Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Social Policy Rant

Let's say you've been unemployed for a while. Although your JSA (job seeker's allowance) isn't a fortune, chances are you get housing and council tax benefit paid as well which gives you some security. (If they pay it on time that is!)

Lately the government has been pushing lots of New Deal schemes, but I'm focusing on New Deal +25. Here's the basics: a workplace takes you on for at least six months and gets a weekly subsidy of £75 towards your full-time salary, which must be at least minimum wage. Looking through the New Deal website, they go on about how people who switch to New Deal should be at least as well off as before, but is that the case if you're a single childless person? Nope!

If you earn minimum wage, you take home about £135 a week after tax based on a 37 hour week. Shocking as this sounds, that salary works out to be too high to entitle a single person to any housing or council tax benefit. So with your whopping £585 a month, you have to cover rent (£40 per week on average for council accommodation) and council tax (about £10 a week for band A in Manchester at the moment, with the 25% single person discount.) That means £174 goes to rent and £44 to council tax, leaving you with £218 to see you through the rest of the month.

That's £7.16 a DAY. Who can live on that? You might be able to feed yourself (barely) but what about emergencies? I did note that sometimes you can get your benefits extended when you start, but it's only for four weeks.

So it's no surprise that we get so many cases of young single people with council tax arrears where I volunteer. Not only do they have to go through the stress of living on a low wage and feeling crap about being in debt, but if they bury their heads in the sand their debt eventually gets passed on by the council to a bailiff. Then they have the lovely experience of being hounded on the phone, by post and by visits, and having to constantly make sure they don't give the bailiffs a chance to gain "peaceable" entry to their flat.

Makes me feel pretty lucky.

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