Will London undergo “social cleansing” after housing benefit row?
Newham council created a big case yesterday after approaching 1,179 housing associations around the country in an attempt to accommodate housing benefit claimants it says it cannot house locally.
This has caused a political row, with the chief executive of Brighter Futures – a Stoke-on-Trent housing association – accusing the council of “social cleansing”.
Newham councils’ mayor, Sir Robin Wales, blamed the government’s housing benefit caps for forcing families on support into his borough which is one of the poorest in the capital.
From this year a new cap on housing benefit has limited weekly payments to £250 a week for a one-bedroom property (including shared accommodation), £290 a week for a two-bedroom property, £340 a week for a three-bedroom property and £400 a week for a four-bedroom property.
Newham Council says it can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation. The gap between market rents and the housing allowance is too big, it says. The Council in east London is facing a particular crunch because of rising rents ahead of the Olympics.
Under the new legislation homeless people will have to accept an offer of 12 months of private accommodation or be forced to make their own arrangements.
Campbell Robb, CEO of housing charity Shelter, said yesterday: “This is the terrifying reality of our housing crisis today – hundreds of families potentially forced to move halfway across the country, uprooted from schools, support networks and employment opportunities.”
Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps accused Newham council of “playing politics” ahead of the elections. He told the BBC yesterday that the rent was falling in real terms, being below inflation. This calls into question Shelter’s figures, based on Valuation Office Agency data, showing inner London’s rental increases of 7.4 per cent over 2011.
Shapps also claimed that there were nearly 1,000 rental homes in Newham that fell within the cap. Sir Robin Wales replied saying that just because there were 1,000 properties available, it did not mean landlords would take housing benefit claimants.
Prime minister David Cameron’s official spokesman revealed to the Press Association: “We are making some reforms to the benefit system. We think tenants on housing benefit should have to make the same choices as other tenants have to make… Yes, we are reforming housing benefit. Yes, those changes will mean some people have to move.”