So, it’s Easter. Not that you’d know it, of course, because it’s been snowing for about two weeks and as of today some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets were reporting that they had run out of Easter Eggs. It’s also the start of Spring; the clocks have gone forward, and just about the worst thing that some of us can complain about are the fact that we’ve lost an hours sleep.
But from Monday, some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country are set to lose money and even their homes, as some of their vital benefits are cut. The “Bedroom Tax” as it as come to be known, means that people in social housing with empty bedrooms will have their housing benefit cut and could lose at least £14 a week, or £728 a year. Those with one spare bedroom will have their housing benefit cut by 14%, and those with two or more spare bedrooms will see their benefits cut by 25%. These drastic cuts are supposed to encourage people to move to much smaller properties, and save the government £480 million a year in housing benefit, according to David Cameron. In fact, the only good news to come out of this mess is the news that Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary and outright hypocrite, was called a “ratbag” by a protester in Edinburgh last week.
There are many problems with the Bedroom Tax or “Spare Room Subsidy” as the coalition government call it. Across the UK there is a shortage of social housing, specifically properties with one bedroom. This means that thousands of single people are already living in homes with more than one bedroom, because that’s all the council could give them. In fact, the National Housing Federation have stated that some 180,000 households are currently “under occupying two bedroom homes” in England. In Scotland, the Bedroom Tax is set to cost council and housing association tenants on housing benefit £5.3 million a year, and up to 95,000 people across the country will be affected by the new tax.
But this isn’t the only new cut to be enforced in April; the government have reformed the council tax system, the very safeguard that helps people who cannot afford to pay their council tax which is to be cut by 10%. The coalition government is also to transfer responsibility for the new system to local councils, who must decide whether to maintain the current levels of support, make cuts to support. Because of this 150,000 low-income households will have to pay £300 more a year.
And that’s not all. The coalition government have created a £500 a week – that’s £26,000 a year – cap on benefits paid to an out of work family can claim in a year. This cap will be introduced in London from April and then enforced nationwide from September. The Children’s Society have warned that this could lead to 80,000 children being made homeless as their families are priced out of renting homes in the private sector. There’s also the 1% benefit cap increase, which is set to last until at least 2015/16, means that benefits will not rise with inflation. This means that those people receiving working-age benefits and working tax credits will suffer a 4% loss in their benefits, or to better illustrate it, 2.5 million households without someone in work will lose an average of £215 per year in 2015/16 and households with someone in work will lose an average of £165. For the countries poorest, and most vulnerable, including disabled people, this will mean that they will have to choose between heating their home and feeding themselves.
Elsewhere, Britain’s millionaires will receive a 5% decrease in their income tax. From the 6th of April the 1.5% of the population that make £150,000 a year will pay 45% tax on their income, instead of 50% meaning the 13,000 millionaires in the country will save an average of £100,769 a year.
Meanwhile the rising cost of living has seen hundreds of thousands of people turning to food banks across the country, as they can no longer afford to put food on the table. In the past year, the Trussell Trust, which operates the UK’s network of food banks, sent out 300,000 food parcels in the last year; double the figure they sent out the year before. There are more than 325 food banks in the UK.
Unsurprisingly, and thankfully, these changes which tax the poor and benefit the rich have been met with widespread condemnation. This weekend thousands of people protested against the bedroom tax, with 2,500 people turning up at a rally in Glasgow. Yet, in the face of universal criticism, and in the middle of one of the biggest celebrations in the Christian calendar, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey attacked the coalition government, not for their ongoing persecution of the poorest people in society, but for their “persecution” of the “Christian minority” because of the coalition government’s support of equal marriage.
Yes, a major figure in a religion which seemingly promotes supporting the vulnerable, the sick and the *poor used his position to protest the treatment of other Christians, and not his fellow-man, who has, one can argue faced a lot more persecution of late, and could do with a bit of a hand.
If this is Spring, if this is what is happening to the UK’s most vulnerable right now, with the weather and the economic forecast this bleak, then this Winter will be the UK’s darkest yet.
Don’t let the ratbags win.
*There are many. many quotes in the Bible about helping the poor, such as:
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land”
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked”
“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” — when you now have it with you.”