If further evidence was needed that the Government is destroying our communities then it came by the bucket load with proposals to relocate hundreds of housing benefit claimants.
Councils across London desperately searched for a solution to the housing benefit cap that made it impossible for some of the capital’s poorest residents to stay in their homes.
First we heard of plans to move residents to Darlington, Stoke, Hull and parts of Yorkshire. But the revelation that Westminster Council planned to ship up to 150 of its residents to Derby and Nottingham really brought the issue home in more ways than one. I have no beef with Westminster Council, and that it is Conservative-run is of no concern here. Indeed, Labour-run councils are faced with a similar predicament and were forced into the same quandary.
What angers me, though, is that David Cameron and his Government don’t seem to give a second thought to the very real impact on people here.
My first reaction to the news, as a Derby person born and bred, was concern for our city’s residents already on the housing waiting list, and the impact this would have on them. But it was considering this fiasco from another perspective that really put into perspective how out of touch the Government is with the damage it is doing to our society.
What about those families involved? Most would passionate about being from London as I am about being from Derby. How would they feel about being forced hundreds of miles away from the only place they know as home? And what about the children involved? Ripped from their schools, their friends and the hearts of their communities, for no better reason than the Government charged with protecting them has thrown them into poverty.
At every level, it was shameful state of affairs – resulting directly from yet another Government saving which targets the poorest.
It was an utterly disgraceful result of an ill-thought out policy designed to hit the poorest and most vulnerable.
What the Government should be doing is addressing the inadequate supply of affordable housing and the spiralling levels of private sector rents.
It is worth remembering that it was the Conservatives who said it didn’t matter if rent levels increased because “housing benefit would take the strain”. It was the Conservatives who moved housing subsidies away from building affordable homes to funding higher rents through housing benefit. And it was the Conservatives who sought to stigmatise social housing.
Now we have a housing crisis which is entirely the fault of an ideologically driven decision by Margaret Thatcher’s Government to smash council housing. The Tory Party ideologues recognised that council tenants tended to vote Labour and embarked on a policy of naked gerrymandering.
Switching housing subsidies from bricks and mortar into housing benefit also allowed private landlords to cash in on this new publicly funded cash cow. And cash in they did. Rogue private landlords couldn’t believe their luck. Many of them became millionaires courtesy of the Conservatives inequitable use of public money.
Thirty years later, their catastrophic legacy is resulting in London councils like Westminster being forced to consider such desperate measures. But what I find so ghastly about this whole sorry saga is the utter duplicity of this Tory-Lib Dem Government that blames the victims of a previous administration’s policy failure.
That is why we must address the inadequate supply of affordable housing and the crazy housing subsidy system that supports high rents in the private sector – in spite of the benefit cap.
Chris Williamson is the Labour MP for Derby North.