Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bedroom tax is too inflexible: Liverpool case-study

Further to my blog on the bedroom tax statistics for Liverpool highlighting its scope and punitive cost,
I  wanted to highlight another key problem with this policy.

And the best way to do that is with a case-study which has just been raised at my councillors' advice surgery.

My constituent is living in a three-bedroom property in Kensington, Liverpool with one of her adult sons who is 26 years old. They are both unable to work for health reasons. Her other son left home some years ago but prior to that they had a room each and were happily catered for. The Government now says that if she wants to stay in the property she will have to pay about £10 per week (14% of her rent) extra out of a diminishing income because they have a spare room.

My constituent says that if she and her son are able to successfully apply for and move to a two-bedroom property (no mean feat by the way giving the availability of suitable smaller properties) it may only be a very short-term solution. Because as she said to me, "Louise, I don't want to think of him living with me forever. What happens if he wants to move out to a place of his own in a year's time, I will have to move all over again!".

And this perfectly illustrates a key failing in the policy.

Under the bedroom tax legislation, if someone ensures that they are always occupying at exactly the right level, thus avoiding punitive rent costs and Daily Mail disapproval, they will have to move every time their family circumstances change.

Here are a few examples;
  • A family whose children leave home to become independent will have to immediately down-size to avoid paying the bedroom tax on the spare room. Presumably, the Government would want to see two removal vans at the front door, one for the child, one for the parents.
  • Should that child wish to return, the family will have to immediately up-size to avoid over-crowding, unless they want to put a z-bed up in the corner of the living room. I am not sure how the rules will apply to parents with children at University who want to come home sometimes, if only to get their washing done! Perhaps someone can advise.
  • Should a couple with no children become parents they will need to up-size either pretty soon, if it is a baby who they can keep with them in their bedroom for the time being, or immediately if it is an older child, through adoption and needing their own bedroom. An aspirant family cannot forward plan their living space, they cannot move to a bigger place ready to start a family. (Just try working that scenario through in your head; which comes first? trying for a baby, pregnancy, birth or the baby reaching say 6 months old before you are allowed to apply for your bigger home, and when would you actually move?). Or perhaps the Government doesn't think couples on benefits should be allowed to have a baby?
  • Should one of a pair or number of adult siblings, or relatives living together other than as a couple, move out, they will have to immediately down-size.

If under-occupancy is the result of a death, you may  be allowed up to 12 months grace before the changes apply to you.

Most families fluctuate as people move in, move out, grow up, move on, come home, have more children, take the grandchildren to live with the grandparents, and so on...

But no consideration is given to the flexible requirements of these working-age families, or the fact that this is the group most likely to experience changing housing need and circumstances.

It is unsustainable to suggest that people should move time and again as their circumstances change.

For individual tenants;
  • There is often nowhere for them to move to of the appropriate size
  • The process of identifying and being accepted for a suitable property can take a long time
  • The costs of moving are very expensive - removal vans, new carpets and decoration etc
  • Families react to emergencies, providing short and long-term support for each other
  • People take much better care of their home when they have a long-term investment in it (because they have lived there for years)
  • Remaining children may be required to move schools if they are obliged to move to a new area
 For neighbourhoods;
  • Strong communities are built where people know their neighbours and look out for them  and where people have pride in their street and their property. They establish roots, engage in the local TRA or Neighbourhood Watch and generally enjoy living where they do.
  • Contrast this with the worst areas in my ward, those with the greatest amount of ASB and environmental blight, and where nobody comes to the door when you knock. These are those with the most transient populations, those with short-term lets and nobody ever gets to know each other.  The Government will be creating transient populations with these measures.
Unfortunately, to make the situation even worse in terms of availability of smaller homes, Housing Associations like mine in Liverpool are now having to grant appropriately sized tenancies to people based upon the possibility that they may become a recipient of housing benefit, even if they are paying their rent at the moment. We have never allowed tenants to hugely under-occupy, the needs based system would never allow for that, but now we have to be as prescriptive with this group as with HB claimants. It will come at a price; we may struggle to find tenants for some larger properties as we safe-guard their position (and our own financial viability) from the start of a tenancy.

It would also of course be discriminatory to say that one tenant/family could under-occupy and their neighbours could not, with the same landlord, just because one was paying the rent themselves while the other was in receipt of housing benefit.

It seems that an Englishman's home is only his castle so long as he is not a social housing tenant, otherwise it is rather more of a transit camp before the next required move comes along.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Government spending cuts are putting increasing numbers of people at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

CO Awareness logo       Lynn Griffiths of CO Awareness

Bad news from my friend Lynn Griffiths in Runcorn who runs our national Carbon Monoxide Awareness Charity. She is only looking for about £25k a year to keep the charity going, it's not much is it? I wish I had it to give her. 

As most of you will remember, I lost my fiance, 45 year old Michael Price, in Ludlow in January 1999 in a CO poisoning accident when his Parkray Stove flue became blocked and because he was burning smokeless fuel he didn't realise. The poison took about four days to kill him; he thought he had flu and sat huddled up in his quilt in front of the fire, just like you do.... sitting right in the path of the fumes.

So when I came across Lynn's campaign in around 2006, I wholeheartedly embraced it. I have been campaigning with her ever since (you may have heard my adverts on Radio City for example) to raise awareness of this deadly poison. I haven't done much mind, just the little bit I could from time to time; but I did make sure that LCC kept the campaign on its agenda and supported awareness raising campaigns every autumn, I helped plan the first national CO awareness event in Liverpool Town Hall a few years ago, and I tipped up to the House of Lords for one particular CO Awareness Week event, to encourage our national politicians to keep on giving their support to this important issue. 

Now, for want of that £25k it looks like the charity will shut down. 

Ironically the risk is higher during hard times as people take short-cuts with their safety to save the cash. We need Lynn Griffiths more now than we have ever had. If you have any money to spare, particularly if you are an organisation concerned with public health or housing, please send some her way. Send her £500 and keep  her going for another week!

There is a little film from BayTV which says all you need to know

Otherwise you can see what she has to say in her press release.  

Government spending cuts are putting increasing numbers of people at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the president of a charity that is itself facing closure unless new sources of funding are found.
Lynn Griffiths, President of Carbon Monoxide Awareness, the charity that established Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week and made it a key feature of the Public Health calendar, says that thousands of people are failing to have gas and other fossil fuel appliances regularly serviced.
 “The simple fact of the matter is that the current economic climate is forcing thousands of people into poverty and they don’t have spare cash for even essential maintenance, like having their central heating boilers and other fuel burning appliances serviced at the appropriate time,” she said.
 “It’s a false economy and people are gambling with their lives, but when it comes down to a choice between putting food on the table and having a flue checked or an appliance serviced. I can understand where they’re coming from. These are desperate days and people are making desperate choices.”
Approximately 4,000 people are diagnosed with low level carbon monoxide poisoning each year and that figure is just the tip of an iceberg because many cases go undetected. Around 200 are admitted to hospital annually and 50 people die.
Lynn knows all about the devastating effects of CO poisoning. She and her family were exposed to the deadly gas in their home for many years because the gas registered engineers who regularly serviced her gas fire and central heating system failed to spot that a flue was partially blocked.
“My family’s experience is becoming increasingly common as more people are forced into low-paid employment and cut back on maintenance in the home. Our charity is needed more than ever, but we are under threat because many of our supporters have had their budgets cut and can no longer afford to contribute to charitable causes,” she said.
Carbon Monoxide Awareness has received some funding from United Utilities and Plus Dane, a Cheshire-based housing association, and a group of APICS chimney sweeps has established a website through which donors can make their contributions. The link is: www.everyclick.com/carbon-monoxide-awareness-limited/1125755/0/info
However, Lynn Griffiths says that more is needed or the charity will be forced to close its doors for good. Leaving those poisoned by this silent killer with nowhere to go for support.
“If 60 to 100 businesses, housing associations and councils from around the UK were each to contribute £500, which is just £10 a week, the charity can be saved.”

  • Established their National Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week
  • The charity offers support to those poisoned by Carbon Monoxide any time day or night
  • Won the "Plain English Speaking Award" for their Carbon Monoxide leaflet
  • Lobbied for resources to be provided for the education of doctors and nurses in the detection of carbon monoxide related illnesses.
  • Has their contact details listed with NHS Direct and The College of Emergency Medicine.
  • Held stands at both the Emergency Services and Ambition shows.
  • Launched its Carbon Monoxide Awareness Healthcare Group in the House of Lords.
  • Developed a triage poster for hospital A & E departments with the HPA and other partners. This has gone out to every A&E, Minor Injury Units and Walk in Centres.
  • Given talks to coroners, landlords, and support groups on the dangers of CO.
  • Helped NPIS update the TOXBASE entry for Carbon Monoxide.
  • Launch a "FREE" Carbon Monoxide Phone App. See www.covictim.org
  • Working with the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) on awareness-raising initiatives. See: www.cfoa.org.uk/12803
  • Launched its “Cozy but Deadly Barbecue Campaign” a joint project with Cornwall Fire and Rescue from the House of Commons. This national campaign is believed to have reached millions of people last year.
  • Run press campaigns in partnership with the Health Protection Agency and may others

Impact of bedroom tax in wards across Liverpool

Down the page you will see a table showing the impact of the bedroom tax in wards across Liverpool.

The  Social Sector Size Criteria Restriction (Bedroom Tax) – is better described as a reduction in Housing Benefit (which pays the rent on behalf of low income tenants) for those living in social housing, ie Housing Association properties where they are deemed to be under-occupying their home.

The new rules say that if you have more bedrooms in your home than you technically require, and you are in receipt of housing benefit to pay the rent for that home, you will see a reduction in that support, and you will have to pay more of the rent yourself for the privilege of having a spare room.

Parents in social housing who are separated or divorced from each other, and where one has access to their children at weekends for instance and where those children have a bedroom at both of their parents' homes, will find that one of them is going to be subject to the bedroom tax and classed as under-occupying - no exception has been made to recognise that the children need somewhere to sleep when they are staying with their other parent. We all know that children thrive best when they can spend time with both of their parents.

Parents who care for foster children, who of course must have their own bedrooms have not been exempted from the bedroom tax either, they too will find themselves penalised for ostensibly under-occupying. Liverpool City Council has committed to funding any shortfall for foster parents through utilising a small pot of money of discretionary funds.

People with occasional over-night requirements for carers will not be exempted, and so it goes on.

Owner occupiers can have as many spare bedrooms as they like of course. For guests, to keep the ironing in, for storage, for a home-based office, whatever they like. But social housing tenants must cut their cloth accordingly. How is this fair on any measure?

Here is a good example of how it will work, from L and H homes.

Of course nobody will have the money to pay this, given the cuts in their income, and the introduction of council tax into the budgets of people who have never had to pay it before, but that is of little interest to our Government.

This change only affects the working age population, not pensioners who have been spared the majority of benefit changes across the piece.

Some smaller social landlords are yet to provide the bedroom data to the Benefits Service so the number of affected cases is likely to increase by a further thousand to circa 11,600.

It is plain that the worst affected areas are those with large traditional council house estates, with a preponderance of 3 bedroom properties.

Of course no consideration has been given to where people could move to, if they are unable to find the extra rent. There are not enough 1 and 2 bedroom properties to go round.

And even if there were, it means people being asked to leave an estate or an area they may have lived in all their lives and go somewhere where they wont know anyone. It will destroy whole communities at a stroke.

The table below provides details of the affected cases by ward

Ward    No. Tenants Affected    Total Weekly HB reduction    Total Annual HB Reduction

Allerton & Hunts Cross      132    £1,835    £95,420
Anfield                               265    £3,611    £187,772
Belle Vale                          492    £6,622    £344,344
Central                              190    £2,686    £139,672
Childwall                             40    £609    £31,668
Church                                 6    £120    £6,240
Clubmoor                          745    £9,985    £519,220
County                              340    £3,905    £203,060
Cressington                       147    £2,136    £111,072
Croxteth                            378    £5,232    £272,064
Everton                             873    £11,462    £596,024
Fazakerley                        235    £3,333    £173,316
Greenbank                        152    £2,552    £132,704
Kensington & Fairfield      366    £4,472    £232,544
Kirkdale                           802    £10,325    £536,900
Knotty Ash                       364    £5,002    £260,104
Mossley Hill                        33    £431    £22,412
Norris Green                   1007    £14,252    £741,104
Old Swan                          242    £3,133    £162,916
Picton                                454    £5,574    £289,848
Princes Park                      817    £10,170    £528,840
Riverside                           533    £6,962    £362,024
Speke & Garston              656    £8,853    £460,356
St Michaels                       110    £1,418    £73,736
Tuebrook & Stoneycroft    229    £2,971    £154,492
Warbreck                          176    £2,282    £118,664
Wavertree                         154    £1,966    £102,232
West Derby                       124    £1,657    £86,164
Woolton                              57    £781    £40,612
Yewtree                            487    £6,760    £351,520

Total                             10,606    £141,097    £7,337,044

In Kensington and Fairfield this averages out at £50 per month that each home will have to find extra, otherwise they will go into arrears and presumably face eviction at some point.

Most of the cases we get in our advice surgeries relate to people's housing needs and their efforts to find somewhere else to live - which is a real struggle as so many people bid for each home that becomes vacant. I don't know how we are going to help 366 people to stay in the area when the waiting lists are so long and we don't have enough 1 and 2 bedroom properties to go round. I bet if you could see the figures for the Prime Minister's constituency or the Deputy Prime Minister's constituency they wont be facing these kind of numbers in their advice surgeries so they will never get to hear the real life stories from the people who they have condemned in this callous way.

It is also a nightmare for the social housing providers who face the problem of tenants being unable to pay their rent just because their child has grown up and left home, leaving a bedroom empty. Do they let people off the rent? Do they collect it determinedly? Do they start evicting tenants for non-payment of rent? And then where will these homeless tenants go? Obviously for new applicants of social housing it is straightforward to be able to say that you only let homes to people who wont be deemed to be under-occupying, but what about people who have lived in the same home all their lives as their families have grown and contracted?

This is an absolute disaster, a housing catastrophe of unimaginable proportions but it is unlikely to affect any Tory voters so don't expect much interest from the Government as it begins to play out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Holocaust Memorial Day Remembrance in Liverpool

Liverpool Town Hall will be open to the public on Sunday 27th January 2013
10:00 am to 4:00 pm

The Open Day will be themed on Holocaust Memorial Day and this year’s theme is “Communities Together: Build a Bridge”.

As part of the Holocaust Remembrance we will be lighting candles for children that died during the Holocaust. Their names will form a Bridge of Remembrance across the ages and communities.
There are 1,000 named children we want to remember as individuals. This can be done on the day by visiting the Town Hall to sign your promise and light your candle.

Or contact Liverpool Town Hall with your Name, Town / City, we will allocate you a child’s name, where possible we will give you the details of that child, and we will light a candle in your absence.
All we ask is that you promise to remember that child.

"Your Commitment To Remember The Past Will Ensure A Better Future For All Mankind"
On Holocaust Memorial Day 2013 you promise to remember this child who was so tragically killed in the Holocaust
(Yad Vashem) – Hand of God

Telephone: 0151 225 5545
Twitter: @TownHallLpool

Monday, January 07, 2013

2013 Write Now Festival for budding playwrights

(From their press release)


Liverpool’s Write Now Festival begins the search for a fourth batch of brand new, previously unperformed scripts for Write Now 4, the new writing festival taking place in September 2013.

"We've moved the festival later into the year and to a new venue" announces Ian Moore.

Since 2010 Write Now has staged twenty-six brand new one-act plays, offered over one hundred performances across a total of thirty days bringing you some of the finest new writing from Merseyside (and beyond)”

However, 2013 will be a little different.

The festival itself will also be moving, taking place at Liverpool's Unity Theatre, Hope Place between Tuesday 17 and Saturday 21 September

 “We are delighted to be relocating” adds Festival Director Ian Moore. “It feels like a great step forward for us to be working with one of the city’s top venues”

 “We had three fantastic years at The Actors’ Studio but we felt it was time to give the festival a shake-up” adds Ian

In addition, the festival will be a little more playwright-centric.

A new structure will see six invited pieces receiving a first performance followed by a post-show discussion, it is hoped the discussion will prompt possible changes, rewrites and so forth which will then be taken into the rehearsal space for a re-work workshop.

Following this, the piece will receive a pre-show discussion to bring the audience up to speed about the process and then a second performance.

Submissions close in March which gives writers sufficient time to either write a brand new piece or dust off something they’ve had sitting on a shelf with a closing date in late-March.

A team of adjudicators read every submission with decisions and invitations made in May.

“We are incredibly thorough in our treatment of the scripts we receive. The playwright’s deserve that courtesy. After all, it is, in some instances, their life’s work we are analysing” adds Ian

Our fourth year also sees a new Patron added to the already burgeoning roll call of Liverpool’s finest.

Former Brookside star Suzanne Collins, who appeared in last year’s festival as Lucy Russell in the Edinburgh Festival-bound psychological thriller Catfish Therapy, joins Pauline Daniels, Roger Philips, Ali Machray and Dean Sullivan in lending her support to the event.

Suzanne extols the aims of the festival. “Write Now is an open door to new writing. Having performed in the Festival I know that it is always looking at new ways to find and champion talent be it writer, director or performer.

“I know how hard it is to be a writer and the festival tries to find ways to inspire and offer opportunities to develop skills and meet like minded people.”

“The rich vein of untapped talent to which Write Now offers a platform is ever present. We could have staged fifty new pieces in our first two years and still only touched the tip of the iceberg“ adds Moore. “But we felt a new approach would be of benefit to the playwright who, after all, the festival is aimed at”

“We are looking to develop what we do and continue to explore new avenues in offering the platform to new writers.”

The submissions process is now open and for Submission Details visit www.writenowfestival.co.uk

Further information, photographs or interview call Ian Moore on 07752 522279