts, deregulation, outsourcing: between them they have turned a state supposedly there to protect and support citizens into a machine to make money for the rich while punishing the poor. It’s never described like that, of course. Class warfare is passed off as book-keeping. Accountability is tossed aside for “commercial confidentiality”, while profiteering is dressed up as economic dynamism. One courtesy we should pay the victims of Grenfell is to drop the glossy-brochure euphemisms. Let’s get clear what happened to them: an act of social murder, straight out of Victorian times.

Grenfell residents feared benefit sanctions – they are too used to being ignored

Justice for Grenfell banner in area near the Tower
‘As anyone who has been put through the Tories’ benefit system knows, ‘humanity’ and the DWP are two things that do not tend to go together.’ Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Incredibly, representatives of local residents who approached local Jobcentre Plus officials and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff in North Kensington report being told that it could “not be guaranteed” that people caught up in the fire and its aftermath would not be penalised if they were unable to sign on.

Last night, when the Guardian approached them for comment, the DWP confirmed that normal jobcentre rules – including financial sanctions routinely issued to claimants who miss appointments – had been suspended indefinitely for former Grenfell Tower tenants and other local residents who claim unemployment benefits.

A local resident who said he was acting on behalf of the community claimed that the DWP only later moved to clarify the position because of pressure on social media. “Once it became clear that there was media attention focused on them, they have finally done the right thing,” he said. “Why should it take shame for them to act? Where is their humanity?”

As anyone who has been put through the Tories’ benefit system knows, “humanity” and the DWP are two things that do not tend to go together.

Rather, it’s a department that in recent years has become synonymous with cruelty, where marginalised people are treated with total disregard – often at the very moment they are in crisis. In the last few days alone, we’ve had reports of a disabled woman who needs a bladder operation forced to sit in her own urine for two hours by a benefit assessor. And a woman who took her own life after her benefits were stopped when she missed a jobcentre appointment to go to the hospital. The DWP has since apologised for leaving a voicemail on the 42-year-old’s phone to say the sanction was being upheld – despite already having been told of her death.

This is the context in which the concerns of Grenfell residents should be seen. It does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that a benefits system that punishes people for missing an appointment because they are having a heart attack or attending their brother’s funeral would worry about doing the same to traumatised people who had nearly died.

The fact it was ever possible that the Grenfell fire victims would be punished for being unable to meet jobcentre rules is a damning insight into the culture of fear the DWP engenders. But it’s also a sign of the insecurity on the ground in Grenfell in the days after the blaze: local residents desperately piecing together bits of information themselves because the authorities that should have been helping were failing to do it for them.

For many Grenfell residents – ignored by the council and avoided by Theresa May– it is not unusual for a government department to abandon them. It’s shameful that any of them were left to worry that, having lost their homes, their benefits could be taken too. Some dignity and reassurance is the least the Grenfell victims are owed.

Government-funded new social housing has fallen by 97% since 2010, figures reveal

Independent

Opponents slam Tory ministers’ ‘disastrous’ failure to invest in social housing

The number of new government-funded houses built for social rent has plummeted by 97 per cent since the Conservatives took office in 2010, official statistics have shown.

More than 36,700 new socially rented homes were built with government money in England in 2010-11 – the year in which the Tories came to power in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. By the 2016-17 financial year that finished in April, that figure had fallen to just 1,102.

In the same period the total number of so-called affordable homes built with government money more than halved – from 55,909 to 27,792.

The new data comes as experts warn of a huge loss of social housing as a result of current government polices. The total number of social homes already has fallen drastically in recent years: 120,000 were lost between 2012 and 2016 alone, with many converted into “affordable” homes marketed at higher rents.

Instead of socially rented homes that are typically available to vulnerable families at around 50 per cent of market value, the Government has prioritised the building of “affordable” homes for which rents can be charged at up to 80 per cent of market value. Critics say that, in many areas of the country, these rents are not genuinely affordable for people on low and middle incomes.

The Conservatives were forced to U-turn during the election campaign after Theresa May announced the Tories would deliver “a constant supply of new homes for social rent”. The Government was later forced to admit that the new homes would, in fact, be the significantly more expensive “affordable” homes.

According to the latest figures, 20,854 homes at “affordable” rent were completed last year compared to just 1,102 at social rents.

The findings are likely to raise pressure on Theresa May and her government in the wake of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in Kensington, which raised fresh questions about the Government’s record on social housing.

Critics have alleged that the tower was built to a poor standard, and pointed to the fire as a sign of what they claim is a disregard for social housing displayed by Conservatives both locally and nationally. Analysis by The Independent reveals that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where Grenfell Tower is located, has built just ten new council-funded social homes since 1990.

The Chartered Institute of Housing has warned that the current fall in the number of social homes is set to continue, and predicted that, by 2020, nearly 250,000 social homes will have been lost in just eight years.

Hundreds of thousands of genuinely affordable homes have also been sold to private owners under the Right to Buy scheme – a process that will be significantly accelerated by the Housing and Planning Act, passed by the Government last year. The legislation extended the Right to Buy, which previously applied only to council-owned properties, to homes owned by housing associations, meaning a further 800,000 properties will now be eligible to be sold off.

Ministers have consistently promised that every home sold under the Right to Buy will be replaced on a one-for-one basis, but currently just one new home is being built for every eight sold.

The Government has also ordered local councils to sell off their most valuable social homes to help fund the extension of Right to Buy. Many are expected to end up in the hands of buy-to-let landlords and private investors. The Local Government Association predicts that almost 90,000 council homes will be privatised by 2020 as a result of this policy and the continuation of Right to Buy.

Forcing councils to sell their most lucrative properties means the social homes that remain are likely to be of worse quality and in poorer areas, including tower blocks like Grenfell Tower. Conservative ministers have rejected calls to ensure that homes sold off are replaced on a like-for-like basis, meaning social houses auctioned off to private buyers are likely to be replaced with far more expensive homes at “affordable” rents.

At the same time as hundreds of thousands of social homes have been lost, local councils have almost completely stopped building new homes. Just 1,890 were completed by the 353 councils in England in 2015-16 – an average of 5 per council. Data suggests the trend is getting worse: only 60 of the new homes that councils started building last year were social homes.

As a result, the UK has become increasingly reliant on private property developers and housing associations to build the homes that the country urgently needs. A large proportion of these homes, however, are marketed at full market rents or slightly reduced “affordable” rents – significantly more expensive than the social rents that have traditionally been applied to council-owned properties.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow housing minister, said the new figures were “disastrous” for the government.

“These disastrous figures show the Conservative Ministers have washed their hands of any responsibility to build the homes families on low and middle incomes need”, he said. “The number of government-funded social rented homes built has plummeted by 97 per cent since 2010.

“After seven years of failure, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis. A Labour government would invest in the affordable homes that the country needs.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Making housing more affordable is an absolute priority for this Government. That is why we have committed £25 billion to get more homes built.

“These statistics demonstrate a step change in the delivery of affordable housing in this country. Through a wide range of affordable products, from Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership, we are helping thousands of people to buy or rent a home that is right for them.”

ANOTHER DWP ATROCITY: DWP apologises for voicemail to tragic mum & says benefits decision was changed after her suicide

Jodey Whiting’s family told an inquest she took her own life after her benefits were stopped :: The decision was overturned after her death

The mother of tragic benefits mum Jodey Whiting today said: “Sorry isn’t good enough” after receiving a government apology following her daughter’s death.

Disabled mum-of-nine Jody’s inquest was told she committed suicide after her Employment Support Allowance was stopped for missing one appointment.

But Department of Work and Pensions bosses have now apologised to her family after its staff left Jodey a voicemail – despite being told of her death.

And it’s emerged the decision to stop her claim, which her family say was the “trigger” behind her suicide, was overturned after her death.

Clutching the apology letter, grieving mum Joy Dove said: “Sorry isn’t good enough, and it doesn’t bring my daughter back.

“To me, this apology proves they feel some guilt.”

Joy is now planning a campaign, dubbed ‘Justice for Jodey’, in her 42-year-old daughter’s memory.

‘Sorry isn’t good enough’: Government apologises to family of disabled mum-of-nine who took her own life ‘as benefits were stopped’

Teesside Coroner’s Court heard lifelong back problems left the retired shop worker barely able to leave her Stockton home, while she previously battled mental health problems.

But a heartbreaking chain of events was ultimately attributed to her death.

* Jodey was told to attend a health assessment on January 16

* The DWP asked her why she failed to attend, which she stated she was in hospital with a brain cyst and never received an appointment letter, although the body claimed there was no evidence to support this.

* A decision maker ruled on February 6 that she hadn’t provided sufficient evidence, and her benefits were stopped.

* On February 10, Jodey “raised concerns” about the decision, before formally appealing that decision three days later.

* On February 21, Jodey committed suicide.

* A different decision maker ruled on February 25 that, despite extra evidence from Jodey, her claim should still be closed.

Jodey Whiting
Jodey Whiting

However, the DWP’s system wasn’t updated until March 1 – over a week after she passed away.

That meant staff left a voicemail for Jodey which Joy claims broke her heart.

“It was bang out of order, unforgiveable,” said the 63-year-old.

“I was upset and crying when I heard the message and just wanted to fill up.”

Addressing the error, the DWP’s Karen Hibbert states in the letter: “This clearly should not have happened.”

The letter also states the DWP didn’t receive notice of Jodey’s final appeal over her benefit cuts until over a month after a death.

That appeal included a letter from Stockton ’s Citizen Advice Bureau dated February 15, six days before her death.

She had turned up at their offices with a “number of unopened letters”, including her appointment letter.

It was claimed that her mental health condition meant she struggled to “deal” with her mail.

Citizen’s Advice requested that the DWP reverse its decision to stop her payments, and in the letter to Jodey’s family, the DWP states: “In light of this further evidence, on 31 March 2017 the decision on Jodey’s claim for ESA was changed.

“I hope you will accept my assurance that this decision was based entirely on the evidence contained within the appeal notice we received on 23 March.”

It added: “My apologies for those aspects of our service that fell below our usual standards.”

For Joy, as she clutches a picture of her “beautiful” daughter, it is an apology she struggles to accept.

“They should have just believed what Jodey was saying, or at least made a few calls themselves rather than just end it all there and then.

“There are a lot of things they can work on.”

The DWP has since made back payments of Jodey’s benefit money to her family. It declined to make further comment.

Following her inquest, a spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with Miss Whiting’s family at this difficult time.

“Suicide is a very complex issue.”

Her inquest ruled she died following a drug cocktail. No blame was attributed to the body by coroner Jo Wharton.

But Joy said: “I still think they are in the wrong.

“My Jodey has gone now, but I want this to stop happening to other people.”