What's the benefit?
All posts from: November 2010
Sir Robin Wales, elected Mayor of Newham, attacks the housing benefit cuts.
The best thing about being British is the values we live by. I’m talking about values like tolerance, fairness and freedom; the very values which keep our communities together. So if our great country is underpinned by these values, why then do we suddenly have a situation which is intolerant, unfair and restricting?
The announcement that housing benefit may be capped to essentially remove poorer families and individuals out of rich areas and dump them into already overcrowded and heavily strained boroughs is outrageous. What has happened to our values? Yes it is unfair on the majority who struggle to make ends meet to see other living in five or six bedroom houses at taxpayers’ expense but can a few sensational stories about families in mansions living on the taxpayers’ tab really have us believing that all poor families live a life of luxury?
The new cap will effectively make it impossible for low income households to rent in the private sector in inner London, effectively pricing them out of central and west London. These households will increasingly look to areas where rents are cheaper. This will affect many areas with affordable rents including east London and in particular, Newham. We already have very high proportions and high concentrations of low income households; our already over-burdened private rented sector still struggles to keep up with the high demand for affordable housing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the London Borough of Newham, you may better recognise it as the main host borough for the 2012 Olympic Games, or as home to London City Airport and West Ham Football Club. What you may not know is that despite the huge amounts of regeneration and rising opportunity in the borough, we are the third most deprived borough in London which means we already have huge pressure on housing and other public services.
Our new Chancellor made a promise to promote fairness but I am yet to see how a policy which blatantly contradicts this pledge can in any way promote fairness. Just recently, the Institute for Fiscal Studies described Osborne’s ‘progressive’ budget as ‘regressive’, hitting the poorest hardest.
I believe that work is the most sustainable route out of poverty; it is unfair to punish those who work but cannot afford to pay the full cost of living in the capital. Reducing the level of local housing allowance to 30 per cent level of rents will make it even more difficult for those in low paid work and continuing to require support with housing costs through benefits, to find affordable accommodation. This will disincentivise people from work.
We want to create strong communities where people mix with others from different backgrounds, where people feel they have a stake in society and where people are proud to call home and bring up their families.
This policy will undermine our efforts.
By displacing people, we concentrate them all into one areas; we create ghettos, remove them from their jobs their children’s schools and their local communities.
That is not just un-fair. It is very un-British.
The debate on housing benefit has grown even more confusing in the last week. Not only do both sides have very different views on who deserves to live in expensive areas of the country, they also seem to be using entirely different figures.
This morning at the Work and Pensions select committee, welfare reform minister Lord Freud argued the cuts to housing benefit are not going to cause a rise in homelessness. He said: ‘We are not expecting any significant increase in homelessness as a result of the changes.’ His colleague in the Communities and Local Government department, housing minister Grant Shapps, said the same when he appeared on Newsnight last week. Both are of the view that the talk about large numbers of people becoming homeless is hysterical and will frighten people unnecessarily.
That’s not the view of many organisations working in the sector. The National Housing Federation said back in July that the cuts announced in the emergency budget could make 200,000 people homeless. Meanwhile housing charity Shelter predicts that increased homelessness costs will leave local authorities with a £120 million bill.
It’s not just the increased pressure on local authorities’ statutory obligation to house homeless people that’s up for debate: Lord Freud also sparked a row when he said the rising benefit bill was due to landlords setting their rents at the maximum payable under local housing allowance.
The British Property Federation and the Residential Landlords Association hit back as soon as the committee had ended. They said the Work and Pensions department’s own analysis showed that almost 70 per cent of growth in the benefit bill is as a result of an increase in claimants. Just 13 per cent of the rise is due to an increase in the private rented sector.
Ian Fletcher, director of policy at the British Property Federation, says: ‘Landlords and their representatives support benefit reform, but are not prepared to take the rap for the government’s unpopular policies.
‘Constant spinning and fiddling with the statistics just embarrasses the department of Work and Pensions and has no place in the Coalition’s politics.’
So who is telling the truth about housing benefit? Certainly local authorities in London seem to believe the predictions of an increase in the number of people presenting as homeless: as we reported two weeks ago, they are block-booking bed and breakfast accommodation in cheaper towns as far away as Hastings. This is something Lord Freud also denies, saying the Communities and Local Government department has ‘no evidence’ to support claims of an increase in temporary accommodation bookings.
It might be that we have to wait until the cuts come into effect to see whether Lord Freud is right - although this seems unfair on the hundreds of thousands of families who the NHF predicts will find themselves homeless. Though he also told the committee that he would consider looking again at the reforms if they do turn out to increase homelessness, that will be cold comfort for the many people who, depending on who you choose to believe, are set to suffer from next April.
Don’t forget to sign our petition expressing concerns about the cuts to housing benefit. We’ve got over 1,500 signatures now.