A tightening of the benefit cap from this week will make up to 150,000 more households unable to pay their rent. It would also affect over 300,000 children.
The majority of those affected will be lone female parents and their children—and they will lose as much as £500 a month.
Some 250 households in Leeds are already hit by the cap. The council expects a further 1,150 to face cuts—and campaign group Hands Off Our Homes (HOOH) puts the figure closer to 1,900.
The government insists this is about making sure people on benefits don’t get more than low paid workers—“making work pay”.
This punishes people for not getting jobs that aren’t there or that they can’t apply for due to their caring responsibilities and childcare costs.
And many benefit claimants are in work. The cap only spares those who do more than 16 hours a week.
The total amount a household can claim from most working age benefits was capped in 2013.
The cap was reduced from £500 a week to £385 for households outside London and from £350 to £258 for single people starting from Monday of this week.
In London it was slashed to £442 for households and £296 for single people.
These include households where someone works part-time. The majority are lone parent households.
The amount claimed sounds high, and it is. But most of it goes straight to private landlords who charge extortionate rents.
John Davies of HOOH told Socialist Worker, “These landlords often aren’t the sort to let people get behind on rent, so we could see whole families being evicted.”
The cut is likely to cause an even more intense crisis for local government. John explained, “When someone is in that position either the council bails them out or they lose their home.
“But if that happens the council has a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for the children. And that can cost tens of thousands a week.”
For this reason many councils are looking to absorb much of the cut through measures such as a discretionary housing payments (DHPs). But this won’t help everyone.
And the funding the government provides for DHPs already falls short of mitigating the bedroom tax, forcing councils to top it up. John said, “Based on the council’s figures, this will cost them £600,000 a quarter. We think it will be more like £1.7 million.
“As it is, they’ve been making cuts for so long that there’s no flesh left and they are well into the bone.
“And George Osborne’s cut to council house rents leaves Leeds a £283 million hole in its budget for the next ten years.”
It could take three months for the new cap to be implemented, with big cities such as Leeds taking the longest. That’s a window for building resistance.
HOOH is trying to make contact with people affected by the cap—and addressing Labour Party ward meetings.
John said, “The council hasn’t wanted to touch us for a long time. But this is starting to galvanise Labour members.”
Key housing policy will be delayed
The Tory policy of extending Right to Buy to housing associations is in trouble.
A senior civil servant at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spoke at a National Housing Federation meeting last weekend.
She said the government has too many issues to deal with after the vote to leave the European Union to push through the issue.
“The Brexit vote has made us think about timing and is leading to a delay in the process,” said Hilary Davies.
“The new government is supporting Right to Buy, but you can imagine what is at the top of their to-do list currently.”
The policy is a key part of the Tories’ hated Housing and Planning Act. Shelving it will have implications for the rest of the Act.
It is increasingly unlikely that the Act will be implemented by April 2017.
Davies went on to say that the Tories’ housing policy under Theresa May would be outlined in a White Paper due alongside the Autumn Statement on 23 November.
The possible delay over Right to Buy comes as housing bosses and bankers are pressuring the Tories to shift away from pushing home ownership. They see the private rental sector (PRS) as more profitable.
UBS bank criticised the Tories’ “obsessive policy of home ownership for all”. It called for financial incentives to encourage investment in the PRS.
Fights against the Housing Act and to defend council housing must include private renters.