This blogpost is the second of a four part series, and the third part will be published tomorrow.
Many Liberal Democrats drunken on power seem to be getting all misty-eyed over an AV referendum and the pupil premium and entirely forgetting about things like, say, the cutting of social care for the elderly by 30%. Or the impending eviction of 200,000 people from London for the crime of being poor. Stuff like that. But hey, we might get same-sex marriage in a few years, that makes up for the kids who won’t be able to travel to sixth form anymore because their Educational Maintenance Allowance has been removed, won’t it?
Maybe you don’t believe me. Maybe you think that “efficiency savings” and “reining in reckless spending” will somehow cover the £952 billion pound deficit. And maybe that’s true, but that’s not what’s happening. Here’s (some of) what’s happening:
Goodbye social housing sector, hello cardboard box
October 20th, 2010: “George Osborne announced that the housing budget for England would be cut from £8.4bn over the previous three-year period to £4.4bn over the next four years. The loss would be covered by new social housing tenants who face rental charges of up to 80% of market rates.
The average rent for a three-bedroom social home is about £85 a week, but the National Housing Federation warns this could triple to a “staggering” £250 a week. The federation, which represents English housing associations, said that the changes could lead to thousands of low-income families having to pay up to £9,000 a year more in rent.” Link.
Perhaps possible for some, but if you are living in London with higher rents to pay, a support network of friends, maybe even a low-paying job that just about keeps you fed and clothed? George Osborne would rather you just left, actually.
“Councils in the capital are warning that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut their rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers.
The National Housing Federation’s chief executive, David Orr, described the housing benefit cuts as “truly shocking”. He said: “Unless ministers urgently reconsider these punitive cuts, we could see more people sleeping rough than at any stage during the last 30 years.”
Hmm. People being made homeless with nowhere to go? Surely this is unfair?
“A DWP spokesperson said: “The current way that it [housing benefit] is administered is unfair. It’s not right that some families on benefits have been able to live in homes that most working families could not afford.””
What? But what do you do if you can’t find a job in an era of rising employment, with nearly 500,000 people shortly to be made redundant from the public sector?
“The controversy follows comment last week by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said the unemployed should “get on the bus” and look for work.”Link.
…wtf? So if you can’t afford to live next to your job, or you can’t pay your rent so you have even somewhere to live where you can look for a job, you should just… get a job? Can we see something a bit wrong there? And how are people even supposed to pay for the bloody bus without having a home or money?
The coalition government’s argument is that by refusing to flood the market with taxpayers’ money, the cost of rents will naturally fall because people who are near destitute won’t be able to pay their rent anymore. The problem is, there isn’t any shortage of demand in areas, such as London, where people actually want to live. Those also happen to be where most jobs are located as well, so people dependent on housing benefit are doubly screwed. The reality is that landlords with a choice between reducing their rents to accommodate the new changes, or evicting their tenants unable to pay to replace them with young urban professionals who desperately want to move out from their parents’, are not going to go for the cheaper option. That’s just capitalism in action.
There are going to be a lot of people made homeless because of this near-sighted policy. In fact, have tons of facts on homelessness. Being homeless is dangerous – you are at greater risk of physical attack, illness, malnutrition, not to mention the physical risk of freezing to death and contracting disease from unsanitary conditions if you are actually on the streets themselves. Then there’s the mental risk of stress, worry, fear, and uncertainty as you have no idea how you are going to survive another day. And that’s if you’re single. I dread to think what is going to happen to families. As Shelter put it, “Protecting NHS spending and education while introducing policies that will see more children living in damp and overcrowded conditions simply does not add up.”
If this cut in housing benefit goes through, people are going to die, the only question is how many, and how many children will end up in care when their parents can’t cope anymore, and how many will enter mental health services because of the pressure they are under and the indignities they face. And the Lib Dems are going to vote it through and claim it’s fair?
Jobs, jobs, jobs… but not for lawyers
Legal aid! That thing that most of us will never use and is just there to enrich fat lawyers trying to help immigrants into the country, right? If you want to believe the Daily Mail, lol. Here’s a story:
“20-year-old called Danni … had lost his job as an apprentice joiner in the recession. He was wrongly told that he could not claim housing benefit to help pay his rent, and found himself in court as the council tried to repossess his council flat.
Danni, who like most people had no knowledge of legal proceedings or civil law, faced the daunting prospect of representing himself in court and being made homeless. He was saved by a lawyer from the centre called Niki Goss, an amazing and vastly experienced man who has spent his career taking on this kind of case, for which he earns less than the average primary school teacher. Goss, funded by a legal aid scheme that enabled him to be on duty in court that day, persuaded the judge to oversee a compromise with the council so that Danni could remain in his accommodation.” Link.
Legal aid helps people who can’t afford their own representation and who are facing bankruptcy, prison, deportation, and homelessness to avoid any of those fates. It levels the playing field and means everyone in the country can get legal representation irrespective of their ability to pay so the courts aren’t just a rich man’s game. Sounds like a good, fair way of ensuring equal access to the law, right? Who could argue with that?
“[Justice Secretary Ken] Clarke said [on the 21st October, 2010]: “Our legal aid system is almost the most expensive in the world. Our proposals will look to reduce legal aid and related spend by around 16 per cent and it will still be one of the most expensive systems by far in the world.
“We want to do this by focusing funding on those who need it most and on those cases that require it. That will mean difficult choices on less priority areas, and on the ways in which lawyers are paid.”
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: “The severe cuts to legal aid, both criminal and civil, will mean some individuals will have minimal or no representation in court.” Link.
…huh. But I guess that if we just gave free legal advice to everyone who needed it we’d bankrupt the country?
“The Law Centres Federation estimates that the average cost to the taxpayer of evicting people like Danni is £34,000. The service provided by Goss that day and subsequent court hearings costs less than £1,000. Providing vulnerable people with legal representation saves money down the line.”
Ah. Right. So legal aid is cost-effective a lot of cases. But not as cost-effective as just getting people to work for free!
“One idea that has proved popular among Tories is the idea that lawyers should do more work for free. Pro bono legal advice and representation, senior Conservatives have argued, are an important part of a lawyer’s civic duty. Jonathan Djanogly, the justice minister in charge of legal aid, has even suggested that it would be a good way of keeping busy women who wanted to return to work from maternity leave.
“Pro bono can be a good filler for those lawyers out of work, or women who want to get back into the legal job market after having children,” Djanogly said at a fringe meeting at the Conservative party conference.”
Ignoring the blatant sexism and patriarchy contained in this statement, surely in the big society we need to help our fellows, to “do our bit”. Isn’t Djanogly’s call to pro bono work a good thing?
“To a disproportionate extent [legal aid lawyers] are made up of people working in small high street firms, women, and ethnic-minority lawyers. The idea that they should work for free is neither sustainable nor fair. If the taxpayer cannot stomach paying lawyers to represent people who cannot afford to pay for themselves, then the supply of legal representation will dry up.” Link.
So cutting legal aid will disproportionately affect local solicitors, women, and ethnic minorities. It’ll leave thousands of poor and destitute people without legal representation at the mercy of the wealthy, councils and government departments who can afford to throw bottomless amounts of cash at lawyers to do their utmost to ruin the lives of people who can’t fight back, by bankrupting them, by breaking up their families, by giving them criminal records, and by making them homeless. It will result in the deportation of thousands of asylum seekers to countries where they may be tortured or killed, because that’s “what’s right for the country”. Right, yeah.
That change that works for you?
Tomorrow in “Who’s Affected by the Cuts?”, we’ll be looking at the elderly, disabled people, and students. Join me then. Don’t join the Liberal Democrats.