Home is where the heart is…but only for five years.

Anyone who’s been semi-aware of anything that’s happened in the last 35 years or so will know that Tories don’t like Council Housing. They are the party of the “striver”, and so hate the idea that anyone’s getting anything they haven’t grafted for. The great oracle in the sky to aim for is the blessed state of Home Ownership. Thatcher in the 80’s made this available to your average bod on the street by letting them buy their council property at a fraction of their value, and from then on the holy grail has been to Own Your Own Home.

This week the government announced that lifetime tenancies for council properties would be stopped, and five year tenancies brought in. On first look, this is a difficult policy to manage. There are many people living in council properties who are earning a decent wage and could live in the private sector but who are taking advantage of the reduced rent of a local authority property. And there are plenty of people needing housing who could take up that now-vacated property. But in actual fact I don’t think the thinking behind this policy is as nuanced as that. I think it comes down to a hard and fast line the Tory party are pushing: you don’t want to live in a council property.

When council properties were starting to be built en-masse after the war, they were seen as replacement communities for the slums that had been either bombed or torn down. Everyone knew each other, neighbours were neighbourly and took care of one another. Tory policy has been the reason council estates have turned into places people don’t want to be (I’ll put some books at the end that I think are excellent reading on the specifics of this as I want to mainly focus on the stuff from this week). By creating what is in effect a five year rolling tenancy, Tories have made sure people will never feel totally settled in their homes. Why redecorate if you’re going to be told to move in a few years? Why get attached to a place if you might be told you have to leave it?

And the problem with not becoming attached to a place is that you lose a sense of community. After Right to Buy, there were a lot of council properties that were taken up by buy-to-let landlords once the original buyers sold up. Those in less salubrious areas often ended up being rented back to the council (who would have to pay an exorbitant rent to the private landlord) and used as temporary accommodation – those coming out of rehab, homeless people, people on probation. You end up with a transient population and where there’s a high turnover of tenancies there’s a low feeling of community (for a more in-depth look at this issue I highly recommend the chapter “Damage” from Nick Davies’ book Dark Heart – see end of post). A transient population is fractured. And the introduction of five year tenancies will make it even more so. This will cause a huge amount of damage to areas of social housing which more often than not are also areas of high deprivation and child poverty.

The Tories are pushing even further their housing hierarchy. At the top, home ownership. Underneath, expensive private renting. And at the lower level? Council housing, where only the poorest live. If you live in council housing, then, you must be poor. and we all know the messages the Tories like to push out about the feckless poor. Council housing is now a “last resort”. Which is going to further effect estates and communities. It’s another attack from the government to tell the poorest people “you do not matter”.

Recommended books on the history of council housing:

Estates: An Intimate History – Lynsey Hanley

The People: The rise and fall of the working class – Selina Todd

Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain – Lisa McKenzie

Dark Heart: The shocking truth about hidden Britain – Nick Davies

 

 

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Adventures in PIP: the DWP is exhausting.

On September 21st 2015 I had a letter telling me my Personal Independence Payments had been stopped after my re-assessment. On 12th October, I put in a written request for mandatory reconsideration of my claim.

I called the DWP last week, a month after I’d sent the letter. They found it on their system, and the person I spoke to on the phone told me they’d basically forgotten about it. It had been scanned and entered, and then left.

Today I called again. The decision still hasn’t been made. This time I was told it could take up to nine weeks for a decision. Which is halfway through December. Just shy of three months after my PIP was stopped.

In this time, surprisingly, I have not magically become better. I have not adapted to life without PIP because, funnily enough, I kinda need it. My extra financial requirements have not disappeared. But now I don’t have the cash to meet them.

My PIP paid for my weekly gentle yoga classes that helped me move and got me out of the house. It paid for a bus, it paid for me to park the car. It paid for me to use the local Shopmobility services when I went out. As a result of me losing my PIP our ESA payments also went down. This means I now cannot afford the yoga class, or transport, or much of anything really for the moment. Losing my PIP – albeit only temporarily, I hope – has meant I’ve lost a lot of my independence. I cannot afford to get out the house. I cannot afford to go to places and meet people. This is how people become isolated – it takes sick and disabled people more energy than most to get out the house in the first place. If they’re constantly worrying about if they can afford to, that’s not going to help.

I’ll be alright – I know how to fight this and if it goes further and I have to appeal, well, I can do that. But it’s not fun, and it’s not easy, and I’m ill and I’m tired. How am I going to make myself “work ready” if I have to spend all my very limited energy fighting for the basic stuff I need to be able to live my life? Removing essential money from sick and disabled people doesn’t make them more likely to succeed, it won’t make them more motivated to go out and work. In fact, it is doing just the opposite. We’re all very tired of fighting.


A lose-lose situation: the DWP’s Catch 22.

2015-09-23 13.05.22Last time I wrote about having my Personal Independence Payment assessment I said it felt like an exam I had to pass. As it turns out, this time I seem to have failed.

Yep, after doing my renewal application for my PIP, I was declined. I was half expecting this anyway but it still came as a shock. So now comes the mandatory reconsideration period and the appeals process. I’ve also requested a copy of my assessment to see if it’s as comedic as the last one was.

As an ill person, the expectations the DWP have of me are a bit confusing. I’m told that in order to be a productive member of society I have to work, that working is the best option for everyone and that their aim is to get everyone working. Yet, as soon as I try and be productive and proactive, I’m told I’m not ill enough to be receiving any help. Which means you cannot win. You cannot be productive while also being ill as the DWP don’t have a box for that. You can’t be a professional, an educated person because if you’re able to be educated and have a profession then you’re clearly not ill. The truth, as it always is, is far, far more complicated than that.

Me doing an MA does not means I don’t still have chronic pain. The fact I can write a blog entry doesn’t mean I won’t have to go to sleep for the afternoon due to chronic fatigue. Reading a book doesn’t mean I don’t need my pain medication. You’re told to be productive yet that means you’re not ill. If you’re ill you’re told you have to be productive.

No win.


Budget Day: The cold, hard numbers of rich and poor Britain.

My favourite little factoid about the House of Commons has to do with Budget Day, and it’s this:

“Members may not eat or drink in the chamber; the exception to this rule is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who may have an alcoholic beverage while delivering the Budget statement” (Wikipedia)

Today, it may be the rest of us that need the alcohol.

In 2008, the British government approved a rescue package to British banks. The banks had lowered their credit standards, given out more money and brought in profit for their shareholders. Then the housing bubble went pop. The greed of bankers and shareholders who wanted to lend out more money to bring in more profit, meant that the returns weren’t coming back in. And the banks were running out of money.

The rescue package in 2008 consisted of the UK government giving £500 billion to UK banks, to get them out of their financial hole.

£500,000,000,000 is what it look like when you write it out. It’s a whole load of zeros. Let’s look at another number that has a lot of zeros.

£16,000,000,000. That’s sixteen billion. Which is the amount the banks paid out in bonuses the year they received the bailout.

How about another number.

£50,000,000,000. Fifty billion. That’s how much the government gave to the banks in 2009, for the second bailout.

Another number?

£93,000,000,000. Ninety-three billion. The amount handed to businesses in subsidies and tax breaks.

One more.

£12,000,000,000. Twelve billion. The amount Osborne is expected to cut from the welfare bill before 2017. The money that goes to the poorest people in society.

Because when you’ve given £516 billion to the banks to fix their mistake, and £93 billion to businesses to make sure they’re alright, someone has to foot the bill. And the people footing the bill are the people who never had any money in the first place.

More numbers? Alright then.

£20,000. Twenty thousand. The amount of money a family outside London is expected to live on. (Here’s a previous blog post about how that pans out)

3,500,000. Three and a half million. The number of children in the UK living in poverty.

1,084,604. One million, eighty four thousand, six hundred and four. The number of people who had to receive emergency food and support from the Trussell Trust food banks in 2014-15.

15,955. Fifteen thousand, nine hundred and ninety five. The number of benefits sanctions in the FIRST THREE MONTHS of 2014.

One final one? Gladly:

0. Zero. The number of British bankers who have faced any criminal charges for their reckless lending.


To be young and poor is a criminal act.

If there’s one group of people that have been repeatedly on the wrong end of the cuts, it’s young people. No more EMA, no more youth service. No more Connexions, no more jobs, no housing benefit and now, you’ll be put on workfare if you can’t find a job that doesn’t exist.

The idea is that 18-21 year olds will have 6 months to find a job. If they don’t manage to do that, they’ll be put on “Youth Allowance” (which, conveniently is the same amount as JSA – £57.35 a week) and be told they have to undertake 30 hours a week of community service. And 10 hours of job searching. £57.35 a week for 30 hours work comes out at just over £1.90 per hour.

According to the first thing that popped up when I typed “unemployment statistics young people” into Google, 740,000 16-24 year olds were unemployed in the period October to December 2014, 201,000 of which had been unemployed for over 12 months. Let’s take a random shot in the dark and say 500,000 young people would’ve been unemployed for 6 months and therefore required to go on the “Youth Allowance”.

Where do we find volunteering and community work places for 500,000 young people? For 30 hours a week each? Cameron suggests “cleaning litter or graffiti” at which point I think it’s very clear the meaning behind these new requirements.

The young people who are most likely to be unemployed for more than six months, who haven’t gone to uni, who haven’t secured an “unpaid internship” will be the most vulnerable young people from the poorest backgrounds.

To be young and poor is to be treated like a criminal.

Mr Cameron in his infinite wisdom, has made very clear what he thinks of young people. If you’re able to get the grades and go to uni (which we’ll charge you a fortune for) and get work then you’re a striver! You’re also much more likely to be middle class, not live in social housing and not have a family who are living on the welfare system. If your background is that way, well, we already know that you’re going to follow in their scrounging sponging footsteps, and so we’ll make sure you’re put in your place as quickly as possible.

“That well-worn path – from the school gate, down to the jobcentre, and on to a life on benefits – has got to be rubbed away,” Mr Cameron said. (BBC News, 20th February 2015)

This government has taken every ounce of support from young people with one hand, and used the other hand to point the finger at them and say “This is YOUR fault”. They have said “you’re not worth paying for work, you’re not worth helping because we have given up on you”. They have criminalised being young and poor.


DWP assessments – a pass or fail exam.

The building I went for my PIP assessment in is probably the most inaccessible building I’ve ever been in during my 32 long years on this earth. ATOS in this area will do home assessments for people with mobility issues, which is good as the entrance has three heavy doors you have to be buzzed through, the tiniest waiting room of all time and the tiniest assessment rooms.

PIP assessors are a medical professional of some sort – OT, physio etc. which means the chap I saw should at least know a bit about what’s going on. He was really nice, which was good, but I felt like the assessment wasn’t thorough, and just went through everything I’d already written about in detail on my form. He asked about what conditions I had, the medications and their side effects. He was supposed to ask about a “typical day” but in fact he only covered eating and drinking and didn’t ask any more. The quote of the day was: “I need to write down an explanation of what this condition is because the person reading it won’t know about it”. Confidence boost right there!

Then there was a “physical” which was composed of your usual basic physical tests – touch your toes, squeeze my fingers, push against my hands and so on. If I’d have applied with a mental health condition I’d be quite confused by this point.

I did take someone along with me – my mum – who took notes (she didn’t ask if she could but she wasn’t stopped). The ideal person for me to take should’ve been my husband but a) see above re. wheelchair accessibility and b) it would be a foolish idea for me to walk into my PIP assessment with someone who is more disabled than I am.

It was exhausting. Towards the end I just couldn’t get all my words out. I missed so much. I feel like the right questions weren’t asked. I feel like I wasn’t enabled by the assessor to make sure I explained everything.

It felt like an exam. It felt like I should revise, make sure I can remember everything, make sure I answer the questions with the right answers. I felt like I was being tested, and I would come out with a pass or fail. Because the system is set up to make us fail. It’s set up so that we feel like we’re having to say and do the “right” things to be able to pass the PIP exam. We have to prove our disabilities, our illnesses. And rather than a system designed to make sure people receive the support and help they need, rather then a system that will hold your hand and guide you through with your best interests at heart, it is designed to put you on trial. To say “prove it”. And even when you do, it doesn’t always believe you.

I’m currently working on the assumption that I’m going to have to appeal. I figure that way, if I am successful first time it’ll be a nice surprise, but I’m being realistic. But this phase is done. Now I wait for the brown envelope with the PIP exam results in.


“Please hang up the phone and call back in a month” – more adventures in PIP application.

Last week it was my 5 month PIP-iversary. Hurrah! That meant it was time to contact the Department for Work and Pensions. Boo.

For various reasons including an epic 2-day fibromyalgia flare and general “not wanting to speak to the Department for Work and Pensions”, I put off making the phone call until this morning. But, seeing as I’d already waited on the phone for half an hour to get a GP appointment and was already in a pretty foul mood, I figured in for a penny, in for a pound and rang the DWP.

I was on the phone for, at a generous guess, 45 seconds. That was how long it took for me to tell the automated phone system that I wanted to find out how my PIP application was doing, and for it to tell me that they didn’t want people to contact them about their applications until 26 weeks from application.

My application is dated at the beginning of January. Which puts me somewhere in the middle of week 23. I have to wait until the middle of July before they’ll even talk to me about it. And that’s FINE, apparently.

But, forget about me. I’m fine, apart from a few flares and some pain I’ll be alright. I’ve got family and friends who are helping me. But, what about people who can’t look after themselves? People use their (currently) DLA to get access to adapted cars, wheelchairs, specialist equipment, carers…imagine being told that you’ll have to wait for over half a year before they will even consider that they might be taking a long time about helping you. People are literally dying before the DWP gets round to them.

And that’s assuming that, after your 26 week wait, they’ll tell you you’re getting some money off them. According to Benefits And Work, after the first nine months of PIP being rolled out, only 15.4% of the 220,300 applications had been processed, and of THOSE only 37% were awarded anything:

“To put this in perspective, this means that only 12,654 people, out of the 220,300 who have made a new claim for PIP in the 9 months since the beginning of April 2013, have been awarded PIP.”

That is 5.75%. The likelihood of you receiving PIP on your first application is just over 1 in 20. That’s not good.

But, I don’t need to be worrying about that yet. Because I’m not allowed to talk to them about it for another month. Because taking 6 months to process a benefit claim is just fine. Apparently.