Simon Hughes was clear that the Coalition’s housing benefit cuts will not get through parliament when he spoke on Channel 4 News yesterday evening. The Liberal -Democrat Deputy Leader is clearly no lightweight and his warning should be taken seriously.
Hughes has obviously taken on board the reports that London local authorities have block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside London – in Reading, Luton, Hastings and other places – to house those who will be priced out of the London market. According to yesterday’s Observer Councils in the capital warned that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes..
The Coalition is set to drive poor people out of wealthy inner cities and London councils are preparing a mass exodus of low-income families from the capital because of the cuts in benefits.
Housing is as important to our welfare as a city and a country as health and education. I therefore find it puzzling that while the Coalition has ring-fenced NHS spending and agreed the £1billion education premium for disadvantaged children, housing is up for grabs. While I would never deny the importance of health and education, welfare and housing are equally important.
The statistics are very telling. According to Shelter nationally more than two million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with payments. Over 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social housing. Some homeless households – many with dependent children – wait for years in temporary accommodation.
Furthermore 1.4 million children in England live in bad housing. 7.7 million homes in England fail to meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standard and in 2008/09, more than 79,500 households were found to be homeless by local authorities.
Given these figures, and never forget the statistics represent real people, families living in appalling conditions, Shelter is absolutely right when they say: “The UK is now more polarised by housing wealth than at any time since the Victorian era.”
And the Coalition is determined to polarise it even further. Housing Associations will now charge new tenants 80% of the market rent as opposed to the one third previously in place. The additional money is supposed to be used for new build, the target for which is 150,000 homes nationally in the next four years. While new homes are badly needed, this is not the way to do it.
George Osborne is meanwhile capping housing benefit from April next year at £400 a week for a four-bedroom house, £340 for a three-bedroom property, £290 for two bedrooms and £250 for a one-bedroom property. From October 2011 payments will be capped at 30% of average local rents.
At a meeting of the Commons work and pensions select committee last Wednesday, the day Osborne announced £81bn of cuts in the spending review, MPs were told by London council chiefs that the housing benefit cuts could have devastating results.
According to the Observer Nigel Minto, head of sustainable communities at London Councils, who works closely with the capital’s housing directors, told the committee that since June London councils had been “procuring bed and breakfast accommodation” in outer London and beyond. Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the homelessness charity Thames Reach, said he was particularly worried about the impact on numbers sleeping rough in London. “We have reduced rough sleeping dramatically and we have a target of zero rough sleeping in London by 2012. For the first time I’m thinking that we will not achieve that,” he said.
Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminster North and shadow work and pensions minister said: “The sheer scale and extremity of the coalition proposals means almost a million households are affected across the country.”
Karen also appeared on the BBC Politics Show London yesterday along with Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon and three very angry Londoners about to lose their homes. While Karen made the excellent point that the Coalition is indulging in “government by anecdote” and making huge cuts to deal with the problem of relatively few excessive claims in areas with high housing costs, Mr. Hammond tried to deny that the IFS claim that the spending review would hit the poorest the hardest. Meanwhile Mayor Boris Johnson appeared to deny there was a problem at all.
The Coalition’s true colours were well and truly nailed to the mast last week when Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said the unemployed should “get on the bus” and look for work. Reminiscent of Norman Tebbit’s infamous “get on your bike and look for work” exhortation, Duncan Smith’s comment takes us fairly and squarely back to Thatcher, another demonstration that their cuts are ideologically driven.
Dagenham and Rainham Labour MP John Cruddas, put it very well:”It [benefit cuts] is an exercise in social and economic cleansing”…”It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering,”