We seem to have become hard, nastily judgemental people

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At my age it is not unusual to be a poor sleeper who frequently wakes up in the small hours. That is when the BBC World Service is such a boon.

The other night the programme included an extended report on the inevitable repercussions of the savage welfare cuts already in place and those still to be introduced.

The programme concentrated on the probable effects of the proposed deep cuts in housing benefits. There will be an inexorable rise in homelessness, particularly in London where rents are sky high.

Evictions will increase exponentially, because benefits are already capped at something over £300 a week. This may seem high to the relatively affluent who are encouraged to think any part of the benefits system is too costly.

Nevertheless, something over £300 a week hardly helps towards the cost of rents, let alone other costs such as food and clothing, both of which were already becoming unaffordable.

The Coalition’s proposed overall cuts to the benefits system are proving very popular with the electorate in general. David Cameron’s speeches on the subject relentlessly reinforce the perception that abuse and fraud are widespread, whereas in reality any such abuse accounts for just two per cent of the costs to taxpayers.

Of course, the two per cent should be eliminated, but it should not be used as an excuse for the wholesale shattering of the entire system.

The proposed “bedroom” tax, for instance, will be particularly damaging for the most disadvantaged in our society, because it targets those living in socially rented accommodation. The reporter cited the case of 60-year-old Fred who is partially disabled and lives alone in a two-bedroomed flat. He frequently needs prolonged visits from one or other of his daughters. Both are already helping him with his food costs.

He is worried to death because he is in arrears with his rent to the tune of £37 a week, and is currently waiting for his appeal to be heard.

Fifty three per cent of disabled people will be similarly alarmed. In any case, there is an acute shortage of one-bedroomed accommodation.

The reporter also emphasised that in so many cases housing benefit is needed to top up inadequate wages and that 93 per cent of claimants are actually in some kind of work which is so low paid that they cannot cope with the cost of renting. It will therefore not be just the unemployed who will soon be in imminent danger of eviction.

Again, ten per cent of all housing benefit goes to single mothers, more often than not in low paid part time jobs. Those invited to take part in the programme said they were ashamed that they could no longer pay their way. One of them had a mentally disabled child.

For all these different people, fuel poverty is already a huge worry. They greatly resent David Cameron’s endless speeches branding them as feckless scroungers, content to live on benefits and unwilling to work when most of them are living in the kind of poverty the rest of us can hardly imagine. They are left with no alternative but to cut down on their food consumption. These are the ones who are obliged to apply to food banks.

Sadly, the children of single mothers are often well aware of their parent’s predicament. They too worry about being evicted and put into foster care. One such little girl was interviewed.

Finally, it has already been established that rent arrears in London are up by 25 per cent and by 50 per cent in Leeds.

This just a summary of the contents of this chilling programme, as I heard it and the extent to which I was able to make notes.

All in all, we seem to have become a nation of hard, nastily judgemental people who are too ready to condemn and to misunderstand. The Welfare State, which is now in such peril, was created in the wake of a horrific war when people still had the capacity to empathise with their fellow citizens’ struggle to survive because so many of them were experiencing similar difficulties.

They knew full well that there is indeed such a thing as society and that we are all part of it. They also knew that they should act accordingly.

Barbara Green,

Heptonstall.