Grenfell: the moral lesson Health of all tenants demands living unemployment benefit & safe truly affordable housing

1 July 2017


Letter in The Tablet, the Catholic International Weekly, 30/6/17

Unemployed people are not fit for work when their inadequate £73.10 pw income is bombarded by three powerful government departments enforcing debts simultaneously - DWP, DCLG & MOJ. 

​T​he health of our poorest fellow citizens, who could not pay the poll tax, was in my mind in 1998 when, as chair of Zacchaeus 2000 Trust,  I raised £100,000 and commissioned the research from the Family Budget Unit which was used by UNISON and London Citizens to persuade Ken Livingstone and the GLA to launch the living wage for London. It became clear then that the single adult unemployment benefit aged 25-60, then £50.35 now £73.10 a week
 is not enough to maintain a healthy life. 
I am more than glad to learn that employers of the Living Wage Foundation are now promoting the idea of a living wage to other employers. What I am suggesting would need them to promote the idea of a living unemployment benefit to government on the grounds that they have a profound interest in a healthy well educated UK workforce. I was a personnel officer for four years in the Central Personnel Department of what was then ICI.  
The health of very many people in the UK is at risk from low incomes both in work and out of work; and very seriously at risk out of work. It is most concerning that there was anunprecedented shortening of average lives nationally and an increase in infant deaths among the poorest mothers in 2015. 

I am an on the Advisory Council of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition (IBCHN). Poor maternal nutrition is a major global and UK issue. Mothers need a healthy diet before they conceive and while they are pregnant if they are to have healthy babies. IBCHN's internationally replicated research, reported by the WHO, indicates that "Poor maternal nutrition and low birthweight associated with fetal growthrestriction is the strongest predictor of poor learning ability, school performance, behavioral disorders and crime". There are 400,000 single mothers claiming benefits in UK.  In 2015 7.0% (48,711) of live births in England were low birthweight (under 2.5 kilograms), unchanged since 2011. It is over 10% in the most deprived ward in Tottenham. In Denmark it is 5% and Turkey 11%. Three days food from a food bank does not provide a healthy diet for a nine month pregnancy. Hungry children do not do well at school.


I have been lobbying Government Departments, MPs and peers about income and health since 1999.  I have discovered that the Department of Health never promotes an adequate income as a means of preventing ill health. The Department of Work and Pensions never sees an adequate income as a cause of good health; so they have reduced the value of low incomes. The health of the poorest UK citizens falls into the chasm between the two departments. 
In 2009 I persuaded a Minister at the DWP to refer the issue of poor maternal nutrition to Ministers at the Department of Health, who referred it to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) who never considered economics. The government changed in 2010, so I wrote to the DoH to ask how SACN was getting on with my query. The reply was "we have abolished SACN and referred your query to the DWP! 
The DWP oiises quidance to Decosion Makers saying "It would be normal for a healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they are without such essential items such a food...or sufficient money to buy esential items" and then stops the money needed to buy esential items. 

There is no doubt whatever that low incomes create ill health. Report after report from the Universities has proved that over and over again. You only have to read our nine blogs on health equality to see the evidence which distinguished academics have provided to governments for decades. 
The issue therefore becomes; "Are the unemployment benefits so low that they cause ill health?". 
The cornerstone of the benefit system, paid to 3.6 million people, is the adult JSA/IS/ESA of £73.10 a week; disability & children's benefits, to pay the extra costs of disability and children, are added to the £73.10. It is now so low that parents need the children's benefits to survive and the disabled are rendered destitute if they lose the disability benefits as a result of failing the DWP Work Capability Assessment. 
The Universal Credit is the same amount paid monthly - £73.10pw x 52/12 = £317pm.     
In 2009 Professor Jonathan Bradshaw wrote to The Guardian as follows on the 9th May 2009. 
Benefit Negligence 

The inadequacy of the £64.30 (now £73.10) weekly jobseeker's allowance (£50.95 for the under-25s now £57.90) ), noted by Paul Nicolson (Letters, 11 May) is a modern phenomenon. When unemployment benefit started in 1912 it was 7 shillings a week - about 22% of average male earnings in manufacturing. The percentage fluctuated over the succeeding decades, but by 1979 the benefit rate was still about 21% of average earnings (manual and non-manual, male and female). By 2008, however, as a result of the policy of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, the renamed jobseeker's allowance had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings. And while, in the past, means-tested allowances raised unemployed income to a higher minimum level, the jobseeker's allowance rates are now the same, whether means-tested or not.

Of course, average earnings have grown but so has the relative deprivation of the unemployed. This is not a policy justified by the need to maintain work incentives. It is just a dreadful record of neglect by governments since 1979.

Jonathan Bradshaw
University of York
Tony Lynes

In the mistaken belief that the unemployed live in a culture of fecklessness and take every opportunity to avoid work the 2010 coalition strengthened the Labour Party's benefit sanctions and froze the benefit increases at 1%. George Osborne stopped increases in 2015. That makes JSA/ESA/IS very low indeed.  It creates hunger and debt. The Royal College of Psychiatrists reports that; 

One in four adults will have a mental health problem at some point in their life.

One in two adults with debts has a mental health problem.

One in four people with a mental health problem is also in debt.

Debt can cause - and be caused by - mental health problems


 In 2010 it was estimated that inequalities in health accounted for productivity losses of £31-£33 billion per year, and £20-£32 billion a year in lost taxes and higher welfare payments.  Additional NHS healthcare costs associated with inequality were estimated to be in excess of £5.5 billion a year.


Taking basic needs out of the Joseph Rowntree research for April 2016 ​an ​estimated healthy minimum would be​ £110.36 a week - a weekly shortfall of £37.26 on the current £73.10. That would include  weekly budget of £44.72 for a healthy diet, water ££5.67, clothes £7.12, fuel £15.96, transport £26.89 with £10 for contingencies during illness or accidents 

That assumes a return to 100% housing and council tax benefit​. That £73.10 is currently paying council tax in 259 councils and is normally paying off one or more of rent,council tax, utility or TV licence fines arrears plus court costs and bailiffs fees. Debts pile up while they have no money during a one month or three month sanction and have to be paid off when it ends - please see this case. Unemployed people are not fit for work when their inadequate £73.10 pw income is bombarded by three powerful government departments enforcing debts simultaneously - DWP, DCLG & MOJ, 

The final health damaging piece in this sad jigsaw is the chaotic UK housing market - while incomes remain static and the rents increase there is less and less money for tenants to buy food, fuel, clothes, transport and other necessities. The same holds true when rents increase faster than the Living Living Wage. 33% of householders in England, 47% in London and 58% in Haringey rent their homes. Our ten blogs on affordable housing are helpful. 

The health of very many people in the UK is at risk from low incomes both in work and out of work; and very seriously at risk out of work. 


Ten blogs on affordable housing by 

Stephen Hill MRICS Churchill Fellow, Prof Danny Dorling University of Oxford, Fred Harrison Land Research Trust, Alison Gelder Housing Justice. 

Nine blogs on health equality 

Dr Angela Donkin Institute of Health Equity, Profs Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson Equality Trust, Maddy Power University of York, Carl Walker University of Brighton 


TAP/APPG on poverty Health Equality Seminar - Register


Chair: Baroness Molly Meacher, Crossbench


David Finch - Resolution Foundation,

Dr Angela Donkin – Institute of Health Equity

Professor Richard Wilkinson –  Equality Trust

Professor Kate Pickett –, Equality Trust

Maddy Power –  University of York

Carl Walker –  University of Brighton

Rev Paul Nicolson –  Taxpayers Against Poverty

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