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Housing cuts will mean more evictions and social cleansing
CHANCELLOR George Osborne's spending review represents a nightmare for working class people. His announcement that housing benefit would be restricted to paying for a room rather than a flat for people between 25 and 35 years came as a spiteful extra twist.
The previously trailed proposals to cap housing benefits payments were already estimated by London councils to mean that around 82,000 families - over 200,000 people - would be forced to move from their communities and homes in central London. London councils have already block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation in places as far away as Hastings and Luton.
Research by the housing charity Shelter shows that, already, nearly half of recipients of Local Housing Allowance have to make up a shortfall of almost £100 a week - a situation created by the changes made to the benefits system under New Labour.
Osborne defends the benefit cuts saying he wants to target people who choose unemployment as a 'lifestyle choice'. Young people leaving school or college and unable to find work are making no such choice, nor are public sector workers made redundant as other services are cut. But in fact these cuts will hit pensioners, disabled people and low paid workers; it is not just the unemployed who will suffer.
Reflecting the social pressures of his inner-city Bermondsey constituency, Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes says he'll oppose plans to cut housing benefit by 10% for those who had been on Jobseekers allowance for 12 months. This policy difference highlights the political faultlines in the governing coalition.
Nationally there are 24 local authorities in high cost areas where 40% or more of those affected by housing benefit changes are in work. Across London one-third of those affected are working. Since November 2008 the number of working people in receipt of housing benefit has increased by 235,000, mainly as hours have been cut back and as more families have to rely on just one pay packet. So these cuts will hit precisely those 'hardworking families' that capitalist politicians like to claim to speak for.
Social housing will no longer offer even the remote prospect of a secure alternative. The budget will be halved, new tenants will no longer get secure tenancies, and rents will now be around 80% of market levels. This is despite the Tories' lying pledge during the election not to attack security of tenure.
Some of the big housing associations have welcomed these changes gleefully eying up the opportunity to take another step towards becoming straight commercial outfits. But a recent survey by the Chartered Institute of Housing shows that 78% of housing associations were expecting an increase in arrears as a result of the cuts.
The report shows that 54% of landlords are predicting an increase in the number of evictions due to 'spiralling arrears'. Trade unions and tenant groups should seek pledges from social landlords that they will not evict tenants hit by these changes.
Even some Tories now fear the consequence of the housing proposals. Boris Johnson has called for "transitional" measures to cushion the impact and Barnet council has written to the government expressing concern at the effects, despite the fact that they initially welcomed the proposals.
Even without the other cuts planned in the spending review, such as major incisions into council tax benefit, the changes to housing represent ample reason for the TUC to call a demonstration before Christmas in defence of their members' homes. Union leaders will not be forgiven for waiting until spring when the changes will be hitting their members.
In The Socialist 27 October 2010:
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news