Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Housing Benefit – The New Law of Settlement

Post by John Maynard (of Bewdley Quakers)

In Eighteenth Century England, relief for unemployment depended on the Laws of Settlement. If you had not worked continuously for a year in the place you lived, you had no ‘settlement’ and were not entitled to poor relief. Instead, the last place you worked for a year was deemed your place of settlement and you were sent back there – even if you had not been there for 30 years. Wives took their husband’s settlement so if a husband died, his widow and children were sent back to the last place where he had worked for a year – even if she had never been there. In short, people without work were often unable to stay in the village or town where they had lived for many years, but removed by law to somewhere else, simply to save money locally.

The Welfare Act 2012 is the new Government Law of Settlement. Under the Act, housing benefit depends on how many people live in a house. For example, single people under 35 on benefits entitled to housing benefit can only get an allowance to cover shared accommodation. If they wish to live alone, they must pay the difference between their allowance and the rent. A married couple on benefits are entitled to housing benefit for a one bedroom house. A couple with a child are entitled to rent a two bedroom house. However, if they have two children under 16 of the same sex, the children will be expected to share a room and not have a room of their own. If they have two children of different sexes, the children will be expected to share a room until they are 10.

This legislation means that elderly couples who have raised children in a three bedroom house are not entitled to remain there once their children have left home. As a couple, they are only entitled to an allowance to cover the rent of  a one bedroom  property and will be expected to move accordingly or take in lodgers. This is already having a devastating impact on families and is nothing short of social cleansing.
For example, a couple may have lived in a small rural town for thirty years in a three bedroom house rented from a housing association. With no children at home, they will be asked to move to one bedroom accommodation because their rent for a three bedroom house is no longer covered by housing benefit. If there is no one bedroom available in their small town, they will be pressurised to move to a one bedroom flat somewhere else – probably an industrial town they have never lived in. They will be even under pressure to move to a one bedroom property nationally.

This means that regardless of the home they have created or their local association with neighbours and clubs, they will have to go. No regard will be given to the feasibility of the move, or the number of possessions they have got. If they are private or housing association tenants, move they must.

This is a wicked law that will bring back Dickensian conditions to social housing in England and will lead to people being removed from their homes and the places they live. It is a shaming  to England, and Quakers must stand up for justice in this matter.


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