The stigmatisation of benefits recipients and the reality – who receives Housing benefit?

The stigmatisation of benefit recipients, which this government, and previous ones, have promoted, was reflected in George Osborne’s comments about ‘hard-working families’ getting up to go to work on a dark morning only to see their neighbour’s curtains still drawn, because they have chosen a life on benefits as a ‘lifestyle choice’. Read the ‘red-tops’ and you will find stories about individuals which are said to be typical of benefits recipients who have made this ‘lifestyle choice’. Read the discussion on news websites and you would imagine that it is a given that people on housing benefit are mostly work-shy ‘skivers’.

What those who cheerfully join in this stigmatisation never do is to actually look at government statistics to try to make an objective assessment. Prejudice never bothers with examining the evidence.

What do the latest Office of National Statistics stats tell us about recipients of Housing Benefit?  In November 2012 there were 5,050,400 households in receipt of HB. What is the make up of these recipients? 25.59% of them are 65 and over. 18.9% of them are in work. So more than 44% are in work or retired.

One of the key features of HB since the coalition government came to office is a big increase in working households on HB. In November 2008 there were only 430,160 working recipients of HB, or just over 10%. Yet by November 2012 this had climbed to 955,560. The increase since the coalition took office is over 300,000. Why has this number climbed so steeply? It’s a combination of factors; the economic crash, the austerity programme and the decline in the value of wages over the past five years. The ‘flexible labour market’, in which more jobs are temporary or part-time, has also been a factor.

Who else is on HB? 46.3% of HB recipients are over 50. Many have suffered redundancy as a result of the crash. Being made redundant in your fifties presents difficulties. Age discrimination in the employment market is common. Others have developed chronic illness, or injuries resulting from work.

The statistics for single people in receipt of HB underline the fact that single people are more likely to be poor than couples. 54.9% of HB recipients are single people with no child dependants. Single adults, including those with children make up no less than 78% of recipients. The DWP’s Family Resources document from June 2012 (covering 2010/11) estimates 25% of UK families having household income of under £300 a week. A much larger proportion of these people are single:

  • 58% of adult males over pension age have an income of less than £300 a week;
  • 58% of females over pension age;
  • 47% of single males under pension age and
  • 43% of single females under pension age;
  • 41% of adults with one child.

One of the canards of the prejudice and ignorance which stigmatises benefit recipients as work-shy ‘skivers’, is the picture of the young woman who gets pregnant to get a council home and to live on benefit. In fact only 3.32% of recipients are single female parents under the age of 25. Single females, with or without children comprise 50.66% of HB recipients. Of these, single women over 50 make up 1,123,430 or 22.24%.

See statistics assembled by Gingerbread on single parents:

One of the significant recent developments in relation to HB is the massive growth of tenants in private rented accommodation receiving it; now one in 4. From November 2008 to November 2013 the number of private renters receiving HB increased from 1,054,810 to 1,655,360. This reflects the increase in private rented accommodation available and the increase in the price of rent in the sector which is up to double the rent of ‘social housing’.

The government’s refusal to support new Council house building and to encourage the growth of private rented accommodation is counter-productive, because the cost of HB payments for it is much higher. In November 2012 the average local authority award of HB was £75.45 as compared with £105.61 for private rent.

The HB bill is predicted to rise to £23.374 billion by 2016-17. This is despite the supposed attempt of the government to drive it down by it its ‘welfare reforms’ by cutting HB to private tenants and introducing the ‘bedroom tax’ (two thirds of households affected have at least one disabled person in them). The best way to get people off of benefit is not just to get people into work but into work which provides a living wage. The key problem we face is not hordes of work-shy people but a structural jobs crisis. You cannot force people into jobs that aren’t there and you cannot force people into smaller homes that don’t exist.

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