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Cap rents not housing benefit

The way to cut housing benefit payouts is to increase the supply of affordable, social housing and cap all rents, social and private. Labour is missing its target because it is focusing on the wrong one. For a long time, housing benefit has allowed unscrupulous landlords to charge inflated rents for low quality housing. The biggest problem with the government’s policy on housing benefit is the inter-action with its policy on rents and social housing. It’s that which will lead to the “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of poorer people from London and a few other places.

Although Ed Miliband has consistently tried to focus his housing benefit attack on the the 10% housing benefit cut for the longer-term jobless, the government has deflected his attack by always returning to their strongest point — the same one Labour made in its manifesto:

Our goal is to make responsibility the cornerstone of our welfare state. Housing Benefit will be reformed to ensure that we do not subsidise people to live in the private sector on rents that other ordinary working families could not afford.

It is no wonder that so many, Labour voters included, are unpersuaded, as this poll reveals:
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The fact is that high housing benefit payments are a symptom of two underlying and related problems, namely:

  • the non-availability of affordable social housing
  • high rents in the private sector (resulting from excess demand and the existance of housing benefit.

These will be further exacerbated by the government’s intention to increase already too high social housing rents further towards market rents, making still more people pay rents above the new housing benefit caps.

The right solution is to build more social housing, at more affordable rents, even — perhaps especially — in high cost areas, and to cap private sector rents. That’s the way to cut housing benefit costs and meet one of Britain’s most desperate needs.

Paul Waugh recently reported on Westminster Council’s approach in a piece entitled Housing Benefit – the drowned and the saved? (We take no issue with the holocaust reference). He highlighted, firstly, those whom Westminster Tories regard as the deserving victims – the “saved”:

  • pensioners who have lived all their lives in the borough
  • people working on low incomes for whom the cost of commuting from outside the borough would be prohibitive
  • families with children who are “at a crucial stage of their education, such as taking GCSEs”
  • those with medical conditions who need to keep links to local GPs and hospitals
  • families with children who need social services support and for whom it may be costlier to rearrange in another borough

Then there are the “drowned”, those who will be” cleansed” out of the borough. These will include “single, jobless claimants with no genuine connection to Westminster” (says Cllr Phillipa Roe, Westminster’s Cabinet member for Housing) but also larger families (who need large properties that simply can’t meet the cap) and those with children who are too young to be taking key exams. Over time, however, the lack of affordable housing will mean that even the “deserving” categories will disappear. Social Apartheid.


  1. Syzygy says:

    You forgot to say that people also need living wages!

    I fail to see why tax payers should subsidise low wage paying employers like care homes, tesco, Asda etc., anymore than I believe tax payers should be paying greedy landlords.

    Wages in real terms have not increased for most employees since the 1970’s…. but that’s not universally true … I believe that the £7BN bank bonuses are to be paid out any minute!

  2. Bev Clack says:

    Thank God that someone has said this! Why is no one else apparently raising the idea of capping rents? Could it be that landlords are viewed as more important than the poor?

  3. P Spence says:

    I sent the following to the Guardian last:

    “Your editorial on housing was welcome ( 30.10.10). Rather than attacking entitlement to housing benefit the Government should introduce rent controls and improve tenancy rights. Landlords milk the benefit system to pay off buy-to-let mortgages. Rent controls will reduce the housing benefit bill at a stroke, and more broadly press down on rents for all tenants, and help control inflation in property prices, particularly in the South East. Most private tenants have insecure, shorthold tenancies with 8 weeks notice of re-possession only. We need to export secure tenancies applicable in the public housing sector to the private sector so that landlords cannot evict at will to avoid rent controls. Landlords have for years made a killing and it is fair that they should bear the cost of bringing down the housing benefit bill rather than either the poor, elderly or disabled tenants who face forced removal and homelessness.”

    It hasn’t appeared on the letters page to date.

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