This week’s Spending Review made a nonsense of the Coalition’s commitment to ‘protect those on low incomes from the effects of spending constraints.’ The consequence will be misery and hardship for many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country.
It is imperative for people of faith to speak out. Church Action on Poverty is calling on Church leaders – and all people of faith to have the courage to speak up loudly, clearly and urgently. It is not too late for our elected politicians – and the Coalition Government – to think again. Our faith demands nothing less.
As with his Emergency Budget in June, the Chancellor again singled out the ‘Welfare Budget’ for disproportionate cuts. £18 billion has now been cut from welfare – the vast majority to benefits targeted at people on the lowest incomes. In spite of Government claims that ‘we are all in this together’ some groups have been singled out for harsh and entirely undeserved treatment.
- Up to one million people who – even by the Government’s own definition – are too sick or disabled to work – will loose their entitlement to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), worth up to £91 a week after 12 months.
- Almost 60,000 disabled people living in residential care will lose their mobility allowance – around £33 a week – leaving many of them trapped in care, unable to get out to visit friends, family – or even get to church,
- Single adults aged up to 35 – in low paid work as well as those who are out of work – will be forced to give up their own homes and move into a single room in a shared property as a result of cuts to Housing Benefit.
- One of the biggest changes is that from 2013 there will be an overall cap to the amount of welfare benefits that any one household can claim, based on average take-home pay for working households, currently £479 per week. This was first announced on 4th October, but now confirmed in the CSR.
- This is on top of already severe cuts to Housing Benefit in the Emergency Budget which will force families out of their homes in high cost areas – particularly in London and the South East. Housing charities estimate that this will affect up to 50,000 families, causing huge dislocation – and homelessness – to many thousands of families.
According to the Christian homelessness charity, Housing Justice:
These measures together will penalise disadvantaged families the most, including those on low wages. Competition for affordable housing will be increased, because many potential first time buyers are renting for longer while saving for a deposit. Once these changes are introduced private landlords are unlikely to rent to families on benefit at all.
The usually mild mannered Citizens Advice concluded that
The extraordinary decision to raise single room rate to 35 year-olds will lead to an explosion of homelessness, and will hit single working people on low incomes as well as the single unemployed. The measure to restrict contribution-based ESA to 12 months betrays people who have paid contributions all their working lives and become sick or disabled.
Cutting benefits for people in residential care or for people who are too disabled or ill to work cannot be squared with the Government’s alleged commitment to fairness. Being disabled, ill or unable to afford to buy your own home is not a ‘lifestyle choice’ – yet these are the very groups singled out by the Chancellor for cuts in the Spending Review.
Contrary to the popular myths and stereotypes, the vast majority of people on benefits are not cheats, scroungers – though that is what you would think if you read many national newspapers over the past few weeks. Rather, they are the poor, the sick, the elderly or disabled – and they will suffer the consequences of these harsh cuts – in cities, towns and villages across the country. As we know from our work with people in poverty across the country, many are already struggling to make ends meet, with precious few savings to draw on and no ability to make good the loss of £5, £10 – or for up to a million people currently entitled to Incapacity Benefit or Employment Support Allowance – £90 a week.
The poorest are not responsible for this economic crisis, and should not expected to bear an unfair and impossible burden for tackling the deficit. The Coalition must be challenged over its failure to keep its promise to protect those on the lowest incomes from the impact of spending cuts.
Church Action on Poverty is calling on all people of faith to have the courage to speak out loudly, clearly and urgently. We are calling on Church Leaders to give a public lead – and for church members and supporters across the country – to voice their concerns directly to their elected Members of Parliament, in relation to these six key questions:
- Do you support cutting benefits for people who are too ill or disabled to work?
- Do you support cutting mobility benefits for people living in residential care?
- Do you support cutting Housing Benefit for single people and families who will be forced to move or made homeless as a result?
- Have you considered, or are you willing to take the trouble to find out how these cuts will impact on your own constituents?
- If you do support these measures, are you willing to defend them publically, and in person to those directly affected?
- And, if you do not support these measures, what specifically are you going to do to help convince the Coalition Government not to implement them over the coming months?