Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Giving in to the moral panic

Here's a nasty little piece of right-wing rubbish:

"The Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC) has been asked by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to consider proposals for the Housing Benefit Amendment Regulations. The main change that these proposals would introduce is for the regulations to provide for levels of Housing Benefit (HB) to be capped at a maximum level of the five bedroom Local Housing Allowance (LHA) from April 2009."

This is a response to the moral panic from the Evening Standard et al. about, oh noes, large families living on benefit in "million pound homes". There isn't enough social housing for large families in housing need, so councils have arrangements with private landlords to house families who are living in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation.

The aim of this amendment is to incentivise landlords not to house large families in housing need (and instead convert their properties into flats or rent them out to students etc.) This will mean that families get evicted when they can't pay the rent (which will no longer be covered by housing benefit), then go back to the council for suitable housing, which will be in even shorter supply.

So more children will grow up in overcrowded or otherwise unsuitable housing, with all the consequences for their health, educational attainment and quality of life for them and their families that will mean. It's all very well the government mouthing warm words about reducing child poverty and discrimination, but it doesn't mean much when weak, clueless and incompetent ministers like James Purnell let the Evening Standard help them make housing policy.


At 11:02 am , Blogger Robert said...

Like myself I live in a one bedroom disability bungalow with a wife and two grandkids. We applied for a new house but were turned down due to cost of adaption of another home for me, I need a down stairs toilet. Then the council paid £500,000 to house a family that had three kids saying they needed a four bedroom home. Seems some people are more important then others.

At 12:11 pm , Anonymous Ed said...

Robert - would be worth, if you haven't already, getting some legal advice about whether the council acted lawfully in, as you put it, turning you down for a house because of the cost of adaption.

I doubt a council paid £500,000 to house a family with three children. Councils don't generally buy houses on the open market to give to families. Housing Benefit, or local housing allowance, is paid to support people with their rent, but this is on a monthly basis, and would not come to £500,000.

Don is, as ever, absolutely right - this is a very nasty, vindictive measure motivated exclusively by the desire to appease a couple of right-wing newspapers. The equality impact assessment is laughable - it accepts the measure will exacerbate child poverty and that it will indirectly discriminate against BME communities, but then says that the measure is reasonable and proportionate anyway. I can't imagine any civil servant with integrity much enjoyed writing that drivel.

There are perfectly simple ways of preventing LHA paying for "luxury" properties - setting the level of larger properties based on the level for four bedroom ones, with an proportional increase for each additional bedroom.

Most of us involved in local government in areas with a housing shortage see the devastating consequences of overcrowding. It invariably affects health, both physical and mental, adversely, it reduces educational attainment (try revising for GCSEs when sharing a room with two younger siblings), and it puts families under enormous pressure.

A measure which wilfully, deliberately exacerbates overcrowding, either demonstrates a complete ignorance of the impact overcrowding has, or is utterly cruel and inhumane. Either way, it is a disgrace to the Labour Party and the government.

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