Socialist Worker

Cut our rents, not housing benefit

by Stephen Hack
Issue No. 2210

Millions of people who rent their homes from councils, housing associations or private landlords depend on housing benefit or Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to keep a roof over their heads. Now the government plans to attack these benefits.

Over 200,000 people are at risk of losing their homes because of the housing benefit cuts, according to the National Housing Federation. Thousands more will be forced into poverty and debt.

This will put even more pressure on emergency accommodation and add to the five million people already waiting for a council home.

Poorer people will simply be told to get out of large parts of our towns and cities and move to areas where cheaper housing is concentrated.

LHA is currently claimed by one million people. Capping it will stop anyone on benefits renting in the private sector by 2020, according to the Chartered Institute for Housing.

The majority of “larger families” claiming LHA and renting from private landlords in London will struggle to pay their rent if these proposals take effect. And that is defined as anyone with two or more bedrooms.

But it’s not just in London that people will suffer. Someone renting from a private landlord in west Cumbria will be priced out in less than two years, according to the same research. Almost half of all families on LHA are already £100 a month short of what they need to pay the rent. These changes could tip many families over the edge.

Moving benefit increases from being linked to Retail Price Index inflation to the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI) means it is no longer linked to housing costs. CPI does not include housing costs.

The government has other poison pills it wants us to swallow—including reducing payments to people living in social housing whose homes are deemed to be “too large” for them.

Ministers are also proposing to cut housing benefit by 10 percent to people who have been on Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than a year.

So the problem of not having a job could easily become the crisis of not having a home.

Tenants

David Cameron told social housing tenants we have “nothing to fear” before the election. Now he has given us everything to fear, short of actually coming round and saying “piss off and move out”.

Grant Shapps, the housing minister, has made no secret of his desire to “look at” security of tenure for all existing tenants. Tenants deemed to be “under-occupying” will also have their housing benefit cut.

The way to bring down the housing benefit bill would be to fund a massive council house building programme, control rents and tell councils to make use of the 800,000 homes in Britain that are standing empty. That would bring rents down for everyone.

The last Labour government believed the market would solve the housing crisis. It spectacularly failed. But the Tories now want the poor to pay for that failure.

At last weekend’s Defend Council Housing national meeting in Sheffield, campaigners pledged to join the protest at the Tory Party conference on 3 October in Birmingham.

The meeting agreed to campaign by linking up with tenants across the whole rented sector to oppose the housing benefit cuts, and urge councils to refuse to cooperate with implementing the changes.

Defend Council Housing groups will be joining with tenants’ federations and campaigners across the housing sector to campaign to stop the benefit cuts, while continuing to oppose privatisation of our homes or threats to security of tenure.

Camden Tenants Federation and Leeds Tenants Federation have produced an open letter for tenants’ associations and trade unions to sign available here.

Campaigns against the public sector budget cuts should invite tenants to speak about housing at public meetings

Stephen Hack is a Defend Council Housing activist in south London. For more information go to www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk


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Tue 13 Jul 2010, 17:56 BST
Issue No. 2210
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