Families failing to meet basic costs of raising children due to benefit cuts

Families failing to meet basic costs of raising children due to benefit cuts and rising inflation, report reveals

A couple on the National Living Wage now earns 13 per cent less than the amount needed to provide essentials for their child, the report calculated

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Local authorities are failing to find secondary school places for children with special needs Getty

Low-income parents are increasingly struggling to meet even the basic cost of raising children amid rising inflation, falling real wages and frozen benefits, according to new research.

In a damning report, the Child Poverty Action Group lays bare the realities of low-wage, austerity Britain in which families face a “yawning gap” between what they need and what they have.

The cost of supplying the essentials that are needed to raise a child to his or her 18th birthday, excluding housing costs, rose 4 per cent to £75,400 for a two-parent family in the year to April.

A couple on the National Living Wage now earns 13 per cent less than the amount needed to provide essentials, the report calculated. A lone parent on the maximum level of benefits now falls 31 per cent short of the cost of child-rearing, up from 22 per cent in 2012.

“For the first time in post-war history, these cost increases are not being matched by increases in support given to families from the state,” said report author Donald Hirsch, director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University.

He said the cuts are, “particularly painful for non-working families, who have little over half of what they need.”

The report measures the cost of raising a child as the difference between what parents would spend on their basic living costs with and without children, rather than the absolute cost of child-rearing.

‘I use food banks’ – workers on the impact of the pay squeeze 

On this measure, lone parents have been hit hardest by recent benefit cuts, the CPAG found, with the cost of raising a child soaring more than a fifth in just five years. Couples have seen costs jump by 8.7 per cent.

Child benefits and tax credits have not increased since 2015 and several elements have recently been axed. The result is that, as prices rise, state payments are increasingly inadequate to cover living costs, the CPAG said.

For those in work, the Government’s introduction of the National Living Wage has not allowed people to make ends meet. A 4 per cent increase in the statutory minimum pay level has been largely clawed back through reduced tax credits, which are means tested, the CPAG found. Inflation has eaten up the rest and more. The Office for National Statistics reported last week that price rises are again outsripping wages largely as a result of the weak pound which has made imports more expensive.

Even single parents on the UK’s median wage earn 14 per cent less than the minimum they need to bring up a child in what Britons consider an adequate standard of living. A couple on the average wage earns 8 per cent more than the amount they need to reach that standard, the research found.

In a society dripping with opulence, it’s disgusting people must go cap in hand to food banks

Both in-work and out-of-work families have been hit by a range of recent benefit changes, and the effects will become worse as cuts take full effect, CPAG warned.

It said the reduced cap on total benefits which took effect in 2016 has begun to have “significant effects” on the ability of families to make ends meet. The family element, which was paid to all families receiving tax credit and covered 7.3 million of the UK’s 12.9 million children has only just begun to hurt. As has the limit on child tax credit entitlements to two children, which is estimated to affect 3 million children.

The changes come after child poverty had already increased in both 2015 and 2016, with 20 per cent of children now living below the poverty line according to the latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The CPAG report calls into question Prime Minister Theresa May’s commitment to helping the “just about managing”. It also comes just a day after she faced a backlash from dozens of Tory MPs, including 20 former ministers, over the decision to drop a key general election proposal to cap energy bills for 17 million British people.

Katie Schmuecker, head of policy at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which commissioned the CPAG research, warned that “tough times are set to get even tougher”.

She called on the Government to use the next Budget to help struggling families.

“By ending the freeze on working age benefits and reversing the two child limit on Universal Credit, the Government can give low income families much-needed respite from the strain on their living standards,” she said.

80,000 people have been quietly hit because of Tory attacks on welfare

Chief executive of CPAG Alison Garnham said her organisation’s research shows the benefit freeze means children will be “the main losers with the return of inflation”.

There is now a “yawning gap between what ordinary families need for a no-frills living standard and what they actually have”, Ms Garnham said.

She added: “With the return of inflation the benefits freeze has become toxic for struggling families.”

SOURCE

New disabled MP accuses Conservatives of ‘eugenics’ policies to make disabled people ‘suffer and die’

Jared O’Mara says Tory ministers have ‘completely torn up the welfare system’

The Conservatives have dismantled the welfare system and introduced a system of “eugenics” in an effort to make disabled people “suffer and die”, according to a newly-elected Labour MP.

Jared O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy, said the Government has “completely torn up the welfare system” by shutting down the Independent Living Fund and making cuts to disability and social care benefits.

Mr O’Mara, who ousted former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg from his Sheffield Hallam seat, also declared his support for efforts to bring a criminal prosecution against Tory ministers over claims that the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) “fitness to work” tests have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

The former school governor insisted the policies were making disabled people have suicidal thoughts.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “A lot of people say you can’t use that word, but I will do: it’s eugenics. They want disabled people to suffer and die. That’s literally what’s happening.

“Disabled people are out there suffering and dying because they have not got the financial means and financial support and nor have they got the legal means to lead an equal life, or even to lead a satisfactory life.”

Conservative MP accuses mother of disabled child of lying

He added that reports that mentally ill people have been asked why they haven’t committed suicide by independence payment assessors support his claims.

“How is that not eugenics? Putting thoughts of suicide into a disabled person’s head. It’s literally eugenics,” he said.

“I’m not going to shy away from it, people might say I am taking it too far, but as far as I am concerned, what I have seen and what has happened across the board, it’s been eugenics.

“There are people just like me and people who have got conditions that make things even worse for them than mine does, and they are dying and they are suffering.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We have a proud record in supporting disabled people, including through the landmark Disability Discrimination Act.

“In the last three years, over 500,000 have moved into work and we continue to spend around £50bn a year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.”

In the wide-ranging interview with DNS, Mr O’Mara also said he “absolutely” supported efforts by anti-austerity groups to bring criminal proceedings against former DWP ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith relating to the fitness to work tests.

A disabled activist from the Black Triangle campaign lodged a complaint with Scottish police claiming the pair might be guilty of “willful neglect of duty by a public official”, but Scottish criminal justice agencies refused to investigate the matter in December.

A DWP spokesperson said at the time: “It is important we make sure that people are receiving the right support, and they are not simply written off to a life on benefits.

“The Work Capability Assessment has been improved dramatically since 2008 following a number of reviews, including five independent ones.”

After a month in his role as Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, Mr O’Mara said he has not been able to attend debates in the Commons chamber as he cannot stand for longer than 10 minutes.

35-year-old MP was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at six months old. The condition leaves him with severe fatigue and the right-hand side of his body is semi-paralysed. Mobility and standing for too long are issues and he needs bannisters on both sides of stairs.

The disability rights campaigner, who compares himself to Forrest Gump, previously said: “I’m this slightly eccentric, little bit weird disabled guy who keeps stumbling into large achievements.”

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Biggest-ever foodbanks report reveals hunger horror facing Britain’s hardest-up households

Researchers spent 18 months investigating why our poorest families are flocking for help

Four out of five foodbank users go hungry multiple times a year with some skipping meals for days at a time, according to the biggest ever study of UK foodbanks.

A bombshell report drawn up over 18 months today lays bare the horror of hunger gripping some of the country’s poorest families.

Soaring housing costs, rocketing energy bills and rising grocery prices pile pressure on budgets of the hardest-up households, the Oxford University probe found.

More than half of families relying on emergency handouts included a disabled person, 75% experienced ill health in their household, while mental health problems affected people in a third of families. It found that people with a disability or chronic illness who were in receipt of benefits were disproportionately likely to be referred to food banks, as were lone parents and poorer families with three or more children.

“These are the same groups that have been – and continue to be – hit hardest by welfare reform, such as loss of disability entitlements, increased conditionality and sanctions, the benefit cap, and reductions in tax credits.

(Photo: Getty Images Europe)

One in three households struggled to meet minimum monthly repayments on outstanding loans, and nearly one in five mired in debt owe money to payday lenders.

The 70-page report was based on data gathered from more than 400 households using 18 foodbanks around the country.

The devastating results outline the difficulties facing poverty-stricken households who seek help from generous volunteers.

Half had gone without heating for more than four days in the past 12 months, 50% could not afford toiletries, and a fifth had slept rough in the last year.

Nearly two in five people were waiting for a benefit payment, with most waiting up to six weeks.

A fifth were waiting seven weeks or more.

A third of delays were for Employment Support Allowance payments.

Author Dr Rachel Loopstra, of Oxford University’s sociology department, said: “The stories emerging from foodbanks across the country have surprised and shocked many people but until now, we have not been able to put them in a numerical context.

“Our survey data show how people using foodbanks are unable to ensure they always have enough food to eat because their incomes are too low and too insecure.

“We observed how commonly income or expenditure shocks, whether arising from a delay in receiving a benefit payment, from a benefit sanction, or from rising energy costs, tipped households into foodbank use.

“But these shocks, and resulting foodbank usage, occur among people who live with extremely low incomes and chronic food insecurity, where meeting basic needs is an ongoing struggle.

“The severity and chronicity of food insecurity and other forms of destitution we observed amongst people using foodbanks are serious public health concerns.”

The report was commissioned by Britain’s biggest foodbank network, the Trussell Trust, which runs 428 foodbanks.

Last year the charity’s volunteers provided 1.2 million emergency food parcels.

Chief Executive David McAuley said: “This pioneering research confirms to us what those volunteers have been telling us.

“DWP secretary, David Gauke, remarked last week when asked about the rise in food bank use. Gauke was announcing that the benefit freeze would remain in place despite rising food prices. With little sense of irony, he did it over a lobby lunch.

The Trussell Trust Food Bank
The Trussell Trust is Britain’s biggest foodbank operator (Photo: Getty)

“Every day they are meeting people trying to cope with low, insecure incomes and rising prices that mean even the smallest unexpected expense can leave them destitute and hungry – be that an unexpected bill, bereavement or the loss of income caused by benefit delay.

“Particularly concerning are the very high numbers of disabled people or people with mental health problems needing foodbanks.

“These findings reaffirm how vital the work of foodbanks and generosity of donors is, but are also a clear challenge to the new Government to do more to stop people ending up in crisis in the first place.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “This report builds on previous research directly linking increased use of foodbanks with the Conservatives’ punitive sanctions regime.

Debbie Abrahams blamed “Tory austerity” (Photo: Daily Mirror)

“It is further evidence of the total failure of the Tory austerity project, which as this data shows is disproportionately punishing people with mental health conditions and disabilities.”

“The fact that four out of five foodbank users go hungry over a year cannot be allowed to continue.”

“That’s why the next Labour Government will transform the social security system so that, like the NHS, it is there for us all in our time of need.”

A Government spokesman said: “We’re helping millions of households meet the everyday cost of living and keep more of what they earn while also spending over £90billion a year in extra support for those who need it.

“Employment is the best route out of poverty, and with record numbers of people – including disabled people – now in work, we’ve made great progress. WHAT A LOAD OF BS!

“But we want to go even further to help ordinary families. That’s why we’ve doubled free childcare, introduced Universal Credit and increased the National Living Wage and tax free Personal Allowance to make sure it always pays to be in work.” SOURCE

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Grenfell tower: The beginning of the end for the Tory austerity regime

Grenfell is a manifestation of the violence waged silently every day against the lives of the poor – an entirely avoidable tragedy generated by the housing crisis, austerity, deregulation and outsourcing.

Nothing can prepare you for the first sight. You may have seen images on television or pictures in the newspaper but the grim reality is of another order of magnitude. As you approach the area, Grenfell Tower is obscured by other buildings. I had been in the middle of a heated conversation with a friend when suddenly, as we turned a corner, it became visible. We both fell silent.

I have never seen anything like it in my life. The infernal scene is beyond words. The burnt-out shell of a building is a vision of hell. A recently released video of firefighters rushing to the scene documents their disbelief at the extent of the fire. It spread rapidly along the exterior flammable cladding from the fourth floor right to the top of the 24-storey tower.

Grenfell Tower, in effect, became a massive incinerator and a funeral pyre. It now stands as an eerie, haunting mausoleum.

Walking around the streets of the neighbourhood, the shellshock and anger are palpable. The memorials are stacked with flowers and messages of condolence. One message decries ‘’corporate manslaughter’’, which has been echoed by David Lammy MP for Tottenham.

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A man holds a sign for Jessica Urbano, missing since the fire (Getty)

I come across another chilling message stating that there could be more than 300 missing. I hear residents talking about the riots to come when the final death toll, likely to be in triple figures, is announced. I overhear a television reporter stating that it could become the largest loss of life on British soil since the Second World War.

There is a feeling in some quarters that the Tory council and government have blood on their hands. Lily Allen expressed her disgust to Jon Snow on Channel 4 news at the down-playing of the death toll by the government and mainstream media.

Other messages describe naked gas pipes, the lack of an integrated fire alarm system, cheap flammable cladding and one staircase for the building. In other words, this appears to have been a death-trap. Worse than that, multiple warnings about fire safety from the residents’ group Grenfell Action were ignored by the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

The vicinity has been cordoned off, which seems strange at a time when this community desperately needs help and healing. The lock-down containment approach, as if the community is a threat, would appear to be insensitive.

Silver private ambulances come and go ferrying the bodies. Drones hover from floor to floor relaying images as part of the salvage operation. Grim-faced firefighters leave the scene with expressions betraying the fact that they have seen the unspeakable.

There can be no hiding what has taken place here. The Grenfell building will remain standing for months as a massive scar on our conscience. It represents what happens when a society loses contact with any semblance of humane reality and forgets to look after its poor and vulnerable. Grenfell has become the physical embodiment of our collective guilt; the manifestation of the violence waged silently every day on the lives of the poor.

This was not simply an accident; as a public inquiry or coroner’s inquest is likely to prove.  It was an entirely avoidable tragedy of immense proportions generated by the housing crisis, austerity, deregulation and outsourcing. Grenfell has become a grim monument, a ghastly tomb symbolising the Tory austerity regime; arguably it is bigger than that – a proxy for the unmitigated folly of the neoliberal ideology of deregulated free market orthodoxy favoured by successive governments.

Protests

It was evident that something was stirring on the Friday after the fire. The general election result had resulted in a power vacuum with a prime minister perceived as illegitimate by many. The horrific tragedy of Grenfell, in the middle of a summer heatwave, was the spark that lit the tinderbox.

May’s private visit to the scene in which she managed to avoid meeting survivors or locals further enraged the community. The following day, as she left nearby St Clement’s Church, her motorcade was swamped by an angry crowd with screams of “murderer” and “coward” directed at her.

Meanwhile, an occupation of Kensington and Chelsea town hall was also under way; while a Justice for Grenfell demonstration proceeded from Westminster past Downing street temporarily blocking Oxford Circus before reaching BBC Broadcasting House at Portland Place. Chants of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” alternated with “May must go”.

Eventually, the march made its way to Kensington with buses and taxis honking in support. On the demo, I met an angry local resident, who told me that he had survivor guilt and was compelled to seek justice in memory of the victims.

One has become resigned to depoliticisation of even the most political events. And so it was remarkable to see the politicisation of Grenfell by locals in the immediate aftermath. They were ahead of the curve educating us all with unmediated, unfiltered analysis.

The result is that May’s new administration has been delegitimised with immediate effect. Her newly appointed chief of staff Gavin Barwell is the former housing minister, who lost his seat in the election. Barwell had promised a review of fire safety building regulations in the wake of the Lakanal House fire in south-east London that killed six people in 2009. However, this review has yet to materialise. May’s reappointed foreign secretary Boris Johnson is keen to avoid politicisation of Grenfell; perhaps unsurprisingly as the former mayor of London.

In a Newsnight interview designed to stymie the crisis, Emily Maitlis confronted May with the need for a public apology. But May’s stilted response was slammed for her lack of empathy. A few days later, Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan tore into a po-faced Michael Gove over the government’s callous response to families, who have lost everything.

There is clear anger directed not only at the government but at the media too. While the mainstream media has been more interested in framing the narrative as a human interest tragedy, the locals are not having any of it. One extraordinary video showed a man chastising a reporter about the smear campaign waged relentlessly against Corbyn. In another viral video, a young man tells the BBC: “‘The whole situation that’s going on in this area … they don’t want us here and have those rich-man blocks over there”.

The housing crisis

In a report titled Scaring the Living Daylights Out of People: The Local Lobby and the Failure of Democracy commissioned by corporate watchdog Spinwatch, Anna Minton outlines the familiar pattern replicated across the country. Lobbyists label social housing as ‘’sink estates’’ plagued by crime, gangs and drug addiction. This justifies what is euphemistically referred to as gentrification or regeneration: otherwise described by local communities as social cleansing.

The demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales. And it is not just property developers cashing in. Big banks, magic circle law firms, big four accountancies and contractors have all jumped aboard the gravy train. In effect, this destruction of social housing facilitates privatisation and financialisation in keeping with the neoliberal ideology.

Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies, encircle the Westminster bubble. They have been denouncing regulations as red tape for several decades. At the same time, property developers lobby government and make generous political party donations.

David Cameron’s government promised business a red tape challenge while Brexiteers dream of a bonfire of regulations. In return, deregulation has facilitated the multi-billion pound profits of developers. Now activist groups are firing back that regulations actually save lives. Back in 2006, the law was changed so that building owners, rather than fire services, were made responsible for assessing fire risk in multi-occupancy buildings.

The bigger picture is one of corporate capture of national and local government through various mechanisms. Cosy relationships between councils and property developers enabled through revolving doors. Housing ministers seated next to property executives at Conservative fund-raisers as happened at the Black and White ball in 2014. Landlord Tory MPs voting down a Labour amendment to the Housing and Planning Act in 2016, which sought to ensure that all private landlords made certain that their properties are “fit for human habitation”.

The housing market has been massively dysfunctional for some time. In fact, that phrase housing market is the clue – housing has become a financial instrument and not a universal right or social good. We are confronting nothing less than a full-scale national housing crisis. This is not the making of one government alone. It extends to cross-party councils and at least as far back as the 1980s when Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme paved the way for the dismantling of social housing.

A tale of two cities 

London has always been a divided city but the current levels of polarisation have arguably not been seen since the age of  Victorian East End slums. The sense of dispossession is illustrated by the fact that the capital has become a mecca for the international super-rich leading gilded lives while its citizens are ostracised.

As property and rental prices have soared, the workers servicing the rich, sweeping the streets, nursing the sick, teaching children and driving the buses have been pushed out to the margins forced to commute large distances. Middle income earners and first-time buyers are finding that they are priced out of the market with average London house prices reaching £500,000.

Kensington and Chelsea borough has long been synonymous with wealth; a byword for the absolutely fabulous lives of the rich and famous. It may be the richest borough in the UK but the real story is a tale of two boroughs – one of massive inequality with rich and poor living cheek by jowl. As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, South Kensington is the wealthiest part of the country while North Kensington is extremely deprived.

A stone’s throw from Grenfell, new luxury blocks are under construction. Behind the estate lies Lancaster road with a row of eye-wateringly expensive homes. According to Zoopla, a four-bedroom town house here can be yours for the princely sum of £4 million while a two bedroom flat is on sale for £1.6 million.

At the intersection between the estate and Lancaster road, I watched Porsches, Range Rovers and Aston Martins drive by. These communities are worlds apart. The borough is a microcosm of the entire UK with widespread deprivation interspersed with pockets of affluence. It is no surprise that Kensington and Chelsea has just voted Labour for the first time.

Breaking point 

An important part of this narrative is austerity. Cost-cutting is writ large over the Grenfell tragedy whether in the decision to use cheaper, flammable cladding or not to instal sprinklers. The lowest levels of house-building since the 1920s, cuts to housing benefit and the bedroom tax, in effect, represent an all-out onslaught on social housing. Massive cuts to public services, including emergency services and fire station closures, have also contributed to this catastrophe.

The austerity regime appears to be splintering and disintegrating. Chancellor Hammond has recently stated the government is not deaf to the election result and that the austerity slog will need to be eased. Yet even this statement demonstrates a woeful disconnection with the figuring of austerity as some kind of long distance run when it actually kills. A recent major study showed that 30,000 excess deaths in England and Wales in 2015 were likely to be linked to NHS and social care cuts. Thousands of people have died after being found fit for work according to statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions.

The hollowed-out state 

Grenfell has highlighted the ineffectual response of the state. The rush of volunteers and the amount of donations pouring in have been heartening but the question on everyone’s lips is: where is the state?

The answer is partly that the hollowed out state has been unable to mount an effective response. This is reminiscent of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. May’s private visit, avoiding locals even as 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth II managed to get there first, has drawn unfortunate comparisons with former president George Bush peering out of an airplane window as he flew over the destruction of Katrina.

Arguably, the state is simply unwilling. It is actually something of a misconception to believe that neoliberal ideology is anti-state. The state is the greater enabler of the free market creating, incentivising and policing markets, bailing out banks and providing massive public subsidies to the private sector.

The seemingly out of touch and callous response from May really reflects a political class disconnected from the voters they represent. This is no surprise with the Conservatives funded by the corporate and financial elite. As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed in a 2011 study, 51 per cent of Conservative Party donations came from financial services.

The simple truth is that this would never have happened if the victims had been rich. Neoliberal doctrine considers certain lives more valuable than others with poor black and ethnic minorities pretty much near the bottom of the pile. Boris Johnson subscribes to the social Darwinism of the 19th century philosopher Herbert Spencer. Spencer as well as various 20th century neoliberal thinkers espoused that inequality is desirable as the engine of economic growth. In other words, some lives are expendable. The Justice for Grenfell movement has already taken off but will it really be possible for the same system that produced this abomination to deliver justice?

The beginning of the end for the Tory austerity regime? 

The Grenfell Tower fire may come to represent the moment that a community, a city and a nation decided that enough is enough – the moment a nation took May’s slogan and venomously spat it back. Enough of the Conservative government, enough of austerity and perhaps even enough of neoliberalism.

Corbyn and McDonnell tapped into the disaffected public mood by stating that empty Kensington apartments should be requisitioned if necessary for rehousing Grenfell families. With demands growing louder, Capital is likely to be forced to make the necessary concessions. The purchase of 68 luxury Berkeley apartments by the Corporation of London for rehousing families demonstrates this. Shockingly, there have been murmurings of discontent from some residents that this could affect property prices.

The British establishment has always understood the need to accommodate and adapt when required. As the Tory MP Quintin Hogg put it after the war,:“If you do not give the people social reform they are going to give you social revolution.”

In fact, this process was already under way during the election campaign with the subtle tilting of elements of the corporate media against May and an impending hard Brexit. At the same time, Corbyn received more favourable coverage and was deemed respectable – and this was not simply down to rules on impartiality for broadcast media during an election.

Now that May is dispensable, it is not only her party that is in an unforgiving mood. Murdoch’s retribution for May’s incompetence has been swift and brutal. The Sun screamed “It was Murder” last Saturday on its front page over Grenfell. Meanwhile, from his perch at the helm of the Evening Standard, George Osborne, a former Tory chancellor, has lobbed molotovs, such as the post-election special front page: MAY HUNG OUT TO DRY.

In 2016, the populist (albeit largely reactionary) wave delivered Brexit and Trump. In response, the second act of this political drama has seen the mobilisation of the left with the popularity of Corbyn in Britain and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France following on from Bernie Sanders in the US.

The most attuned capitalists, the owners of the planet or the masters of the universe, if you like, understand that their power depends on making necessary concessions. There will be members of the elite, who remain deaf to the growing tide of discontent. If so then Marie Antoinette’s flippant, “Let them eat cake” will need to be updated for the 21st century. Of course, we all know how that ended for the House of Bourbon.

Theresa May has already had a go by stating that, “there are many complex reasons why people go to food banks”. Today’s haute bourgeoisie refrain in an age when eight billionaires own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population would probably be, “Let them drink champagne”. Woe betide those who ignore the anger of the dispossessed.

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When even a High Court judge says Tory policy causes ‘real misery for no good purpose’, you know it’s crunch time

One in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50 per cent of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.

Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK.

High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.

Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating.

Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two.

Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government, until the situation you find yourself in is so bleak and awful that you can hardly face another day.

The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically.

In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery.

It becomes out of the question to invite friends round for dinner or to play. Invitations to other children’s houses are declined, because it’s embarrassing not to be able to return the courtesy. Holidays are out of the question. School performance falters and declines.

In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50 per cent of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.

Theresa May criticised for ‘inhuman’ Newsnight interview

If this sounds Victorian to you, that’s because it is. Despite the Conservative Party’s claims that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour manifesto would “take Britain back to the 1970s”, it’s abundantly clear that we’re currently mired in the 1800s. The seventies seem progressive in comparison, and Corbyn has consistently called for the scrapping of the benefits cap.

Today’s ruling is welcome, but Tory ministers, far from pleading mea culpa and consigning this cruel policy to the rubbish heap, are reportedly preparing to appeal the High Court’s decision, calling it “disappointing”.

This Government is so flagrantly uncaring about the wellbeing of its citizens that it hears the testimony of those lone parents living in poverty, turning to food banks, suffering due to the Tory benefits cap, and decides “no that was a pretty good policy, let’s appeal to keep it”.

There is no progress in austerity. It brings nothing good, only pain and degradation. It is a sustained attack on the most vulnerable families in Britain, punishing the poor by inflicting further poverty and humiliation on them.

The Conservative Government is a shambles, lacking leadership, floundering towards a deal with a bigoted party of climate change deniers, and yet cracking on with their agenda of fiscal absurdity and rampant social cruelty. The ruling on the benefits cap should only be the beginning. They have twisted and gouged at this country for long enough. They have to go. 

also see

Benefits freeze set to continue despite rising inflation, says Welfare and Pensions Secretary 

Tories will press ahead with cruel benefits freeze despite soaring inflation 

Shock after inquest ignores ‘fitness for work’ and jobcentre concerns

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DWP are going to continue torturing the poor

Benefits freeze set to continue despite rising inflation, says Welfare and Pensions Secretary

David Gauke also refuses to commit to keeping the triple lock beyond 2020

The Government will continue with the benefits freeze, the new Welfare and Pensions Secretary has said, in an admission likely to prompt anger amid rising inflation and post-general election calls for an end to the austerity era.

David Gauke, who was assigned to the post following the General Election, acknowledged that food banks were now “much more widely used”, but claimed that one of the reasons for this was heightened public awareness.

Inflation has climbed to 2.9 per cent and is predicted to rise further before the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters at a Westminster lunch, Mr Gauke said: “I would expect the benefit freeze to continue. It is sometimes scoffed at, but the fact is there is much greater awareness of food banks than was the case previously. It’s become much more widely used.

“If we want to reduce poverty, if we want to reduce the need for people to use food banks, it’s that we have got to have a strong economy that creates jobs.”

The freeze is widely recognised as a key driver behind forecasts of rising poverty to come, as the poorest 20 per cent of society sees their incomes fall.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation charity recently said the freeze, unless reversed, would add to poverty.

Mr Gauke’s comments came a day after the High Court ruled the Government’s benefits cap is illegal and discriminates against single parents with young children.

Conservative ministers are subsequently likely to be forced to change or scrap one of their flagship welfare policies, which limits the total amount of benefits a household can receive to £23,000 a year in London and £20,000 elsewhere.

When asked about the “triple lock” on pensions — which sees pensions rise every year by whichever is the highest out of rises in average earnings, inflation, or 2.5 per cent — Mr Gauke said it was unlikely to continue in years to come.

“If you look at what the triple lock does, it has a ratchet effect because pensions go up by the higher of inflation or earnings, and in some years it will be one, in some years it will be the other,” he said.

“But over a period of time, it will mean that a greater and greater share of GDP goes to paying the state pension, even without any increases in pensioner numbers because that’s just the way it works. Do I think that in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, we will still have a triple lock? I cannot see in all honesty how we can.”

Mr Gauke said the triple lock — which the Conservative manifesto pledged to cut, prompting outrage — would remain until 2020, but would then be “reflected” on.

Asked about errors made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), Mr Gauke defended it, saying: “DWP deals with vast numbers of people and DWP staff have to make vast numbers of decisions.

“Will they get every decision right? Of course they won’t. But it is a really difficult task for them.”

The cabinet minister added that the Tories had been affected in the election campaign by young voters’ anger over shortages of affordable housing.

“I think it breeds an understandable degree of resentment where younger generations see that they don’t have anything like the housing opportunities that their parents had, so we have got to address that,” he said.

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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.”