South of the River – Where the cold winds of austerity blow

Compass-SouthThe cold winds of austerity are beginning to bite. April is just around the corner and with it comes the Bedroom Tax and further cuts to the Council’s budget.

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.

Jeremy MortonWhat 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.

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9 Replies to “South of the River – Where the cold winds of austerity blow”

  1. Depressingly excellent article, Jeremy.

    The example I found most shaking head in disbelief inducing was the single man who’s already where the Council are now paying him more in Housing Benefit to pay the higher rent. As I asked elsewhere if the changes are to save money why doesn’t this apply to the private sector? Mind you ‘Universal Credit’ will almost make him worse off come October…

  2. Leeds City Council are supporting people who need a spare bedroom, single people with visiting children and people with special needs children that have adapted housing so the picture of the bedroom tax should be one of freeing up larger houses for people that need them. Leeds City Council do have funds for deserving cases. Should they be spending money on entertainment (the ice rink and big wheel) and repairing really old building in Leeds city centre if they didn’t have the money to help deserving households?

  3. Bywater blog, Good to have a comment as the purpose of the blog is to stimulate comment so where’s everyone else?!

    I know Leeds City Council are supporting people, as you say and that’s entirely as it should be, but the money to do so doesn’t come from central government as it should do and has done in the past. This means it has less money for other things.

    Is it right people who have lived where they have, in some cases, for many years, should effectively be forced to move into smaller accommodation? In my view this is likely to prove particularly traumatic for older people there is a lot of evidence that moving house after the age of 75 is a major contributor of death for people who are otherwise healthy.

    The City Council has a shortage of smaller accommodation so the consequence of the policy is likely to increase pressure on such accommodation. The Council did have a policy of providing financial incentives to move to smaller accommodation and its seems to me that is a sensible way of encouraging the release of property that is under-occupied.

    If the government’s policy is being driven by a wish to release smaller accommodation why is it not being applied to the private sector? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the aim of the policy is to create more financial pressures on local authorities and penalise social housing tenants.

    Is LCC spending money on an ice rink and the big wheel? I don’t know the answer so would genuinely like to know the source of such information. I would have guessed that both operators are paying for the privilege so they are providing income to the Council but happy to be proved wrong.

    1. The previous comments are so true. I know of a person who has problems with self esteem and also suffers badly with severe nervous symptoms. She had just about managed to get herself stable when she was told she would have to move away from the area she had lived in for many years because she lives on her own in a two bedroomed council house. My question is- Where are all the one bedroom flats in the South Leeds area?
      Also many years ago we had the so called ‘Poll Tax riots’ protesting about the Thatcher governments upcoming Poll Tax bill- where are the protests about this govmnts so called bedroom tax?.

  4. Teamleader ‘Hands Off Our Homes’ are campaigning in Leeds and nationally against the bedroom tax: I’ve cut and pasted their update below. The issue is really hotting up now, and in 5 weeks’ time (1st April) the Bedroom Tax will come into force in the UK. It’s time to make our voices heard and start planning for what we do after 1st April.

    If you do one thing this week….
    Make sure you get down to the demonstration at the back entrance to City Hall as Leeds City Council pass their new budget. Weds 27th Feb, 12-2 (full details below)


    Demonstration at Civic Hall – 27th Feb, 12-2pm
    Leeds City Council are going to pass a new budget for the coming year and it’s really important we share our anger that the Government’s Bedroom Tax and other welfare cuts are going to affect so many people in Leeds. We’ll be there with the Hands Off Our Homes banner – bring your own housing-related messages to tell the council how you feel. Come to Civic Hall back entrance (behind the Leeds Met Rosebowl building). Bring your friends and your banners!

    Middleton Public Meeting – 28th Feb, 7.30 pm, St Cross Church, Middleton Park Avenue, LS10 4HX
    After successful public meetings in Armley and Seacroft, and Hands Off Our Homes action beginning in this areas, our next public meeting is in Middleton. If you live in Middleton, Belle Isle or the surrounding areas please come along. It’s an opportunity to find out more about housing benefit cuts, get together with people who are affected or who want to support those affected, and get organising!

    Armley Group Meeting – 28th Feb, 6.30pm, Dennison Club (middle room), Armley
    Proof that this campaign is getting big, Armley will see the third meeting this month on how Armley/New Wortley residents can work together to campaign on these unjust policies. Last week people decided to focus on informing their neighbours and friends about the changes and encouraging them to come and campaign together. There’s lots to do – it’s a big area with lots of affected residents – so if you live in this area then come along. There’s strength in numbers.

    Little London Public Meeting – 14th March, Rifleman Pub (time tbc)
    We’ll be holding a public meeting in Little London for those affected in the area. We will confirm a time as soon as we have it but put it in our diary if you’re in Little London/Woodhouse area.

    Other meetings are being planned for Harehills/Gipton, Chapeltown and Burmantofts. We’ll have more info next week.

    National Events

    Benefit Justice rally – 9th March, ULU, London
    Defend Council Housing have organised this meeting around all the cuts to benefits/welfare under the banner ‘Cut rents, not benefits/ Can’t pay, won’t pay/ Can’t move, won’t move!’ Representatives of Hands Off Our Homes are going, contact us if you’re interested.

    National demonstration against the bedroom tax, 16th March
    Some members of the Labour party/TUC have called this national demonstration day, which is taking place in towns and cities affected by the bedroom tax. It may be that in Leeds we want to have our own demonstration and/or other event – something to discuss in local groups?


    Anger against the bedroom tax is growing! Here’s what our friends in other cities are doing.

    – In Liverpool, there have been a number of public meetings, a strong message of ‘can’t pay, won’t pay!’ and a demonstration and an occupation of Liverpool Homes offices!
    – Manchester will hold a public meeting this week around ‘Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay! Can’t Move! Won’t Move!’ Manchester will have 14,000 households affected by the bedroom tax.
    – Many northern towns such as Hull, Skelmersdale, Selby and others are getting in on the campaigning. Members of Hands Off Our Homes are supporting these campaigns where we can.
    – Glasgow will hold a public meeting against the bedroom tax this week with a demo planned for 30th March


    – Can’t make a meeting but want to find out what happened and how to get involved?
    – Want to share your story and add to our growing evidence of how the housing benefit cuts will hit Leeds people?
    – Want to have a meeting to start organising with people in your area?

    Telephone: 07504017322


    There’s a lot of anger and a lot of support out there – let’s stick together and fight the bedroom tax.

  5. I’m hearing of so many tales like the one about the mother who’s sacrificing her own food just so she can provide for her kids.

    It’s a bit of a cliche (and it doesn’t refer specifically to South Leeds) but it’s like living in a Third World country. It’s an embarrassment to our country and a scandal that this sort of thing is happening in 2012.

    I saw on Look North last night that something like 20,000 peopel in Leeds are malnurished, mainly because of poverty. How’s it come to this?

    1. John, that’s good common sense advice that will help some people. But what if your “extra” bedroom is because you are divorced and your kids visit at the weekend? What if you’re a foster carer? Foster kids won’t count as part of your family apparently. What if your child has been taken into care and you’re now sorted you and want to look after them again?
      The bedroom tax has some logic, but it’s a very blunt instrument that will hurt a lot of people while solving very few problems.

      1. To be honest Jeremy I’d say let the kids kip on the couch. Is it fair my, yours and other people’s taxes should pay for that extra room, when in some cases those contributing may not have that luxury (indeed some of the people receiving this benefit will no doubt contribute towards it – complete madness). Don’t foster carers get paid?

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