Jeanette Smith (not her real name) lives in the south of England. In this second of a two-part blog post she discusses how housing issues interact with other benefit conditions to create a ‘perfect storm’
In my last blog post I wrote about ESA and my fears of the consequences of a move to Universal Credit – including my rent payments. I have now been put in the ESA Support Group which gives me some respite and time to concentrate on my health. How long this will last before the cycle starts again I don’t know. I feel that I am at the mercy of a very impersonal and inhumane system that takes no account of the impact of its policies and procedures on the mental and physical health of individuals who are already at their lowest ebb and very vulnerable.
The Bedroom Tax is a policy that I have never been able to understand the logic of, or how it has been allowed to continue. I have lived in my home for twenty-five years. It has two bedrooms which I was entitled to with my daughter who has now moved out. I moved from a one-bedroom council flat into the housing association property. I would have had a secure tenancy in my flat with the Right to Buy. Now I have an assured tenancy with no Right to Buy. Housing associations were just coming on the scene at that time and taking people off the waiting list. I chose to move to the housing association – with hindsight I wish I had stayed with the council and kept my tenancy and rights.
However, I actually chose my home, the housing association was small and had a local office. I watched my home being built and it was mine when finished. I am the only occupant since it was built. I have put down roots and invested time and money. I have a great deal of emotional investment in my home. It is not just a roof. I am told I should now move as I am under-occupying by one bedroom. It is NOT spare. I have used it to work from home and my grandchild stays regularly. The definition of ‘spare’ is unused or not needed.
The other issue is that my home has a low rent; I have not seen another property even smaller that has a rent as low as mine. If I could move into a smaller property and the rent was more expensive would Housing Benefit pay it? Maybe but then I could be subject to the Benefit Cap which would apply to a single person and the amount they would pay for a ‘suitable’ property for my needs. I don’t want to move to a one bedroom flat, and I certainly don’t want to move to a bedsit or private accommodation. Why should I? I got my home under the laws and processes that were in place at the time. All of this is retrospective and should not apply to people who have lived in the same home for such a long time.
If I will not or cannot move I will eventually be evicted for rent arrears. It is impossible to move anyway while you have rent arrears, the housing association will not allow it and no new housing provider will accept you. They also inevitably ask for a month in advance. I have a friend who has been trying to downsize from a three-bedroom home for five years and cannot because of these reasons. So even if I wanted to move and I could find a one bedroom flat I could not do so.
It is not the tenants’ fault that there is a lack of social housing to rent. It is the fault of government policy. Should I lose my home to house someone else? Where am I supposed to live? I did not think when I signed my tenancy that I was borrowing it until my daughter moved out.
There used to be a financial incentive for tenants to downsize and it worked. The payment helped with moving costs and it was a lot easier to move to another smaller property. In the 1990s there was building of sheltered housing for older people, with extra benefits and security in self-contained flats. This policy worked. In my line of work, I used to visit mainly older people in three-bedroom properties. Lots of them lived alone and most did not use the upstairs at all, their beds were downstairs.
People of pension age and older are exempt from this new policy and not given help or incentive to move. If more sheltered/extra care accommodation was built I am sure that a lot of elderly people would happily move, instead of staying in homes totally unsuitable and having short visits by carers that are not adequate for their needs. I am near to what would have been pensionable age but feel I am being pushed into a situation in the very near future where I will be forcibly moved or worse evicted. How did we get to this point and how is it all being allowed to continue?
I don’t believe that I am entitled to a luxurious lifestyle funded by the State. I do believe though that as a citizen of this country since I was born, having worked and paid tax, council tax and National Insurance I am entitled to be able to cover the basics that are essential to life and to be able to keep my home. What is to be gained by society in making people unwell and homeless and putting them in a situation where they are no longer able to be productive and support themselves? No human being should be forced to live with no shelter, safety, security or dignity.
I believe that it is no coincidence that mental health problems, suicides, evictions and homelessness are rising rapidly since 2010. It is the polices that have been introduced and the cumulative effects are now being seen. What is the end goal of all of this? There have been constant challenges to government policy in the last few years and they spend millions fighting and appealing against them. Why?
There is a case for the Basic Income which actually is in place in some countries and is being trialled in Scotland. If a human being is not constantly in fear of being unable to provide for their basic needs and losing their roof, they are able to move on to higher things – employment, training etc.
Within the EU, they at least have an input on the way our governments can treat their citizens. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights says this:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
Where is this in DWP policy at the moment? Where is this in homelessness policy at the moment? Surely this government is in clear breach of this?