Posted by: Jules Birch15/12/2010
What a difference a year makes when you’re talking about cuts in housing benefit.
Flash back exactly 12 months to December 15, 2009 and MPs were debating the first cuts in the local housing allowance planned by Labour - the removal of the £15 a week shopping incentive and the exclusion of high rents from the calculations in some areas.
Work and pensions secretary Yvette Cooper argued: ‘We think it is possible to exclude some of the highest rents that are distorting the system and leading to unfairness without jeopardising the existence of mixed communities, because it is right that we continue to support decent housing in mixed communities across London and many of our areas.’
A year later of course and it’s Labour fighting the much bigger cuts proposed by the coalition - despite a similar-sounding promise in its manifesto to reform housing benefit ‘to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford’.
A year ago shadow work and pensions secretary Theresa May berated Cooper over direct payment. ‘Why will the Government not adopt our policy of letting tenants choose whether the allowance is paid to them or directly to the landlord?’ she asks.
Cooper said she would consult on giving tenants more choice about having their rent paid direct and about requiring action from landlords on things like energy efficiency in return.
One year on and direct payment has been dropped and then grudgingly and temporarily reinstated by the coalition.
And a year ago Steve Webb, the Lib Dem shadow on work and pensions, was attacking the government over media coverage of claimants receiving high pay-outs and warning of the human consequences in London.
He said: ‘As for the issue of high housing benefit for people in high-rent areas, I can see that this makes a bad newspaper headline, but if —especially in London—people in high-rent areas are shunted into low-rent areas, is there not a risk that family networks that can provide child care will be broken up, that children will be moved from their existing schools, and that ghettoes will be created when everyone in temporary accommodation ends up in bits of London where the rents are cheap? Is that really a good by-product of policy?’
Judging by today’s news that Westminster is planning to ship 80% of its homeless housing benefit claimants into temporary accommodation outside of the borough, he might have had a point.
Except of course that as work and pensions minister he is now one of the main people responsible for denying that the housing benefit cuts will result in any such thing and attacking critics for scaremongering.
As he told MPs in the housing benefit debate last month: ‘The impact of these changes has been grossly exaggerated…Talk of highland clearances and the final solution is a disgrace. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) pointed out how offensive such language is to people, but even in this debate we have heard talk of highland clearances, and of Paris.’
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context