Another of Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship welfare reforms is to face a court challenge it has been reported this week. Four families are to bring a judicial review against the cap on benefits at £500 a week which was recently brought into force in three London boroughs and is due to be extended throughout the UK from July. The families will argue that the cap is ‘discriminatory and unreasonable’.
This latest legal challenge comes in the same week that the DWP faced a humiliating court defeat over the Atos assessments for sickness and disability benefits – which were ruled to discriminate against people with mental health conditions. This followed last week’s news that the DWP had lost a tribunal hearing and was ordered to release the names of the companies and charities profiting from workfare schemes.
These are the very same workfare schemes which were ruled unlawful in the Appeal Court earlier in the year. This judgement forced Iain Duncan Smith, with the shameful support of Labour, to introduce emergency legislation to steal compensation payments due to those who had benefits sanctioned under the illegal schemes. Despite this, the DWP are clearly on a losing streak and long may it continue.
The department may hope to be on safer ground with the benefit cap, which the Tories believe has been one of their most popular reforms. Yet along with the housing benefit caps, in many ways this policy has been one of the nastiest of all.
The benefit cap has been the one policy that has absolutely guaranteed that tens of thousands of claimants - almost all with children – would lose their homes. There is not even a remote possibility of families being able to scrimp and save to pay the rent if they live in the capital. Across huge swathes of London grasping landlords charge far more in rent than even the maximum now allowed in benefits, leaving these families with no choice but to leave the city. One of the richest cities in the world, is about to export it’s poorest residents to places like Bradford and Birmingham where unemployment is already soaring and public services are stretched to breaking point
It is not the fault of claimants that rents have sky-rocketed out of control in London and that no government has made any meaningful attempt to address the chronic lack of social housing. The difficulties involved in finding a private sector flat, where many landlords demand ‘No DSS’, is already one of the main causes of homelessness in the city. Often claimants have faced eye-watering rents simply because these were the only properties available. Slum landlords have been all too happy to exploit the situation, with astronomical rent demands for shitty rooms in B&Bs or flats that they wouldn’t be able to let to someone who was working – and who had a choice about where they lived.
Yet the Government has chosen to punish claimants themselves for the greed of landlords by forcing them from their homes. Two of the families who have launched the legal challenge against the benefit cap have recently fled domestic violence. Many claimants in high rent London properties have been those who have faced desperate circumstances and have done what any decent parent would – which is made sure their children have a roof over their heads by any means possible. These children, who may already have faced significant trauma due to witnessing or experiencing abuse, homelessness and just simple poverty, will have settled in these new homes, gone to school and made friends. Now they are to be uprooted again, possibly hundreds of miles away, whilst watching their parent(s) disintegrate under the pressures of forced relocation and a new threat of homelessness.
Rarely has a government policy been so precision targeted to attack the most marginalised in society. People who may just have been starting to put the pieces of their lives back together in safe if shabby accommodation, only to have that security destroyed as they face being cast out onto the streets.
And like so many of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms, the policy was based on a lie – which is that there were claimants living in areas or properties that those in work could not afford. Housing Benefit is available to families in and out of work alike. Working families in the capital living in high rent areas would be just as eligible for housing benefits as those out of work. Even families on salaries of £30k plus may have been eligible for some housing benefit in parts of the capital.
Housing Benefit has functioned as a crude sticking plaster for a dysfunctional housing market, and now that sticking plaster is being ripped away. The consequences of this, for some of the UK’s poorest and most vulnerable children, will be terrifying. All those who have cheered this reform from the sidelines should think of those children whose lives are about to be destroyed as a result of this bodged experiment in social cleansing.
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