Reality Bites…

Whilst some people will be hanging out the bunting on Friday to celebrate the Royal Wedding, others will be in a less celebratory mood.  For a large number of people examining their April pay-slips, their benefit statements, rent demands, food and fuel bills – reality bites.

Weekly shopping bills are increased and the cost of fuel is high, despite the 1p off fuel duty from the Chancellor in the Budget.  There are a number of factors converging to make life, particularly for those on low incomes, a lot tougher. 

The Localism Bill makes clear the Government’s intention to break down centrally driven regulation and diktats from the centre on how public money should be spent; but there still appears to be confusion on which central budgets need governance and direction; and this has an impact on vulnerable groups.  For example £200 million has been announced to fund pothole repairs since February 2011, which George Jones suggests is “an act of centralised decision-making at odds with the rhetoric of localism”.  On the other hand, the lifting of the ring-fence and mainstreaming of the Supporting People budget, along with the reduction in the 2011/12 financial settlement for councils means that budgets for support services are drastically cut in some areas leaving people without the help they have hitherto depended upon.  Some of these service cuts have manifested in the closure of hostels, or the reduction of bed spaces for vulnerable people in need of a roof and support.  One example of this is the probation service in one area handing out tents and sleeping bags to ex-offenders because of lack of bed spaces and hostel support. 

The cumulative effects of the economic crisis, budget cuts and Laissez-Faire approach to some issues of governance and support are not just hitting those at the very margins of society.  There will also be an effect on individuals and communities who have, at the moment, a place to live.  It is in one of the most fundamental aspects of a low-income household’s outgoings that will be hit the hardest – the ability to pay the rent. The Government’s housing benefit reforms came into effect on 1st April and they manifest in a number of ways (see further CIH briefing paper).  One of the key impacts is the capping of maximum weekly local housing allowance.  This means that in areas of high demand and high rents, some areas of London for example, housing benefit will not cover the rent by some margin.  People on low incomes will be prohibited from living in the communities that they have called home.  This will impact negatively not just on the individuals, but will also create less diverse communities.  The inaffordability  of current homes in certain areas of the country, will be coupled with the effects of the Localism Bill on reducing regional targets for new house building, and in spite of schemes such as the New Homes Bonus, there are concerns that not enough houses will be built.  The National Housing Federation   and the Town and Country Planning Association/ Joseph Rowntree Foundation   have both voiced concerns over the rate of new housing building being affected by the revocation of regional strategies.

With more people unable to afford homes in areas of high rent, fewer new homes being built, reduction in support services leaving people literally roofless – the reality of government cuts is biting.

Written by Jo Richardson

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