Boris fighting London’s corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?!

Jenny Jones AM, leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly, exposes the reality of Boris Johnson's claim to be a champion of those hit by Housing Benefit cuts.

By Jenny Jones AM, leader of the Green Party on the London Assembly

New evidence emerging from Westminster City Council and Eric Pickle’s office has further undermined the government’s case for its benefit caps and cuts.

Boris Johnson’s ambivalent posture is now untenable, and as Mayor of London he needs to intervene more forcefully on behalf of his low income constituents.

The likely impact of the reforms on Londoners described by this new evidence isn’t surprising. Academics and campaigners have been warning about hundreds of families having to take their children out of their schools, tens of thousands of households becoming homeless, and the bill to the Treasury rising ever since the reforms were announced.

What is surprising is where this new evidence comes from – champions of the reforms.

A report for an informal meeting of Westminster City Council’s cabinet apparently predicts the caps and cuts could force 4,000 school-age children out of the borough, including 500 primary school-age children from one ward alone. In all, 81 per cent of the 6,234 households in receipt of housing benefit renting in the private sector in the borough will be affected.

According to Nico Heslop, Private Secretary to Secretary of State Eric Pickles, the total benefit cap of £26,000 and the housing benefit caps could make 40,000 households homeless. The extra cost of handling these homelessness acceptances and arranging temporary accommodation for people, he wrote, will probably “generate a net cost”, wiping out any savings they might have made by picking the pockets of the poor.

Of course the Mayor of London should know all this already. His submission to the work and pensions committee concerning the housing benefit changes in isolation, written in September 2010, painted a similar picture.

His officers estimated more than 9,000 London households may have to move, with 14,000 children having to leave their local area. There would be some 5,000 more homelessness acceptances, with rises as high as 337% in Camden, 268% in Westminster, and 178% in Kensington and Chelsea. All of this would cost an estimated £78 million a year.

The revelations from Westminster council and Pickles’s office simply echo the Mayor’s own evidence; but in spite of this, all three remain firm supporters of the reforms.

Of course most people think the Mayor stood up to the government, warning of “Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing” and promising that would never happen on his watch. He has been fighting London’s corner on this, right? Wrong.

The story arose from an interview on BBC London radio in which the Mayor followed a guest who made the “Kosovo-style ethnic cleansing” allegation. As the Mayor’s subsequent statement makes clear, he fully supported the reforms and does not think they will lead to social cleansing.

The Mayor has pushed for some welcome concessions, but they are minor tweaks to slightly soften the blow, and there is no sign the government is going to adopt them. When I asked in June for an update on one very specific tweak, which would save vulnerable young people being forced into flat shares, he revealed his last meeting with a minister was in November last year and was only able to say “discussions” between his advisor and officers and the government “are ongoing”.

A genuine attempt to mitigate the impacts of these benefit cuts would involve the London mayor bringing together all of London’s councils to discuss a substantial transfer of funds and staff to match the flow of children, pensioners in need of care, problem families, and vulnerable adults who will be dislodged from inner London.

Instead of work being done to deal with this major disruption in the lives of poor people with difficult lives, the government and Mayor are ignoring their own advisers and downplaying or denying the scale of the problem they are creating.

The Mayor should also know that a better way to reduce the housing benefit bill is to provide homes that people on low incomes can actually afford. As I laid out last November in my “myth busting” briefing (pdf), for every pound we spent building new social housing in the past few years we spent five on housing benefit payments.

His housing advisor agreed with me that social housing would “clearly help reduce the housing benefit bill”, but the Mayor has made little noise about the government cutting off all future money for social housing.

Nor has he made a loud public call for reform of the private rented sector to slow the above-inflation rise in rents.

With such a weight of evidence pointing to a devastating rise in homelessness, thousands of households leaving their schools and communities, and a rising bill at the end of it all for the government, it is time that the Mayor came out forcefully against the benefit cuts. Never mind his small concessions, these caps and cuts are ill conceived and the government needs to go back to the drawing board.

46 Responses to “Boris fighting London’s corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?!”

  1. LadyRoisin

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  2. George Woods

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  3. BendyGirl

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  5. Hitchin England

    RT @leftfootfwd: Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  6. Clive Burgess

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

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  8. Fitzrovia News

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  9. The Green Party

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  10. Pink Politika

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  11. rhys Hughes

    The thing is, this will get the most needy and highest users of services off the books of the posh boroughs who can then close schools and social services further reduce expenditure reduce the rates and lecture all around them about how they run the most efficiant and cheapest local government.

  12. Bob Irving

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  13. Spir.Sotiropoulou

    RT @leftfootfwd: Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://t.co/PQlVxV8

  14. Paul McGlynn

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  15. mr. Sensible

    The government are in a mess on their changes to housing benefit.

  16. Ed's Talking Balls

    Unfortunately you’re right, mr. Sensible. I hope, however, that the coalition sticks to its guns on this one and that housing benefit reform doesn’t simply become the latest of a series of u-turns.

  17. Leon Wolfson

    And probably move again, when the rates fall and fall against housing costs with the plan…rents have been rising faster than inflation, and from next year they’ll be linked, ludicrously, to an inflation measure which specifically EXCLUDES housing!

    There is some justification to linking some forms of benefit – designed to address living costs – to CPI, but linking housing benefit to it is no more and no less than a cynical attack on the poor, especially when combined with efforts (the 30% rent margin) to push them to areas where they need to spend more on transport…

  18. Lara Oyedele

    Boris fighting London's corner on housing benefit cuts? Really?! http://bit.ly/il2aMK by @TheGreenParty's @GreenJennyJones

  19. AltGovUK

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  20. Herbert Pimlott

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  21. Westminster council tenants face huge increase in rent as headlease expires | Fitzrovia News

    […] campaign. Ms Jones who is also chair of the Mayor’s housing and planning committee recently criticised Boris Johnson for not doing enough to protect private […]

  22. Darren Johnson

    Boris fighting London’s corner on housing benefit cuts? Really? http://bit.ly/qWGz6p #housing #benefits #cuts

  23. Anon E Mouse

    It’s about time something was done about the outrageous way the last government allowed poor people’s taxes to be spent on bankers, city slickers, spivs and greedy landlords.

    All that’s going to happen here, presuming the government doesn’t U Turn again, is the landlords will accept more reasonable, lower rents, from the benefits agency.

    It is simply not fair that greedy landlords get poor peoples taxes to allow other poor people to live in areas those other hardworking taxpayers cannot afford to live in. To suggest that is fair is to call black white.

    All the likes of Leon Wolfson above want to do is keep making the lazy, greedy landlords, richer with other peoples’s money. How New Labour is that?

  24. Paul Odtaa

    Unfortunately Boris plays a cynical game. Talk loudly, in a waffley sort of way, against something. Get some simple, but unimportant concessions and then he’s got both sides thinking he’s with them.

    The plan is to ‘poverty cleanse’ some sections of central London and move them to poorer areas, such as Hastings and Luton. It then dumps the problem on someone else.

    The next thing is the ‘Localisation’ act of parliament, where local councils will be able to keep all or most of their business rates. Which means in a couple of years we will see the billionaires living in Westminster not having to pay council tax.

    Whereas the areas where the poor have been dumped will find their central government grant reduced while having to provide more services.

  25. Anon E Mouse

    Paul Odtaa – Why should some poor people live for nothing in areas that other poor people who have to pay for them in their taxes can’t afford to live themselves?

    That is just not fair.

    Nor is it in keeping with Labour traditions of representing the WORKING classes….

  26. Ed's Talking Balls

    Well said, Anon E Mouse.

    Labour won’t be able to convince the public that the status quo is fair. It isn’t.

  27. Anon E Mouse

    Ed’ Talking Balls – Cheers fella.

    I really do not understand why Labour activists keep promoting ideas that will only appeal to a few Champagne Socialists fresh from college with their media degrees or some members of a dinosaur Trades Union.

    The days when Labour cared about the poor and not appeasing the wealthy seem long long gone…

  28. Leon Wolfson

    Anon E Mouse – You put words in my mouth which I never said. It’s YOUR plan to keep stuffing money into landlords hands, not mine. *I*’ve called for rent boards and taxes on unoccupied properties. Solutions allowing for mixed communities, not your rabid hatred of the poor.

    It’s quite clear from surveys that only a very small percentage of landlords will accept lower rents (and a significant percentage will raise them), most will evict their tenants when the government makes living near places which actually have jobs unaffordable over the next few years. This is, unfortunately, not hyperbole but the natural consequence of the changes, which are a band aid: they only slightly reduce the bill, have many other costs and will cause mass migrations to poorer areas.

    But no, somehow in your twisted mind, opposing that is “sucking up to the wealthy”. You believe in your own Tory propaganda, apparently. Incidentally, the 30% market rate cut and CPI link is going to do a lot more damage outside London than the cap. There is, strangely enough, people who live there.

    Oh, and a significant percentage – and rising – of housing benefit recipients are in-work. Many of those will have to move, losing their jobs. Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll spin a way that’s fair as well.

  29. Anon E Mouse

    Leon Wolfson – I have hatred for no man and considering I work for the equivalent of minimum wage (less for last two months) I am one of the poor in this country. Please don’t patronise me from your ivory tower.

    There are certain areas where only social engineering would allow a mixture of rich and poor, for example Primrose Hill in London where Ed Miliband lives. There is not a god given right to live in an expensive area and if you are being provided for adequately by the state so what is the problem?

    I want to live in a penthouse overlooking the Thames with two blond Playboy bunnies but somehow it isn’t going to happen, which just goes to show how unfair life can be. The world is a very unequal place.

    Furthermore you have no idea if the greedy landlords and spivs, featherbedded with our money, would accept a lower offer of rent because, despite scaremongering by increasingly desperate Labour activists, it hasn’t happened yet. And as for surveys the line; “They would say that wouldn’t they” springs to mind.

    If the workers in houses are living beyond their means, the state should not use poorer people’s money to give to greedy landlords.

    All Labour seem to care about is big business – look at the bankers knighthoods or Mandelson, the business secretary, saying he was relaxed at people getting filthy rich.

    Anyway you didn’t answer the central point of fairness, which I suppose considering the normal line you take in this blog shouldn’t surprise me…

  30. Leon Wolfson

    I’m patronising nobody, your *own* words are what are showing your Tory-centric views.

    There is survey after survey with consistent results showing what will happen when housing benefit falls, saying “let’s try it and it won’t be a trainwreck, really” is a transparent way of saying “I believe the negative effects are acceptable”.

    This isn’t about primrose hill. This is about vast swathes of the country rapidly becoming entirely unavailable to those on housing benefit. London and the South-East very rapidly, but to only the poorest third of the country being “affordable” (and in many cases, barely) inside a decade.

    The “savings” – which in many cases will be costs, when people are displaced and families broken up – are not proof against future rent rises, and it’ll create ever-bigger ghettoes, sinkholes where few will escape.

    The policies *I* advocate (you are consistently saying “Labour”, as if I am the avatar of the labour party…your inability to separate them is again telling), would tackle the root causes of the problem. With them, rents will become far more rational(house prices are falling, rents are rising!), and people will find it in their economic interest not to leave houses empty.

    But you’re condemning that, and poorer people. It is not “adequate” that only 30% of accommodation – and because of the lax regulation, the vast majority of the lower-end accommodation in this country fails miserable to meet even the basic Government housing standards – will be available, decreasing rapidly because CPI is well, well below rent increases. THAT is what you’re supporting: poor quality, geographically limited (to low-job areas) accommodation for the poor.

    Again, I don’t advocate your policy of keeping stuffing private landlord’s pockets. I advocate rent boards, building affordable housing and taxing unoccupied property. THAT is going some way down the grounds to fair.

    Further? Okay, higher taxes on unearned income like rental, wealth redistribution from the rich so people get fair value for their labour… (I’m a mutualist, squeaky!)

  31. Leon Wolfson

    To be clear – I’m not usually anything LIKE radical. But I can see an injustice when one comes up, and I’m seeing little BUT injustices from the Tories.

    Oh, SOME of what they’re doing is defensible on it’s own, but it’s tied into packages which are grossly and manifestly unfair, and which have cheaper, fairer alternatives.

  32. Dave Citizen

    Strangely I agree with both Anon and Leon on this. I agree that hardworking people’s taxes should not fund benefits to keep less hardworking people in relatively ‘better’ housing or fund wealthy landlords just because they are rich enough to own properties – that’s just plain mad….. However ….

    The way to solve this madness is surely to take a more holistic approach along the lines that Leon suggests: big empty property taxes, higher taxes on ‘unearned’ rental income, measures to reduce inequality so hardworking people can afford a house but lazy property owners can’t afford to sit on them and finally (and probably more appealing to anon)… sort out benefits so that a choice to live in a more expensive area is just that, a choice, with the effect that you will be poorer in other ways as a result, either in size of property or left over spending money – those on benefits should face the same incentives and cost-benefit decisions that we all face.

    It’s no good just doing one of these things – we need to shift the whole balance to get a fairer and better deal.

  33. Leon Wolfson

    You don’t want unmixed areas, though, Dave. Housing developments need to include affordable units*, and brownfield sites even in “expensive” areas should be considered for social housing.

    *That should includes some shared housing units, I should add.

  34. Ed's Talking Balls

    Anon E Mouse,

    No worries.

    I stand foursquare behind you on this point and quite literally everyone I’ve spoken to about housing benefit does too. There is no divine right to live in one particular area at another’s expense and I’m confident that the vast majority of the country recognises this and while also seeing the inherent unfairness in forcing working people, through taxation, to subsidise very expensive accommodation for those who don’t (often in areas where they themselves cannot dream of living).

    Given that Labour activists, with straight faces, frequently claim to have the monopoly on virtue while labelling Tories as baby boilers (or some other witless caricature) I find it astonishing that so many think the status quo is fair.

  35. Leon Wolfson

    Okay, so you’re all up for pushing the poor – including the working poor and the sick – en-mass to the parts of the country where there are few jobs, on benefits which will fall dramatically compared to inflation, and in council areas which will be systematically deprived of revenue destroying their prospects of ever getting out of the trap the Tories are setting for them.

    Gee, maybe there’s a lot of truth to those “caricatures”. They’re called the nasty party for good reason. Actually solving problems by taking steps like reinstituting rent caps, as opposed to punishing people for being poor, seems quite beyond you.

    Making things much worse for millions than the status quo is a moral action, because?

  36. Anon E Mouse

    Leon – Poor people cannot expect to lead lifestyles enjoyed by people richer than themselves – that’s because they are poor.

    There is also nothing that says areas should be mixed with people of differing social status. If there was then rich people would be living on council estates.

    On the Hattersley estate in Manchester I was living (initially – my Grandad was a Labour councillor who “sorted” things for my family) I never remember a single wealthy individual residing there. (I was too young to know but I’m making a point).

    So areas are not mixed dependant on wealth the other way round and it is only the social engineering of left wing governments that allow the nonsense that currently exists to continue.

    Irrespective of how you spin things the facts speak for themselves. Minimum wage workers pay for the inflated rates charged by greedy landlords. That’s just how it is. My taxes go into the pockets of greedy landlords who do nothing to earn that money.

    Finally “millions” will not be affected – a few thousand perhaps but certainly not millions and most certainly far less than the millions that WERE affected by Gordon Brown’s 10p tax fiasco or the £billions his stupid PFI projects are going to cost.

    The Labour Party rewards the rich and punishes the poor and continues to advocate policies that perpetuate that position.

    Poor people are poor – that’s just how it is and trying to raise the lifestyles of those people would be OK if other poor people’s money wasn’t being used but it is and that’s just unfair however you spin it…

  37. Ed's Talking Balls

    Anon E Mouse has provided a pretty comprehensive rebuttal, so I have little to add. Once again, I agree with him.

    It may surprise you, however, to discover that I would support more drastic reform in housing. I would build more, to increase supply and threby drive down prices; I would legislate to prevent (or at least make significantly less attractive) the hoarding of property by buy-to-let barons, whome I regard as an absolute scourge; and I would legislate to redress the imbalance between landlords and tenants (perhaps via reintroduction of the Rent Acts, and/or in numerous other ways).

    But as Anon E Mouse says, I don’t see how you can spin this one to make the status quo seem fair. You won’t succeed with me and I’m very confident you won’t succeed with those others who profoundly disagree, and in many cases are downright angry, with housing benefit as it stands.

  38. Leon Wolfson

    Great, so you think these measures, which will hurt massive amounts of people are fine. I get it.

    Let’s address your outright lie there, though. Household size limits will hit half a million claimants. 30th Percentile rent., three quarters of a million. The excess withdrawal (which I do, in fact, agree with) 400k. CPI linkage will affect every single claimant, 4.5 million (1.5 immediately). Non-dependant deductions will hit another 300k.

    While there is some overlap, it’s not 100%…and the vast majority of claimants are households, with much more than one person affected. There is also a significant knock-on effect to other people who will try and pick up the slack, in many cases, from their own “disposable” income. Millions is a *perfectly* correct figure for those who will be negatively affected by this.

    (The hard caps certainly only actually affect 50k – almost all in London – yes, but that is never the only issue I’ve been concerned about: although it IS an issue which is going to break up families. Gogo Tory family policy!)

    It doesn’t “have to be” the way that poorer people pay inflated prices for rent. I’ve suggested a perfectly viable alternative (rent boards), which is practised widely even in socialist-hating America! This is purely a CHOICE, one which you are backing, a nasty piece of social engineering.

    Ed – I’m not saying the status quo is fair. I’m saying the changes are dramatically more UNFAIR. When there are alternate ways, ones used very successfully in other countries, to solve this.

    The changes won’t make anyone less angry with housing benefit – it’s a small change, financially, which will cost more elsewhere in the system – since it keeps the same principles, and simply sticks many people into poorer quality housing, away from the areas with jobs.

    It’s the Tories who are just tinkering with the status quo. (And I see mouse still hasn’t been able to work out that I am not an avatar of the labour party yet, and don’t necessarily agree with them! My opinions ARE MY OWN!)

    Look – I’m not at all shocked that you don’t like the status quo. We’re even in broad agreement. But. These changes will, for example, allow couples people claiming to live only in 10% of the apartments in Manchester as soon as 2016, and 5% in 2018 – and Manchester is NOT a very high rent area. (Also, typically, the lowest 5% is considered unfit habitation!)

    Worse, the government is slashing the already relatively small amount of money they spend on monitoring the housing situation, so they will NOT be able to properly track the effects of their changes!

    Are you really saying that this isn’t a valid view? That doing the wrong thing can be dramatically worse than letting something slide until you can do the right thing, even if they have to stop these changes, and take six months to do things right? (When that would only act as a minor delay in any case, given the timescales?)

  39. Ed's Talking Balls

    Excluding all but the most extreme and/or illogical views, I would never deny the validity of others’ views. Of course, I reserve the right to disagree with others at times (or, to put it another way, they are perfectly entitled to disagree with me, as often as they like!)

    I apologise for having misunderstood you the first time round. I was under the impression that you were defending what I regard as indefensible, i.e. that those who work and still live hand to mouth should pay for those who don’t work to live in houses in which they themselves could not dream of living. I have seen people defend this position elsewhere and have treated comments in defence of the status quo with the contempt which they deserve.

    I have been encouraged by the headline, if you will, that the government realises that there is something grossly unfair in taxing people to pay for others to enjoy a better lifestyle. While you have shown in your posts that you don’t hold the Conservatives in high regard (understatement, I know!), I wouldn’t trust most Labour MPs as far as I could throw them. I believe they didn’t see anything wrong in the position I’ve described above (which I consider perverse, given that Labour should instinctively, traditionally, support the low-paid, hard-working).

    But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the detail. It’s plain that this government, like the one before it, doesn’t excel in this area (although I feel in terms of the bigger picture, it’s performing better: no doubt this is something we disagree on).

  40. Leon Wolfson

    Except, no offence, I don’t see any acknowledgement from the government’s actions that they are doing anything of the sort. They are continuing to back a system which has delivered above-inflation rents since proper controls were abolished.

    They’re tinkering around the edges with rates in some especially damaging ways (30th percentile and CPI linking, especially), but not addressing the core issue in anything but some good-old fashioned benefit-scrounger bashing, when it’s an important in-work benefit.

    And no, I don’t view painting them painting into a economic corner as “better” when they inherited a recovering economy, you’re quite right there…

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