Dear Boris, where exactly would you like single mums to live?

10th October, 2012 4:30 pm
Conservative plans to scrap housing benefit support for under-25s may be a classic Conference clap-line against the feckless jobless, but in reality they will punish a group of people who are among our most vulnerable and actually exacerbate current housing pressures.
The issue is a national one – but has a particular effect on London’s social mix.  According to the DWP’s own statistics from March 2012, the measures will stop rent support to 48,800 young people in London.  Not just young people, but families.  Nearly twenty-one thousand recipients in the capital are lone parents with young children.
David Cameron argues for a country of “strong families.”  Worryingly, Shelter argues that the group most affected by the government’s proposals would be young adults who do not have a family home to move back to, including care leavers and orphans – but also young people who have experienced:
  • Abusive parents/step parents/partners
  •  Severely overcrowded parental homes  (likely to be exacerbated by under-occupation housing benefit cut)
  • Parents who have downsized
  • Parents who have moved abroad
  • Parents who have divorced – children reaching maturity is the ‘peak’ point for divorcing parents
  • Parents in prison
  • Family breakdown – parents who refuse to accommodate children
Cuts in support will have an almost immediate impact.  How do we know this? Because last year’s changes to housing benefit for under-35s have already made many young people move.   Over the last year we know that over 380 under-35s people left Camden, with a similar story across London.
This is just one step in many which will start to change the complexion of London over the next decade.
45% of children in schools in my borough come from households supported by housing benefit.  Less support, because of national caps imposed on an area with the 4th highest rents in the country, means tough choices on already stretched household budgets for families on low and modest incomes.
500 children come from households most impacted by the housing benefit cap, losing up to £90 a week.  (Remember under the unreformed “landlord benefit” system this is money paid to the landlord, not the family).
Support to under-25s only accounts for 7.6% of the entire housing benefit support budget.    Moreover, most young people are already in council and social housing, not in the costly private rented sector.  Forcing young people to become homeless ultimately means that costs are passed on to local authorities and local taxpayers in one form or another.
London has one of the most deregulated housing rental sectors in the world, one which has been supported by rising housing benefit as people cash in on the burgeoning rental market.
Yet changes to housing support are never matched by any steps to ensure that rents are
fairer or sustainable, landlords registered, or new solutions incentivised.  In fact, ideas such as rent moderation or control, common in other major industrialised cities, are dismissed out of hand by our Mayor.
Without looking at this fundamental issue, it’s all housing and welfare one-way traffic against some of the most vulnerable people – and children – in our society.  London Conservatives rebranded themselves after the 1980s as the more ‘compassionate’ side of the Tory Party.  No More.  Today they – and Boris – need to ask themselves this question: if you are poor, young, vulnerable, fall on bad times or have a child should you live in our capital city?  If not, where exactly would you advise people to live?
Cllr. Theo Blackwell is Cabinet member for Finance at Camden
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  • Serbitar

    I’m just waiting for Boris to say something along the lines of: “When J. K. Rowling was a single parent living in a pokey flat on social security in Edinburgh, she didn’t rest on her laurels. She bought herself a pen, some paper, and a cup of coffee in a Scottish cafe and set to work! Within a mere five years Jo went from benefit claimant to multi-millionaire status by becoming an international best-selling authoress! This is what we want see happening on every council and housing association estate across the country. All we need to do is to re-jig… that is to say cut… housing benefit and similar benefit doled out willy-nilly, like potage in a soup kitchen, to legions of promiscuous pram-faces throughout the land to drive them to become rich and famous.”

    Keep your ears open.

    It’s only a matter of time.

    • Dave Postles

      I hope so.  She’ll rebut him vociferously.  She has donated £1m to the Labour Party and has expressed her gratitude for the welfare support which she received. 

      • Serbitar

        I know Jo is a fellow lefty. I was simply trying to satirise, albeit lamely, the insanity and pretence at compassion whenever Tories claim that cutting benefits and/or housing rights to vulnerable young people will somehow or other be the making of them. Here’s the perverse mindset in words:

        Major premise:  Conservatives are compassionate. 
        Minor premise:  It’s not compassionate to let claimants live on benefits. 
        Conclusion       : Conservatives strip benefits from claimants whenever possible.

        Even if the syllogism is (kind of) true it’s fatally flawed because its major premise is patently false – in fact an oxymoron! Whereas of course London Mayor and notorious blonde mop Boris Johnson is a moron pure and simple!

        • Quiet_Sceptic

          The Tories don’t have a monopoly on faux-compassion when it comes to housing issues.

          We get plenty of articles bemoaning Tory housing policy but there doesn’t appear to be a viable Labour alternative on offer, we don’t seem to know what we would do to address the nation’s housing problems.  Given that our current housing shortage and soaring house prices and rents occurred under Labour I would hope that by now we’d have some clear direction or policy on what we’d do to improve things.

          • Serbitar

            Totally true. But although Labour broke its promised and neglected housing issues shamelessly as far as I know, to date at least, even impish Liam Byrne is not suggesting that Housing Benefit should be denied to hundreds of thousands of desperate citizens who are younger than a completely arbitrary cut-off point based on a claimants age at time of application. This peculiarly tragic, cruel and ridiculous folly is wholly a Tory invention. 

          • AlanGiles

             We did have a famous Labour figure a few years ago wanting young women who were single parents living in compulsory hostels where they could be monitored. Hopefully those days are gone, but I always worry right-wing Labour ministers and shadow ministers will engage in Dutch auctions with the Conservatives, as they did with defence and law and order to see who will talk “tougher”.

            The fact that so few senior Labour figures have reacted to Osborne’s hideous speech on Monday about £10 billion more welfare cuts, does not bode well IMO.

          • AlanGiles

             We did have a famous Labour figure a few years ago wanting young women who were single parents living in compulsory hostels where they could be monitored. Hopefully those days are gone, but I always worry right-wing Labour ministers and shadow ministers will engage in Dutch auctions with the Conservatives, as they did with defence and law and order to see who will talk “tougher”.

            The fact that so few senior Labour figures have reacted to Osborne’s hideous speech on Monday about £10 billion more welfare cuts, does not bode well IMO.

          • AlanGiles

             We did have a famous Labour figure a few years ago wanting young women who were single parents living in compulsory hostels where they could be monitored. Hopefully those days are gone, but I always worry right-wing Labour ministers and shadow ministers will engage in Dutch auctions with the Conservatives, as they did with defence and law and order to see who will talk “tougher”.

            The fact that so few senior Labour figures have reacted to Osborne’s hideous speech on Monday about £10 billion more welfare cuts, does not bode well IMO.

          • AlanGiles

             We did have a famous Labour figure a few years ago wanting young women who were single parents living in compulsory hostels where they could be monitored. Hopefully those days are gone, but I always worry right-wing Labour ministers and shadow ministers will engage in Dutch auctions with the Conservatives, as they did with defence and law and order to see who will talk “tougher”.

            The fact that so few senior Labour figures have reacted to Osborne’s hideous speech on Monday about £10 billion more welfare cuts, does not bode well IMO.

          • AlanGiles

             We did have a famous Labour figure a few years ago wanting young women who were single parents living in compulsory hostels where they could be monitored. Hopefully those days are gone, but I always worry right-wing Labour ministers and shadow ministers will engage in Dutch auctions with the Conservatives, as they did with defence and law and order to see who will talk “tougher”.

            The fact that so few senior Labour figures have reacted to Osborne’s hideous speech on Monday about £10 billion more welfare cuts, does not bode well IMO.

          • Serbitar

            Also, sadly, totally true.

            But at least poor girls spirited away to a NuLab open prison for young women, who had actually, quite recently been in labour giving birth, at least these young ladies wouldn’t have been rendered physically roofless.

            (Lest we forget: Who was it that wrote the last Labour manifesto that included this policy and defended it to the nines in the press, on television and radio? None other than Ed Miliband no less!)

            If Ed Miliband wants to signal a genuine and compassionate approach to welfare he really, really should give Liam Byrne the elbow. Not only is Byrne’s heart in the wrong place, he’s a god awful Parliamentarian and hapless political operator to boot! Never before in the history of man has something so unprepossessing and ineffective been squeezed so tightly into such a small skin.

            After the 2015 (or earlier) general election health, welfare and education are going to be the areas of burning concern for many and who currently represent Labour on these issues?

            Liam Byrne and Stephen Twigg! 

            Blimey.

          • Theo Blackwell

            I agree.  Labour needs a much more robust line on this by the next mayoral election.  In my opinion this should include a commitment to end the one-way traffic on low income housing by:

            – registration of all London landlords, both professional and amateur.
            – adopt more of a ‘commissioning’ approach to housing benefit, i.e. recipt of housing benefit should be linked to bringing ‘non decent homes’ into decency.
            – Introduction of rent zoning or rent controls, to make the market work for Londoners better, rather than foreign investors.

  • Dave Postles

    What’s going to happen to the young people who normally pass through Centrepoint for a few years and then out into their own accommodation?  They can’t return to their parents.  

  • uglyfatbloke

    I was a single parent for more than a decade under Labour and Tory governments and I promise you there was nothing to chose between them.  They both had policies that were obstructive and patronising and kept me poor.  I’m all too aware that Blair and Brown were no better than Callaghan and Thatcher for anyone who is right at the bottom of the pile. Why should we expect anything more from Boris or Cummerbund? Do we really expect anything better from Ed Miliband. The sad fact is that wealthy people from comfortable backgrounds have no earthly idea about real poverty. 

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