I am a frontline child protection social worker in the South East. The Tory budget which was announced today has left me feeling incredibly worried for the families on my caseload.
It has been announced that the benefit cap will be lowered to £20,000 outside London. This cap includes housing benefit. In one of the areas where I work, the local housing allowance (i.e. the amount provided if you receive full housing benefit) is £807/month for a two-bedroom property. This would mean that a benefit-reliant family living in a two bed property (i.e. a small family) would be spending nearly half their income on rent. I am particularly worried for a family I work with, which is made up of 2 parents with learning disabilities and five children. Covering even just the basic living costs after their rent payments will be impossible. If they have to move away to a cheaper area, it would mean moving away from all the support systems (both family and statutory) that enable them to safely parent their children. The proposals to stop child benefit for the 3rd+ child will further squeeze large families.
I am also thinking of another family in which domestic violence is our main concern. The mother has been very clear in her wish to leave the relationship, but the practical barriers to affording and managing two children as a lone parent, one who works a minimum wage, zero-hour contract job, has left her feeling paralysed and overwhelmed.
Eliminating housing benefit for those under 21 would have a devastating impact on young people who can’t safely remain at home. My heart breaks thinking of transgender friends who, for their own safety, had to leave home but who struggled massively to find safe and affordable housing. Cutting their access to housing benefit would increase their likelihood of being homeless and suffering further violence.
On a personal note, it looks like I’ll be facing four years of pay increases capped at 1%. My rent has increased at least 4.5% every year for the past four years. With tuition fees where they are and the student maintenance grant converted into a loan, a student looking to become a social worker could be facing £50,000+ in student loans upon graduation. This is a bloody difficult job and when it feels like we’re slipping further and further away from the middle class ourselves, social work recruitment problems will become even more severe.