Housing Benefit ban for U/25s – still a monumental farce!

Banning the under 25s from receiving Housing Benefit is the most monumentally f**king stupid idea the Tories have ever come up with.  Apologies for language reader but hopefully I have your attention on this issue which needs to be put to bed once and for all.

The idea of banning those aged under 25 from receipt of Housing Benefit has a long history with this Tory-led coalitionTracing that history reveals it to be a policy that is wanted dearly by the Tories, yet every time it is raised more and more objections emerge, to be followed by more and more exemptions and dilution and concessions to the notion by the Tories.  We see another of these dilutions in the words of Harriet Baldwin MP who apparently speaks for the Chancellor no less as last night she went on Channel 4 news to say what George Osborne really meant in his speech to conference yesterday – a speech which housing professionals have misread too but more on that later..

I mean no personal disrespect to Harriet Baldwin but your words cannot and should not be relied upon as you a merely a parliamentary aide to the new employment junior minister Mark Hoban (who?) and not a mouthpiece for the Chancellor or your party or the government on this.  If the DV sector or the single homeless or foyer sector want to go ahead and plan on the basis of this ‘clarification’ of the Chancellor from the parliamentary aide to a junior minister nobody has heard of then….

Hilary Baldwin said of the notion to ban under 25s from receipt of Housing Benefit that there would be exemptions and specifically: –

No changes would affect anyone coming out of care and certainly no changes would affect anyone fleeing domestic violence”

Regular readers will recall how I have been challenging the welfare ‘reforms’ around both domestic violence and homeless hostels and have said that 50% or more of them will close if the welfare ‘reforms’ are left as they are.  Thankfully there has been some concessions on this last month by IDS and Lord Freud and supported housing rent is NOT to be included in Universal Credit, although precisely how has yet to be announced.  Moreover, the fact that nothing has been said about supported housing rents inclusion or not in the overall benefit cap which is what will really close the majority of refuges and hostels is a deep concern still as yet even discussed in public.  Frankly the DV and single homeless sectors cannot plan on even an operational level let alone a strategic one until ALL of these matters are resolved.

Now on top of these grave uncertainties we have a new ‘reform’ that of banning receipt of HB to the under 25s – a ‘policy’ that will massively affect DV refuges and single homeless hostels.  In fact if implemented it will close the overwhelming majority of them and much more than the 50% figure I first predicted over a year ago and mention again above with the still unresolved overall benefit cap point.

This places Harriet Baldwin’s remarks in their true context.  A hurried qualification of the notion of banning HB to under 25s idea by a little known MP and claimed to be the true policy of the Chancellor!  In many ways I find it offensive that Harriet Baldwin has been used as an apologist for an ill-thought through and knee-jerk policy, and especially one that has already been watered down by the Chancellor himself. (NB: Harriet Baldwin actually appeared to understand in the WR debates that may of the ‘reforms’ would be very divisive and have unseen consequences such as splitting large families up in the OBC plans for example)

Osborne did NOT say he will ban the under 25s from receiving Housing Benefit as Cameron did a few months back.  Osborne said “How can we justify giving flats to young people who have never worked, when working people twice their age are still living with their parents because they can’t
afford their first home?”

The banning of HB to the under 25s has been diluted to mean only those young people who have never worked and NOT all of the under 25s.  Harriet Baldwin then exempted those in care or previously in the care system and those fleeing domestic violence.  However, if they are the only exemptions then every single homeless hostel in the UK will close.  Oh dear cue another exemption needed if the Tories insist on keeping with the banning of under 25s from Housing Benefit!

Lets look at what this policy is.  It is a moral blame game in essence and young people (ie those under 25) should stay at home with mum and dad.  Ok so the under 25s are now to be classified as children then and social services will have responsibility for care until they are 25 and Child Benefit will continue until the child is 25 then?  Of course not that would cost an absolute fortune wouldn’t it.

So instead, the Tories want all workless 18 to 24 year olds to stay at home then. 

Oh I see they want their parents to sit back and take massive non-dependent deductions to their Housing Benefit for these ‘young people / children’ and so they get evicted for arrears. Follow that correct line of argument through and we see a massive increase in homelessness and at huge cost to the public purse

Oh dear the council can’t then split up the family and place the 18 – 24 year olds in homeless hostels to reduce their B&B or temporary housing costs because the same bloody inept policy has closed all the single homeless hostels!! 

Wow Tory Blue Sky thinking eh!

Oh dont be cynical dear reader and start thinking this is yet another policy drawn up on the back of a fag packet.  You what? Sending out an unknown little heard-of MP to clarify the chancellors words is Harriet Baldwin’s way of advancement in the party.  Now come on she voted for more EU integration (yes she is a Tory MP!) She has no hope of advancement whatsoever now does she?

Also to note is that Osborne’s dilution – only banning HB to those who have never worked – means the returning war hero from Afghanistan who I used to illustrate the absurdity of this plan when it was first raised would qualify for HB as he or she had worked.  But what does ‘who have worked previously’ then mean.  Is this for a day, a week, a month, a year?  What is the threshold for having worked previously?

I’ll be really obtuse here or is it counter-intuitive?  Lets exempt those fleeing domestic violence and abuse but not exempt those entering homeless hostels – the current ‘clarified’ position of Tory thinking.

How many more homeless persons will cite domestic violence as a way of being accommodated?

Whoa careful Joe this is dangerous territory!  Yes it is and I don’t infer otherwise at all, yet if the only way to get out of your abusive or unwanted situation is to cite DV then how many more will?  (Men and Women.) Successive governments of all persuasions cite that 1 in 4 women suffer DV and 1 in 6 men do.  Yet we have 300 female refuges and a handful of male ones?  So would such a policy as the new ‘clarified’ Tory position ala Harriet Baldwin ala George Osborne lead to a huge increase in males citing domestic violence?  Would it also lead to a lesser increase in women citing domestic violence and abuse too?

That’s a huge problem for DV organisations who politically and socially use the narrow and errant view that DV is males physically hitting females to underpin the rationale for 30 or 40 times more DV refuge and other provision for females than males despite the 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 statistics.  That’s a really crude argument I know but nevertheless has some validity – domestic violence and abuse is a huge political issue and not just a gender one.If males as victims of domestic violence increases as a notion in the public psyche it diminishes that ‘typical’ naive public view that it is mainly women as victims (or survivors).

Moreover, would single homeless hostel providers be incentivized by this to ask each prospective resident whether they had experienced domestic violence and abuse?  Contextually last month we had on the national news the report that the definition of domestic violence has been extended to include emotional, psychological and even financial abuse (errantly as it transpires as this definition has been on the Home Office website and in their publications for many years – but hey why should I spoil a good story!)  The current modified or ‘clarified’ position would positively incentivize homeless hostels whose residents tend to be 65-70% male to seek out issue of domestic violence towards their prospective male residents.  Such ‘normalising’ of the idea that males can be victims of domestic violence and abuse as well as women raise huge issues.

However, to cut a long argument short, it is in the best (political, financial and sustainability) interests of women’s DV lobbies to lobby for the abolition of this insane idea to ban the under 25s from receipt of housing benefit too for their own sustainability.

Many 16 – 25-year-old males that make up the majority of homeless hostel residents have suffered domestic violence in its wider definition. Having interviewed and worked with literally hundreds of them in the past I would go as far to say that a majority of them have suffered domestic violence and abuse. Yet we don’t call it that and certainly don’t want to perceive it as that as the very idea is too shocking for societal mores.  Oh dear I’ve let a cat out of the bag havent I?

Ok, doubtless many readers will see that last line of argument as too obtuse, will argue against it, and frankly wont want to believe it. Maybe I have gone too far in showing that the naivety of Tory thinking that starts from a political piece of spin and slowly unwinds through scrutiny to be a hare-brained idea.  Maybe unravelling it this far detracts from the naivety in Tory (and all other MPs) who politically interject hurriedly to attempt to portray them as being definitive and knowing on matters such as domestic violence and abuse.  Or maybe I could go on to argue, correctly, that all domestic violence is abuse, should lose the ‘domestic’ tag which perversely lightens the fact of what it is – abuse and abuse whether committed by or inflicted upon a male or a female person, it is still abuse.

When MPs however (and it has to be said belatedly) begin to see how their easily-sellable to the public hard-brained schemes actually will impact upon non NIMBY groups and will destroy services the public wants and holds dear, then they need to go back and start again and not tinker around the edges.  Public policy is and should never be what can we get away with and what the public will swallow such as blaming the easy target of the under 25s, it should be thought through  before it is announced.  After all what is the point of an impact assessment if it doesn’t include the known consequences.

One final point on that.  The Welfare Reform Bill was one of the most discussed bills ever in parliament and in both houses.  Not once was it mentioned by any MP of any side that the overall benefit cap would close 50% or more refuges or homeless hostels.  Not once in millions of lines of debate was it mentioned.  That is inept governance, a chronic lack of scrutiny and an affront to democracy.  Parliament fails and is not fit for purpose when knee-jerk social policy matters are not even discussed and the consequences not seen.  It is so much worse when ad hoc policy proposals such as banning the under 25s from receipt of housing benefit are floated repeatedly and then tinkered with to appease the government of the days supporters and also hoodwink the public. Yet that is the depths to which this government has stooped.  There are huge issues of important principle here as well as the merit of the policy itself being brainless and a monumental fuck up; those apolitical points should not be lost.

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