The Government wilfully ignored warnings on benefit reform, it cannot now blame the councils

The media has picked up on the extent to which some London boroughs are looking to find accommodation for residents who are supported by Housing Benefit – in areas far outside of London.

This was prompted by the case of Newham, who are trying to secure accommodation for some of its poorest and most vulnerable residents as far away as Stoke.

Government Ministers including Grant Shapps and Ian Duncan Smith described the revelation as social cleansing and even dismissed it as electioneering ahead of the Mayoral election.

But, since the Newham story broke, it has emerged that Westminster and Croydon – both Tory controlled – as well as Waltham Forest also intend to relocate families to other parts of the country. Places as far away as Derby, Hull and Luton.

Last year I produced a document on the welfare reform measures (updated this January), which used evidence from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research (commissioned by Shelter) that modelled the impact of the Government’s welfare reforms in London.

It showed that the proportion of homes affordable (not necessarily available) to those supported by housing benefit would drop from 67% in inner London in 2010 to just 35% from 2011 before falling to 20% in 2016.

Those inner-London households affected by the cut to the benefit would not all be able to move to outer London, because those boroughs themselves will have their hands full to relocate their own households. This is because affordability in outer London will drop from 79% in 2010 to 44% by 2016.

The Cambridge study was published in January 2011.

The truth is that the Government was warned about what is now happening – but wilfully chose to do nothing about it.

My document highlights the detrimental impact these reforms will have on London – from reducing our economic competitiveness to putting unprecedented strain on school places and public services – particularly in outer London.

Below is a letter I wrote that was published in the Guardian, questioning why (given the evidence) the Tory Mayor wasn’t seeking to gain a London weighting to the benefit caps (a position recently supported in a report by housing associations and last night by Labour’s Ken Livingstone).

Poor Londoners will be hit hardest by housing benefit caps, Friday 6 January 2012

Randeep Ramesh paints a bleak picture of what the government’s housing benefit caps mean for the country (Ghetto warning as poor priced out of 800,000 more homes, 2 January), but in London it’s even worse. Inner London is home to over 3 million people, living in 11 local authorities. These contain mainly mixed and balanced communities which contribute to the capital’s economic and cultural success. Currently, 70% of these neighbourhoods are affordable.

Under the government’s proposals, 80% will be unaffordable by 2016. Driving people out of their homes will ghettoise the city and put intolerable strain on a range of overburdened local services in outer London and beyond. No evidence supports the belief that capping benefits will drive down rents. On the contrary, the situation will get much worse – particularly in London. The stark decline in social rented housing, combined with declining new home ownership, is driving people into the private rented sector. The result is a lack of supply fuelling year-on-year rent increases way above inflation. Pegging the benefit caps to CPI rather than local area rents means housing benefit will cover less as rents keep rising.

London will be hit hardest, so why hasn’t its mayor, Boris Johnson, argued for a regional variation to the housing benefit caps? Why hasn’t he demanded a comprehensive impact assessment? And, above all, why does he have not one single policy to deal with extortionate rent levels in his new housing strategy?

Government plans and the mayor’s failure to argue against them – informed by his commitment to free-market solutions – leave London facing social segregation on an unprecedented scale.

Nicky Gavron
London assembly member and Labour spokesperson for planning and housing

About nickygavron

Former Deputy Mayor for London, London Assembly Member, Chair of Planning Committee, and Labour Spokesperson for Planning
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