As a councillor in central London, I didn’t need to be told why the impact of housing benefit changes would be huge on those renting in the private sector.
Now a new a survey produced by the cross-party representative body London Councils, confirms what we all know. Private landlords wouldn’t be minded to drop their rents, just because tenants’ benefit is cut.
Sarcasm – for once – fails me. When the ConDem coalition announced in the Budget that it was capping the level that Housing Living Allowance (HLA) was paid to private tenants, how could anyone think this wouldn’t happen?
This new research (undertaken with the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme) and published earlier this week puts this beyond doubt. It has found that more than 250,000 people – 82,000 households – across London will be at risk of losing their homes as a result of the new lower limits on HLA.
In what should not come as shock news the survey also found that 60% of landlords in London said they would not reduce their rent by even a small amount if the tenant could no longer pay the full rent due to changes in LHA.
And when the rent shortfall is more than £20 a week, over 90 per cent of landlords renting to LHA recipients in London said they would look to evict the tenant when they fall into arrears or not renew the tenancy.
These new figures back up what would seem an obvious proposition – particularly for a government of the centre-right which enjoys excoriating the state and pinning so much on the private sector and markets to repair the country’s ills. In areas where rents are high – because of property prices and high demand for housing – of course private sector landlords won’t adjust their rents to suit the convenience of the coalition’s welfare reforms. Why should they?
These changes could have a marked affect on the population in inner cities, effectively pricing hundreds of thousands of people out of their communities. In London the impact will be dramatic, and risks uprooting private tenants en masse. Not only is this hugely destructive move wrong in principle, it has severe implications for the relatively cheaper areas where these thousands of private tenants will end up. The impact on localities and infrastructure affected will be huge; the damage caused to families and communities irreparable.
The cynic might even say that, much rather than the squalid boundary review that the government is pushing through, the biggest gerrymandering exercise are these welfare reforms, which could well change the entire demography and social make-up of different communities.
Add in the threatened changes to secure tenancies for council tenants and it seems the ConDems are intent on creating a two-tier society, no-go sink estates where council tenants have a disincentive for finding work and putting down roots, and only well-off middle-class professionals able to afford to rent privately.
This won’t just affect private renters in the centre of cities, the West End or Mayfair. There will be people in the wards like mine – Kilburn – which will be forced out of their homes by this draconian policy. And, as the London Councils report points out, this doesn’t just affect those out of work; a large proportion of families affected by the caps are working households.
As we gather in Manchester next week, united behind a new leader, this survey pays us two crucial reminders. First, that there is nothing progressive or fair about this coalition and its policies. Second, Labour must speak up with renewed vigour for the most disadvantaged, most vulnerable, most voiceless people in society – those for whom we have always been the only reliable source of support.