I’ve Gone Viral

I don’t really use Facebook that much. My social media weapon of choice is Twitter. For the past few years I’ve used it as a learning tool, stretching my intellectual legs and becoming something of an authority on Welfare Reform. Conversely, my Facebook posts are limited to inanely alerting friends that I’m enjoying a pint of Peroni in some pub somewhere. I had compartmentalised the two. Facebook was always about daily tedium and pictures of cats.

It all started when I saw a post denigrating benefits claimants. It had all the usual hallmarks. It began ‘why should I pay my taxes…’, and ended with ‘dirty scumbag welfare slackers’. You can fill in the gaps. I despise this kind of judgemental attitude. For a start these kind of comments are invariably based on wild assumptions, and in my experience, they just aren’t true. Most people are are struggling to get by, just like the rest of us and they deserve respect, be they a jobseeker, someone who is too ill to work or whatever. The social security system is there to provide a safety net not to persecute the poor.

For the past three months I’ve been running a twitter account called @Welfare__Reform. I’ve followed every mover and shaker, from government ministers, policy experts, statistical wizards to those individuals affected by the reforms. I’d say I was pretty well informed about the debate.

So I decided to tap out a few words for a Facebook audience. However, I didn’t expect anything more than a bit of catharsis. As far as I was concerned, it was old news. I had been saying all these things on twitter for the past two months, and in my circle of followers, it was pretty much common knowledge. I sent it out to my friends and expected it to get a few likes from the usual suspects, and it did. A friend suggested that I share it, so I agreed.

Three days later the post had been ‘liked’ nearly 30,000 times. I had 500 friend requests and my Twitter accounts went off the charts, netting me around 800 new followers. My blog is finally being read too, which is nice. I was heartened that so many people supported me. Lots of folks said hello and thanked me for expressing something they instinctively believed. Unfortunately though, some were not of the friendly variety.

I’m now approached from all directions to provide stats, charts, comment and advice. I’m ‘challenged’ daily to justify my views. (I ended up writing a blog to ‘fact check’ my own work) I’ve had to hone my skills as a master diplomat too. Dealing professionally with antagonists hell bent on a fight has been, and still is, a time consuming responsibility. However, I’d by lying if I said I’d not thoroughly enjoyed the whole ride.

But why was it successful? I have thought long and hard about this and here’s what I know: It was a focused riposte, written directly to the reader. Person to person or rather ‘toe to toe’. I suppose in one way, I gave Facebook a telling off, kneeling down to explain my reasoning and then sent it to sit on the naughty step.

The other biggest selling point were the facts and figures. I infused it with all that I could remember from my research. And, for good measure, I threw in a pie chart which showed a breakdown of the overall benefits budget. It was easy on the eye, colourful and simple. They loved that pie chart, it was big news to Facebook.

I’m not getting carried away though. I’ve tried to repeat it and had very limited success. There was something about that 500 word rant which worked. If I could bottle it, I would. And, let’s put it in perspective; underneath my respectable 30,000 liked post sits a video of a fluffy kitten. 45,000 likes.

Jon Leighton @Pokerfiend / @Welfare__Reform


And here is the original post.

Facebook Rant

My slapdash, hastily written, gritted teeth Facebook rant the other night got over 28,000 likes. Who’d have thought a pie chart I found searching google would cause so much of a stir?


The pie chart itself is accurate for the year it represents. But If you look at the sources I’ve provided at the bottom of the page, you’ll see that the latest figures have changed in a few ways. Most notably; Pensions have seen a rise of 3.7%, Housing Benefit by 5.2% and Disability Living Allowance by 3.3%.

Here are the figures are expressed slightly differently. This pie chart from the New Economics Foundation shows the type of people who receive the benefits.


One of the most interesting trends over time is the likely increase in pensioner benefits. We are an ageing population. Over time the costs of pensions and pensioner benefits is going to rise. To illustrate, take a look at this breakdown of spending from a couple of years ago.


The cost of pensions, even back in 2009 was lower than it is today. This might explain why the government have increased the age limits to receive a pension.

Anyway, here was the original Facebook post. I have now included some hyperlinks to fill in the gaps. However, I am making an assumption that for some of the assertions I have made you will be able to ‘google it’!

Ok, I can’t keep my gob shut any longer. I’m sick to death of seeing posts on Facebook about benefit scroungers. Do you know the figures? Because if you did you might see it in another light.

Did you know that only 3% of the benefits budget goes to people seeking work? 53% is pensions and other related old age benefits, 18% is Housing Benefit (which currently goes directly to landlords) 18% is working tax credits, and the rest disabled benefits and other bits and bobs. (And by the way, the Government figures say the fraud rate for disabled benefits is 0.3%)

In fact, the majority of folks claiming housing and council tax benefit ARE IN WORK.

FACTCHECK – thanks here go to @NCCLOLS who correctly pointed out that I’d got my logic twisted on this one. Instead of saying what I did, I should have said.. ‘In fact, a minority of folks claiming housing benefit are unemployed’.

I could write a bloody essay on this because I deal with it everyday. Our benefits budget is not out of control.

FACTCHECK – My assertion that the benefits budget is not out control is not the same as saying I don’t believe the budget is rising. It clearly is. However, to listen to some commentators, they would have you believe the money we spend on welfare is disproportionately responsible for our national debt. This I strongly disagree with. See my chart below.


This compares the spend on welfare, education and health and contrasts it with our national debt. I think this clearly shows the relatively limited impact the modest increased spending in these areas has had on our national debt. The debt by the way is mostly private sector debt and that we can largely attribute to the bank bailouts in 2008.

According to the OECD Britain’s benefit bill per head is nowhere near as generous as half the countries in Europe. (And unemployment benefit is particularly stingy compared to most)

FACTCHECK – here’s the OECD chart I was referring to.


I got this from a particularly savvy blogger and stats expert here.

The vast majority of folks just want to get on but minimum wage jobs are not paying enough. (This might explain why at work we’re seeing working people going to bloody foodbanks every week.)

This shitty government is turning people against each other. And it’s totally unwarranted. Yes, welfare needs reforming but you don’t do that by kicking people out of their homes, stigmatising them so that they get spat at in the street and driving them to suicide. – these have all happened so far.

In the last two years 80% of people applying for housing benefit were all working.

FACTCHECK – I’m afraid I got this wrong. The correct figure is 90%

We can reform welfare by bringing in a living wage so that people don’t have to claim benefits to get by. At the moment the welfare budget is subsidising low pay and private landlords on a grand scale.

When you see a post that puts the boot into benefit claimants, think twice before you like it because let me tell you, we are ALL only three mortgage payments away from disaster.

(If anyone wants the sources of the figures I have quoted, I will only be too happy to provide them)

I’ve attached a pie chart from 2011 to give you an idea. Figures will have changed a bit.

General Sources:

1) The Guardian Data Blog – Benefit Expenditure
2) The Guardian Data Blog – Freedom of Information Request
3) DWP Data Analysis
4) OECD stats index
5) Data from British Social Attitudes Survey 2012

‘Bedroom Tax’ – An Overview

About a month ago I set up a twitter account called @Welfare__Reform. At first, my motivation was to help myself learn more about the detail. These Government policies were clearly going to affect a lot of the vulnerable people my staff support and I wanted to be ahead of the game. Eventually though, I found myself inundated with queries from my followers (many of whom were worried about their own situations). Here’s some research from Affinity Sutton’s Hilary Burkitt which details the circumstances of those likely to be affected and a detailed example of an individual in Manchester, who is trying work out how they’re going to keep their head above water.

So after four weeks of piling through relevant legislation, DWP circulars, following debates in the Commons and Lords and reading hundreds of articles from a range of publications, I now feel reasonably competent to comment on the ‘Bedroom Tax’

So what did I learn? – Here are a few key questions (and answers)

1) Is the ‘Bedroom Tax’ a tax?
There is a ongoing debate about what it should be called. Is it a tax? No. Strictly speaking it’s a reduction in benefits. However, for many people who have not had to pay this before, it’s certainly going to feel like a tax. One economist tweeted:

There are almost no properties for people hit by #bedroomtax to move to. That’s why it’s a tax: no choice but pay – @RichardJMurphy

I must admit, I do get slightly irked by people who get fixated on this but are not so keen to discuss the detail. “This is NOT a tax” they shout. “Fine” I say. “Lets move on and have a discussion about the detail of the policy”. Sometimes they do but mostly they don’t know enough about it to have an informed debate. Worse still there are Conservative MP’s out there who voted for the measures but clearly didn’t even bother to read the Bill. Perhaps understandably, there have been significant numbers of protests around the country.


Regardless of the semantics, the removal of the Spare Room Subsidy (Bedroom Tax) will impact on an estimated 660,000 working-age social tenants.

2) Are there enough properties for people to move to?

Unequivocally, No.

I have just searched on Nottingham City Homes Homelink website and found 14 two bedroom and 21 one bedroomed properties. Nottingham City Homes website tells us that 5,300 of their own tenants will be affected. (And this doesn’t even take into account people with other Housing Association tenancies). Nottingham is not unique in this respect, the situation is replicated across the country. Some areas like Hull are very acutely hit.

Even if there were enough properties for people to downsize to, there are other hurdles to overcome. Quite a number of the clients we support are already in rent arrears. They have been told that they are not allowed to swap properties whilst they have arrears on their account. So essentially they are stuck. Pay the additional charge or get into more arrears. And given this is the choice, the likely outcome is eviction proceedings.

3) Can’t people just move into the private sector?

That is an option, but it’s not always that simple. I’ve already mentioned the arrears issue but there’s also a developing problem with landlords in the private sector. They are very worried about Universal Credit. Crucially for private landlords, the claimant will receive a lump sum monthly payment which includes the old Housing Benefit element. They are rightly worried that in some cases their rent will not be passed on. Here’s an open letter from a landlord forum to illustrate.

Private Landlords are business people, they are not going to take financial risks if they don’t have to. And who could blame them? There are plenty of people unable to get on the property ladder willing to move into quality accommodation. There are lots of excellent private landlords out there but that’s not to say that all of them play by the rules. Forcing a raft of vulnerable, indebted people into the private sector is therefore dangerous for lots of reasons. Nottingham City Council are pushing accreditation schemes and this is to be welcomed but you have to wonder whether rogue landlords will lose any sleep if they’re not signed up to the scheme. Our Crisis service which covers Nottingham City support lots of clients who are either being illegally evicted, forced to live in cramped substandard conditions or worse.

4) So what can we do about the Bedroom Tax?

We can keep campaigning. Without the voices from those affected, MP’s and housing professionals over the past few months, we would not have seen a climb down like this one, forcing the Government to agree more exemptions.

In terms of the housing sector, some housing associations are reclassifying their housing stock. This means that some tenants now won’t be affected. They’ve probably done this as they’ve realised that some of their smallest bedrooms don’t meet the overcrowding rules as set out in the 1985 Housing Act. This issue is covered in more detail by a housing lawyer here.

Some commentators have suggested we exhaust the appeal process for each and every affected client. Although in most cases I don’t think this is likely to affect the eventual outcome, it is within the rights of our clients and as such we should support them to make these appeals. The Government have been pushing folk to take in lodgers. Aside from the obvious difficulties this might present, see this post which shows some ingenious ways to make this work and improve the finances of the tenant.

UK housing professionals have also offered their own top tips which you can see here.

5) Surely the Discretionary Housing Payment will help everyone that needs it?

Sadly not I’m afraid. Despite a few recent exemptions there will still be several thousand Nottingham people fighting over next years allocation of £696,031 to the City Council. However, Nottingham City Council doesn’t have a great track record in paying out their full DHP allocation, so one would hope they are gearing up to track this budget closely and ensure every last penny is allocated. From where I am standing, the DHP fund now represents something quite different and is entirely connected to the council’s commitment to Equality and Diversity. There’s no doubt in my mind that Government policy in this area wilfully discriminates against disabled people (amongst others). This leaves councils around the country to pick up the pieces.

Despite being fairly certain that the fund won’t be able to help everyone, I’ve instructed all my staff to submit a DHP form for every affected individual. I’ve not heard a story yet where I thought someone didn’t deserve a DHP payment. We will try at least..

6) Can’t the Government cut benefits in other areas?

If the Coalition were serious about reducing the benefits bill, they would be looking at the area of greatest expenditure. This, as you can see, is the pensions bill but would anyone want to suggest that pensioners receive less support than they already do? But given this, it begs the question, as the 8th richest country in the World, should we be putting vulnerable people below the breadline? I’d say not.


Below is the recent Adjournment Debate tabled by Lilian Greenwood MP in the house on the 18 Mar 2013.

Under-occupancy Penalty (Nottingham)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Greg Hands.)
11.53 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): “Nowhere to go”—that is how today’s Nottingham Post describes the crisis facing thousands of social tenants in our city. Why? Because two weeks today the Government are set to play the cruellest joke on more than 6,000 of our city’s poorest households. On the same day as they deliver a huge tax cut to the UK’s highest earners, they plan to take £4.23 million from the pockets of those people in our city who are least able to afford it. Whether we call it the bedroom tax, the under-occupancy penalty or the spare-room subsidy, it is a heartless policy which, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research concluded, will create “severe hardship” for affected households.
Let us look at the households affected. Two thirds of them include someone who is disabled, one third are families with children, more than a fifth are working households on low wages, and many of them do not have a spare room at all. They include families whose children have their own rooms. Let’s face it, some bedrooms are so small that they are barely big enough for one child, let alone two. Many families do not think it is fair to expect their teenage son or daughter to share with a toddler, even if they are the same sex, and children’s education can suffer if they do not have somewhere quiet to study.
So-called spare bedrooms are also needed where couples sleep separately, especially where a husband or wife cares for their disabled partner and desperately needs a decent night’s sleep. Some are used to store disability-related equipment. Where parents are separated, these bedrooms are needed for when their children visit at weekends. Are the Government really saying that people who live in a council or housing association home cannot have a spare room for their children or grandchildren to sleep in when they come to visit? It seems so. People who have lived in the same house for decades and spent time and money making it their home all face the same impossible situation: move out or find the extra money.
For people in Nottingham, that means on average an extra £11 a week if they have one room more than they are allowed, or £22 a week if they have two rooms. That may not sound like very much to the Minister, but for someone on jobseeker’s allowance of £71 a week, it is the difference between eating or going hungry, turning on the heating or sitting in the cold, borrowing money to pay your rent or going into arrears. This morning on Radio Nottingham, a local Tory Member of Parliament did not know what the fuss was about. She had explained to her constituent that she should simply move house. But of course, it is not that easy.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The bedroom tax and the under-occupancy terminology will affect people throughout the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, we will be £10 million shy in the money available, and 32,000 households will be affected. Is not one of the greatest discrepancies of the whole process that there are not the smaller occupancy houses to move to, so all these people will have to find the extra money?
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Lilian Greenwood: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I shall come to that point.
In Nottingham, 6,103 people face the bedroom tax in two weeks’ time. The key website is Homelink, which advertises properties for the arm’s length management organisation, Nottingham City Homes, and most of the local housing associations. This week, 21 one-bedroom properties and 14 two-bedroom properties are available. So even if they were all allocated to households that are currently under-occupying, that would help only 35 households—fewer than 1% of those affected. That is before one considers the 2,269 families in Nottingham waiting for a two-bedroom property, or the 7,333 individuals or couples waiting for a one-bedroom property.
In my constituency, 1,423 households are affected by the bedroom tax. In the whole of the last 12 months only 175 of Nottingham City Homes’ one or two-bedroom properties became available to let in Nottingham South, and on average people had waited 78 weeks on the list. Worse still, evidence from the local homelessness charity, Framework, reveals particular problems for tenants who are in arrears. They have been told that even if they have repayment plans in place, they cannot be considered for a move. As Jon Leighton, who helps co-ordinate the crisis team for Framework, says:
“Essentially they are stuck. Pay the additional charge or get into more arrears. And given this is the choice, the likely outcome is eviction proceedings.”

The Minister may argue that social tenants should move into the private sector. How will that cut the housing benefit bill when, according to figures produced by the National Housing Federation, the average social rent for a two-bedroom property in Nottingham is £64.02, but the average private rent for a one-bedroom property, into which a household occupying a two-bedroom social home might be expected to downsize, is £88.85? There is also a question about whether landlords in the private sector will be willing to take on tenants on housing benefit, given their significant concerns about the risks posed by the introduction of direct payments under universal credit.
The truth is that most people cannot avoid paying the bedroom tax, and the Government know it. Their 2012 impact assessment is clear:
“Estimates of Housing Benefit savings are based on the current profile of tenants in the social rented sector, with little tenant mobility assumed. If a significant number of tenants wished to move, this would reduce direct savings and place extra demands on social landlords”.

It is clear that the burden of cutting public spending on housing benefit relies specifically on the inability of tenants to move; balancing the books on the backs of poor and vulnerable people.
Of course, the Minister might claim that this is not about saving money, but about making better use of our social housing stock. Action to tackle overcrowding is important, which is why the Labour Government published good practice guidance on managing under-occupation and, in 2007, allocated funding to 38 pathfinder areas to devise solutions to address overcrowding and focus on under-occupation.
Last year Nottingham city council received a grant of £75,000 to help tackle overcrowding and under-occupation through its “Right Size” project, a modest amount that it used to good effect. It worked with people to look at their options, provided intensive support to help them
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overcome the hurdles to moving home and effectively held tenants’ hands through the process, in some cases covering removal costs. The project was effective, and between 1 April 2012 and 28 April 2013, 81 properties were freed up for families. However, last Friday, after a prolonged period of uncertainty, the council finally received an e-mail from the Department for Communities and Local Government confirming that:

“Ministers have now decided not to make any further special grants to councils specifically to tackle under-occupation”

Now we know that this is not about addressing under-occupation or overcrowding; it is about cutting public spending, taking money from the very households that are least able to bear the burden. It is not just unfair; it is immoral.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making her case exceptionally well. In my constituency, which neighbours hers, the cases that really pull at the heart strings bring the issue most to life, particularly when they involve a disabled person in the household. The majority of cases seem to be like that. I think of the young man who had serious problems with schizophrenia. He was just getting into independent living and needed an extra bedroom so that his father could occasionally stay overnight in order to reassure him when things got particularly difficult. Now, because of the bedroom tax, his whole quest for independent living has been thwarted, and he will have to move back in with his parents. It is the individual cases that illustrate just how heartless and callous the policy is.
Lilian Greenwood: My hon. Friend is exactly right. I wonder how Government Members sleep at night after what they have done.
The Minister might claim that the Government are protecting the most vulnerable, such as the individual my hon. Friend has just mentioned. Ministers have been saying that for months. It was only continued pressure from the Opposition Benches that forced them to concede that the Prime Minister’s assurances about protection for disabled children, foster parents and members of the armed forces were completely hollow and that exemptions needed to be put in place.
Unfortunately, to suggest that discretionary housing payment will provide the answer is disingenuous. Nationally, the DHP allocated for 2014-15 makes up less than 6% of the £2.2 billion in planned housing benefit cuts for the same year, and the Government have failed to provide any assurances on the level of DHP funding as part of the next spending review. The National Audit Office is critical of how the level of DHP funding has been determined, stating that
“it is not clear how the overall level of funding has been determined or whether it is likely to be sufficient to tackle the effects of reforms.”

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Has her council, like mine, considered trying to top up the DHP fund so that it can help people? Is this not simply a central Government cut being imposed on the shoulders of local government, because topping up the fund means a cut for councils? Also, the administration involved in the whole process is huge, and that is another cost for local government.
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Lilian Greenwood: My hon. Friend is exactly right. Of course, this comes on top of huge cuts to local government.
Nottingham city council was allocated £696,000 to support tenants affected by the bedroom tax in the coming year. That amount will be reduced to take account of the U-turn on foster carers and armed forces personnel, and tenants in Nottingham face a shortfall of £4.23 million. I do not know whether it will be enough to protect the disabled tenants whose homes have had significant adaptations, but it certainly will not be enough to help all those with disabilities, for whom the prospect of finding an extra £11 or £22 a week is simply terrifying. Of course, when local authorities target DHP they will have to make impossible choices on whether to protect disabled people or the tenants most at risk of homelessness. The Government do not know how many people will be left short, either. When I asked the Minister how many households in Nottingham would be affected, including households with children, the answer was stark: he did not hold the information. So how can he possibly come to this House and offer assurances that the vulnerable will be protected?
As a responsible landlord, Nottingham City Homes is taking action to help its tenants to cope with benefit changes. It has a welfare reform action plan and has undertaken a range of activities to support tenants, but as chief executive Nick Murphy acknowledges,
“The combined effect of the bedroom tax, reductions in council tax benefit, changes to disability benefits and direct payment under Universal Credit are creating confusion and uncertainty. At Nottingham City Homes we are doing what we can to help with information, advice and support but many of the poorest people in Nottingham are going to get poorer as a result of these changes.”

Of course, we should never forget that behind the statistics and the numbers are real people: people whose voices and stories deserve to be heard; people such as my constituent Paulette Williams, who lives in Radford. She has rented her three-bedroom house from Nottingham Community Housing Association for the past 21 years. She had offered to downsize some years ago when her youngest daughter left home but was told that she did not qualify for a transfer. Last year, Paulette had to take ill-health retirement. She has not been offered a suitable small property and does not know how she is going to make up the shortfall from her benefits. I am interested to know how the Minister thinks a 57-year-old woman with serious health problems, including a permanent incapacity, should try to do so.
According to the Government, pensioners are not affected by these changes. Try telling that to my constituent Pat Lister and her husband, who live in Wilford. Pat’s son has serious mental health problems and has battled heroin addiction and homelessness. He has achieved some stability since he got a two-bedroom council flat. He has been in the same flat since 1996. Now all that is at risk. Pat and her husband want to support their son but cannot afford to pay the bedroom tax from their pension. Pat told me:
“We have reached the end of the line. We are retired and support him wherever we can, but this additional burden will place his social housing home out of reach and he must leave…And the wretched cycle of homelessness will begin again. For our vulnerable son, and nameless others like him.”

I called for this debate after I had sat in my surgery facing Paulette, Pat, and many others whom this Government are abandoning to a life below the breadline.
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I have focused on the impact of the bedroom tax, but the situation is even bleaker. On the same day that tenants face a shortfall in their housing benefit, they, along with low-income households in the private rented sector, face a cut in the help that they get with their council tax. According to Nottingham city council, the shortfall for the scheme is £6.2 million in 2013-14—a reduction of nearly 18% in funding as a result of central Government cuts. This year 19,000 people in Nottingham will have to pay at least 8.5% of their council tax bill. In 2014-15, when transitional protection expires, that could rise to 20% or more. The situation is set to get worse, not better. Rents and prices are currently rising by more than 2.5%. With benefits capped at 1%, the poorest households will find their incomes squeezed even further over the coming months.
This chaotic policy is wreaking havoc on the lives of many of my constituents. I hope that I have convinced the Minister of the disastrous effect that it is having in Nottingham, as it is in cities across the country. He should take this opportunity to do the right thing and scrap this wretched bedroom tax.
12.9 am

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) on securing this debate. She made no reference whatsoever to the context in 2010 in which an incoming Government had to make decisions or to the fact that the previous Government spent £150 billion more in their final year in office than they had coming in. She knows perfectly well—she did not mention this, but she knows it—that any incoming Government, including an incoming Labour Government, would have sought to take tens of billions of pounds out of public spending. She also knows that out of public spending there are two big things on which Governments spend money. The first is public sector pay, on which the Opposition were very slow to agree with us—they have now finally agreed—that restraint was required. The second is what is loosely called welfare—benefits, tax credits and pensions. It is completely implausible that an incoming Labour Government would not have cut social security spending. This is not a debate about whether social security spending has to be cut back; it is about how.
Lilian Greenwood: Will the Minister explain why his Government will deliver a tax cut at the beginning of April for the highest earners in the UK? Individual millionaires will get more than £100,000 each. Why is he choosing to balance the books on the backs of poor people in my city?
Steve Webb: I would be happy to respond to the hon. Lady’s question, although I was trying to keep to the subject of her debate. The higher rate of income tax in April will be 45%. For 13 years under the previous Labour Government the highest rate of income tax was not 45% but 40%. If she thinks that a 45% rate of income tax is immoral, why was a 40% rate acceptable for 13 years under the previous Labour Government? In addition, higher earners will pay a bigger share of tax as a result of a combination of measures. The hon. Lady has chosen to mention one, but if she takes the capital
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gains tax increases and the cuts in pension tax relief into consideration, she will see that overall we are taking more from higher earners than the previous Government did.

Let me focus on the specific issues that the hon. Lady raised. A number of voices were silent in her remarks. She used the word “fairness” and seemed to think that the suggestion that benefits should, broadly speaking, support a household size that a family needs rather than spare rooms was immoral, but that had been the case for private sector tenants for a long time under Labour party policy. The local housing allowance scheme introduced by the previous Government was, broadly speaking, for benefits to cover the household size needed. Why is it immoral to ask social tenants to pay the cost of a spare room, but not private sector tenants?
Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I continue to respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham South.
Why is it acceptable to restrict private sector tenants on a low income, but okay to allow social tenants to have a spare room?
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: I hope that the House will forgive me, but I want to respond to the points raised by the hon. Member for Nottingham South and have limited time to do so.
There is an issue of fairness as between private sector tenants on a low income and social tenants on a low income, but there is also a second issue of fairness. Our estimates for Nottingham are ballpark figures—the hon. Lady is right to say that we do not have exact figures for her constituency, but we do have regional figures and we can estimate overcrowding—but we estimate that of the order of 2,000 or so households there are overcrowded.
Lilian Greenwood: I thank the Minister for giving way. I specifically asked Nottingham to provide me with the figure for the number of people who face overcrowding and it is just short of 630 households, compared with 6,103 households that face the bedroom tax.
Steve Webb: One figure over which there is no dispute is the number of people on the housing waiting list in Nottingham, which is 12,000. They are desperate for a family home or for family accommodation, whereas 6,000 households have spare bedrooms.
Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: No. There is an issue about fairness between social and private tenants and between those who face overcrowding and are desperate for a home and those who have spare rooms, and about fairness for those on the waiting list.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South raised a number of specific issues to which I want to respond. She asked whether people who will find themselves in the private sector will be able to rent if they are on
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housing benefit. The number of people in the private sector on local housing allowance recently passed the million mark, so more than a million people in the private sector are getting housing benefit. The suggestion that landlords will not rent to people on housing benefit is therefore demonstrably false.

Lilian Greenwood: I would be interested to hear whether the Minister ever speaks to anybody in Nottingham, because the experience of social tenants who are finding it difficult to move into the private sector was provided to me by the local homelessness charity, Framework, which has a pretty good idea of what is happening in our city.
Steve Webb: All I can say to the hon. Lady is that there are more than 1 million people on housing benefit in the private rented sector. There is not a little island called Nottingham where those people do not exist. Across the United Kingdom, private sector landlords are renting to people on housing benefit.
The hon. Lady mentioned Nottingham City Homes. I welcome some of the measures that it is taking to assist people who are affected by this measure. For example, it has produced a lodger guide so that any tenant who wishes to take in a lodger has information about how to do so. That will not be the answer for everyone, but it will be the answer for some. It will mean that there is better use of the scarce resource that is the empty or unused bedroom in social housing.
The hon. Lady mentioned HomeSwapper, a mutual exchange website that Nottingham City Homes is encouraging people to refer to. That is very welcome because it tries to make better use of the valuable social housing that we have. Nottingham City Homes ran what I think it called a speed-dating event to help match people who want to move to smaller properties with those who want to move to larger homes. It is true that this measure saves money, but it also leads us to make better use of the very underutilised resource of our social housing stock. As these initiatives demonstrate, there are some people living in overcrowded accommodation, whose voice was silent in the hon. Lady’s speech, and some people who are living in accommodation with spare rooms.
There is an issue with what one might loosely call “hard cases”. Those include people for whom a spare bedroom is not spare, but is very important. The hon. Lady dismissed in a very new Labour sort of way the £700,000 that is being given to Nottingham next year in discretionary housing payments, as if it is a drop in the ocean or a trivial sum of money. That money is being given to local authorities so that they can assist people on a case-by-case basis who approach them and say that there is a particular reason why the measure would be unfair or adverse in their case.
Chris Leslie: Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I try to respond to the hon. Lady.
It is said that the money will help only a relatively small proportion of people. That is entirely true because it is for exceptional cases. The basic principle is that if
18 Mar 2013 : Column 772

people have spare bedrooms, they should either put somebody in them or pay for them, perhaps by earning more if they are able to.

It is important to say that the price we are asking for a spare bedroom is just under £2 a day in Nottingham. That is what we are asking private renters on a low income to contribute anyway.
Graham Jones: Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: No.
We are asking private renters in Nottingham and elsewhere to pay just under £2 a day for a spare room. Obviously, if somebody is on benefit, that it not easy. However, for those who want to retain their spare room, that is the contribution that we are asking. Many people on a low income who are renting in the private sector pay that money.
There were scare stories about mass evictions and homelessness before the limits came in for the private rented sector, but those things have not happened. Just the sort of alarmist language that the hon. Lady used about mass evictions and the rest of it was used before the caps came in for the private rented sector. In some cases, people have traded down. In other cases, people have made a contribution towards retaining the spare room.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Department for Communities and Local Government and ring-fenced funding for under-occupation. She will know that the strategy of the DCLG has been to let local authorities decide their own priorities and not to have ring-fenced funding.
The hon. Lady mentioned the combination of this measure and other measures. She mentioned the reduction in support for council tax benefit. Nottingham city council has taken the decision to charge some of its working-age benefit recipients a contribution to the council tax. Not all local authorities have done that.
Lilian Greenwood: It did not have any choice.
Steve Webb: Well, other local authorities have avoided doing that. It is noticeable that many Labour-led local authorities have decided to pass the cost on to their tenants. For example, my local authority of South Gloucestershire has not passed on the cut to tenants, so they will receive full council tax benefit. Nottingham city council, however, has decided to expect its low-income tenants to make a contribution. The hon. Lady said that Governments have to make choices, but so do local authorities. Nottingham council has decided to charge low-income working age households a contribution towards their council tax. That was its decision.
Looking forward to the changes we have made, foster families were mentioned and the Government have been clear throughout that we want to protect such families. Our original strategy was to put the £5 million that we think it will cost to protect those families into local government budgets through discretionary payments, but, partly because of the alarmist scaremongering about foster families, we decided it was far better to avoid any anxiety on that point and simply to entitle foster families to an extra bedroom at the same cost. We have not had to find extra money for that measure
18 Mar 2013 : Column 773

because it was there already. We always said that we would protect those families, and we will. However, we will do so directly because when we relied on discretionary payments, Opposition Members claimed that we were not going to support foster families, which caused concern among those families. Giving foster families a right to a room seemed a more direct way of providing that support. Likewise, we have made it clear, as the Prime Minister did—

Chris Leslie: Will the Minister give way?
Steve Webb: No. I only have a couple of minutes left. I have made my point clear. As the Prime Minister made clear from the Dispatch Box a couple of weeks ago, families with disabled children who cannot share a room will have the right to an extra room if they approach their local authority and make their case. Provided that case is accepted, they will have a right to a room. There are a number of elements where we have either given a right to a room, and the hon. Gentleman for, I think, Shipley—
Chris Leslie: No.
Steve Webb: No. I apologise. I am sorry, I cannot remember the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but he cited a case where a carer had to come in and use a
18 Mar 2013 : Column 774

spare bedroom. To be clear, the rules allow for a non-resident carer who has to stay overnight to have a room. Obviously, I do not know the full details of that individual case, but a spare bedroom is allowed for a non-resident carer.

Chris Leslie: I am afraid that the carer rules do not capture that particular case, but I wanted to ask the Minister a particular question about the bedroom tax—sorry, the spare room subsidy. I know the name is important, much like the community charge which some people did not want to call the poll tax. Can the Minister provide a figure for the number of households affected by the bedroom tax that include a disabled person?
Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman glossed over his constituent’s case, but to be clear for the record, a spare bedroom is allowed for a non-resident overnight carer and it is important that he does not alarm people about the issue. In our impact assessment we published the number of disabled people affected by the change, and, as he knows perfectly well, around one in three—broadly speaking—of those affected by the measure is receiving the disability living allowance. Time is running out, but simply to say—
12.23 am

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

The ‘Bedroom Tax’ Debate

I thought I’d share some of the comments made in the House of Commons debate (Wed 27th Feb 2013) on the bedroom tax or spare room subsidy if you prefer. I stress, this is only a snapshot of some of the debate. For more of the detail, you should go here to read the full transcript.

Although the undoubted star of the show is the Conservative MP for North East Somerset, Jacob Rees Mogg, we start here with an impassioned defence of the poor and vulnerable from Caroline Lucas from the Green Party. She was certainly not alone in raising these issues but she was one of the most effective.

“A constituent who is desperately worried about the bedroom tax came to my surgery last week. She shares custody of her daughter, so the room that she has for her daughter is seen as spare. She simply does not have the money to pay the tax being levied on her. In order to open Ministers’ eyes to the daily reality that some of my constituents face, I would like to read out a short amount of a testimony written by her. She says:”

“I have no more basics to cut back on. I go without meals. I cannot afford the bus, toiletries, a newspaper. I wear trousers most days as I cannot afford to replace my pair of tights should they get laddered. If I had not been able to overcome my pride and seek help I do not know how my family would survive. It was difficult to overcome the sense of shame I felt for needing to turn to charity for support in meeting the family’s most basic needs. I do voluntary work in the community myself. This did not match my own sense of who I am but it is my reality and has to be faced. I now see those others who also depend on the food banks and support from charities like the City Mission in a new light. I see their resilience and humanity. We are the same.”

Lucas goes on to say: “I was in tears by the end of my meeting with her.”

A host of Labour MP’s gave many examples of the individual circumstances of their constituents. Too many to mention here. Unfortunately this was not enough to sway some..

Jane Ellison (Conservative)
“My principal point is that these debates are not well served by exaggeration and shroud-waving, but I am afraid that that is what we have seen.”

This doesn’t go down well with those opposing the measures. There is a palpable sense of anger in the chamber. Later one Labour MP Andrew Gwynne tweeted this:

Votes against the unfair Tory #bedroomtax after a heated moment in HoC when I got told off for shouting at Minister who doesn’t understand!

Caroline Lucas fires back.

Caroline Lucas (Green Party)

“We are talking about real people in real homes who are feeling real desperation, and the criticism that we are somehow exaggerating the situation is an insult to those constituents who come to see us. Ministers are recklessly and deliberately ignoring the harsh reality for the majority of those surviving on benefits. They are deliberately pandering to media stereotypes. How convenient it is to say that it is all the fault of the workshy, swanning about with all that spare space—or so the mean and mistaken narrative goes.”

Conservatives realise they are on the back foot and many seek refuge in the well worn argument of Labour’s economic mismanagement and bringing down the deficit. However, some try to pass the changes off as a minor inconvenience.

Michael Ellis (Conservative)

“In many cases the sums involved would require only two hours of the minimum wage per week to make up the difference.”

This particular assertion has already been thoroughly debunked by Hilary Burkitt, the Head of Strategic Research at Affinity Sutton – A large UK housing provider. You can read about it here.

Now for the wonderfully closeted Mr Rees Mogg. Read it and weep.

Jacob Rees Mogg (Conservative)

“The Government’s position is also measured, because they have put in discretionary powers to look after people who will be in particularly difficult circumstances. Discretion is very important; the Government have got that spot on. If we were to say that every house that had been adapted in any way for a disabled person were to be exempt, we would find that a property with a little ramp, or one handrail, was suddenly exempt, and the whole policy would be removed. By applying discretion, however, we get the overwhelming majority of the benefit of the policy, without putting a heavy burden on that small number of people who genuinely ought to be exempt and protected.”

Not content with calling into question the integrity of disabled people, he moves on to foster carers;

“The same applies to the £5 million that has been made available to families who foster. If fostering had a general exemption, everybody in receipt of social housing benefit would suddenly go off to the council and say that they wanted to be on the fostering lists, so that they would not have to give up their extra bedroom, but would then refuse any child who was sent to them. If broad exemptions are used, people will try to fit the categories of exemption provided, whereas using discretion ensures that people must bring forward a reasonable case to encourage those who have the discretion to accept that they ought to be allowed to receive the extra funding to maintain their current position.”

Cynical stuff from Jacob.

“I think that people need to be able to take responsibility for themselves and to make choices for themselves. The choice they have is either to maintain the benefit they need for the housing they need, or to stay in housing where they have an extra room and adjust their behaviour accordingly. It is not for the state, putting its expenditure on the backs of hard-pressed taxpayers, to fund indefinitely people’s lifestyle choices, and it is a choice if people decide to have an extra room that they are not actually using; they can choose whether to move to a smaller property or, under this new policy, to find a way of getting the extra income they need.”

Lifestyle choices? I’m guessing Jacob has not met any of the people who will be affected by the policy. If he had, I’m sure his understanding of the challenges people face would have informed his ill chosen words in the debate.

Rather sinister is his next contribution. He evokes the spirit of another Conservative hawk.

“That flexibility is useful. It allows people to move to where there is employment. It is the essential part of ensuring that our economy has a free flow of labour around the country so that people can, in the words of Norman Tebbit, move to where the jobs are.

Actually Norman Tebbit told unemployed people to ‘get on their bikes’. Is he really referring to this quote? Surely not. Otherwise it would be extremely insulting to people who are coping with a disability, caring for a loved one or are unable to relocate to another part of the country for good reason.

He ploughs on and finishes with a flourish.

“If we have an entirely static housing market we will find that we reduce employment opportunities, undermine growth in the economy, and, worst of all, create deep unfairness for people in large families who can find no social housing and put a burden on the backs of the poorest taxpayers. We should be proud of this Government—proud of a Lib Dem Minister, of all things—for doing what is right, what is noble and what is just.

The most striking thing about the whole debate was that a LOT of Coalition MP’s left the chamber firmly believing the discretionary fund would neatly tidy up all the deserving cases. Edward Leigh seems genuinely concerned..

Mr Edward Leigh (Conservative)
“We need to publicise that more. A family came to see me recently in my surgery. The husband is profoundly deaf and his wife has an open permanent wound in her intestine, so they need separate bedrooms, but nobody told them the fund was available. They are therefore very worried. We need more education, so that disabled and vulnerable people are better informed about what is going on.”

And then to seal the deal, the minister weighs in with this.
Steve Webb (Liberal Democrat: The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions)

“I have been interviewed on various television programmes, which have featured case studies of people who were obviously distressed—and I do not doubt that some people are distressed by this change. Obviously, however, if they approached their local authority, they would not be affected by it. That is the issue. They would go to their local authority, which has been given money to help them; the authority would help them, so they would not be affected.”

In all my years working with vulnerable people and seeing how many hoops they have to jump through to claim discretionary payments, I think this assertion from Steve Webb that the discretionary payments will save the day seems to be more grounded in hope than reality. The official DWP guidance states that disabled people in adapted accommodation and foster carers will be given priority by local authorities. There’s no mention of the myriad of other types of cases we hear about. Steve Webb describes the DHP as if it will be a catch all. I seriously doubt that.

The coalition have demonstrated a wilful deafness despite the warnings from hundreds of Labour MP’s, local authorities, community groups, advice centres and charities about the sheer number of people this will affect. I fear the government may rue the day they chose to push through this legislation.


Did your MP vote to introduce the Bedroom Tax?

Adams, Nigel
Afriyie, Adam
Aldous, Peter
Amess, Mr David
Andrew, Stuart
Arbuthnot, rh Mr James
Bacon, Mr Richard
Baker, Steve
Baldry, Sir Tony
Barker, rh Gregory
Baron, Mr John
Bebb, Guto
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Benyon, Richard
Berry, Jake
Bingham, Andrew
Birtwistle, Gordon
Blackwood, Nicola
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Bone, Mr Peter
Bradley, Karen
Brady, Mr Graham
Brake, rh Tom
Bray, Angie
Bridgen, Andrew
Brine, Steve
Brokenshire, James
Browne, Mr Jeremy
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Burstow, rh Paul
Burt, Alistair
Byles, Dan
Cairns, Alun
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair
Carmichael, Neil
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Cash, Mr William
Chishti, Rehman
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clark, rh Greg
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Collins, Damian
Colvile, Oliver
Crabb, Stephen
Crouch, Tracey
Davey, rh Mr Edward
Davies, David T. C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Glyn
Davies, Philip
Dinenage, Caroline
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Doyle-Price, Jackie
Drax, Richard
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain
Dunne, Mr Philip
Ellis, Michael
Ellison, Jane
Ellwood, Mr Tobias
Elphicke, Charlie
Eustice, George
Evans, Graham
Evans, Jonathan
Evennett, Mr David
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mark
Foster, rh Mr Don
Fox, rh Dr Liam
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Freeman, George
Freer, Mike
Fuller, Richard
Gale, Sir Roger
Garnier, Sir Edward
Garnier, Mark
Gauke, Mr David
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Glen, John
Goldsmith, Zac
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Gove, rh Michael
Graham, Richard
Grant, Mrs Helen
Gray, Mr James
Grayling, rh Chris
Green, rh Damian
Greening, rh Justine
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
Griffiths, Andrew
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Halfon, Robert
Hames, Duncan
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Matthew
Hands, Greg
Harper, Mr Mark
Harris, Rebecca
Hart, Simon
Hayes, Mr John
Heald, Oliver
Heaton-Harris, Chris
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, rh Nick
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Holloway, Mr Adam
Hopkins, Kris
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, Sir Gerald
Howell, John
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr Nick
Jackson, Mr Stewart
James, Margot
Javid, Sajid
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Johnson, Gareth
Johnson, Joseph
Jones, Andrew
Jones, rh Mr David
Jones, Mr Marcus
Kawczynski, Daniel
Kelly, Chris
Kirby, Simon
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Kwarteng, Kwasi
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mark
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Laws, rh Mr David
Leadsom, Andrea
Lee, Dr Phillip
Lefroy, Jeremy
Leigh, Mr Edward
Leslie, Charlotte
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Brandon
Lewis, Dr Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Lloyd, Stephen
Lord, Jonathan
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Macleod, Mary
Maynard, Paul
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
McPartland, Stephen
McVey, Esther
Menzies, Mark
Mercer, Patrick
Metcalfe, Stephen
Miller, rh Maria
Mills, Nigel
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moore, rh Michael
Mordaunt, Penny
Morgan, Nicky
Morris, Anne Marie
Morris, David
Morris, James
Mosley, Stephen
Mowat, David
Mundell, rh David
Murray, Sheryll
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Newton, Sarah
Nokes, Caroline
Nuttall, Mr David
Offord, Dr Matthew
Ollerenshaw, Eric
Opperman, Guy
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, rh Sir James
Parish, Neil
Patel, Priti
Paterson, rh Mr Owen
Pawsey, Mark
Penrose, John
Phillips, Stephen
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Pincher, Christopher
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Pugh, John
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Reckless, Mark
Redwood, rh Mr John
Rees-Mogg, Jacob
Reevell, Simon
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robertson, rh Hugh
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Rudd, Amber
Ruffley, Mr David
Russell, Sir Bob
Rutley, David
Scott, Mr Lee
Selous, Andrew
Sharma, Alok
Shelbrooke, Alec
Shepherd, Sir Richard
Simpson, Mr Keith
Skidmore, Chris
Smith, Miss Chloe
Smith, Henry
Smith, Julian
Soames, rh Nicholas
Soubry, Anna
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline
Spencer, Mr Mark
Stanley, rh Sir John
Stephenson, Andrew
Stevenson, John
Stewart, Bob
Stewart, Iain
Stewart, Rory
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stride, Mel
Stuart, Mr Graham
Stunell, rh Andrew
Sturdy, Julian
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, rh Mr Hugo
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Timpson, Mr Edward
Tomlinson, Justin
Truss, Elizabeth
Turner, Mr Andrew
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Vara, Mr Shailesh
Vickers, Martin
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Walker, Mr Charles
Walker, Mr Robin
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Watkinson, Dame Angela
Weatherley, Mike
Webb, Steve
Wharton, James
Wheeler, Heather
Whittaker, Craig
Whittingdale, Mr John
Wiggin, Bill
Williamson, Gavin
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr Tim
Young, rh Sir George

A Cruel Mistress

For the past few weeks I’ve been wedded to twitter. Trouble is, it’s going to be a short marriage because she’s getting on my nerves already. When I think back, we had a lovely courtship. We would see each other every now and again, the time we spent together was fresh and jaunty. These days I approach her like she were a lawn to mow – you know you’ll feel better when the job is done. Anyway, enough of the matrimonial analogy, I’ve just realised it’s a bit too creepy.

I made the mistake of thinking it would be a good idea to set up a twitter account and report on @Welfare__Reform, the most strident and manifestly damaging policy yet from this hawkish government. Well strictly speaking it wasn’t a mistake, I just don’t have time to properly do it justice. I didn’t realise it would be so engrossing and require constant attention. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying everything is rosy in the garden of the welfare state. It does need significant reform. First on my list would be the introduction of a living wage.)

The whole exercise has been addictive because I have become obsessed with becoming an authority on the matter. I’ve studied statute, regulations, case law, and read almost every newspaper article covering sodding universal credit, the bastard welfare reform programme and the buggering bedroom tax. (Yes, I know it’s not really a tax – but it might as well be)

If it weren’t for the people who have contacted me to tell me their story, I think I might have stopped tracking for updates and trawling the DWP website at ridiculous hours of the night. The stories are depressing. People are struggling to live, they have no money, they’re usually in some degree of debt and are coping with difficult circumstances. Some are living a truly miserable existence and to top it off the state assistance to help pay some of their accommodation costs is being cut.

You can say what you like about the national debt and the necessity for deficit reduction, these actions currently being undertaken are punitive and politically motivated. The country is now unashamedly being run for the benefit of the few.

The social cleansing of London, the decimation of local authority budgets, the ‘redefinition’ of child poverty, the erosion of employment rights, the explosion of zero hour contracts, the closing of Remploy factories, the ATOS nightmare, the asset stripping of the health service, the failure to regulate the banking industry, the unchecked bonus culture, the private health care conflicts of interest, the reduction in tax for top earners, the closure of county courts, the closure of family Surestart centres, the closure of homelessness services, the diversion of funds to ‘free’ schools and the divide and rule demonisation of the poor.

So I have to carry on. I have to bend to the will of the cruel mistress else she denies me the opportunity to find out what’s really going on in this country.

The Future of Floating Support

I just thought I’d share a bit of insight into the likely future of support services, particularly floating support services in Nottinghamshire. In the past commissioners wanted us to deliver our support solely in people’s homes. My staff would turn up once a week, deliver a housing related support session and then go back to the office to finish off their notes. This was a fairly standard way of delivering services .. up until now that is.

Given that close to £10 million has been stripped out of the Notts Supporting People funding pot, the landscape is changing. Commissioners want more capacity with less staff. This obviously has a knock on effect on how we deliver these services. It would be easy for me to say that there’s just not enough money to provide quality services but that would be defeatist and I’m not going down that particular road.

In the future it’s likely that we will run multiple drop in points around the county and get people to come to us. Our drop ins usually take place in places we can get a room quite cheaply or better still, free. The local councils we work with are all supposed to make rooms available to us free of charge but that’s another story.

Although the extension of drop in services does not mean an end to supporting clients in their own homes, it is likely that we will have to ration it. It may be the case that for some clients there are medical reasons which mean a home visit is necessary but it’s drop in for the majority I’m afraid. This approach will enable us to deliver the volume of support required. (which is a lot) There is more than a hint of conveyor belt support about the way new services will have to run and it’s likely we wont be able to spend as much time with our clients as we would like. Treat ’em and street ’em.

There are benefit that has come from the ‘efficiency savings’ process. We’ve ditched a lot of unnecessary bureaucracy and sharpened up our act considerably. We are innovating and finding new ways to engage our clients which are outside the tradition model of support. Social Media, particularly the use of Facebook, is helping us to engage our clients. I recently set up three pilot schemes to directly engage clients through Facebook. Early indications are positive. This week we supported 2 clients who approached us for help via Facebook. This time next year it will be 200.

Here’s one of my FB pilots..


2011 – My Year in Politics.



There was that brief moment during the Cooper – Clay fight when our ‘enry put the wind up Cassius Clay. I remember it well because it felt the same as Big Frank’s right hook to Tyson. A big flash of possibility and then the bandwagon rolls on.

This is how I felt last year when a flicker of panic passed over David Cameron’s face when I told him my charity was being massacred by these funding cuts. “…And we are exactly the kind of organisation that could have delivered on your big society” I bleated.

Cameron fudged it and didn’t answer the question. There was a bit on the news, I had a pleasant anodyne chat with Grant Shapps on the phone, and that was that.

We’re still being hugely cut to the detriment of vulnerable people. And the bandwagon rolls on.