If Grant Shapps accuses you of playing politics, you can be sure that he is guilty as sin of doing that himself.
This morning it came out that Newham Council have written to over 1,000 organisations asking them to help rehouse homeless families (to whom they owe a duty to secure accommodation) who they cannot afford to accommodate within their borough. The council waiting list stands at 32,000 and the borough’s private rented sector is divided sharply between poor quality accommodation which is often already overcrowded and flats for professionals. One of the letters went to Brighter Futures housing association in Stoke on Trent who complained about ‘social cleansing’ of families from London with no reference to the impact on demand for already overstretched services there.
What is shocking about Newham is that it is only the latest of many boroughs who have been seeking rehousing opportunities outside London. Karen Buck MP was on the Today programme (at about 7.10 if you want to listen on i-player) talking about Westminster sending people out to Luton for example. Many other boroughs have been taking similar steps. One of the places inner London boroughs have been looking to send people to is Newham and the other east London boroughs where rents have traditionally been lower – but those boroughs are themselves looking to send people further out.
Housing pressures have been building in London for some time and are replicated in less extreme form in many other parts of the country. The changes to housing benefit are making things much worse, as we have argued many times before on Red Brick.
But let’s look at Mr Shapps performance on the Today programme (around 8.10). What was his line?
- There’s an election on and Newham are playing politics. Newham Mayor Robin Wales has been warning about this for some time and as far as we can see the letter was put into the public domain by the people in Stoke and not Newham.
- Newham’s actions are unfair and wrong and guidance says they shouldn’t do this. This doesn’t explain why most London boroughs seem to be taking similar actions as the gap between benefit and real market rents grows.
- London boroughs should be able to house people within their areas as 30% of local properties are within the caps. Quoting Rightmove website, as Shapps did, showing there are properties on the market, isn’t evidence – anyone searching for property now knows that many are just not available to HB cases, there is stiff competition from single sharers taking whole houses, and that many of the properties on the website have already gone.
- The changes came in last year so raising it now shows it’s political. In fact the changes come in gradually and will not have a single impact. Advisers talk about people getting into more debt or moving in with other families rather than move to a completely new area and face disruption for their children and the loss of social networks. Problems like this build up slowly.
- Rents are falling. Even Boris Johnson admitted London rents increased by 12% last year. Even if they have levelled off (the evidence is contradictory to say the least) it seems likely it is because they overshot last year. There is certainly no evidence that a long term rebalancing is going on which will make rents significantly lower.
- People in work are astonished that people on benefit can afford to live where they can’t. Mr Shapps should go on a short welfare benefits course where he would learn that HB is also an in-work benefit, and that people in work are subject to the same caps.
- Delivering a huge affordable housing programme. Shapps laughs off Karen Buck’s statement that there were only 56 new affordable houses started in the last 6 months by saying this is the gap between programmes. Well, how incompetent is that, to have such a big gap? And the new programme will be all ‘affordable rent’ at rents of up to 80% of market rates. A sick joke of a programme.
Finally, in his biggest porkie, Shapps dismisses the claim that the Government knew exactly what would happen, as was shown by a letter from Eric Pickles to the Prime Minister last year. Shapps says the letter discussed a number of possible outcomes from their modelling, and what is happening is all the council’s fault. Well, you can look at the letter in full.
In short, the letter doesn’t do what Shapps says. It predicts what would happen and it predicted it very accurately. Even Boris Johnson described the HB changes as ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’ – but did nothing to mitigate the effects. The housing benefit reforms are a disaster for poor people already facing an extreme housing shortage. Newham and most other councils are only doing what the Government is forcing them to do. A vote for Ken Livingstone in next week’s elections would at least help send a message that these so-called reforms must be reversed.
Westminster’s Conservative Council is looking to move homeless Housing Benefit claimants 130 miles away to Derby and Nottingham, according to information contained in a proposal to the Council from the Smart Housing Group.
According to the Smart Housing group proposal to Westminster Council, the company has offered to rehouse “150 people within the next 12 months…..with an option to increase this number to perhaps closer to 500 properties”.
This morning Grant Shapps MP, Housing Minister, called plans to move tenants to other parts of the country because of a lack of housing as ‘outrageous’. Grant Shapps told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Not only do I think it’s unfair and wrong I’ve also made legislation and guidance that says they’re not to do this.”
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Leader of the Westminster Labour Group, said;
“Will Grant Shapps now condemn Westminster Council for investigating ways of moving Housing Benefit claimants to Derby and Nottingham? Or does his fake outrage only stretch to Labour Councils which are affected by the Government’s damaging Housing Benefit caps?”
“There is absolutely no doubt that thousands of families from across London will find the only option they have of a home is to move hundreds of miles from London to a town or city with which they have no connection and where they have little prospect of a job. The information from Smart Housing Group shows the extent of the planning and research that is going in to the huge population movements that are the direct result of Government policy.”