Its that time of year when thousands of children and young people in Bath and North East Somerset are returning to school, going to a new one or starting school for the very first time. Parents will have been getting out last years’s uniform and realising it doesn’t fit. Lots of them will be taking up hems, passing older chldren’s clothing onto younger ones, picking up reduced uniform at school and receiving donations from friends. But what if you can’t do any of these things? Perhaps you have a child who is big or small for their age or all the uniform you had has worn out. Some schools, especially secondary schools now have quite strict uniform policies, including for PE and sport, and for footwear. It all adds up and for some families its a big outlay at once.
5 years ago we wrote a report on the cost of uniforms and other school items like trips, and confirmed that it really is a very costly exercise which some people simply cannot afford. We were very pleased that the Council reviewed the affordability of uniforms and came up with some proposals for schools. We were even more pleased that they used our report Adding up :Education Costs in Bath and North East Somerset and found it valuable.
One of our recommendations – the simplest ones are always the best- was that schools did not insist on clothing from particular suppliers but allowed parents to buy the clothing they could afford, and badges to identify the school could be sewn on. I wonder how much schools have adopted this approach?
Some older children will be getting ready to go off to University and many will be budgeting for the first time. Student loans are not enough to cover the high cost of housing in many areas so we would encourage all those young people to plan ahead. Find useful tips on our website http://www.adviceguide.org.uk on managing money and renting but most of all if things get out of hand, ask for advice from the University, Students’ Union or CAB as soon as you can. The good news is that the Government has given Citizens Advice some cash to subsidise the costs of phone calls to our Adviceline, so its cheaper especially from mobiles, and for people who have a package phone deal the new numbers are part of that so calls are free! CAB BANES can be reached on 0344 848 7919 every weekday except Tuesday from 10-4. Its often better to ring your local bureau if there’s a local problem, say with a landlord, so go onto Adviceguide and get the number you need. And don’t let worries get in the way of study and socialising!
The good news is that CAB BANES has quickly found a replacement Interim Director. Gill Whitehead has been Operations Manager for a while so knows the area and how we work really well, but has lots of ideas about how we could work even better for our population.
Another bedroom tax case stood out this week. Eileen is a very vulnerable client with serious mental health problems which have resulted in recent hospital admissions. She has lived in her home for 15 years, bringing up her children there single handed. Its a 2 bedroomed social housing property which she loves. She’s unable to work and her Housing Benefit is reduced by £13 per week for her under occupancy so she has to find that from her £101 per week benefit which is meant to be used for food, bills, clothes, travel, phone, TV. She’s already stopped using her gas so has no hot water on tap. The thought of moving is far too stressful but she might be able to consider it if she had time and no fear of getting behind with her rent. The Council have been great helping her with the shortfall but this cannot go on for ever. She even thought about renting the spare room but although it was fine for her children to share whilst growing up, its too small for one person to have all their belongings in – all the things which if it were your own home you’d have in the rest of the house. Things like TV, computer, sports equipment. If the council can’t go on helping Eileen then she’s likely to have another breakdown. Wonder how much that costs the health service?
2 shocking potential illegal evictions this week, both with people in shared accommodation. One was given notice (incorrect at that) for no legal reason in the middle of a fixed term tenancy. No arrears, had caused no trouble but happened to be pregnant. Lots we can do to help mitigate and manage these situations and at least the most vulnerable people feel they can seek our advice, assistance and advocacy.
Back to the good news. Now that the Council have reversed the cuts they were applying to our funding, we are able to return to offering a home visiting service mainly for older and disabled people. Cheers and sighs of relief all round!
I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of the various terminology for the reduction of Housing Benefit for people who have more bedrooms than meet their immediate basic need? Spare Room Subsidy, Under Occupation Charge or the more informal Bedroom Tax has been in the news twice this week. A Government commissioned study, Evaluation of Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy, has found that 80% of tenants affected found it very or fairly difficult to pay the shortfall left by the reduction in Housing Benefit and that some were having to decide between paying the rent, eating or fuel. Some were using short term credit to stave off the arrears. The Liberal Democrats are now opposing the Subsidy,Charge/Tax which would appear to be because of the hardship caused to disabled people and children of separated parents particularly – as the government study shows. What often goes unsaid in these debates is that tenants who move into private rented housing with the necessary number of bedrooms will often be paying a higher rent thus costing more in Housing Benefit than if they stayed in their social housing. BUt why shouldn’t people move into smaller accommodation as their children move out? Well, some would like to be able to put up grandchildren overnight whilst the parents work or because this is one way grandparents are useful and like to be involved; some would like dispersed families to be able to come and stay; some give and receive support in their communities and both would suffer if they had to move away. Yet more would like to move but are deterred by the lack of suitably sized and located housing. Here in Bath and North East Somerset we have a fantastic Welfare Support scheme which can help people with the subsidy whilst they look for other accommodation but the funding from the Government for this may end in 2015. If this is so, then its a good job the Financial Conduct Authority has proposed a cap on interest rates for payday loans and has already restricted the amount of times a loan can be rolled over. Thanks must go here to all the campaigning organizations, including Citizens Advice, and the people who have told their shocking stories, who have pressed for these changes. These are significant changes and could not have come at a better time if people are going to be in greater need of cash if local support for the most vulnerable goes. At least they’ll be less worse off then they might have been.
The first CABx are 70 years old this year, springing up as the result of the war, answering queries about coupons, rations, housing, what to do when soneone dies. For coupons read food vouchers, for rations read benefits and this is pretty much what we still advise on but with a whole lot of added debt.
Look at https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=8PjDgvc6TVU for what was going on in 1942.
This week has been Carers’ Week, following on from Volunteers’ Week, making it hard not to make the connection. Many people caring for older or disabled relatives, friends or neighbours do so without payment or for a pittance. Carers Allowance is £61.35 per week and not everyone is entitled to that. However, 2 bits of good news on the caring front this week. A new Carers Centre opened in Bath, providing advice, leisure, befriending schemes, breaks and emotional support for carers. All the details are on http://www.banescarerscentre.org.uk. Professional carers often get a bad press, with horror stories from care homes about the treatment of residents, so its easy to forget the regular “caring caring” which is going on all the time in people’s homes. The pay is so low for such vital work that it was good to hear that HMRC have actually ruled that carers should be paid during their travel time between visits. Shocking that employers tried to get out of this so that carers often had to rush frenetically between calls, unlike others, say, District Nurses or Social Workers. Read more on https://www.unison.org.uk/news/articles/unison-welcomes-travel-time-victory.