The there are big changes being made to the benefit system. In October “Universal Credit” will shake up the entire benefits system, require people to claim online and pay all benefits monthly. The Bedroom Tax, or “under-occupation penalty” kicks in (and I use the term advisedly) in April.
My Other Half was out in Middleton this week talking to people about the Bedroom Tax. In just half an hour she came across these people:
- A lone parent with a disabled child who lives in 3 bed. She’s been told to start paying an extra £12 week and she’s finding that out of her (not her child’s) food budget.
- Another parent with two children, a boy and a girl. The eldest is five years old, so they’ve been told they have too many bedrooms.
- A single man who’s already left his Council flat because of the changes. He now lives a one bed flat in the private sector. The Council are now paying him more in Housing Benefit to pay the higher rent.
- A couple who live in a two bed property because they want to start a family. Until baby is born, that’s too big.
You may remember from previous columns that I’ve an inner Stalinist Planner. I like things to be done logically and life to be planned out rationally. So fitting the right sized families into the right sized properties should be right up my street.
If we had lots of council and housing association properties knocking about, even if all the houses and flats that have been sold since 1980 on the Right To Buy scheme had been replaced, then maybe. But actually there is a shortage and when there is a shortage of things its difficult to move.
Do you drive, or get the bus to work? It’s been a bit quicker this week because the schools are on half term. There’s more space on the road and everything flows a bit easier. Next week there’ll be more cars, less space and more traffic jams. It’s the same with moving house.
One of the big social issues in Beeston for the last twenty years has been “population churn”, that is people moving in, out and around the area. This has been an issue for crime, anti-social behaviour, education, housing and probably every other service in the community.
If people don’t stay around long enough to put down roots, they don’t invest in the area. I don’t mean money, I mean they don’t care. So they don’t pick up their litter, they have loud parties, they let their dog poo in the street, etc, etc.
If they have children and move that means the children will have to change schools. Changing schools is very destabilising for a child’s education. They have to build new relationships with other children and with teachers, they may have to pick up subjects being taught in a different way. It all sets back their progress.
And whilst we’re on the subject of children, figures this week reveal that the Leeds Central constituency (Leeds 10 & 11 plus Woodhouse, Lincoln Green, Osmanthorpe and Halton Moor) is one of the highest rates of child poverty in the country with 38% of our children living below the poverty line. So its not as if we starting on a level playing field.
So how is the Bedroom Tax going to benefit South Leeds? Is it going to rationally re-allocate council housing and ease the housing crisis? I don’t think so.
It is going to set back a lot of good work that’s been done over the last fifteen years. Let’s look at those four families my Other Half met. What does moving mean for them?
Finding a new set of support services for a disabled child; moving house and probably school everytime a significant birthday is reached and an extra bedroom is “allowed”; lower achievement at school for the children; moving to a smaller unsuitable flat to start a family and hoping they’ll be able to move again when baby is born; and finally costing the council, and therefore the Council Tax payer, more money.
What this also means for all these people is more stress. More stress leads to mental health problems and domestic violence. And that means more stress for wider families and neighbours. And that means its bad for you and me and the rest of South Leeds.
I’ll be back next week with more views about life South of the River.