Pickles letter to Cameron reveals inconvenient truth on benefits cap

The leaked Eric Pickles letter to David Cameron reveals what we already know: poor families will be forced out of London and the South East by the benefits cap.

Pete Challis is a former Greenwich councillor and chaired the Association of Local Government housing committee from 1990-99

“No one will be made homeless: Cameron calls for calm over housing budget cuts” – so ran the headline in the Daily Mail on October 29th 2010. Similar stories appeared elsewhere.

“David Cameron insists housing benefit reform won’t create homeless” – thus ran the Metro headline, quoting the prime minister as saying:

“I don’t think it will be necessary for anybody to go without a home.”

Fast forward a few months, and today’s Observer provides the full text of the letter from Nico Hislop, Private Secretary to communities secretary Eric Pickles, written to the prime minister’s Private Secretary in January 2011.

It reveals:

“Finally, our modelling indicates that we could see an additional 20,000 homelessness acceptances as a result of the total benefit cap. This on top of the 20,000 additional acceptances already anticipated as a result of other changes to Housing Benefit. We are already seeing increased pressures on homelessness services.”

The latest homelessness figures (June 2011) confirm that advice. The number of homeless households is rising again. Homeless acceptances for the year 2010/11 are up 10% but for the quarter January to March 2011 they are up 18 per cent compared with the same quarter in 2010.

The letter also reveals CLG officials believed families with four children receiving benefits will not be able to live in London and the South East.

It discusses the advantages of removing child benefit from the calculation of the cap and describes the benefits of doing so as:

“The homelessness and child poverty risks set out above would be reduced – for example families with 4 children would be able to live in most parts of the country outside London and the South East.”

Charities have warned that new limits on housing benefit, now due to start in January 2012, will leave large swaths of the capital “no-go” areas for the poor. London Councils found (pdf) that in seven of the most expensive local authority areas – Camden; the City; Hackney; Hammersmith and Fulham; Kensington and Chelsea; Tower Hamlets; and Westminster – local private rents are higher than the benefit cap throughout the borough.

In Kensington and Chelsea, of 2,771 households currently receiving benefits to help pay private rent, 2,047 will face a shortfall – 89.7 per cent. Of those, more than 900 are either aged over 70, or have young children.

Furthermore, research by Homes and Property suggests there are no two, three or four bedroom private rented properties available in Kensington and Chelsea at rents that would fall within the cap, with the Standard reporting:

“Thousands of schoolchildren in parts of central London could be forced to move because of housing benefit cuts.”

Eleven thousand, eight hundred children will be forced to move school resulting in outer London boroughs finding extra primary school places. Assuming 300 children per school, if all the children are of primary school age, the equivalent of nearly 40 extra primary schools will be needed.

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