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Why I have a two-bedroom council house and why I’m worried about the bedroom tax

This is the latest of our interviews with people around the country who are dealing with fallout from public sector cuts and recession.

In this transcript from a recently-recorded interview, Michael H, who is 43, from Newcastle and on incapacity benefit and disability living allowance, talks about growing up on Gateshead's Springwell estate, his concerns about being moved out of his council flat because of the bedroom tax (he was moved to his current flat years ago after run-ins with gangs on his previous estate) and his own conviction for benefit fraud. Michael has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, has depression and suffers from anxiety and panic attacks:

“I know that this is going to come across really, really strong but I think that it's a social cleansing what they [the government] are doing, with people the likes of us on benefits... because he's [Cameron] turned around, calling us the likes of scroungers.

I go to doctors, I go to groups - I'm trying to get better, but when you're diagnosed with things like this and you're on the waiting list... I'm diabetic. I was diagnosed in 2005 - I almost died [in 2000]. I've got summat in my hands where they attack down the nerves. It's affecting me like joints and things and the medication that they put us on, I don't think it agreeing with us. I'm thinking like more suicidal thoughts. I don't know if this drug is right for me.

I was a caretaker years ago and I worked with a broken arm, so it isn't if I haven't worked or anything. I have done lots of various jobs. Obviously, growing up, I wasn't brought up in the best world. It was like...really bad times - a very violent household if you get my drift, so I didn't have the best of the starts in life. [But] I'm doing everything like I'm supposed to be doing...

Bedroom tax its a different way of cutting the housing benefit bill. That's all it is. It isn't anything about encouraging people to move on, because they know that there isn't any one bedroom properties going. My daughter still comes across [to stay in my flat]. She lives at home with her mam and stepdad and she comes across to mine and she has that room as a little sanctuary thing, because she she's doing 6th form now. She is going to be a teacher and it's nice for her to have that sanctuary. In everything, you will get people who will take advantage. It's doesn't matter what job you are in - in any walk of life. Look at the Tories with their expenses. Those MPs - in real life, they would have lost their jobs.

I will tell you a story. I parted from me wife and I ended up being put in a place called H_avenue. I had asked the council - does the person next door deal drugs and they said No. Following that, I got moved to a place called W_ Avenue, just round the corner. I lived there for about four years.

There was a gang round here in the 70s and 80s - they were like crime lords, a gang.

[I told the council about them] and they knew and so every time I went out, I was getting gangs of like kids like from 15 to 18, effing and blinding and wanting to do us in. When my brother came across one time and knocked on the door, they came and attacked him and the double gate. They picked up half of it and put it through the window. That's how I got moved from where I was to where I am now [for safety]. I think it's wrong that I should be moved from an area what I like [because of the bedroom tax]. My doctor is there. They know me history and I'm settled there.

It's very nice where I live at the moment, in terms of Newcastle. I've landed on my feet - it's a really nice area, a quiet area. Most of the homes have been bought. I couldn't have asked for a better place because all me life, I've always been brought up in rough areas. To think I might have to move again to a rougher area - it's like Why? What I've done wrong? It's them making feel like I've done a crime and what crime have I done?

Atos, work capability assessments and unemployment

I haven't had an [Atos work capability assessment yet]. I'm on incapacity benefit...I've watched the things on the television and seen how [ESA] is decided for people to fail on it. People don't understand how that plays with your mind, because if your mind is fragile enough now, when you get things like that put on top of you, it just makes you think - what I am good for? The best thing to do would be to end it, because then I wouldn't be on benefits.

My son and his pals have been on benefits for ages and there is nothing there. He has to go around and hand in CVs to firms in the local areas [as a requirement for jobseekers' allowance]. They [the job centre] keep asking him to do it and he's like - if I've done every one, how can I go around and do it again? And they are now wanting to sanction people £72 [sic]. That's their whole benefit, if they don't meet whatever they [the job centre] wants. Yes, we do know that there is people who do not want to work, because there's ones that do crime, do drugs, do whatever, but that's always been there since day dot, but to tar every single person...

The thing is, he [Cameron] claims that it [welfare changes and bedroom tax] won't have that much impact - but how does he know? He's a millionaire. He's not been in our shoes, I would love to have been in his. Because most people round these areas to be honest, they are poor and they accept their lot in life.

At the job centre, they have not got a clue. If they brought in schemes where it wouldn't affect your benefit - [such as] employment training for 12 months, you could go out and train. If disabled people had those rights, if that would then give them the confidence to go back into the workplace and try things out and learn different things. They let the likes of us rot now. We are classed as the worst thing since bubonic plague.

I'll be honest with you - I was brought up in that era when me dad would go away to work and my mum and dad would claim that they were poorly. Me mum would claim benefits for us and my dad would post the money. You do whatever you need to do to get by.

In the 80s, when the last recession was on, I did that. I was working [some] hours a week as a cleaner, because I had a wife and two kids and I had to get by and I got caught. The only reason that I got caught was because me own granny grassed us up, because I come from a wonderful family. I got taken to court when I got caught. I got fined and I had 60 pound court costs and then I had to pay back all the benefit, right, which I did. I was on about two pound an hour. Like, it helped to keep the house going, because I just had nothing.

Even if the likes of us got back into work, we couldn't hold down a job, because it's going to be like scary, frightening. [It'll be] like - you can't last. Are you going to mentally break down? That's why if they could bring in schemes where you could learn at pace and gradually get used to doing things, it mightn't be as daunting and as scary. There's nothing like that for people on disability, because if you do that, they class you as fit for work.

Through the mental health team, I was doing like ten hours a week in a care home, because I work as a handyman and things like that. I found it okay, but when they were wanting us to be there permanent, that's when I got...[pressured].

I didn't get my first job, until I was 20, but until then, I had done two years YTS [youth training scheme], one year's Newcastle ET [employment training] and the first proper job I had was in the local barracks when I was 20. All that time, I had been on the dole for about seven months out of the four years, so if they had things for you to learn to give you confidence, then I think you will find lots of people with disabilities and mental health issues would gradually...get into work.

Years ago, when I used to sign on with my brother, a kid he used to go to with at school was one of the people there. Because he had a job there, he thought he was high and mighty over the rest. Even though he was only like about this big, he used to treat you like if you were bad...and I would expect it to be even worse now, because you'll get ones there who will be caring and you'll get ones who are just pure evil. It's just like when you give people authority - at times, they'll be taking [advantage]. When I was in charge of people, I treated people in the way that I would like to be treated. And then even when they are doing their jobs, they could do whatever they wanted as long as that work got done.

Back in the 80s, I knew kids who were getting the dole which was, like, 18 pound, and people going out just getting the dole and then doing work [as well], right. I knew kids who were digging trenches all day - eight hours a day, for five quid a day, digging the trenches just to take a bit of cash home. That's what Cameron's going to do. He's going to make a false economy where people will get around it. People will just go out [to get extra money] and he's going to go out and say - “I told you there's benefit fraud.” He's creating it by doing what he's doing now, but he can't see that.

In the 80s, you couldn't get any help. In the 80s, it was horrendous. For the areas where I lived like Springwell, people were taking carpets, taking furniture to repair and to sell, bikes, anything.

I know I shouldn't admit this, but I know people know who are going round scrapping...like, they'll ask if you need things taken away and they'll take it away, but they won't take it away to the tip. They'll take it away and do it up and sell it. It's just easy cash, bar getting charged to go in with the van and paying for the petrol to go round with the van and get bits and bobs. All of that is going to come on the rise... you will get people who will take anything. It's going to be like the 80s when you had that false economy and things created under-handedly.

I remember - you were petrified of telling people what you had in your house, because people would burgle. Until about '89, VHSs cost a lot of bucks to buy one - they cost about 500 pound. So people used to go to video hire and places like that and rent them. Then, people would claim that their house had been burgled, or people would actually burgle your house [and take the VHS]. So, you had to be careful for who you told what you had. You had to be careful at what clothes you put on the line, because back in our day, £30 was a hell of a lot of cash to buy a pair of jeans...it's like you could put them on the line and you could go [away] for half an hour and they've gone. Things are going to be like again. I've known people where they've come off [their bikes], aye, they take your bike and all of that is going to start coming back...

I think Clegg - he's just a walking streak of piss. He's got no backbone or anything. He comes across as this great nice man and then he's totally...I don't know how that man can kip at night. I just don't know.

I'm fearful now, because I'm having to look at my bairn and I'm having to look at his mates and I'm looking back to when I was at that age and I was having to look at the same thing.

I'm 43 coming up. I was on the YTS in '86. I done a two year course and I had two of my kids. I used to go to work for £28.50 a week and I would get expenses, but I had to pay the first three pound of my expenses and my bus pass was ten pound, so in theory I was getting £25 pound pay. [But at least] even when I was a kid, there was that. There's nothing out there for our kids. They're going to be a generation lost. They are going to be on benefits for the rest of their days, because that's all they know. Because I all I've known for the past 30 years is benefits, so if I was to go to a job now, it would kill us, because I would be frightened. You just think of all when you first go to a job and you're like [frightened]... My kids, like their age group, what's there for them? It could be like this for ten years and all they'll learn is benefits and how to get round the benefits system.

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