Tag: Council tax

Conditionality and discretionary housing payments: when paying rent is more important than buying food

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy

The government’s behavioural change agenda, which targets the poorest citizens, is being delivered via the increasing conditionality of social security and public service support provision. The underpinning rhetoric is that individual behaviours cause poverty, rather than government policies, which are causing a systemic unequal distribution of wealth.

Councils who are facing shortfalls in government funding to meet their statutory obligations have recently introduced behavioural conditionality to applications for awards of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). Most local authorities are now saying they will only help those who will have a “positive outcome” as a result of the support. Yet they claim that this is to ensure limited funds go to only those “most in need”.

The reasoning provided by councils for only supporting those “nearest to the labour market” to encourage “financial independence” is at odds with the aim of ensuring support goes to “those most in need”. Surely those unable to work through illness and disability, who are furthest away from the labour market, actually have more need, yet will be less likely to meet conditionaility requirements and so won’t receive the support that the government tells us is supposed to be in place for us.

DHP is now much less likely to be awarded for those in greatest need precisely because of the new conditionality criteria. It specifically supports people who are more able to find work. Those who can’t are expected to go without food and fuel to meet their housing costs and potentially face destitution.

Disabled people paying for disabled people’s support

On Thursday I went to apply for DHP as I no longer have enough money to live on, partly because of now having to pay council tax and bedroom tax. Like many people, my essential outgoings are considerably greater than my income. The government have claimed that disabled people like me can claim DHP as a safeguard from the financially damaging impact of the bedroom tax, which disproportionately affects disabled people.

However, my own council have warned me in advance that they have little funding left for providing DHP support.

ESA and other benefits were originally calculated to meet the costs of food and fuel, and other essential living costs, based on an assumption that you would also get FULL housing and council tax benefit. There hasn’t been full housing benefit provision for some years now, but previously, people who are disabled were exempt from paying council tax, until recent years.  

This is leaving some people without enough money to meet the costs of their basic survival needs – food and fuel. One reason I now have to pay more council tax, according to the statement from my local authority on my bill, is to raise money to meet the costs for the government’s pledged funds for improving adult social care – the adult social care precept. That is being taken from every household, including the poorest, many of which have people with serious medical conditions and disabilities in them.

My local authority says: “The introduction of the National Living Wage and increase in population means this is an area where we have seen significant financial pressures. The 2% increase will help us to maintain our current services.”

There’s a certain horrible irony here, too.

My local authority inform me that I now have to pay council tax to fund support for:

  • older people
  • people with a learning disability
  • people with a physical disability
  • people with sensory loss
  • people with mental health needs

The never-ending need to justify need: facing the bureaucratic wall around support provision

I am a person with physical disabilities because of an illness, and my only income is my ESA, at the support group rate. I ought to have claimed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) before now. However my experiences claiming ESA were pretty distressing and extremely anxiety provoking, that has deterred me. The enormous stress and anxiety of the assessments, facing a tribunal and then the reassessment almost immediately after I won my case in court exacerbated my already serious illness, and left me acutely and desperately ill for at least two years.

I’m a reasonably robust person ordinarily. I have worked most of my life, and I enjoyed my work, particularly the youth and community posts I undertook. I did a vocational part-time Master’s whilst I worked full time, and later went on to do mental health social work with young people at risk.

I was very unprepared for what followed when I suddenly became very ill with lupus. I was used to being fit, healthy and very active. I also had a good salary and a relatively comfortable standard of living. Though I was never very affluent, I had enough to cover my family’s needs, and to provide enough for my children to have stability.

I was forced to give up work as I was much too ill to fulfil my role competently and there were significant risks to my health in the workplace. My illness and some of the treatments I have also mean that I am very susceptible to infection. I caught a cold from a colleague in work and ended up with pneumonia and pleurisy more than once, for example. My illness impacted on my capacity to work for many reasons, such as an autoimmune bleeding disorder, widespread joint and tendon damage affecting my mobility, severe nerve pain, deteriorating eyesight, neurological problems and cognitive difficulties and so on. The tribunal panel (regarding my ESA eligibility) concluded that I had made the right decision to leave work because of the further serious risks to my health, after reading my medical reports from my specialists. 

My house was repossessed because my modest mortgage payments became unmanageable as I had no way of making the payments. I did approach my local housing office for help, who told me they could only offer support once I was actually homeless. That would have meant having all my family’s possessions left on the street, too.

I found a house to rent just down the street for a very reasonable amount. In fact initially there was very little shortfall between my housing benefit and actual rent. I had two boys at school, they didn’t want to leave the area as they were in their final years, and we have other family in this area. I was informed by the council that I would be eligible for housing benefit for a three bedroom house at that time. I took out a small loan for my deposit, as by then my last wage had long gone. The council were pleased I had managed to find cheap accommodation that suited my family’s needs.

I moved into the property, but I was very ill and struggled coping. My disability advisor at the job centre advised me to claim ESA at this time. By then I was having weekly chemotherapy treatment (Methotrexate) at the hospital and was considered unavailable for work, I didn’t (and couldn’t) meet thhe jobseeker’s allowance conditionality requirements, and my advisor recognised this.

Within two months of moving into the property, the law changed, and I had to pay bedroom tax for my older son’s room, as he was suddenly expected to share a room with his younger brother. There are no smaller houses locally, none with lower rents, and all of the limited number of two bedroom council flats here are inhabited. Not that moving again would have been easy for me as I was so poorly at this time. The first move down the street had affected my health, and exhausted me for months.

However, after almost a year of struggling to pay the bedroom tax, my oldest son reached 18 and my housing benefit went back up not long before he left for university.  I got almost a year of backpay when I won my ESA tribunal and that helped me get on top of my increasing debt, after months of really struggling. I also got a tax rebate from when I worked, also helped enormously. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided that they would take back an overpayment they made in 2007, whilst I was struggling on basic rate ESA, awaiting tribunal in 2011. I was also paying bedroom tax then. I had claimed income support briefly when I changed jobs, whilst I waited for social services to complete background checks that were necessary for my post. I couldn’t start the post until the checks were done. Meanwhile we had nothing to live on. The checks took three months.

I was entitled to a month of run-on benefit as a lone parent once I took up the post. However, despite the fact I had signed off, the income support payments continued another two months. I had phoned a couple of times and then written twice to inform the job centre again that I had taken up my post.

I don’t mind paying back the money I was overpaid. I did mind that the DWP also took back the run-on benefit that I was actually entitled to for the first month, and told me it was far too late to appeal that decision. The hefty deductions from my reduced ESA did cause me a lot of hardship, but at least I didn’t owe anything by the time I won the tribunal. It was claimed I did still owe money at one point and I had a letter saying my ESA back dated payment wasn’t going to be released as I owed money. I didn’t.

It’s almost as if the DWP want to keep you in a state of constant anxiety, despair and precarity, and to make sure that your life is never remotely acceptably comfortable, secure and safe. Social security is no longer a safety net, it seems to have been transformed into a bureacratic wall that exists simply to discipline poor people and ensure as few people as possible have access to any lifeline support. The letters are written in a way that intends to cause anxiety, I am sure.

I managed financially for a couple of years, though budgeting on such a limited income is difficult. But having worked for a long time, I had furniture and household items, enough clothing and when things got very bad, I had a few personal items to sell if need be. 

Of course over time, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, fridges, kettles and cookers break down.  Children grow and need clothes and shoes. I went a whole year without a washing machine when mine broke, but saved a little every month until I had enough for a second hand one. I don’t know how I managed to get by because much of the time I could barely walk or use my wrists/hands, but I had to wash clothes and bedding in the bath. It took up a lot of my time and effort. Poverty is cumulative, too. It gets much worse and more wearying as time goes by. If you are ill and disabled, the impacts of poverty are considerably greater.

Both my youngest sons are at university now. They come home out of term times. I feed them and support them as best I can, though we don’t have any money to cover their living costs. Both are at universities out of the region, they have student finance for term times, but both have struggled to meet living costs. When they come home, it’s for a couple of weeks, though considerably longer at christmas. They have never managed to find work locally to tide them over out of term time, despite trying. No-one wants to hire people for a couple of weeks.

My oldest son found a part time job in his first year at university. He didn’t have regular hours and his employer simply called him when he needed him. However, my son’s travel costs to and from work exceeded what he earned, and more than once his allocated hours coincided with his lectures, which are compulsory.

Both boys are considered as living at home as they return home out of term times and are expected to return home once they complete their studies. 

In the new year, I caught ‘flu and within a couple of days I ended up with pneumonia and sepsis. At the time I was far too ill to know I was so poorly. It was my son who realised how serious my condition was and rang the ambulance, just in time.

I was already in a critical condition with septic shock when the ambulance arrived. My illness means my immunity to infection is very low, so I’m always at risk from pneumonia, kidney infections, random abscesses and so on, but this was the first time I have ever had life-threatening and severe sepsis. I was very ill in hospital and spent a couple of days drifting in and out of a bottomless sleep and hallucinating, whilst on the lifesaving IV treatments and fluids. I needed oxygen support for five days afterwards, anticoagulant injections, and continued taking combined oral antibiotics, steroids and a course of Tamiflu for a couple of weeks after I came home. 

When I got home from hospital in late Jaunary, we had no hot water or heating as my boiler had broken. But we used fan heaters, and I managed to keep warm in my room, I focused on recovery, until the electric went off because of a fault on a circuit. My landlord lives in the US currently and I had difficulty in contacting him. I had no choice but to find somewhere else to stay as the house was so cold it was uninhabitable, and we couldn’t cook food. I was still very weak and very slowly recovering. By this time my youngest son had returned to university. My oldest son and I had to stay with a friend.

The electrical fault was fixed and I got a new boiler fitted the following week. I remained weak and my pulmonary specialist told me it would likely be at least three months before I was fully recovered. I have been diagnosed with additional lung problems since, which showed up on a scan, following more tests showing my lung function is just 40% of what it is expected to be. Some of the problems are related to lupus, which has caused a lot of inflammation in both lungs.

My son decided I needed some additional support to recover and he has taken six months out from his degree to care for me. The alternative was for me to contact social services for support.

I now have to pay bedroom tax for his room, in addition to the council tax, as he is classed as a non-dependent adult. Having no boiler for several months has also meant I used a lot more eletricity, so my bill is much bigger than usual, so my direct debit has more than doubled every fortnight. I managed to negotiate it down a bit, but it is still more than twice my ususal payment. My new boiler is a lot more efficient than the old one, luckily, but I am nonetheless struggling to make ends meet.

So I applied for DHP.

I had an interview on Thursday at our local housing benefit office. 

Rent and council tax are more important than food and fuel, apparently

The interview went as follows:

Firstly, I was asked to give an account of my income and outgoings. 

Housing Officer: What have you done to look for work?

Me: I am in the Employment Support and Allowance Support Group (ESA). This is because I became too ill to work and it’s been agreed by my doctors, myself and the state that I can’t work “consistently, reliably and safely” due to the severity of my illness and the substantial risks I would face if I were to return to the workplace. I have tried to find a job writing from home that pays a wage to support myself, but had no luck so far. 

Housing Officer: What have you done to look for cheaper accommodation?

Me: I wasn’t aware I was expected to. However, there is no cheaper accommodation in the area, unless you have any two bedroom social housing to offer me. Then I would need considerable support in moving, as my illness means I have mobility problems, severe problems with profound fatigue, other health problems that make moving risky, and I also need to be organised to accommodate a strict routine for my health care.

Housing Officer: Have you considered taking in a lodger?

Me: I have no spare room to offer a lodger as my sons occupy them out of term time and are expected to return home once they graduate. However, I would not consider taking a stranger into my home because I am disabled and ill, therefore I am potentially vulnerable and feel that this may present an unacceptable risk to my wellbeing and safety. (See for example: Mother and son who ‘gave shelter to homeless man’ stabbed to death at family home.)

Housing Officer: Your weekly shopping average looks slightly high.

Me: Well at the moment it is for two of us. On Friday my youngest son is home for the Easter break, and I will then need to feed him too.

Housing Officer: I only want details of what you spend on yourself.

Me: Do the council expect that I leave my children without food?

(No response)

Me: My weekly shop includes essential items I can no longer get on prescription, such as eye drops, because my tear film is very poor, I don’t produce tears as I have Sjogren’s – painfully dry eyes – as part of my illness. I used to get moisturising drops on prescription from my opthalmologist but they have been discontinued. If I don’t use the eyedrops my cornea becomes scarred and I get eye infections.

I also have to buy sunblock, because I get a blistering and painful rash in the sunlight, even in winter – that’s also part of my illness.  

I have to buy detergents and toiletries that are very hypoallergenic and gentle because my skin is fragile, hypersensitive, prone to rashes and painful blistering in places because I have lupus and eczema, all of which leaves me prone to infection if I don’t treat the conditions with care. I also have to buy cleaning products and antibacterial items, to keep my home as clean as possible because my illness and treatments mean my immunity to infection is very poor. 

None of these items are available on prescription, but I do unfortunately need them. I have also included very modest clothing/footwear costs (I have to take care with footwear because I have severe Raynaud’s – a condition that causes very poor circulation that shuts down in my hands, feet and nose with even slight fluctuations in temperature – and so I need to keep my feet and hands warm.  I am prone to blisters from badly fitted shoes which then turn into serious infections and have developed sepsis at least once because of this. I also need shoes that are cushioned and support my Achilles tendons because of damage to them and my joints. 

I’ve also included modest costs for essential household items, which everybody needs sometimes due to wear and tear. I have a bleeding disorder, which affects me in a way that means I have to spend more on sanitary items than most people. I also have additional dietary needs because I am underweight, and I have IBS and acid reflux, which means I have to eat small meals frequently throughout the day. This is not a lifestyle choice: it’s because of my medical conditions.

Housing Officer: Don’t take any of the questions personally, everyone is asked the same.

Me: The problem with having the expectation of everyone having the same needs is that you then don’t have any opportunity to recognise the more vulnerable clients who need additional support because of their additional needs. Not everyone finds it easy to find suitable employment to support themselves.  Illness and disability can happen to anyone, it is sometimes a major barrier to working and I am not ill because of “lifestyle choices”: it’s not because of something I did or didn’t do. I have worked. Now I can’t. 

People are dying because of that built-in oversight and other government policies that don’t accommodate people’s circumstances and disregard their additional needs because of disability and illness. Many others are suffering unacceptable distress and harm to their health.

Housing Officer: I know.

She delivered that comment with complete and almost menacing detachment. I was so taken aback I couldn’t speak for a few moments. She didn’t even pause for breath, however.

The part that was by far the worst during the interview was this matter-of-fact agreement that people are dying as a result of the policies that she was calmly sat implementing.

It was delivered almost like a veiled threat: that if I didn’t or couldn’t comply with certain unstated behavioural requirements, which were not made explicit at any point during the interview or prior to it, I would also be left to die. 

I was then told I must “prioritise” my rent and council tax payments above everything else.

I explained that my rheumatology consultant has also told me I must prioritise eating well, putting weight on (I weighed less than 8 stones), and keeping warm. I don’t have enough income to do both of those things, as it is. I explained again that I could meet my husing costs before I had to pay council and bedroom tax, and have managed to do so until now, and this is why I had applied for DHP.

My comment was met with silence. 

Apparently, not falling into rent and council tax arrears is more considered more important than meeting basic survival needs such as eating and keeping warm.

I was also almost casually asked if I had any pets or Sky TV. Next I was asked if I had a TV, broadband and a mobile phone contract. I was asked how much I spend on my phone monthly (it’s a pay as you go). I felt I was being turned into a Daily Mail stereotype by bureaucratic questioning that was designed to find ways of dismissing me as ineligible for support in an arbitrary way, under the cover of mundane chit chat.

The more I responded the more demand was placed on me to justify my outgoings, the more information I presented, the bigger the scope for potentially finding reasons for refusing my application.

ESA and PIP assessments work in much the same way – assessors fish for as much information as possible about your everyday life so they can use it to try and claim you are more able to work and less disabled than you and your doctor are claiming.

For example, “Do you watch soaps on TV?” – a deceptively conversational and informal question – may translate your response on the report potentially, as “Can sit unaided and concentrate for at least half an hour”.  The aims and motives behind the questions are deliberately obscurred, so that you don’t have an opportunity to explain or clarify any details or challenge the assumptions being made to justify ending your lifeline support.

That gold locket and chain that was your mother’s, which you wear all the time because you can’t take it off, as the clasp is too difficult for your arthritic fingers, becomes a sign of finger and hand dexterity to an assessor, as it’s just assumed you take it off and put it on again. When I had a chest x-ray rencently, I had to ask the radiographer to take it off. The whole process is designed to search out ways to discredit your doctor’s and your own account by any means at all concerning the level of your disability and the impact it has on your day to day living and work capability.  

Agents of state control and “changing behaviours”

Behavioural conditionality has now been built into every aspect of social safety net provision, this is to save costs and ultimately, to justify the dismantling of social security, public services and healthcare provision. It is justified by an ideological narrative of the neoliberal “small state”, austerity and paying off the national deficit, the “unsustainability” of safety net provision and the state re-translation of competitive individualism into a rhetoric of self help, thrift and “personal responsibility”.

However, the behavioural change programme is being applied only to poor and vulnerable citizens. Against a backdrop of austerity and welfare “reforms” (cuts), millionaires were awarded a tax cut of £107,000 each per year, exempting them from the same obligation to practice personal responsibility, thrift and self help. The Conservatives’ low tax and low welfare society means that perversely, those who have a lot of money are not expected to contribute to our society, whereas those who are low earners or unemployed are expected to pay down the deficit and pull themselves up by invisible bootstraps.

If you suffer or die in the process, apparently that is okay because the government inform us there is no “causal link” between such “adverse” consequences and their adverse policies. However, a correlation has been well-established by independent research and the narratives of many of those affected by the draconian polcies, as well as campaigners.

What really struck me during my housing benefit interview was how the ordinary and seemingly reasonable woman in front of me seemed to suddenly shapeshift into a resentful, disapproving and prejudiced state drone who didn’t feel I deserved any support, about a third of the way into our interview.  I felt like Iain Duncan Smith was conducting the interview.

The government have built up almost impenetrable walls of authoritarian bureacracy around social security provision, and a hive mind army to deliver their distinctive and punitive approach to poverty, which is now all pervasive. All bullies seek the “behavioural change” of others to get their own way.  Conditionality is built upon a behavioural change agenda to prop up neoliberal policies aimed at removing social provisions that the poorest citizens need to survive. Work is no longer the panacea it is held to be, since labour market deregulation and intentionally low social security creates a reserve army of labour, which “incentivises” profiteering employers to keep wages low. 

Even a trip to your GP is likely to trigger the question “do you work” these days, as job coaches are co-located in surgeries to enforce the government’s “work cure” and suck you back into a supply side reserve army of desperate labour. However, sometimes people are simpy too ill to work. The state and its wall of bureaucracy, however, are absolutely refusing to accept this.

There is no end to intrusive state nudging and shoving, especially when you just want to be left to cope with being progressively ill in peace. The government believe that illness and disability are simply a set of “faulty” behaviours that need correcting, and that people will respond to a particularly punitive form of operant conditioning in order to change their behaviours to bring about a miraculous recovery. Work is considered a “health” outcome. However, work is a work outcome and has nothing whatsoever to do with a person’s health. In my own experience, work considerably contributed to the progression of my illness. Being constantly expected to work has also contributed significantly to the deterioration in my health.

Furthermore, I don’t recall giving consent for my taxes and national insurance to be used to pay rogue companies that cost the public billions to “save” relatively meagre amounts in welfare and public service spending just to punish, bully and coerce people who need support.

Nor did I give consent to a state experiment in value-laden, poorly designed and prejudice-determined operant conditioning on ill, disabled and unemployed citizens. 

tumblr_m81dzafFA21qcekj1o1_500

Cameron was surely mocking when he used this phrase as a slogan from Terry Gilliam’s darkly dystopic film, “Brazil”, which was coincidently about nightmarish totalitarian bureaucracy 

There were no innocent and random comments from the interviewing housing officer. Almost every question was geared towards making me feel guilty for being poor and not being in work, I was challenged over every single penny I spent, as if I have no right to food, items that I need to meet my complex health needs, and no right to extend an ordinary gesture of basic kindness and decency by taking in a stray cat that had no home and no-one. I’m surprised I wasn’t asked to sell everything I had bought and kept from when I worked.

I had no idea that disabled people could be refused support if they had a pet. Regardless of whether that pet was one you had when you were in better circumstances, working. How utterly callous to expect people to dispose of their cherished companions when they experience hard times, it’s cruel on the person and cruel on the poor and innocent animal.

Most pets cost very little to feed, too.

My cat is a great source of calm and comfort for me, at a time when I am struggling trying to constantly adapt to a progressive illness, and increasing absolute poverty.  I couldn’t bear to part with her.

I wonder what the decision-makers, who are gatekeeping funds that are meant to support disabled people rather than punish them, expect a person should actually do with a cherished family pet, which may have been a part of a family long before severe financial problems and illness came along.

It’s rather like financially penalising people by cutting off support for some children just because a parent has lost a job and encountered difficult times. It’s a Poor house mentality – we are all categorised as either “deserving” or “undeserving” based on our previous choices as well as our current ones. How very dare anyone have anything at all that gives them a little joy and comfort if they become too ill to work. Even if they worked for it prior to losing their job or becoming ill.

This said, those people who have never been able to work should be supported, unconditionally and without any resentment, to meet their living needs and to lead safe and secure lives. This is how a democratic, decent and civilised society should behave, after all.

2014-02-17-BurdenoftheCuts-thumb

I don’t need a behavioural change agenda. My behaviour didn’t put me in a position of hardship: ill conceived state policies that disproportionately target ill and disabled people for austerity cuts are the root cause of my financial problems. I am not ill because of my behaviour, my medical condition arose because of a complex interplay between genetics (my mother and her father had a connective tissue disease, and both my maternal aunt and uncle do), hormonal events (pregnancy was probably the trigger in my case, as that is when I first became ill, 21 years ago) and possibly some environmental triggers too, such as an infection. It was not because I did or didn’t do something. No-one could have predicted a pregnancy would trigger a connective tissue disease. No-one knows how it will progress either, unfortunately. I managed to work for some years whilst being ill, and stopped only because I absolutely had too when I my symptoms became too severe.

Neoliberalism is founded on the principles of “market competition” and competitive individualism. In competition, a few people do very well and “win”, and many more don’t. That is the nature of competition. This is how it works.

Neoliberalism itself causes inequality and poverty, whilst rewarding most the people who are already very wealthy. Addressing the “behaviours” of poor people to punish them into not being poor won’t change the consequences of inequality because of our socioeconomic organisation one bit. Poverty, by it’s very nature, reduces behavioural choices and opportunity.

It’s really the government who need to change their policies and prejudiced behaviours, not poor, ill and disabled people.

pie wealth

 
Related 

What do good Local Welfare Support and Conditionality Schemes look like? – The introduction of local welfare support and conditionality schemes are a side-effect of localisation.


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

Social service funding crisis deepens

gret deceit

Research, carried out before the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, has highlighted fundamental problems concerning how different social services will be affected in the future, including adult social care. The survey included all 151 adult social services directors in England, and it has found that despite charging residents extra council tax to pay for social care, and disabled clients now have to pay for social services from their disability benefits (care component), the additional revenue isn’t sufficient to cover the cost of the new National Living Wage (NLW), nor will it address the huge shortfall in funding to meet increasing public demand.

The research published yesterday by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) indicates that the precept, introduced in the Autumn Statement 2015 to give councils the option to raise council tax by 2 per cent for adult social care, will generate less than two thirds of the more than £600 million needed to cover the NLW this year, leaving directors  with a gap to fill of around £940 million just to keep essential services operating at last year’s levels – and at a time when demand from people who need support is steadily increasing.

ADASS President Harold Bodmer said:

“Councils are working hard to protect adult social services budgets, with adult social care accounting for 35 per cent of council spending for the third year running. However, with more people needing support and having increasingly complex needs, the impact of the welcome national living wage, and other cost pressures, fewer people are getting help, and councils are having to make reductions which will impact on people who receive care.

“More money needs to be invested in prevention to reduce future demand, but with funding under such pressure and diverted to those with greatest and immediate need – those that we have a statutory duty towards – the opportunity to do that is being taken away.

“We have been arguing for some time now that adult social care needs to be given the same protection and investment as the NHS. Services are already being cut, and the outlook for future care is bleak. We’re at a tipping point where social care is in jeopardy, and unless the Government addresses the chronic underfunding of the sector, there will be worrying consequences for the NHS and, most importantly, older and disabled people, their families and carers.”

The survey also found that more people in need were being affected by the crisis in social care funding:

  • Despite a 3 per cent increase in the older population, there has not been a corresponding rise in people receiving care;
  • At least 24 per cent of the £941 million (7 per cent) savings that adult social services directors will be expected to make this year will come from cutting services or reducing personal budgets;
  • 80 per cent of directors reported that care providers – both care home owners and home care providers – were facing financial difficulties and closing care homes or handing back contracts to councils, affecting thousands of people, despite 82 per cent of councils increasing fees to providers.

Mr Bodmer added:

“ADASS will be closely monitoring the potential impact of the referendum result on the economy and funding of adult social services, and we’ve extended our support to the 80,000 EU staff who are providing care to people right across the country, every day.

“While these may be uncertain times, the most important thing to remember is that people’s needs for care won’t stop. We still have a responsibility to make sure people are getting the support they need to live independent, valuable lives, and to plan ahead as best we possibly can.”

Although the overall budget for adult social services has risen slightly from last year because of the revenue raised due to the precept, from £13.65 billion to £13.82 billion, there is wide variation between individual councils, with 70 of 151 reporting a fall in budgets. 62 councils needed to draw on the reserves from last year to fund significant budget shortfalls, whilst 52 had been forced to cut services to balance budgets. 

And of course the precept also raises the least amount of money in the areas of greatest need, intensifying existing budget pressures.

Related

Children’s social workers ‘under immense pressure’, say MPs


This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

The Blame Game

539627_450600381676162_486601053_n (2)

The Government are playing a game. They don’t serve the needs of the public. They serve a wealthy elite. The Conservatives don’t care about the consequences of taking money from the poorest and giving it to the wealthiest. But they won’t tell us that. They are playing the game that the game is not a game.

It’s called the “blame game.” As welfare “reforms” and housing cuts bite increasingly harder, do we ever reach the point where the government concedes that the horror and hardship caused to many is an inevitable consequence of their own policies? Not at all.  Instead we see their adeptness at digging ever deeper holes of denial.

At least Thatcher admitted there was increased unemployment, that it was as a tool of economic policy, and it was, in her opinion, a price worth paying to bring down inflation. Shucks, shame that didn’t work, Maggie. We had high unemployment AND high inflation. But at least she was honest about her original intent.

The government denies that there is job insecurity, unemployment and underemployment. Or indeed any hardship at all; public sacrifices made through an elites’ economic policy-making. They blame anyone other than the ministers who have instituted the cuts. Whenever some new example of the horrendous effects of their policies is presented to them, they have a range of stock responses. You have to wonder if there is a standard Whitehall crib sheet for ministers. Cases that clearly indicate a correlation between their policies and harm are dismissed as “anecdotal evidence”, and that “no causal link can be established”. 

Correlation often implies a causal link, but to find it, you have to investigate further, rather than issuing flat denials, loudly.

Here is what the crib sheet looks like, in the interests of democracy and open Government:-

Deny that alternatives to austerity are viable

The repetition of a lie ad nauseum is based on the idea Goebbels had – that repeated lies will somehow convince people that they are true. Cameron was busted when he repeatedly told the lie We are paying down the debt. Despite being rumbled, the Coalition have stuck with this lie doggedly. The bonus of the lie is that it may undermine the opposition’s economic credibility, and the Tories particularly delight in the lie that it’s all Labour’s fault because they “overspent” as it further justifies austerity measures and starving public services of Government funding, with our paid taxes, as well as stripping our welfare provision away.

The Conservatives have REALLY messed up the economy. We know it’s a big fat Tory lie that cutting spending at a time of economic recession will re-balance public finances. As many academics and economists have stated, cutting spending when the economy is flat is likely to cause further contraction to the economy, and that will negatively affect public finances, rather than help at all.

The government will never confess to this because they are so tightly ideologically bound to an übertreiben Neo-Liberalism, no matter what the cost is in human terms, or even in economic terms. What we need is Labour’s expansionary fiscal policies, not contractionary ones. Real, sensible economists know that the only way to address a recession is to grow the economy, and that means more public spending in the short term, to stimulate economic activity, and cutting if needed when the economy is back on the up (which needn’t mean absolute cuts, but relative cuts because the economy is growing).

Repeat that implementing the cuts is avoidable

The trick is to give the impression that all the cuts can be made painlessly by eliminating luxuries and sacking “backroom staff”. Cameron used this one at PMQs last week when he accused Councils of making high-profile cuts “to try to make a point,” and not because they need to. Delivered with a straight face and psychopathic calm, this sounds like a feasible lie that some will believe.  So, central government is severely reducing budgets to Local Authorities, leaving them with a kind of impossible table cloth pulling trick to accomplish. Rip away the funding and hope the contents of the table – local services and provisions – stay put, and don’t crash to the floor. Of course, Labour Councils will be affected by the cuts more than other Councils, too. That also works out well for the Conservatives.

Blame the previous Labour Government. A lot

“It’s all their fault we have too few homes.” The Conservatives focus on the fact that housebuilding in Labour’s very last year was the worst they achieved, even though we know that was because of the credit crunch. The government won’t admit either that housebuilding under the Coalition is on average 45,000 homes less per year than the output under Labour, or that 2010/11 and 2011/12 were the two worst years since the war for English housebuilding. They don’t mention that Thatcher sold off all of the social housing stock, either. Again, they blame local government. Westminster is putting homeless families up in expensive hotels and Camden is sending them to Coventry (or Leicester, Liverpool, or somewhere else absurdly far from London). The Government say, hiding their smug smiles, how stupid this is, and tell them to stop it, even though both they and we know they cannot.

(See also The UK deficit scam: George Osborne is nailedwe are paying down the debt and rumbled).

Don’t admit that cutting welfare affects anything else.

Cuts in all benefits for private tenants and the bedroom tax will mean that more people will become homeless, and more people will need accommodation with lower rents ad fewer rooms in the social sector. The government deny that this will happen. Most of the political debate at the moment is focused on the consequences of the bedroom tax, which they claim is “fair”and the implications of private sector high rents, local rent allowance caps, (and in some areas, councils are quietly imposing a bedroom tax on those in privately rented properties, too, despite the rhetoric that this will affect only those tenants in social housing) the poll tax style council benefit reductions and DWP related benefits cap have been somewhat obscured.

Current debate does not, and probably cannot cover the depth of utter disruption and destruction to people’s lives that these changes are going to bring about. That is partly because the full details of the changes are not being released by this government in a transparent and timely manner.

If any evidence emerges that shows them to be wrong, under no circumstances will the government agree with it. All valid criticism and evidence will be passed off as “scaremongering”. Better still, the government don’t read the evidence then no-one can accuse them of knowing the facts but ignoring them. Alternatively, officials may be able to find an obscure or outdated source that on the surface appears to contradict the evidence.

Blame the victims

Extravagant housing benefit claims may only happen in a few isolated cases, but even so the press will amplify and stigmatise those few, especially if they are large families, unemployed, migrants or – even better – all three. The government gives the impression that such claims make up most of the welfare budget. They won’t ever admit that over half of welfare spending goes to older people, as they are seen as deserving of it, by the general public. Athough older people may not be as secure as they think – there’s a little rhetoric creeping in that portrays elderly people needing social care as being a “burden” on “the tax payer”. That never bodes well for a social group, it usually signals some significant cut to their income and support.

If the government is talking about housing benefit, they will try to give the impression that it’s spent by the tenants themselves to fund their indolent lifestyles – they won’t ever confess that the money goes directly to landlords who are pushing up rents because there are insufficient houses available. There is the old Poor Law binary conceptual schema, especially resurrected to inform Tory narratives  – the notion of  “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, which is implicit in all of their anti-welfare and anti-public service rhetoric.

The government use keywords and sound bites in debate, speeches and in the media. They repeatedly refer to “scroungers”, “hard working families” , “the workshy,” “strivers” and “skivers” and talk about “subsidised housing,” and not council homes. (£23,000,000,000 every year is given to private landlords in subsidies by tax payers). This helps “confirm” the impression that most welfare spending is a waste of (“striving” tax payers’) money.

Suggestions for new and even more derogative terms are always welcome. IDS made a good attempt to link welfare recipients in the public collective consciousness with drug addicts and alcoholics. Other MPs are following his lead. Again, evidence that is presented to the contrary is dismissed, usually with angry derision and a renewed psychological and linguistic assault on the victims, and/or the label of  “scaremongering” directed at the critic that presented the evidence.

Another important strategy employed by the Tories is to manipulate the victims of their savage cuts via propaganda, so they blame each other. Those in low paid work can blame the poor unemployed for the economic recession and the misery of the cuts, those unemployed people can blame poor immigrants, and everyone can blame the poor “feckless” and “fraudulent” sick and disabled people. The Conservatives are very adept at creating  social divisions by constructing folk devils and generating moral outrage. It’s an old and established bullying tactic to blame the victim, as this serves to cover up the abuse of the victim or to “justify” that abuse.

The Tories managed to use others to persecute victims further in order to oppress and silence them. Scapegoating victims and persecution of selective social groups is also one of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government, one that does not serve the needs of the public, but rather, sees the public as a means of serving government ends.

Deny that the cuts are taking place

The government will point out if there is any part of any budget that they decided to protect, however small, and they will grossly exaggerate its importance. Take a historical lesson from Grant Shapps: every time someone has said funding for homelessness is being cut and services are being decimated, he would point to his department’s very small fund for homelessness prevention, and claim that because it hadn’t been reduced, other services had been unaffected, or – oh yes of course – any cuts are the fault of the Local Authorities. The ones that have had their funding drastically cut by central government, and that face even more cuts once the Localism Bill has been implemented.

It’s obvious to all that the scale of the welfare cuts in reality must mean massive suffering and hardship. Furthermore, Labour find and present deserving examples of cases, such as people dying of cancer, homeless ex-servicemen, that sort of thing. (There are many, many deserving examples of cases, too.) One Tory tactic is to almost always offer to investigate the particular case, implying they may do something (even though they won’t.) Another is that they point to the money that’s been set aside for special cases (e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments). They never fail to give the impression that this is sufficient to deal with any genuine hardship.

Usually there is mention of an amount e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments total £60 million in 2012/13. This will seem a large sum to the public even though it’s only a tiny fraction of the cuts taking place. There isn’t a chance in hell that such a small amount of funding “on one side” will alleviate the chaos, suffering and mass homelessness as a result of the bedroom tax, council “poll” tax and benefit cap and all of their terrible effects hit hard, which they undoubtedly will despite the pseudo-reassuring Tory rhetoric that glides with glib indifference over the surface of these socially regressive horrors. 

Stick a public plaster on it

Unfortunately some problems are so big and so obvious that the government have to pretend they are doing something about them. For example, everyone knows builders have almost stopped building. Given that the housing budget had one of the biggest cuts of all in the latest Spending Review, there’s precious little they can can do, but they will nonetheless pretend otherwise. Firstly, they argue that output is going up even when it’s going down (Tory tip – don’t appear on Sunday Politics, choose programmes where they don’t do their research.) Secondly, the government always have to hand some useful initiative available that sounds like it might solve the problem, even if it’s far too small to make any difference.

Grant Schapps gave us NewBuy and FirstBuy, which both sound sufficiently impressive, but then they may need to invent one or two more when people realise how inconsequential they are. The government have said they are selling more homes under the right to buy scheme, as if this helps solve the problems, even though they aren’t and it doesn’t.

Richard Vize made an excellent point in the Guardian last week that Cameron and Co. are undermining Local Government and failing to prepare people for the depth of the cuts that are now hitting them – with much worse still in the pipeline. He says that ministers are “giving the impression that public services can indeed manage cuts without pain or profound change. They can’t.”

How on earth can the government expect to be taken seriously, if they make cuts on an unprecedented scale over a dangerously tight time-scale, but refuse even to admit there might be consequences for public services?

Perhaps  the frightening answer is that they refuse to admit it because their intention is to push ahead relentlessly, and regardless of public opinion, and that they don’t care about the consequences.

734072_148205235330533_659227219_n


Picture courtesy of Robert Livingstone