It was a simple call from a friend last week- 'have you had the letter about tax credits?', she said. 'We won't be entitled to Working Tax credit from April. We can't pay the mortgage'.
Now, I knew about this one: had followed it since the budget as we knew it affected us. The change is simple- if you are in a couple then the minimum number of hours worked goes from 16 to 24 (12 must be with one person) from April if you want to be classed as working and receive the appropriate tax credits- and, more than the Government would have you believe is true, maintain the dignity that comes of being a worker.
If you don't reach that number, you lose out.
So you say- OK there are redundancies and that sort of thing but we knew about those; why CAN'T a couple work those hours? because the 'special cases' will be covered, they promised that in the Budgets- no caps for disabled families and all that.
Single parent families- 16 hour limit remains.
Where a parent is sick or disabled- 16 hour limit remains.
My friend is a carer: someone forgot to maintain their 'special exemption'. Like the families above only one parent is available for work, but there is no hourly reduction for them. And because her family has had the work hours cut to 18 or risk redundancy, they are going to lose out.
Why the anomaly? Why did caring families not get the cover others get? Is being a carer any more of a choice than being a single parent? Doubt it; let's face it, someone choosing disability for their relative or friend would need medical assessment, not support!
And if you do work 16 hours, or 20- how do you make that up? how many employers these days have a spare 8 hours you can take up, how many extra jobs are there out there? Is it not better that 2 people have 16 hour jobs so their children get to see them work, they get the dignity of working, rather than one person have both jobs and the other nothing?
And what of the no cap for families with a disability, as touted so much in the press?
Well you see whilst many thought it was universal for all cuts, it is not. Far from.
On the cap- yes that applies: it means that people with a disability can receive their DLA above other benefit levels. That is welcomed, but won't protect people from much when you read below.
Housing benefits- nah. No exemptions. Housing Benefit is dropping for many: as well as there being no extra payment for a four bedroom (read before you judge in this context...), payment levels have been set using a new measure that lowers the benefit levels for many people. There is widespread support for this it seems- even if much is based on 'people who don't work' when statistics tend to show that 80% of Housing Benefit claimants are NOT unemployed: they will be low income workers, disabled and sick people, carers, the elderly.
So, what does it mean to a carer or disabled person to lose that money? Well clearly the supposed motivational factor is lost- if you can't work, you can't. Simple. And if you can't pay you move right? To somewhere cheaper. Save the Government some money.
You move away from your carers, or those who care for you: you lose independence, you become dependent on Social Services for respite or support: you end up costing more for something you never wanted or needed, plus you are more likely to become isolated and develop the associated mental health disorders that can bring...
Can you see the problem here?
And that four bedroom thing I mentioned earlier: often dealt with by the dismissive phrase 'we can't afford it and we work'. Well, many Housing claimants also work as mentioned above, but even then having a disability affects the space you need. Two of my children have autism: they have to have a room to themselves, thus meaning we need a four bedroom house: we don't choose one- too much vacuuming for my tastes!- but we need one. If we were reliant on housing benefit we would be penalised for that by being forced to find extra money from the day to day living expenses- a clear 'disability penalty'.
And there is a cut to the Disability Tax Credit payment for every child on Middle Rate (and that can mean severely disabled but sleeps through) on top of that: someone I know wrote to Maria Miller about this, and had a letter that said it wasn't until 2012 so she had time to prepare. Yes, because obviously autism is a curable disorder and she can just cure her child in order to prepare. Ah, I wish! that would be nice.
And then there is the change to PIP from DLA, and ATOS- ! There is a rumour that there is little cover for carers under the PIP guidelines but we will have to wait and see; cover for carers is also very vague under Universal Credit anyway- lots of mentions and no actual statements of what. We need what: this is our reality. We can't work out how to move forward without actual facts.
So next time you hear that disabled people are protected, remember this. You can't protect disabled people without making sure their carers are safe. Caring has never been financially beneficial: I know several people with post grad qualifications, even doctorates, who presumably could make more than Carer's Allowance of £55 a week if they were working! They do it from love and a sense of duty. And lack of choice, I can't recommend someone send an aggressive child to day care (even if anyone would take them) knowing another child could- most likely would- get hurt can I? (as well as having autistic children I work and study in the field).
Somewhere behind the numbers there are families that are panicking and scared this Christmas as they have no idea what 2012 and even worse, 2013 and Universal Credit, will bring. You can help them by questioning the politicians about how they plan to protect the genuinely vulnerable. Thank you.