Dear Lord of DWP Darkness (IDS) #wrb
Dear Mr Duncan Smith,
I am writing to you as an unemployed mother of three. I should warn you before I start that I do not have a family history of generational worklessness. My father worked his entire adult life, he has just retired. Neither am I a teenager who gives birth for benefits, I am 33 years old. My parents are still married. My first child was born within a marriage, of which I escaped as a result of the abuse and violence myself and my daughter were subjected to. I was a single working mother earning the minimum wage when my daughter was 6 years old, so neither am I feckless. I do not fit your stereotype of a single parent, I do not party, I do not take drugs, I do not drink alcohol. I do not invite men into my home. My daughter is now 13 years old and is a fine example of a well balanced, intelligent, respectful little girl. My two younger children are following in her footsteps and all three children have a wonderful relationship with the father of my youngest two children because we live apart.
Now we’ve got that out of the way I will begin.
I have been following your Welfare Reform Bill as it has made it’s way through both houses. I read the entire bill from beginning to end and was horrified. I have listened to your speeches on the television and they too horrified me, even more than the newspaper articles that quote you describing the unemployed as feckless, and single parents as irresponsible. I actually wrote to you last year asking you why you had such a slanted view of these particular groups and you simple sent me a computer generated reply about your welfare bill.
I will go through the points in the bill which I find most abhorrent and explain the reasons for this.
You want to pay all benefits to claimants on a monthly basis. Your reason for doing so is that it will prepare us for working life. I have only had one job that paid me on a monthly basis, the rest were either fortnightly or weekly, which is often the case for temporary agency workers in my experience. With the current situation in the jobs market, temporary agency work is almost all that is available, so your concept is flawed. Far from preparing me for anything you will make my life extremely difficult. I will face four weeks with no income if you introduce this. I do not want to apply for a loan, why should I? I will have to pay interest on a loan which will plunge me into debt. I’m doing all I can to stay out of debt.
Part of the bill proposes to change the way the Child Support Agency (CSA) operates. I understand more than you do how flawed the current service is, myself and my oldest child lived in poverty as a result of their incompetence. She never received a penny from her father who has since passed away. I realise there needs to be a reform or a complete overhaul. However, from personal experience I know that the CSA is the last resort. The vast majority of parents use it when all other avenues have been exhausted, many who use CSA are victims of domestic abuse, like I was. I would never have been able to afford the fee being proposed. I was living on £71.10 a week with a very young baby. I would have simply not applied, or paid the fee and got nothing in return. You also want to charge an admin fee on all payments. In my opinion that is theft. Maintenance is for the child, not the parent or the state, so it’s theft from a child. Children who live in single parent households are more likely to live in poverty, introducing this will only increase that possibility. We have lived in poverty, why do you want to condemn so many others to the same fate?
I don’t agree with your benefit cap either. £500 a week per family. I won’t be affected, I only receive £367 a week (that includes council tax benefit and child benefit) but those who live in areas with higher rents will suffer terribly. I already have to pay an extra £34.64 a month towards my rent. Not because my rent is exceptionally high but because my local council decided to work my housing benefit out in a completely different way to how I have to pay it :
450 ⁄12 = 5400.
5400 divided by 52 = 103.84.
103.84 / 4 = 415.36,
not 450 which is the amount I have to pay in rent.
Therefore I pay £34.64 each month towards my rent. The LHA for my family size in this area is £524.98 a month. How many private sector tenants are paying a shortfall in their rent while their rent falls under the local LHA rate? Your ‘reform’ will only serve to further punish these people, thus sentencing tens of thousands of children to homelessness and severe poverty. Homelessness will cost you a lot more than not introducing this cap will. What about those who have higher rents and benefits that exceed your cap? People are already being evicted because landlords don’t want HB tenants. That situation is only going to worsen.
You want to change the way council tax benefit is paid. There was lot of confusion regarding this benefit when you published your bill. Currently CTB covers my entire council tax bill. You plan to hand control over to local authorities who will be asked to reduce the bill by 10%. Pensioners and disabled claimants will be protected. however the rest of us will be left to fight over the scraps, each of us living in fear of not being deemed worthy of full council tax benefit or being completely turned down for it because the council has already filled it’s quota for the month/year. This will plunge hundreds of thousands of claimants and their children into extreme poverty and debt.
You want to abolish the social fund. I have been homeless twice through no fault of my own. First when my daughter was 2 weeks old, and then when she was 4 years old. Altogether we have spent 5 and a half months in a homeless hostel. On both occasions the social fund enabled me to buy beds, a cooker, a fridge freezer, and a washing machine. Without the interest free loan and the grant we would have been sleeping on the floor and going without a hot meal every day. If that loan hadn’t been interest free and had been provided by a private company I may not have been able to afford it. I may have been subject to a credit check. I may have been turned down. Abolishing the social fund is a very bad idea. Once again it will plunge millions into poverty and debt.
You want to halve benefits for disabled children. I have friends who care for their disabled children, that extra money is a lifeline for all of them. Cutting it is the worst thing you could do and the most sinister in my opinion.
I have regular nightmares that myself and my three children will be evicted and have no choice but to sleep in the park. You will never understand that kind of fear, never having experienced it first hand yourself, but it’s real, it’s terrifying. I am already planning to downsize to a two bedroom property which will mean I will sleep in the living room. My 13 year old is too old to share a bedroom with a three year old and a two year old. I was under the impression that overcrowding leads to poor development, children don’t learn as well as their peers who do not live in overcrowded accommodation. Poverty also has a detrimental affect on children’s development and learning ability. I thought the days of overcrowding were a thing of the past, it seems that you don’t agree with me and wish to send us back to the living conditions of the 30’s and 40’s.
Then we come to in-work conditionality. When my youngest child is 5, if I work part time I can be hauled into the Jobcentre and ordered to either increase my hours, take a second job or ask my employer for a raise if it is decided I do not earn enough. Did you take child care costs into account? Currently my child care bill would be £450.00 a week for a full time job. After the 70% contribution from tax credits I would have a bill of £135 a week. Before tax I can hope to earn £228 a week. That will leave me with £93 a week to live on with my three children. Now you want to abolish tax credits. How am I going to afford employment? There has been no mention of a substantial increase in the minimum wage, no mention of a living wage, no mention of capping rents which would help those of us in the private rented sector enormously, you have just told us you want to abolish tax credits. You want to force us into extreme working poverty. Who does that benefit exactly? Without tax credits I would not have been able to go back to work when my oldest child was 6 years old, I would have been in exactly the same position financially as I was on benefits, which was pretty dire anyway.
You claim that you want to encourage people to take responsibility for their own lives, you want to discourage worklessness. Your Welfare Reform Bill does neither. I will not feel guilty for escaping an abusive marriage. I will not feel guilty for living separately from my ex partner. Living together did the children much more harm than living apart ever will. They are thriving and growing up in a loving, secure environment. I am responsible, I am sensible and I am a good parent. Why are you trying to punish me and my children? I would love to work, I enjoyed my old job immensely. It was a lot easier than being a full time mother and gave me a sense of self worth, but it is impossible to work when the jobs market is in such an appalling state and I cannot afford childcare. No amount of bullying and prodding will pay to look after my children while I earn a living, neither will it pluck a job out of thin air. It also will not resurrect my dead ex husband from the grave and transform him into a decent human being to enable me to be your idea of a ‘family’. Demonising myself and my children will not pay for childcare or produce a suitable, practical job out of a magic hat.
Let me now turn to your programme of sanctions. Three months for a first offence, six months for a second and three years for a third offence. How exactly do you think this will affect families? Children? Do you honestly believe that forcing people into destitution will increase their ability to find work or will they be forced to turn to crime to simply survive? I believe the latter is a greater possibility. Mr Duncan Smith, I am certain that you have never been destitute, never been evicted, never been homeless and will never know real hunger. I am positive you have never had to listen to your child screaming because you have no means to feed them. You have never counted 1p coins to buy a box of baby milk or experienced the humiliation and degradation of begging on the telephone to a stranger for a crisis loan for nappies. The sanctions you propose have no place in a civil society.
I would like to explain my opposition to The Work Programme. I witnessed my brothers heartbreak during his three YTS placements during the last Tory government. He was used as cheap labour when all he wanted was a genuine job, a real wage, some dignity. You did not hear him sobbing his heart out at night as a teenager because he was made to feel worthless. Employers use ‘job placements’ such as YTS and your Work Programme as cheap or free labour. Far from giving people experience of working life, it sets them up for a fall. very few receive a genuine job offer, the rest are thrown back onto the scrap heap, and the fact that your scheme is compulsory, yet proclaims to be voluntary is beyond belief. In my opinion, if there is the work available for a placement then there is the work available for a real, genuine job, with a real, genuine wage.
The rates at which benefits are currently set are the minimum the law says we can live on. How can you then defend a bill that will penalise all of us and plunge us into poverty? We did not cause the deficit. I do not remember anyone asking me to bail out a bank. My children certainly did not overspend or get the country into debt. Why are we the one’s paying for the financial crisis? George Osborne has already chipped away at our benefits, which we need to survive, now you want to punish us for existing within a system that is failing through no fault of ours. You want to demonise and dehumanise us for the economy’s failure to grow and for the diminishing jobs market.
Mr Duncan Smith, the argument that we don’t understand your reforms does not stand up. We understand them completely, we just don’t agree with them.
As a man who claims to be a christian, and a champion of social justice, I urge you to scrap this bill, for the countries sake, our sake and your own sake.
Responsible single parent of three.