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The impact of benefit cuts: a Birmingham perspective

From Birmingham Against Cuts:

In recent days, parliament voted through the Benefits Uprating Bill which will mean a real terms cut in benefits, a move that the Tories* say will put 200,000 children into poverty.

This bill, which cuts the link between inflation and benefits, will see social security payments which have hugely dropped in value since 1979 continue to be eroded.

The effect on wages will be to create a further downward pressure, in addition to the recession, as the value of unemplyoment benefits places a floor beneath which wages cannot fall. The effect of this on disabled people, carers, unemployed people and low paid workers will be tremendous, and once the rest of the welfare reforms are considered as well, the effects will be disastrous for many.

 

How Can You Tell If A Politician Is Lying About Benefits?

The outcome of this bill is that for the next three years, benefits will rise at 1%, below the current 2.7% rate of inflation.

However, that does not tell the full story, as key items like food, gas and electricity are rising faster, whilst items like airplane flights are falling in price. For someone under 25 on JSA at £56.25/week, almost all of their spending goes on food – rising by 4% – and energy, which continues to jump in price every year.

Even before this cut in benefits, we have been told by Birmingham Voluntary Services Council that welfare reforms will make child poverty targets “unachievable”, and Birmingham Settlement – a local debt advice agency – has warned that advice services will be overwhelmed by disability benefit caseload.

That is assuming that there will be any advice services left in Birmingham after legal aid ends for many civil cases, including all welfare and benefits law. Both Birmingham Law Centre and the CAB are facing closure, and many other advice services are concerned about how they will cope.

For claimants, April will see further squeezes on their income, as Pickles’ Poll Tax sees unemployed and some disabled people charged 20% of council tax, an average of £5/week. The Spare Bedroom Tax will also hit thousands of housing benefit claimants charged part of their rent because they are living in a property that is deemed larger than their needs – however there are not enough smaller properties available for people to move to even if they wanted to.

Disability Claimants will soon be dealing with cuts to DLA as it changes to PIP with the aim of reducing total payments by 20%. The rules for the already flawed work capability assessment for ESA are to be changed so that ATOS can consider imaginary disability aids and treatments in their assessment of whether someone is fit for work.

This war on welfare is based on a series of misinformation and outright lies – even in a select committee hearing this week, the minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, made out that DLA was only for those out of work (actually it is a benefit that helps many disabled people to work) and that if people lost DLA they should claim ESA instead (which they can’t if they are in work, and if they are out of work they already do claim ESA/IB).

The state of the debate around social security is well set out by Alex Sturdy in his article, The Welfare Debate and The End Of Reason.

Actions

One thing you can do right now is to sign the War On Welfare petition, calling for a cumulative impact assessment of welfare cuts and reforms to disabled people. Then put the 4th February in your diary, for a demo at the council house – this demonstration is focused on council cuts, which includes Al Bore's decision to impose council tax payments on this city, and is the next point to visibly show the growing resistance to austerity which was seen at the anti cuts meeting last week.

See details of next Birmingham anti cuts organising meetings here.

*changed from Oxfam.

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