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Housing Benefit Cuts - The Knives Are Out

Chris Satori
Updated 20 March 2011
Last week Lancaster City Council wrote to Housing Benefit recipients warning them of forthcoming cuts to their benefits. Here is how it works.

Local Housing Authority (LHA) rates used to be calculated so that the cheapest five in ten privately rented properties were affordable to people in receipt of Housing Benefit. From 1 April 2011, the calculation of LHA rates is reducing so that only the cheapest three in ten properties ('the 30th percentile') are affordable to them. Claimants will be protected from this change until 9 months after their claim anniversary date. If a claimant changes their address after 31 March 2011 and has to make a fresh claim they and their household will lose this protection immediately. This can also happen if the number of people in the household changes.

The maximum rent allowances will change as follows:

The rate is capped at a maximum allowance of 4-bedroom accommodation. To qualify for any of the benefit, you must be already in receipt on income support or on a comparatively low income. If the rent you pay is in excess of the rate allowed you must pay the difference.

Lancaster City Council currently has 3764 LHA cases which equates to 7682 individual members - they will all be affected but not all in the first year, due to the 9 month transitional protection.

1904 cases get an excess allowance so they will all be affected on their first anniversary date in 2011/12 when they will lose their excess.

Of those cases which don't get the excess there are 277 cases which have an anniversary date prior to 01/07/2011. They are the only ones who will be affected by the reduction to the 30th percentile in the first year, because transitional protection will apply for 9 months, taking everyone else into 2012/13 before the reduction will kick in.

Income Support Rates:

If you have a child you get an extra £20.30pw and £13.40pw for each child after that.

Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is paid at the same maximum rate. Where it fails to meet the maximum it is made up with Income Support (IS).

In addition, single claimants under 25 are currently only allowed to claim the 1 Room rate. This will be extended to include all single claimants under 35.

Hard times for thirtysomethings...

In other words, if you are 30, scraping by on JSA and currently paying £90pw for the little bedsit you call home, you will have to find £38 yourself to make up your rent. If you are on Jobseeker’s Allowance / Income Support, this will leave you £27.45 to live on. To pay your bills, clothe, feed yourself and meet all your expenses.

If you cannot manage this you will have to move. Find a house, and people to share it with, where the rooms are no more than £52pw each. (If anyone has such a property available to let, they can advertise it free on our property page.)

Some local lettings agents will milk you £180 a time for fees for reference checks just to apply for properties, whether you get them or not. You will also have to find a deposit up front or find someone to help you out.

-- and even harder times for twentysomethings...

If you are 23, unemployed and living on JSA + IS and currently renting a room for £52, you are probably struggling whilst being made to feel inadequate because you can’t manage on your income of £51.85pw. The only way you’re likely to give up your room for a 30 year-old is when you either eat the rent or they carry you out, or if your parents will keep you.

If you get through all this, by hook or by crook, after you have been on Job Seeker's Allowance for 12 months, your Housing Benefit payments will be cut by a further 10 per cent.

All of this is bad news for the estimated 2,500 jobseekers in the Lancaster LHA -- and thousands yet to be made jobless by Lancashire County Council cuts.

Opinion: No place to live, and no real jobs to find

The right-wing press vilify claimants as scroungers, as if anyone would choose to attempt to survive on an amount so inadequate. How do you even begin to get a job when you are trying to survive on £27.45 pw? You would need to be resourceful. Informed. Connected. You need newspapers, bus fares. You need a telephone. Internet. You need to be clean and look healthy. How would you manage all this while keeping on the right side of the law?

And there must be real jobs for you to get, but paid jobs aren’t the plan in the Con-Dem economy. Workfare is the plan: put two and a half million people on the dole and then compel them to do allocated labour to qualify for their inadequate benefits while they become homeless. A little bad luck for any of us and it’s a short slip to the workhouse. Or Work Experience Residential Facility (Inc). And even then, those bankers and tax dodgers and their pet politicians won’t be satisfied.

The super-rich become exponentially richer, beyond any rational imagining, and the suffering this causes isn't an issue for them. Instead their pet newspapers and TV channels foment bigotry and division between decent people to distract us from their thefts. They isolate us, alienating us from our own society, which they show us as overwhelmingly shallow, venal, clonish and mockable. It's how they paint us, not who we are.

They talk about 'growth' but there hasn't been any growth in our economic system since the last century. There has been unregulated credit and false accounting, creating an illusion of growth. The paper profit has gone to the bankers' private pockets. The paper debt has been nationalised (the only thing that has been), forced onto the poorest taxpayers. The most vulnerable and their children are to be pushed to the wall, without mercy, to feed the futile, massively destructive games of rich men and their political entourages, who play without rules or ethics, but rule over our lives and our means.

An economic system that resists progress and change and depends on 'growth', i.e. perpetually being able to sell more and more useless tat, weapons or middlemen at profit amid diminishing resources and falling wages isn't sustainable, hasn't been for a while now, and that is what we are feeling. Now there is just a scramble of unregulated theft, looting and asset-stripping: the elite rich go on raiding pensions, mugging the weak, and every little pot of savings, every public asset, every fragile safety net, every year of life, of health, every public service for our care, or advancement, is fair game to them.

Whatever we don’t fight to hold onto, they will take. They are taking. There is no point in continuing to give ourselves and our children over to their avarice just because we have done so before, so docilely. If we are to be a civilisation, they must be stopped.

You cannot have a political democracy without an economic democracy.

The cuts are administered by Lancaster City Council – but the rules under which these benefits are paid are made by the Con-Dem Coalition and local authorities have little discretion in their application. Seeing their constituents, people they know, struggling against overwhelming odds will go hard on them. It is the Coalition government that is directly attacking us, on every front. It's them or us.

• Demonstrate for a Fair Alternative at the National Anti-Cuts March & Rally in London on Saturday 26 March. Fight Back!

• Visit the Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts Facebook Page for more info.

• Visit the March for the Alternative website.