Jump in working housing benefit claimants makes mockery of coalition welfare claims

A jump in the number of housing benefit claimants shows the government is prioritising being 'tough' about benefits ahead of being correct about them.

A jump in the number of housing benefit claimants shows the government is prioritising being ‘tough’ about benefits ahead of being correct about them

There has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of working people claiming housing benefit since the coalition came to power in 2010, according to new figures – despite government rhetoric about being ‘tough’ on benefits.

Research for the House of Commons Library, commissioned by Labour, shows that the proportion of working people in receipt of housing benefit has jumped since 2010 from 2.3 per cent to 3.6 per cent. There has also been a 5 per cent increase in the total number of housing benefit claimants (in and out of work) since 2010.

The largest increase was in Croydon, where there was a 1100 per cent jump in the total number of housing benefit claimants.

According to Labour, the overall cost to the taxpayer of the rise in claimants will be an estimated £4.8bn over the course of this Parliament.

Commenting on the increase, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said the figures “expose the complete failure of David Cameron’s government to control housing benefit spending because more people are struggling to pay their rent”.

Labour will hope that, by promising to build 200,000 new homes a year and introducing predictable rents, it will be able to do what the coalition has so far failed to. Indeed, what today’s figures demonstrate is the importance of tackling the structural drivers of the benefits bill (rather than just sounding tough on individual claimants).

Housing benefit makes up around 14 per cent of welfare spending, much of which goes into the hands of private landlords. Last year two of Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlords, Fergus and Judith Wilson, owners of nearly 1,000 properties in Kent, sent eviction notices to 200 housing benefit tenants.

Even the free market Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) has blamed unaffordable house prices and escalating rents for the increasing housing benefit bill. Yet the coalition doesn’t appear to have grasped the scale of the problem; the 109,370 homes built last year was the lowest number since the 1920s.

One of the coalition’s trumpeted success stories is the number of people in employment. Yet despite this welcome rise in the number of people with jobs, the housing benefits bill continues to creep up. This demonstrates once again that to bring down the social security bill long-term the government will have to tackle the structural drivers of the increase – rather than simply demonise benefit claimants as ‘shirkers’.

The market has demonstrably failed to solve Britain’s housing problem; as a consequence the taxpayer is having to pick up the tab. If the government isn’t prepared to intervene in the market, it seems unlikely the trend will reverse any time soon. Especially when being ‘tough’ on benefits is seemingly more important for the government than being correct about them.

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