Tory benefit reforms mean thousands of people face a Christmas of uncertainty and the threat of eviction. Mary, a young lone parent in London, is one of them.
Her council put her in a two bedroom home after she became pregnant, so that she would have space with her baby twins. Housing benefit would have covered much of the rent.
But the home they found her was in a borough where the new Universal Credit (UC) has replaced housing benefit. It wouldn’t take her circumstances into account.
She told Socialist Worker “The council wants me to pay £100 a week. They told me they were considering legal action, and I just broke down in Asda.
“It’s like they’re punishing someone for something they haven’t done. I don’t want to be out on the street begging with my babies.”
Outrageously, Mary—not her real name—was charged the bedroom tax on the second bedroom while she was pregnant. Until the birth she was officially living alone and “underoccupying”.
It took months to find out. “The UC system is so flawed, to use the online platform system you’d need to be a rocket scientist,” Mary said. “Even the people who work there can’t understand it.
“Four months went by and I kept phoning UC to tell them they weren’t paying the rent, and they said they’d paid it already.
“They’d say ‘we’re still calculating’ and wouldn’t give me a straight answer about how much I would get.
“Then all of a sudden I get a letter from the council saying you owe £3,500 rent arrears.
“So I contacted UC and they said we charged you bedroom tax because you’re single person and don’t have children yet. But I was put here by my council when I was pregnant.”
The council wrote off some of the arrears as a discretionary housing payment (DHP), but now demand £100 a week to pay back the rest.
Mary said, “I still don’t know how much of my rent is supposed to be covered by UC, and on top of the arrears I have to pay the bills on a two bedroom home.
“I think they just want you to break. It’s like they just stick a number on you and say if you get evicted that’s not our problem.
“I stopped working when I was pregnant and am now solely on welfare until I can work again. Does that mean I should be thrown on streets because I’m a single mum? Or thrown out of London?
“The uncertainty is horrendous. UC is just a disaster zone.”
Mary’s plight is far from unique. The bedroom tax and UC must be scrapped, along with benefit sanctions and “fit for work” tests.
We need a benefits system that gives peace of mind and security to those who fall on hard times—not punishment, poverty and fear.