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Monday, 24 August 2015

Responding to CNJ story of eviction of couple in £9K rent arrears

Members of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group were saddened to read of the fuel-impoverishment driven eviction of Geoffrey and Carol Tracey from their Camden Council home in Swiss Cottage (CNJ, Thursday 20 August,p11).(1) Yet we would argue that a major part of the problem has been the “better off on housing benefit than work” rationale parroted by Carol. That rationale has been heavily promoted by those most responsible for the increasing divide between the wealthy and poorer members of society, and operates to weaken cooperative links between and within economically vulnerable sectors of society.

People on state benefits generally don't live lives of luxury and idleness, however much government ministers and right wing tabloid newspapers would have others believe. Amid a high-profile taxpayer-funded 'targeting benefit cheats' media campaign, a 2006 report by Joseph Rowntree Foundation pointed out that an understanding of why people feel the need to cheat the system must inform future tax and benefit reform.(2) Meanwhile, the 'allowable earnings limit' for single people aged 24+ on unemployment benefit/JSA had not increased from £5 per week since 1988. (It still has not!) That out-of-work benefit levels have not kept up with earnings and/or the greed and tardiness of utility companies and landlords cannot be laid at the feet of just one government — it has been going on since 1988!

Meanwhile, an upsurge of early morning queues outside CAB offices on high streets demonstrated the reality of masses of people in economic crisis. Yet now, with cuts in central government grants to local authorities, CAB offices have been moved off high roads where estate agent offices now festoon 'up-market' areas and legal loan shark offices and bettings offices litter less glamorous ones. And as 'talking with people dealing with public sector cuts' blogger and Honorary Member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group Member Kate Belgrave reports, 'It can be really hard to get welfare advice'.(3)

But there is 'good advice' and 'bad advice' both for citizens and governments and opposition parties wanting to 'reform the welfare state'. American health insurance company company Unum (formerly Unum Provident) has been 'advising' successive UK governments on 'welfare reform' since at least the mid-1990's,(4) and Labour Party Deputy Leadership contender Caroline Flint MP declares in her 'interests' that she has staff and office space sponsored by lobbyist firm Sovereign Strategy. Sovereign Strategy clients include Maximus, a corporation that profits from the 'welfare to work' industry.(5)

While we might anticipate Camden Council taking Geoffrey and Carol's eviction as their cue to sell a vacant property, we would commend anyone concerned about the level of their fuel bills to consult Fuel Poverty Action: Tel: 07751 748 026/07586 482 157; Email: fuelpovertyaction@gmail.com; Website: http://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/ (6)


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