In January 2014, Iain Duncan Smith, Government Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, set out plans for the future of welfare in the UK.
In his policy speech ‘Simplifying the welfare system and making sure work pays’ he said: “Our welfare reforms are about ensuring it is no longer more worthwhile to be on benefits than in work.”
But difficulties with illness, finding suitable work and trying to manage family finances mean it is far from simple for many hard-pressed families.
Breaking the rules
21-year-old Sarah from Cornwall pays her stepfather’s monthly ‘spare room subsidy’ charge in return for living in the unoccupied room he has in his four bedroom house.
“My step dad has had two heart attacks and has problems with his knees which prevents him from working and he used to get disability allowance.
“Since the new cuts they have taken that away and tried to send him back to work based on his mobility – they don’t consider the important factors such as his heart problems! On top of this the government also brought in the bedroom tax.”
As far as her local council are aware, Sarah, who does not wish her last name to be published, moved out when she turned 21 and lives independently.
He is being charged through the bedroom tax rules as the room is empty, but Sarah covers the cost because the charge would otherwise be a drain on the finances of her stepfather.
“My stepdad gets help paying his rent but still has to pay the bedroom tax on top of this, even though his money’s been cut and he can’t work as his doctor has signed him off. So I’m having to pay it for him and live there secretly.”
Part time work not enough to support family
More than 19,000 people have returned to work since the benefit cap was introduced, but for Sarah her part time job at a superstore only just helps her to fund her own lifestyle at 21 alongside her degree. With her stepfather unable to work, the pressures to help her family are constant.
Donald Hirsch, co-author of the report, said:
“A whole generation of young adults are noticeably worse off as a result of the deterioration in their job prospects, a worsening of housing options and falls in real wages and benefits, making it harder for young people to be independent.”
“I think I’m always going to have to support my family”
Sarah says that if her stepdad could work or still received disability allowance, her family’s living situation would be better.
“And I would still have my own plans, but we obviously feel this is the only way we can live. It’s not fair on any of us.”
Gavin Smart, Director of Policy and Practice at the Chartered Institute of Housing agrees that people affected by the bedroom tax payment reductions can face difficult choices in making ends meet
“In some cases the amounts of money involved represent a significant part of their income.”
Sarah feels that her choices are limited.
“I don’t want to break the benefit laws, but I don’t see many other options”.
Disability allowance cuts and the bedroom tax have had a significant impact on the life of Sarah and her family.
“I don’t know what help is available to me and my family, but as far as I am aware with the cuts to disability allowance there isn’t much anyone can do.
“It’s not fair for people to be living in poverty and the Government keep charging them more money they don’t have.”