People increasingly ask me in interviews, blog comments, emails and real life, what I would do, what I think the solutions are to this great big bloody mess.
Well, I’m just a small town single mum, but I read the news and I’ve worked on the inside of a public service, I’ve used a food bank and attend local council meetings. I’ve been in desperate poverty due to benefit cock-ups, and moved house three times in a year to try to get my feet back on solid ground after over a year of unemployment.
And because you can only rage against the machine and shout at the rain for do long, while I may not have all of the answers, here’s some of my suggestions…
1. Housing benefit should be paid in advance, not arrears. New claimants are already on the back foot with rent arrears as soon as they find themselves needing to claim – and then constantly trying to catch up.
2. Housing benefit should be paid monthly, not 4-weekly, in line with most peoples rent and mortgage payments.
3. Compulsory 50% affordable housing on any new developments in the UK.
4. ‘Affordable’ to mean either managed by a social landlord, or rent capped at Local Housing Allowance rate for that area.
5. Introduction of a Living Wage, taking more households out of the need to claim benefits, and contributing more tax into the economy.
6. Aggressive job creation – more support for self employment/startups. Not necessarily financial support, but easily accessible and understood advice about HMRC, Tax, starting up, Companies House – people may be more willing to ‘create’ a job if it wasn’t quite so complicated to do so.
7. Cap private rents in line with Local Housing Allowance for the area, reducing poverty levels for people who find themselves unemployed, are unable to move house (because moving requires a deposit and admin fees) so use other benefits to top up the rent. Reduces pressure on Discretionary Housing Payment funding, which is limited.
8. Clamp down on food waste – for example encourage supermarkets to recycle their food waste, through donating to food bank schemes, homelessness centres, children’s centres, or by composting it. It’s frankly a bloody obscenity that major retailers can throw away tonnes of food every day into landfill while people go starving hungry. It’s bureaucracy and red tape gone mad.
9. Make home economics compulsory, at least fortnightly, from age 5 to school leaver. My generation are growing up on microwave meals and therefore spending money they don’t always have on chemicals and salts and sugars that they don’t need. We need to teach our children to cook, to darn a sock, to sew a button onto a shirt instead of throwing it away and buying a new one.
10. Reprioritise public services. Less chiefs and consultants, and more frontline nurses, firefighters, teachers, police officers – creating employment in jobs that are needed to keep a balanced, safe society with the right priorities. Less chiefs, assistant chiefs, deputy chiefs, consultants, and heads of everything, means more money for posts at the very front line. I’d rather have an extra manned (or womanned) fire appliance in my county than a fourth or fifth assistant chief fire officer, wouldn’t you?
11. Cap MP’s expenses. Lead by example. If the tax pot doesn’t have enough money in it for libraries and children’s centres, it certainly doesn’t have enough money in it for moats and Laura Ashley curtains.
12. Don’t give more tax breaks to millionaires. It’s a nice thought, but a transparent vote-winner. If you have millions of pounds in the bank, you generally don’t need an additional 5% tax free. You can earn that in interest, surely, rather than take it from the pot that is so short, that libraries and children’s centres are closing…
13. STOP CHOPPING THE NHS UP. WE NEED IT. It’s not perfect but nothing ever is. But the alternative is unthinkable. Handing control of people’s health over to the people whose profit margins depend on how many pills they take or how expensive they are to keep alive has the capacity to become very sinister. Sound dramatic? I suggest you have a long hard look at the 11,000 deaths of the ‘fit to work’ post-ATOS assessments, a private, 5 year, £400million contract that has nobodies best interests at heart other than the DWPs.
14. SACK ATOS. And prosecute for the deaths of people whose lifelines were cut when they were wrongly assessed by untrained ‘health care professionals’ as ‘fit to work’. Then died. Enough said.
Do you agree? Disagree? What would you change? What would you do?
Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe