There is nothing liberating about this government.


On his last day at the LibDem party conference, Nick Clegg has said that the coalition is “a different kind of government: a liberating government” but liberating for whom exactly?

We are in a recession and unemployment is bound to increase dramatically,especially with the shedding of public sector jobs. Thus it is demonstrably unfair that this government is set to cut housing benefit by 10% for those on job seekers’ allowance for more than 12 months. Unemployment rarely falls below one million, although this did happen during the Blair government in 2001. That is unique in post-war Britain, but those who criticise the Blair years often forget the many positive achievements during his term in office.

Looking at the last 30 years, the number of unemployed people in the UK peaked in 1986, at just over 3 million. In November 1999 there were 1.2 million unemployed claimants. (Source) Unemployment is forecast to peak at 2.8 million in 2010. Therefore, those who are set to lose a hefty percentage of their housing benefit as a penalty of being long-term unemployed are at the least going to exceed 1 million people, but very likely many more. Remember also that those same people will have had their housing benefit reduced because of changes in the level of rent that housing benefit will cover. This will mean that between 1 million and 3 million people are likely to lose more than £30 per week from their benefit. That is a situation that will likely prove to be the undoing of this ‘liberating’ government.

Supporting facts:

  • The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) state that capping Local Housing Allowance rates is likely to severely affect the availability of private rented properties to Housing Benefit recipients in many high-rent areas, forcing people to leave their communities or putting further pressure on social housing and homelessness services.
  • The National Housing Federation has estimated that more than 750,000 people are at risk of losing their homes in London and the South East because of next year’s proposed changes, which would lead to the highest levels of homelessness for over 30 years. The Building and Social Housing Federation (BSHF) has warned that the negative impacts of the measures could undo any public expenditure savings made, as a result of additional expenditure on homelessness provision, health, education and other service areas.
  • Citizens Advice’s analysis shows that the reduction of the value of LHA to the 30th percentile of local rents means that average loss in housing benefit for a two-bedroom property, for a lone parent or couple with one child (or two young children sharing a bedroom) – whether unemployed or on a low income – will be £9.60/week, or about £500/year. In London, losses will be even more severe. While the Government has been keen to highlight that this change will leave 30 per cent of properties available for households (at least until the real terms value of the benefit starts to fall as it is indexed to CPI), BSHF highlight that even at present only a minority of private sector landlords are willing to rent to people claiming Housing Benefit.
  • Cutting Housing Benefit for people who have been unemployed for 12 months will lead to severe financial hardship for groups including lone parents and disabled people who are moved onto JSA and are then unable to find a job. St  Mungos have highlighted that this measure will penalise the unemployed people who are in the greatest need of support. These reforms could also discourage landlords from letting properties to people on Housing Benefit.
  • Linking LHA to CPI will lead to a significant deterioration in its value –Meg Hillier MP has referenced Shelter’s research which shows that between 1999-2007 CPI increased by 15 per cent, while average rents rose by 44 per cent. The research shows that had LHA been set to increase with CPI in 1999 it would now be 20 per cent below the level needed to rent an average property.
  • Plans to reduce increase deductions for non-dependants are likely to lead to increased rent arrears – Citizens Advice highlight that non-payment by the non-dependant is common, leading to family tension and pressure on non-dependants to move out of family homes, as well as reduced housing benefit.
  • At the same time as increasing deductions for non-dependents,  the Government also plans to restrict housing benefit payments to working-aged social tenants based on the size of accommodation that they are deemed to need. BSHF have identified that this is effectively ending security of tenure by the back door, and have highlighted that lone parents or parents whose children leave home are likely to be particularly badly affected.
  • The DWP’s equality impact statement (which only covers the proposals which will be introduced in 2011) shows that families with children will be disproportionately impacted by the changes. It also acknowledges that homelessness and overcrowding may increased as a result of the Government’s proposals.

Source: Touchstone TUC

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