As more of the government’s welfare reforms come into force their impact is increasingly clear
Kirkby resident Margaret Lewis is just one of hundreds of thousands of social housing tenants who face having their lives turned upside down by the implementation of the latest raft of welfare reforms from next week. The coalition government, led by welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith, has now delivered the first step of its major social housing reforms to help make £6.7 billion of savings to the £23 billion housing benefit bill by April 2015. However, as Ms Lewis and 73 social landlords tell us this week, the struggle for tenants to make ends meet is only beginning.
The callous assumption by Mr Duncan Smith’s department - that the majority of the 660,000 social tenants affected by the minister’s ‘spare room subsidy’ would be unwilling or unable to move (hence why it is more accurately known as the ‘bedroom tax’) - is proving correct. The 73 social landlords we have spoken to have told us that 161,029 of their households will be hit by the penalty. Of these, just 1,936 have been able to downsize so far, with a further 21,484 willing to move but yet to do so. Even if this latter group succeeds, this leaves 140,000 households which will need to make up a weekly shortfall in their rent of at least £14. As Ms Lewis says, for many dependent on benefits and unable to work, there is already nothing left to cut.
In this context, the public accounts committee of MPs has this week warned that the ‘wait and see’ approach of the Department for Work and Pensions towards the impact of its housing benefit reforms is ‘not rational’. Social landlords, tenants and all other supporters of our long-running What’s the Benefit? campaign would likely use slightly stronger language when referring to the paltry sum of £390 million which is available over four years as discretionary housing payments for local authorities to help people such as Ms Lewis. The news this week that the government-funded network of homelessness advisors in England is to be scrapped, despite homelessness applications rising by a tenth last year on 2011, will only stretch this £390 million more thinly. Welfare is being reformed, but not always for the better.