David Gauke says that all that is wrong with Universal Credit is that criticisms go without challenge

David Gauke, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has denied that the introduction of Universal Credit is causing hardship. He said: “I strongly believe we have got a really good policy with this that will transform lives, but there is almost a sort of knee-jerk criticism and a temptation in particular with universal credit that you can almost say anything critical about it and it goes without challenge.”

That’s alright, then.  Just the same as when Iain Duncan Smith repeatedly claimed that Universal Credit would be delivered “on time and within budget”. The massive overspend, the wasted millions on a failed IT system, and the massive overrun on its delivery must be Fake News.

And what about the hardship being caused to those claiming Universal Credit. Fake News, Fake News, Fake News.  It just goes without challenge.

What about the excellent and well-researched article by Heather Spurr, once with Inside Housing and now with Shelter.

And what about this item by the Resolution Foundation, or this from the Institute for Government, or this from Citizens Advice, or BHT’s own research following the roll out of Universal Credit in Hastings.

I know I have had a word or two to say about Universal Credit, such as the blog post entitled “Universal Credit is a disgrace, and those who have advocated it and continue to defend it should hang their heads in shame” or this one “Another day, another report on the disaster that is Universal Credit” or this one “More evidence of the disaster zone that is known as Universal Credit” or this “Should the roll out of Universal Credit continue at this time? Watch the evidence to Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee”.

Noi doubt it is all Fake News that has gone without challenge.

The problem, Mr Gauke, is not that criticism goes unchallenged.  The problem, in the words of the former Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, is that Universal Credit is “operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” (see here).

The problem, Mr Gauke, is that you, Mr Duncan Smith, the DWP and the government as a whole carry on regardless, in spite of the evidence.  The most modest reforms imaginable announced in the autumn won’t resolve the fundamental flaws inherent in Universal Credit. A lick of paint would not have saved the Titanic after it brushed up against an iceberg.

Universal Credit has become Mrs May’s poll tax. (I vlogged on this recently).  No matter how well Mr Gauke defends the indefensible, Universal Credit remains flawed, it remains operationally messy, it remains socially unfair, and it remains unforgiving.

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“Happy Christmas” to all Universal Credit claimants, from David ‘Scrooge’ Gauke

The small print of Universal Credit changes announced in the budget has been explained:

The end of 7-day waiting period won’t happen till February.

The two week extension of housing benefit to reduce rent arrears won’t happen until April.

The new advance payment scheme will begin in January – claimants can borrow 100% (up from 50%) of a month’s estimated benefit and pay it back over 12 months (it was 6 months) leaving them 8.3% below the poverty line for a year.

If you apply for Universal Credit today, you won’t get money before Christmas.  You might get money by 5th January unless there’s a backlog due to the Department for Works and Pensions being closing during Christmas holidays.

So to all new Universal Credit claimants, Happy Christmas from David ‘Scrooge’ Gauke.

The Budget – my response regarding housing, homelessness and rough sleeping

Today (22nd November 2017) in his Budget, the Chancellor had a great opportunity to do the right thing to tackle the housing crisis.

Yet he has failed, and failed spectacularly.

The abolition of Stamp Duty for first time buyers for homes costing up to £300,000 will help the lucky few.

Philip Hammond has devoted many millions of Pounds in pursuit of policies that do nothing to reduce rough sleeping and nothing to increase the supply of homes that people can afford.

The Chancellor spoke about the “dream of home ownership”. His obsession with home ownership has done nothing to increase supply and will achieve little other than to further fueling house price inflation. In this he has failed this and future generations who just want somewhere decent to live, of any tenure, a place to call home.

He failed to end the economically illiterate Right to Buy of council homes which has seen the privatisation of public assets, at a huge cost to the public purse. 40% of the homes sold through Right to Buy reappear in the private rented sector charging rents four or five times higher than the previous social rents.  Chancellor Hammond is persisting with this discredited policy.

He failed to abandon the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations, throwing good money after bad.

As a result of Mr Hammond’s failure to make adequate investment in council housing, house building cannot hope to meet the needs of the nation.

Welfare Reform is forcing people to use food banks and rent arrears are spiraling out of control. There have been warnings about Universal Credit from all quarters, including Conservative Members of Parliament and even the former Prime Minister, John Major.  Philip Hammond has announced some tiny concessions.

I welcome the removal of the seven day wait to claim Universal Credit, and also the promise of a full month’s payment within five days to households that are experiencing particular hardship and that meet certain criteria. The devil will be in the detail.

He has recognised that Universal Credit is causing problems with rent arrears, but a two week extension of housing benefit will still leave a gap in payments and rent arrears will continue to climb, albeit not at quite the same frightening rate as at present.

The six week wait for payment of Universal Credit has been reduced to five weeks. This is hardly something to cheer.

He failed to announce any increase in the level of Local Housing Allowance, the help people can receive towards housing costs. The ongoing freeze has resulted in the majority of privately rented homes becoming well beyond the means of ordinary people in areas like Brighton and Hove.

Eight out of ten private landlords are saying that they won’t house people on Universal Credit. The Chancellor said nothing to reassure private landlords.  Merely reducing the waiting time before Universal Credit payments are made, from six to four weeks will do nothing to reassure landlords. He should have said that the housing component of Universal Credit will be paid direct to landlords. The Chancellor, again, is failing this generation and failing landlords.

The Chancellor’s commitment to end rough sleeping by 2027 is something, but he failed to say how this will be achieved. The sum total of all his housing announcements will do little, if anything, to actually end rough sleeping. In fact, it could make matters worse.

But why should Philip Hammond worry? 2027 is a long way away and he will be long gone by then. But it is more than a lifetime away for those people sleeping on our streets.

Mr Hammond should have announced a massive investment in council house building, a complete relaxation of restrictions on borrowing by local authorities, and public land to be earmarked for public housing.

He should have ended failed policies, such as the Right to Buy and Universal Credit, but instead he muddles on, unmoved by the obvious hardship caused by these disastrous policies.

Winston Churchill once said: “You can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing, once they have exhausted all other possibilities”. The same can also be said of Philip Hammond’s housing and welfare benefit policies.

In summary, the Chancellor has, to use his own words, failed to “embrace the future” or to “meet the challenges ahead”. He has not made any meaningful announcements regarding “building the homes for future generations”.

I hope that when Sajid Javid makes further announcements on housing over the next few days he will have something meaningful to say about reducing rough sleeping and building the homes, the council housing, that this country so desperately needs.

 

The Budget – Time for a fundamental rethink on housing policy

Winston Churchill once said: “You can always rely on the Americans to do the right thing, once they have exhausted all other possibilities”. The same can also be said of government housing policy.

Over the years, we have seen so many policy initiatives fail miserably that one would hope that all the wrong policies have now been exhausted and that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, will, in his Budget on Wednesday, do the right thing.

The millions of Pounds committed in pursuit of its obsession with home ownership has done nothing to increase supply and has achieved little other than fuelling house price inflation. Home ownership levels continues to slide.

Rent to Buy, too, has failed. Just one in ten Rent to Buy tenants purchase their home (based on a snapshot survey of nine housing associations where just 180/ of the 1,594 homes have been bought over past decade). Yet again, this policy has done nothing for affordability or supply.

The Right to Buy of former council homes has seen the privatisation of public assets, at a huge cost to the public purse, with 40% of the homes sold reappearing in the private rented sector charging rents four times higher than the previous social rents, rents often subsidised through housing benefit.

The extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations as the ill-named ‘Voluntary Right to Buy’, has become, according to Inside Housing magazine, a “Zombie policy”.  It was not thought through and is heading nowhere very slowly. (Here is what I wrote about it recently).

As a result of the government’s lack of capital investment and the restriction on the powers of local authorities to borrow, house building is at its lowest level in decades.

Welfare Reform is forcing people to use food banks and rent arrears are spiraling out of control. In spite of all the warnings about Universal Credit from the ‘usual suspects’ as well as Conservative Members of Parliament and even the former Prime Minister, John Major, the government plows on and on and on, unmoved by the obvious hardship caused by the disastrous policy.

Eight out of ten private landlords are saying that they won’t house people on Universal Credit.

I have said that the Minister, David Gauke, must be arrogant, deluded or ill-informed to persevere with this policy.

Because of the ongoing freeze of Local Housing Allowance (the amount you can claim in Housing Benefit to help with your housing costs), almost all privately rented homes are now unaffordable for those on benefit and the low paid.

The number of rough sleepers continues to climb, the most visible and shocking indictment of the failure of government policy. 4,218 people in Brighton have nowhere to call home.

Chancellor Philip Hammond

This is not a comprehensive list, but illustrative of the government doing all the wrong things.  I hope that all the wrong things have now been exhausted and Philip Hammond will do the right thing – a massive investment in council house building, the relaxation of restrictions on borrowing by local authorities, public land to be earmarked for public housing, and the abolition of all the failed policies, such as the Right to Buy.

The minister responsible for Universal Credit must arrogant, deluded or ill-informed

What would you do if you were a politician and responsible for a government initiative that is running well over budget; that charities, housing organisations, local government, the media, opposition parties and even your own MPs are telling you is causing extreme hardship, the rise in the use of food banks, and a massive increase in rent arrears?

What would you do if all of them were urging you to slow down, pause, and look at the negative consequences of this initiative?

This initiative is Universal Credit.

How did the secretary of state for work and pensions, David Gauke, respond? He said that Universal Credit “is working” and the roll-out “will continue and to the planned timetable”.

The Minister must be arrogant, deluded or ill-informed.

Frank Field MP, who chairs of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said: “David Gauke has today pressed the button that will cause havoc to hundreds of thousands of poorer people’s lives, building up to a meltdown over Christmas.

“It is not too late for him to act politically wisely as well as compassionately. People must be put before arbitrary roll-out dates of a project which cannot work.”

I have asked before for any of my Conservative friends to defend the record of the government in respect of Universal Credit, but to date none has.  I widen the challenge: could someone, anyone, defend the decision of David Gauke to carry on in spite of all the evidence that should be available to him?

Breaking News: Government climb down on funding for specialist supported housing

I have been a critic of Mrs May and her government over a number of policies that are impacting or will impact on specialist supported housing and people who depend on the state for their very survival. The government has taken quite a bashing from all quarters over many of these policies.

At last some good news regarding the Local Housing Allowance Cap that George Osborne had announced would apply to specialist supported housing. I have written more about this (and universal credit) than any other matter this year.  Here are a few examples of what I have written on this subject here, here, here and here.

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May announced that the government will not apply the Local Housing Allowance cap to specialist supported housing, nor in the wider social housing sector. This is very good news. It is massive government climb down after months of it defending the indefensible. It follows close on the heals of the decision to do away with the call charge of up to 55p per minute to the universal credit helpline.

Capping LHA for specialist supported housing was an ill-thought through policy and it is a shame that it took so long for the government to do the right thing.

I hope that the government will now bow to the even greater pressure regarding Universal Credit which is, by far, the biggest screw up in social policy in my 32 years working in this area.

About time too: the government backs down over Universal Credit helpline charges

The Prime Minister last week (18/10/17) confirmed today that all charges to the Universal Credit helpline will be ended and that the helpline will be a Freephone number.  About time, too.  The decision to charge the poorest of the poor up to 55p per minute shows what an ugly mind set exists in the Department of Work and Pensions and amongst those Ministers responsible, including those who defended this nasty, mean spirited charge as recently as last week.

Yet the government presses on regardless with the roll out of Universal Credit in spite of all the evidence that exists to show hardship being caused, and the rising level of arrears.

It won’t be long before the government will have to climb down, but the longer they persist and defend this policy, the more humiliating the climb down will be, and Mrs May’s government, as with Mrs Thatcher and the Poll Tax, might leave the climb down too late.

I have posted a Vlog on the politics of Universal Credit (posted before the decision to introduce a Freephone was announced).