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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