When the government started rolling out the housing benefit cap earlier this year, I argued in the Guardian and elsewhere that London will be hardest hit – and the Mayor wasn’t doing enough to stop it. Now, as we approach the April 2013 imposition of the total benefit cap, and the evidence clearly shows that high living costs in the capital means that Londoners will once again suffer most, I have challenged the Mayor on his utter failure to tackle this issue.
At the November session of Mayor’s Question Time, I pressed Boris on why he has refused to ask for a regional variation in the benefits cap. You can listen to the exchange online here:
Higher costs of living means London will suffer most from the government’s total benefits cap. Even Boris has admitted that London is home to 87% of the country’s claimants – many of whom are in work or working households – who would be hardest hit. Yet he has failed to argue for a regional variation, which would compensate for the higher living costs.
At last week’s Mayor’s Question Time, I pressed the Mayor on his failure to argue for a variation based on London’s unique circumstances: “The boroughs are saying that 63,000 claimants are going to be very hard hit and will have to move out (and remember a lot of these claimants are in work). There are 50k households with 3, 4, or 5 children; that’s 180k children who will inevitably be hit by this, and I want to ask you – you always say you have constructive ongoing dialogue with government – you say the reforms are necessary but why don’t you recognise the impact on London and ask for a regional variation on the caps?”
But he wouldn’t commit. Earlier in the discussion, he hid behind “transitional arrangements” he has previously negotiated, and added “what we’re trying to do is assess the scale of that but the transitional measures we negotiated are having an effect (extra cash for London and delay)”.
I responded “the thing about transitional arrangements is that they’re just that: transitional.” I continued by asking if he recognised the scale of the problem: “You referred the Guardian story which shows… that 17 Labour and Conservative boroughs having to move residents out of London because they cannot find rented accommodation in their boroughs – or indeed within London – which are below the housing benefit cap. And this is before we get into the total benefit cap… Do you think you’ve severely misjudged this situation?”
The Mayor’s reply was extraordinary. He said that, in respect of people being forced to move across London or even across the country, that “it is natural for there to be such moves”. And he downplayed the devastating impact this will have on the city and its (current) residents: “I have said I didn’t want to see a mass exodus. I used some colourful language about Kosovo-style, with convoys of saucepan [inaudible], dog carts, and so on – that is not going to happen.”
In short, the hallowing out of London won’t be fast, and there won’t be images reminiscent of a war-torn country.
You can hear the back-and-forth here on the video above, or by visiting my YouTube page here.
Video of the full Question Time can be viewed here: Mayor’s Question Time, 21 November 2012