Posted by: Isabel Hardman06/08/2010
Grahame Hindes, chief executive of Octavia Housing, outlines why he supports the What’s the Benefit? campaign for fairer reforms to the housing benefit bill.
A great deal of rubbish has been written since the budget about the proposed caps on housing benefit. Reading much of it you would think that it was a system designed by imbeciles and prayed upon by the feckless. Neither is true. While the costs of the current system are significant and short term savings can be made by limiting benefits the simple fact is that in doing so there is a whole group of decent people, with real local connections and close community ties who have been affected for some genuine reason of homelessness that are about to see their lives turned over.
Octavia Housing supports Kensington and Chelsea with a scheme that houses a minority of those accepted as homeless each year in private leased properties in the borough. But it is at a cost. There has been pressure on the system for a long time and the inner London authorities have all responded conscientiously to government pressure over the last few years to minimise costs. In fact the current housing benefit cost is in part a product of the last Government’s focus on reducing the numbers in Bed and Breakfast which has been unmatched by sufficient funding to build new homes. There is so little in the way of development opportunities in Central London that the use of the private sector has been the only realistic route. Even so many of those that are accepted as homeless are already housed outside the borough but the current legislation recognises that some families genuinely need to be housed locally. And accommodation in central London is expensive. Indeed it was just two years ago that Westminster Council were in the High Court seeking judicial review against Labour proposals to reduce the levels of Local Housing Allowance in Inner London. How times have changed.
The simple fact is that behind the tabloid headlines with their usual mix of a mite of truth and a large dollop of spin lies the reality of more complicated stories of people with lives in inner London, many of whom feel they are being driven out of areas such as Notting Hill by the incoming affluent classes.
And if the human stories are not sufficient cause for reflection and perhaps a slowing down of the rush for reform, then perhaps the economic consequences are also worth thinking about. Maybe, just maybe, it is the rich inner boroughs of London that at a time of austerity should be bearing their share of some of the costs of homelessness related social provision. To suggest that exporting a significant number of the poorest families from inner London where the cost may be higher but the systems are in place to manage them, and replace this approach by increasing the social deprivation in some of the poorer outskirts, is short sighted. There really is a benefit in mixed communities and central London can, and should, take its fair share of those in most housing need.
In the current cost cutting environment where gestures of savings seem to be what count then change may be inevitable. But let’s please show some compassion in making the change. This is about people as well as well as cash.
From What's the benefit?
The blog for our What’s the Benefit? campaign, which is calling on the government to find a fairer way to reduce the £21 billion housing benefit bill than its current proposals.