Friday, October 29, 2010


Earlier this month, in his address to the Conservative Party Conference, Iain Duncan Smith suggested that the Coalition's welfare reforms would incentivise people to find work:

"Our implementation of the Credit alongside the comprehensive work programme will make sure that everyone out of work will be given the greatest support to find work and every financial incentive to stay in work, because work will pay.This is the biggest reform of the welfare system in a generation ... No longer will they be able to say it isn't worth their while going to work. No longer will they be trapped in a complex system which means they have to ask an advisor if they will better off in work than on benefits. We will change this broken system to help those at the bottom end make a new start and change their lives through work."

A week later, George Osborne announced that funding for social housing would be cut by 60%. To pay the costs of building and renovating its housing stock, Councils and Housing Associations will now have to massively increase rents to tenants, who will now have to pay 80% of market rates. But given that many social housing tenants receive Housing Benefit to support them with the costs of housing, this will inevitably mean a huge pressure on the welfare budget - in effect, the Government has passed housing costs from one Department to another.

The Guardian reports that "in areas where rents are already high, such as the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Haringey, many tenants moving into new social homes would face bills of £340 per week for a three-bedroom property. Even if people could get a job, their earnings would disappear in high rent repayments." The National Housing Federation, the umbrella group which represents housing associations, has argued that the cuts will act as a powerful disincentive for unemployed people to find work. People living in high-rent areas, "would have to earn at least £54,000 before they could get off housing benefit and be in a position where they could keep the bulk of their additional salary and find themselves better off in work".

Eileen Short, a Council tenant in Tower Hamlets and Chair of Defend Council Housing, has called on other tenants, politicians, Unions and anybody else with a vaguely progressive bone in their body to oppose the cuts:

"Attacks on secure tenancies, cuts in housing benefit and forcing up rents will create more debt, evictions and homelessness. Tenants have fought hard for our secure tenancies and lower rents, and we will expect trade unions, Councillors and MPs to join with us in this fight to defend them.

"Tenants did not cause the housing crisis - we need investment in more and better council housing to provide homes for all those priced out of the market, to make council housing once again a mixed and sustainable tenure of choice."


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