D-day for benefits claimants as unions go for the jugular


David Cameron’s government is the “nastiest” in British history, the leader of the TUC claimed today, as the country’s poorest families brace themselves for sweeping benefit cuts which take effect this month.

Frances O’Grady ratcheted up the political rhetoric against the Coalition with an attack on the “ideological” and  “right-wing” policies of austerity. Her comments follow increasingly vociferous criticism of the Government’s welfare reforms by churches, charities and the Labour Party.

From tomorrow, people in social housing with a spare room lose a proportion of housing benefit – 14 per cent for those with one room and 25 per cent for those with more, costing families an average of £14 a week. In addition to this much-criticised “bedroom tax”, changes to housing benefit, council tax benefit and disability living allowance could cost poorer households up to £25 a week. A cap on benefits of £500 a week for any one household could cost a family £93 a week, according to an analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group.

Meanwhile, new figures indicate that the “bedroom tax” may fail in its stated aim of encouraging people in larger council homes to downsize to smaller properties. Labour said Freedom of Information responses showed local councils had one and two-bedroom properties to house only one in 20 of those families with spare rooms.

Responses from 37 authorities across Britain revealed 96,041 households faced losing benefit but there were only 3,688 smaller homes available. The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne said: “These shocking new figures reveal the big lie behind this Government’s cruel bedroom tax.”

The Government hopes it will encourage some of the 660,000 people affected to move and thus free up accommodation, as well as save the taxpayer £500m.

The National Housing Federation says the reform will fail to solve overcrowding and could increase the welfare bill with tenants moving into the more expensive private sector. Islington council in north London has pledged not to evict its tenants who run up arrears because of the bedroom tax as it says there is no accommodation for them to move into and the alternative of moving them to the private sector will cost more.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Families already struggling with rising living costs face another body blow as a potentially devastating package of benefit cuts is introduced. Spending cuts that increase child poverty will cost society more in the long run. The Government is on course to leave behind the worst child poverty record of any government for a generation.”

Ms O’Grady, speaking at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers’ conference in Bournemouth, said: “[The Government] is cutting its way into a triple-dip recession, shrinking public services we all rely on and attacking benefits with the low-paid, women and children hit the hardest. This is the most ideological, right-wing and plain nastiest government Britain has ever seen.”

She said the crisis was not caused “by teachers having gold-plated pensions or because teachers sit around the staff room awarding each other obscene bonuses, living the life of Riley and putting down bets with other people’s money”.

“It was a crisis caused by the greed of bankers, by growing inequality and falling living standards propped up by unsustainable debt and by too much economic power being concentrated in the hands of too few,” she added.