Thursday, 26 May 2016

Homelessness is an unacceptable price to pay for a lower benefit bill, public poll reveals

Public oppose cuts that drive up homelessness

The British public will not tolerate housing benefit cuts if they lead to increased homelessness, according to exclusive new research.

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The unique study by Inside Housing and market research company Ipsos Mori provides a clear indication of where people think the government should draw the line in cutting benefit.

It reveals three in five people oppose spending less on housing benefit if it means an increase in homelessness. One in four ‘strongly oppose’ the cuts, with opposition spread consistently across most parts of the population.

The poll, of more than 1,000 British adults, is the first major test of public opinion on housing benefit reform since ministers announced plans, including lowering benefit payments by pegging them to the 30th percentile of local rents instead of the median used currently. Almost two thirds of participants, 65 per cent, said housing benefit spending should either rise or remain at present levels.

Homelessness experts said the survey should serve as a warning to ministers.

‘We have long been arguing that the government’s cuts to housing benefit are wrong, particularly because they will lead to an increase in homelessness. It seems the great British public agree,’ said Duncan Shrubsole, head of policy and strategy at charity Crisis. ‘The government should listen to the public, change course and rethink these cuts now before the lives of many thousands are uprooted and damaged.’

The findings come as it emerged some of England’s largest housing associations are holding a series of meetings with the Department for Work and Pensions to thrash out a deal on the direct payment of housing benefit.

Landlords are concerned that paying the new universal credit directly to tenants could see arrears shoot up and affect their ability to get loans to fund new homes.

Geoff Fimister, housing policy officer at Citizens Advice, called the poll ‘relatively encouraging’ and hoped it would reframe the debate on housing benefit.

‘So far the government’s comments on housing benefit have been highly tendentious because it wants to generate a climate of public opinion that is favourable to the cuts,’ he added.

Paul Rees, assistant director of the National Housing Federation, said the findings reflected a ‘growing sense of unease over the damage these reforms could cause to thousands of hard-up families and vulnerable people’.

A spokeperson for the DWP maintained ‘the current housing benefit system is unfair’.

Inside Housing’s ongoing What’s the Benefit? campaign is calling for fairer housing benefit reforms

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