Posted by: Carl Brown12/10/2012
Boris-mania, pleb-gate and anger at Ed Miliband’s ‘one nation’ speech dominated Tory activists’ conversation at the party’s conference this week.
However, housing and welfare also featured much more prominently at the conference than in recent years.
The good news is that the government appears to be finally waking up to the fact we are in the midst of a housing crisis. David Cameron told delegates that Britain ‘needs to accept we need to build more houses.’
It was refreshing to hear a prime minister say this. Mr Cameron is desperate for the Tories to be seen as ‘the party of home ownership’ and wants to get more people on the housing ladder. On top of this, the government is desperate to boost the economy and realises construction has strong economic benefits. Perhaps he is now regretting the deep cuts to capital spending for social housing announced in the 2010 spending review.
More worrying though was the rhetoric on welfare. Mr Cameron, Eric Pickles and George Osborne all laid into welfare claimants. The prime minister confirmed the government will look to end automatic housing benefit for younger people.
In his speech Mr Cameron said young people today have a choice between ‘working hard’ or ‘getting housing benefit.’
This contrast between honest workers toiling for a living and those living on benefit as a ‘lifestyle choice’ was a theme of the conference. Nobody could deny that there are some people who do live on benefits as a lifestyle choice, but to imply all housing benefit claimants are guilty of this is simply wrong.
This Tory position, and Mr Cameron’s pledge to crack down on benefit claimants was roundly applauded in the conference hall, completely ignores the ever-increasing ranks of the working poor.
Between May 2010 and May 2012 the number of people claiming housing benefit increased by 280,216. Of these the vast majority – 252,890 – were in work. In May 2010 13.7 per cent of housing benefit claimants were employed, this has now increased to 17.9 per cent, more than 900,000 people.
It is clear that more and more people in work, ‘hard-working people’ – the very people the Conservatives claim to be supporting – are having to claim benefits to cover their ever-increasing living costs.
Mr Cameron’s solution, to restrict housing benefits for under 25-year-olds, so they have to live with their parents instead, is fraught with difficulties.
What happens if parents, particularly if they have downsized to avoid the bedroom tax, do not have space for their children?
What happens if a young person fears they will be assaulted or sexually abused by their family? Lord David Freud said cases will be ‘assessed’ and some groups will be excluded. These are sensitive issues though, and victims may not fancy telling benefits officers of their experiences.
The assumption from government is that under-25s are single. But in the real world, there are parents, including single parents, under 25. Will the government really force families to move in with older relatives?
The proposal also does nothing for people looking to move to find work.
This assumption that ‘benefit claimant’ entails someone who is lazy and work-shy, may play well with sections of middle England, but it is fundamentally dishonest and has to end.
From Housing matters
Carl Brown looks at regulation, training, board members, pay and a host of other issues that impact the day to day running of social landlords