Beware: Floods of ‘the poor’ about to descend on Home Counties
Oh heavens! The poor are coming! Look what it says in The Mail today:
Residents in the Home Counties have been told to brace themselves for an influx of tens of thousands of poor families, driven out of London by reforms to housing benefit.
Housing policy experts have warned that 200,000 people will be forced out of expensive cities like London – and straight into the commuter belt.
Poor families in the Home Counties, of all places. Shocking! Just you wait, there’ll be a mass exodus of nice, wealthy, decent, hard working people if they’re forced to share their Home Counties with the poor. The Mail goes so far as to say these poor people will be ‘fleeing London’ in the wake of the regressive changes to housing benefit (ok, regressive is my spin, but it’s the way I see it).
The Mail seems horrified by the need for the lovely rich to ‘cope with the fall-out’ of having a load of horrible, scroungy poor people moving to their area. The article doesn’t seem to recognise that high rents contribute to a high Housing Benefit bill, and that perhaps it is this that needs tackling. Instead, it says:
Currently, councils have to find poorer residents housing, with central government then picking up the unlimited bill.
One family in North West London raked in nearly £280,000 in two years for a seven bedroom house in Brent. This year, housing benefit is expected to cost the state £21 billion.
The only thing is, it wasn’t the family ‘raking’ it in. It was the landlord. As for Housing Benefit covering an ‘unlimited’ amount, this isn’t true. Housing Benefit only covers ‘eligible rent’, which depends on a few factors, including how much space a council thinks you need and how much local rents are. A quick search revealed the ‘unlimited’ part of The Mail story to be a misrepresentation. From CAB Advice Guide:
If you are on Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or the guarantee credit of Pension Credit (whether you get it on its own or with the savings credit), Housing Benefit will cover all of your eligible rent. But you need to remember that not all of your rent or housing costs may be covered.
Typically for The Mail, they obediently toe the ConDem line, with only a brief mention of John Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, accusing them of ‘social and economic cleansing’ and ‘a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering’. Looking at the sparse details The Mail has included drew my attention to this little snippet:
From October 2011, payments will be capped at 30 per cent of average local rents.
This is the most alarming part of the whole reform package. It will be combined with rises in social rental rates to around 80% of local rents. It seems nonsensical to me that, rather than keeping social rents low, the government wants to make them more expensive while simultaneously cutting housing benefit to cover only 30% of average area rents. This surely raises the prospect of a huge increase in homelessness, and these newly homeless people will probably include children.
The Mail doesn’t discuss the threat of homelessness until the very last paragraph of it’s article.
The National Housing Federation’s chief executive, David Orr, said the cuts were ‘truly shocking’. He said: ‘Unless ministers urgently reconsider these punitive cuts, we could see more people sleeping rough than at any stage during the last 30 years.’
Both the coalition and The Mail seem to be revelling in the cuts package, either blind to, or delighting in, the real risk of homelessness threatening low paid, disabled, unemployed, retired, or other low income families once the changes bite. To cover this issue with an opening paragraph like the one The Mail chose to use is just beyond contempt.
***Disclaimer*** There are already lots of poor people in the Home Counties. I know, because I live here. Just because the media tends to ignore us and likes to call it ‘the rich South’, it doesn’t mean we don’t exist. Oh, and not all poor people are ‘benefit scroungers’ (indeed, not all ‘benefit scroungers’ are benefit scroungers). Lots of us have jobs, although they may be low paid. Any outrage in the opening paragraphs of this blog post is purely sarcastic.