Sunday 18 November 2012

Teather 'terrified' of impact of benefit cap on Brent families

Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central has spoken out today on the impact of the benefit cap on her constituents. LINK

This is an extract from the Observer's story:

In an outspoken interview with the Observer, the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather, who was sacked from the government in September, says the policy will have devastating effects on many thousands of children whose lives will be disrupted as their parents are forced to uproot from their homes.

Teather predicts that there will be a "reverse Jarrow march" in the run up to next April, when the cap comes into force, as families head out of London in huge numbers, in search of new homes.
Accusing ministers of a deliberate attempt to denigrate those who cannot find work, Teather says she saw clear evidence while in government that the policy would not save money and that it would inflict immense social damage.

While accepting that the wider aim of encouraging people off benefits and into work is the right way forward, she says that imposing a cap on people who live in areas such as her own Brent Central constituency in north London, where rents are high, will have a "horrible" and "traumatic" impact. She also claims that the primary motive behind the policy, which has strong public support, was a desire to court popularity by unfairly demonising the poor.

"There are all sorts of things you have to do when times are tight that have negative consequences but you do them for good purposes. But to do something for negative purposes that also has negative consequences – that is immoral," says Teather. She praised Nick Clegg for showing "immense courage" in limiting some of the effects of welfare cuts and urged her party to fight as hard as it possibly could to prevent more. She said many people in her constituency, which is one of the most ethnically diverse and deprived in the country, did not realise what was about to hit them next April.

Middle-class families were also ignorant of the huge impact of the changes on those around them, particularly on children, because of the caricatures peddled by government and the rightwing press about those on benefits. She believes the effects may only sink in when children from "nice middle-class families who send their kids to the local primary school come home and say 'my friend has just disappeared'. I think then it might hit home and they might realise a whole set of children have disappeared from the class."

Teather added: "I am frankly terrified about what is going to happen. A lot of these families do not know what is going to happen to them … How good is the education system at working out where that child has moved to? How good is the child protection system going to be at working out where children have moved to? I don't feel confident of that."

The local council estimates that more than 2,000 people in Brent will end up losing at least £50 a week when the cap comes in. At the top end, 84 families will lose about £1,000 a week. Many will be driven out of the area, including thousands of children.

She accuses parts of government and the press of a deliberate campaign to "demonise" those on benefits and of failing to understand that those in need of state help are just as human as they are. With vivid outrage she describes the language and caricatures that have been peddled.

"Whenever there is any hint of opposition they wheel out a caricature of a family, usually a very large family, probably black, most likely recent immigrants, without much English, lots of children, apparently chaotic, living in a desirable neighbourhood that middle-class people would like to occupy. That is the caricature and of course it is a partial spinning of the truth and it allows the demonisation to take place.

"I would really urge particularly Conservative colleagues but people in all parties to be careful. I don't think we can afford to preside over a society where there is a gradual eroding of sympathy for people at the bottom end of the income spectrum and a rapid erosion of sympathy for people on benefits."


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, Martin. I saw the headline while I was in the Co-op today and was sure that your record of Sarah Teather-watching-and-reporting was coming to fruition.

I note that other pieces of the 'blame game' jigsaw that I have seen this week include a report at Community Care magazine of Michael Gove attacking social workers for not breaking up more families. With the rank hypocrisy of one who blames the victims of his Government's policies, Gove claims that "social workers have become 'desensitised to squalor' and need to be more assertive with dysfunctional parents."

(Perhaps he would approve of Brent Social Services attempts to break up the Counihan family for telling the children what was going on?)

And Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has justifiably come under fire for attempting to blame 'feckless parents' for child poverty while 60% of children in poverty come from a family that has at least one parent in waged work &emdash; 'Duncan Smith plans to hide rising poverty'.

A further example of Tory demonising of the victimes of what Naomi Klein calls 'corporatist' policies is in the DWP's move to imposing harsher sanctions against sick and disabled benefit claimants in the Employment & Support Allowance 'Work Related Activity Group'. December 3 is International Day for Disabled People according to the UN, but according to the Welfare Reform legislation, it is the date from which sick and disabled people must be more compliant or else.

In terms of 'the bigger picture', Carmeron's appointment of Boris Johnson's former elections PR chief is very revealing. And ironically, the report headed 'PM's new fixer in racist rant at Muslims: Foul-mouthed abuse by campaign chief revealed as he lands top Tory post' comes from the Mail on Sunday. Perhaps what they really object to is the directness of his language, while the Mail group of newspapers attacks immgrant groupings by more subtle means?

Alan 'Raymondo' Wheatley
Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

Anonymous said...

I think that a major part of the problem that many families will face from April 2013 is that there are no real controls on the level of rents that can be charged.
When I worked for a Housing Association in the 1970's *, there was a government appointed Rent Officer who fixed a "fair rent" for every house or flat we let. Any proposed increase had to be agreed, with landlord and tenant both putting their views to the Rent Officer before he/she reached a decision. This system was later scrapped (in the 1980's?), partly because it was costly to run, but mainly because it was alleged that it discouraged private landlords from offering property to let, thus causing a shortage of available accommodation.
I think that things have now swung too far the other way. Many private landlords have property to let, as without rent controls they can charge whatever rent they want to, and as so many people in London need somewhere to live, tenants have to pay the amount demanded, which is rarely less than £1,000 a month, even for a small flat. For the landlords, this generally gives a very good return on their investment, but it also helps to keep all property prices artificially high, so that it is becoming more and more difficult for individuals or couples, even if they are working to be able to afford to buy their own home. Even saving much per month for a deposit is difficult, with a high proportion of income needed to pay the rent.
There is no easy solution - certainly any move to change back to strict rent controls overnight could have serious side effects, including a possible fall in property values (although they are probably too high, so should go down at some stage) and the spectre of a return to the sorts of negative equity problems we saw in the early 1990's. But I can't see how we can proceed sensibly without some form of "affordable" rents. This may need legislation in the long run, but could be started by a campaign to encourage responsible private landlords, with at least some level of social conscience, to charge a "Living Rent", something along the lines of the "London Living Wage", that while giving them a reasonable return on investment, was not as high as the open market rent.
Philip Grant.
* One of my early experiences of problems with "fair rents" was when I was asked by my Housing Association (in inner city South London)to attend a Tenants' Association public meeting. The invitation to attend had been received at the last minute, and although it was not in my "area", no one else was available. The Association had recently taken over an ex-LCC estate, and was renovating the old houses, moving tenants of unmodernised properties into renovated homes in the same streets. The tenants were furious that the Association's proposed "fair rent" for a 3-bedroom terraced house was £6 per week, when they were only paying a "controlled rent" of about £1-25p per week in their existing homes. I was nearly lynched when I was identified as being from the Housing Association, but I managed to explain above the clamour that their committee had actually invited someone from my employer to attend, and that I was already paying £6 per week FOR A BEDSIT in the same borough.

Trevor said...

If I could speak to miss Teather I would say the following...remember what was said by the labour party in 1997 before they won the general election?
Remember the way they gave the impression of being serious about Britain deserving a better government and how things could only get better?
and who was it that wrecked the economy?
popular opinion suggests that it was Gordon brown who was chancellor.
Under his direction Borrowing increased which is why the Debt we are in is immense.
This is why the current government is doing what the former failed to do.
it's as if Brown and co closed their eyes to the reality of what they were doing and and perhaps hoped that the bubble wouldn't burst?
but burst it did and now rather than "things getting better" the are getting worse.
so much for the optimism of New Labour.
we can clearly see now the illusion is shattered that their slogans were nothing but fantasies and the public believed them and now we are all paying for it.
your lot haven't exactly done yourselves any favors especially since a certain Mr Law's was found guilty of Theft and yet is now minister of schools?????
that is comparable to a certain Mr saville (if he were alive of course) being given a job working in a nursery.
Need I say anymore?
you should be able to understand what I 'm driving at?
basically you MP' regardless of what party you belong to have lost credibility.
and you only have yourselves to blame for that.
The public didn't elect Mr Laws for example to misuse his authority and actually cheat the hard working long suffering tax payers!
and yet that is exactly what he and many others did.
and there is no excuse he or anyone else could use to justify what they did.
Gordon Brown Spent money Recklessly and David Laws and others stole Taxpayers money carelessly.
in my opinion that speaks (screams in fact) irresponsibility and dishonesty and also I being a human being know that talk is cheap.
we can all say stuff but it's what we do that have a very long way to go before the electorate will trust you and your colleagues.