It’s time to oppose housing benefit caps

Believe me when I say I have little time to write blog articles. It might seem otherwise if you follow me on Twitter, but it’s true. On the other hand, it’s always fun to step aside and reel something off. Especially when it doesn’t fit with Twitter’s terse nature.

In other words, I have things to say about one aspect of the Welfare Reform Act 2012: probably one of the most heinous bits of legislation ever to hit the statute books, seemingly beloved of Tories and the right-leaning Labourites who consistently failed to oppose the Bill’s passage through in the Commons. Despite this being their actual job.

I’m talking about the government’s forthcoming housing benefit cap, which will apply to social housing tenants from April 2018 onwards. The driving force behind this, according to HM Government, is to ensure a level playing field between social and private sector tenants. And, of course, we have that old thing about reducing cash burdens on the public purse.

Social housing tenants who signed up after April 2016 will find their benefits capped to the same level as the Local Housing Allowance received by private sector residents, and this could also affect vulnerable people in sheltered housing schemes, though at time of writing it looks like Theresa May might row back on this side of things.

Killing older people through deliberate neglect isn’t a good look. I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. After all, if you’re old, ill and depend on sheltered housing to survive, where will you go when it closes? We are talking about housing of last resort.

The upshot of capping housing benefits in this way is that it will disproportionately affect people under the age of 35, as very soon this age group will only be able to claim the shared accommodation rate: an amount considered to be just enough to rent a room in a shared house. Lucky them. The rub is that most of the people in this category are in work, defeating the lazy stereotype promoted by the mainstream media and central government, that they are ‘spongers’. This is complete nonsense, and it is part of a deliberate narrative designed to demonise social tenants.

That’s the bare bones of it, and if you search online you’ll find various briefings, articles and discussions prepared to go into much more depth than me. My point is that the impacts of this on under-35s will be huge, because from April 2018 the housing benefits most of them receive will fall short of the cash they need to pay the rent. And this is without factoring in what could happen to people who depend on sheltered housing.

The worse case scenerio which we’re heading for at the speed of light, is that droves of younger people will find themselves on the street or, at best, living from hand to mouth in small rooms on whatever funds they can scrape together. I would be extremely surprised if housing benefit caps didn’t lead to a massive spike in homelessness, along with all the burdens this will place on strained local services.

Things are already bad. You don’t need to read statistical releases to find this out. Just take a walk through the streets of any large city in the UK, and you’ll notice every other doorway is freighted with rough sleepers and people who have fallen on hard times. It’s hard not to evoke Dickens at this point, and while we haven’t yet reached such staggering scenes of poverty, we’re already well on the way.

On a personal note, it’s galling that this policy has not been directly opposed by the Labour Party who voted in droves to shepherd it through Parliament. Either they are incapable of understanding the long term impacts of such policies, or massively self-serving. I’ll leave it up to you to decide what to think, but if something isn’t done to nip this policy in the bud, people are going to die in doorways.

Remember that the Westminster Government’s austerity cuts are currently closing down hostels, women’s refuges and youth centres. Social services are at breaking point, and the National Health Service is dying on its feet. While it’s true that some support services remain intact, this situation is changing year-on-year.

Ironically, the Westminster Government says it wants to cut costs and ‘change behaviours’ – but this approach will backfire over time, as social costs quickly mutate into cashable costs. The two are always inseparable.

In other words, poverty, disease, ignorance and despair are hard to deal with, create concrete problems for local communities and eventually need sorting out through social policies. We already have something designed to do this: it’s called the Welfare State. We should defend it at all costs.


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