Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

Look, I don’t want to seem like a bitter and negative old git – indeed, I’m noted for my positive outlook and sunny disposition. So I don’t want to have to endlessly write denunciations of this Tory Government and its Lib Dem bag carriers; we all know they are utter bastards the lot of them, and that should be that.

However, this week I have undertaken a welfare rights course organised by Unite for some of its Community Membership activists in London and I have become aware, in intimate detail, of the sheer maliciousness of the attacks that have been made on disabled and unemployed people so far and the appalling scale of the attacks on them and the working poor that are going to occur in the coming year.

First, from April in most areas, everyone currently receiving full relief from Council Tax (except pensioners) will have to start paying some. My borough, Camden, is like many going for the maximum charge that it can while still being eligible for government transitional funding – 8.5% (it is also reducing the limit of allowable savings from £16,000 to £5,000). That means that some 13,100 local people, who currently do not have to pay Council Tax, will have to pay, on average, £2.69 a week from April. Another 3,700 already pay part of their Council tax and will have to pay extra. Now, two or three quid a week doesn’t sound very much, and it isn’t. Except for three things.

First, as the report recommending the new charges to councillors drily remarks of the people to be charged; ‘The fact that they are claiming Council Tax Benefit means that many of them will view themselves as financially vulnerable.’ So disabled people living on £105 a week, or unemployed people living on £71 (or £56.25 for under 25 year olds) might consider themselves ‘financially vulnerable’? Gosh, that’s a shocker. So yes, two or three quid a week is a lot when you have to live on £71.

Second, that’s only the beginning for some people. From April, council tenants will be hit by new regulations determining how much space they are entitled to. For example, a single mother with three children, a boy aged 9 and two girls aged 8 and 16, will be entitled to a three bedroom flat or house (one bedroom for her, one for her 8year old daughter and nine year old son and one for her 16 year old). From April, If she has the temerity to be living in a four bedroom house she will have her Housing Benefit cut by 14%, costing her between £12 and £18 a week. A couple who have been living in a three bedroom house for thirty years and whose two children have moved away from home, like my neighbours up the street, will have their Housing Benefit cut by 25%, or around £30 a week.

Then there is the Benefits Cap, which will be rolled out progressively across the country from April. This will see the total benefits paid to any family limited to £500 a week and to any individual to £350 a week. This will force the mass evacuation of poor people, including many who are in work, from most of Greater London and will cause incalculable social damage and distress throughout the country. And looming above it all is Ian Duncan Smiths’s big idea, Universal Benefit, which will start to be rolled out (if they can ever sort the details out) in the Autumn and which promises to plunge even more people into penury.

So I’m sorry if I seem disrespectful and less than charitable about Her Majesty’s Government, but Nye Bevan was right about the Tories – they are lower than vermin.

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