Life on Benefits Cuts Street
This TV program seemed as if it had been chosen, produced and directed by George Osborne himself. He must also have arranged the scheduling. No sooner had it finished its selective tour of the hard up occupants of the 99 houses than the chancellor himself pops up demanding that half the future cuts were to be funded from the Welfare Benefits budget. Those who were working, managing or just plain down trodden were given no air time. There was no attempt at balance.
The people on the street were living in a parallel universe. We were introduced to two thieving scallywags, the local unqualified but cheerful dispenser of advice and wisdom and a desperate thin faced mum. The cast was completed by a local man selling anything for 50 pence. He would sell you half a cup of washing powder, or tea bags, or a bog roll for 50 pence. The penurious residents could not afford even this mobile Aldi and he ended up giving the toilet roll away. At least that saved the old copies of the Daily Mail from their deserved destination.
White Dee said she ran the street and Black Dee went to her for advice after being served with a Notice seeking possession for £203 worth of arrears. The advice was partial and incomplete. No questions were asked about disrepair at Black Dee’s house, no benefits check done, just a phone call to the landlord to agree a fortnightly reduction. White Dee was sure that Black Dee would get at least 12-18 months before eviction was imminent.
The “whole street” had had its benefits cut but there was no mention of seeking advice from a Citizens Advice Bureau, solicitors or advice worker. The residents were truly on their own. It became clear to me then why the government has stopped legal aid for welfare benefits advice and severely restricted it for housing cases. They are not interested in saving the small amounts of money paid to solicitors to fight their client’s corner, win appeals, and provide redress when benefits are arbitrarily stopped. They are actually interested in the massive sums they will save by withdrawing benefits from claimants without fear of being challenged by skilled solicitors and advice workers or held accountable for their decisions.
If this government win the next election, with or without the Liberal Democrats there will be truly dark times ahead. Some solution to the withdrawal of advice has to be found. Those on non means tested benefits such as DLA can still afford to challenge the withdrawal of their benefit using the access to justice rates charged by our and other firms. Those on JSA and Income Support are in a much more perilous position.