Rose Fernandes lives in a 5-bedroomed house in Brent, with her three children (two daughters and a son) and her 83-year-old mother, who has dementia. One of her daughters, Crystal, age 25, is autistic.
Fernandes is the main carer for her mother and her daughter.
This year her landlord will almost certainly put up the rent above £500 a week. That means in Housing Benefit alone, her landlord will be getting from the state via Rose Fernandes and her family, £26,000 a year.
“It’s a basic issue of fairness. Should people really be able to earn more than £26,000 just through benefits alone? I don’t believe they should. And I think the overwhelming majority of people in the country would back that view.”
Cameron told the House of Commons in October 2010:
“The point everyone in this House has got to consider: are we happy to go on paying housing benefit of £30,000, £40,000, £50,000? Our constituents working hard to give benefits so people can live in homes they couldn’t even dream of? I don’t think that’s fair.”
Five adults live in this five-bedroomed house, two of them with severe disabilities.
“Our house has been specially adapted for mum … we have spent thousands fitting rails and handles, and where are we to go? We work together as a unit to help look after everyone. It’s crazy to split us all up,” said Fernandes. “I don’t want my mother to go to a nursing home and I will never leave my daughter.”
In October 2010, George Osborne announced the first Comprehensive Spending Review in these terms:
There are choices. And today we make them.
Investment in the future rather than the bills of past failure. That is our choice.
We have chosen to spend on the country’s most important priorities – the health care of our people, the education of our young, our nation’s security and the infrastructure that supports our economic growth.
We have chosen to cut the waste and reform the welfare system that our country can no longer afford.
Brent Council reacted to George Osborne’s cuts:
We are reviewing all our services but the cuts mean we can no longer afford to continue to provide the same services and we need to make some changes to the way we work.
As always our goal is to reduce the impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable members of our community but the government spending cuts mean some tough decisions will need to be made.
We had anticipated these cuts before they were announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review and as a result, over the last year, a series of efficiency saving projects have been started.
We need to save £41.7 million next year (2011/12).
And among the “waste” of the welfare system, the “efficiency savings” of Brent Council, Rose Fernandez found her 81-year-old demented mother, her 23-year-old autistic daughter, were regarded as expendable: as was their main, unpaid carer.
It began two years ago when her local council in Brent, north-west London, said it wanted to reduce the number of hours it would pay a carer to look after her daughter from nine hours a day to just four hours a week. But Fernandes says the day-to-day care for Crystal is constant – she needs to be washed, dressed, fed, taken to the toilet and watched all the time because she is not aware of everyday dangers.
Then her local authority told her it wanted to review her “respite care” package, worth £5,000 a year and designed to give her a break. Last year the council made noises about her mother’s care. “She gets carers five times a day. It might sound a lot but my mum cannot eat solid food. She has to be fed with a syringe. She’s helpless.”
“We are creating a new benefit, because the last benefit grew by something like 30 per cent in the past few years. It’s been rising well ahead of any other gauge you might make about illness, sickness, disability or, for that matter, general trends in society.
“A lot of that is down to the way the benefit was structured … Second thing was that in the assessment, lots of people weren’t actually seen. They didn’t get a health check or anything like that.
“Third problem was lifetime awards. Something like 70 per cent had lifetime awards, [which] meant that once they got it you never looked at them again.”
Mr Duncan Smith is furious with judges, blaming “judicial activism” for widening the definition of disability.
The day-to-day care for Crystal Fernandes is constant – she cannot wash or dress or feed herself, she cannot go to the toilet by herself, she has been watched all the time “because she is not aware of everyday dangers”.
From 2013 a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for all disabled people between 16 and 64. The criteria for receiving PIP are narrower than for DLA – the objective is to make sure that 20% of the people who needed help don’t get it anymore – and there’s no criteria for assessing if someone needs supervision.
Next year Crystal could lose more than £100 a week in disability living allowance as the government says one fifth of this welfare payment needs to be cut. In 2015 the Independent Living Fund will be shut down. This pays for almost 40 hours a week of care so Crystal can live at home and not in a care home. “I really don’t know what we will do when that goes.”