Whilst the Tory Party pat themselves on the back at conference for the misery their welfare reforms have caused, recently updated benefit expenditure figures make a mockery of any claims that these vicious cuts were carried out to save money.
Housing Benefit (or Local Housing Allowance) makes up one of the largest parts of social security spending and every last penny of it goes to landlords. Ever since this government weren’t elected they have made brutal cuts to this vital benefit which pays for the UK’s poorest people to have a roof over theirs heads. Despite this the Housing Benefit bill is soaring and expcted to rise even further.
£24.8 billion was handed out to landlords in the form of Housing Benefit cheques in 2012/13 – the latest year for which exact figures are available. This is a rise of £2.7 billion, in real terms annual spending on Housing Benefit since the Tories came to power.
Much of this increase is in payments to private sector landlords rather than towards housing association or council rents. But it is not soaring private rents that have caused the increase in spending, Housing Benefit rises are now capped at 1% annually whilst total caps on the amount landlords can receive are in place in high rent areas such as the South East of England. It is claimants who have had to absorb the cost of rent rises, out of already meagre benefits.
Nor is the rise due to people who are unemployed. Less than £4 bilion of the £24.8 bilion total Housing Benefit spend pays for accommodation for people on unemployment benefits. Much of the rise is due to new claimants who are in work, which shows the true picture of the UK’s labour market.
Housing Benefit provides a good indicator of how many people in the UK are poor. It is available to those in or out of work, as well as pensioners. The only criteria for help with rent payments is an income low enough to qualify and less than £16,000 in assets. The Tories may claim that the recovery is in full swing, and thousands of pretend jobs have been created, but that doesn’t change the harsh fact that there are now more people poor than at any point since the Housing Benefit system began.
This is reflected in the number of people actually claiming the benefit, which hit a record 5.05 million in 2012/13. This figure has fallen slightly since last year – by around 25 thousand – but is forecast to rise again and is still almost half a million people higher than in 2009/10.
Surprisingly, another factor that may be driving up the Housing Benefit bill could well be the bungled attempts at cost-cutting reforms – the most notorious being the Bedroom Tax. There has been no better gift to the landlord class than this nasty policy which is driving people out of secure homes at low, social rents and into the out of control and hugely expensive private sector. Even the Benefit Cap might be increasing spending on Housing Benefits as families evicted due to no longer being able to afford the rent are rehoused by local authorities in emergency temorary accommodation which can be eye-wateringly expenisve. Last year the BBC reported on families being placed in £3000 a week hotels after being made homeless due to caps on housing benefits. The most recent homelessness figures showed the number of families living in B&Bs is at a five year high.
Many tenants are struggling with desperate poverty after cuts to Housing Benefits. Some Bedroom Tax victims are now paying up to a third of their meagre benefit payments towards the rent. Yet the cost of Housing Benefit is soaring. All Iain Duncan Smith has created is more poverty at more cost to the tax payer. Whatever your political persuasion that is nothing to be fucking cheering about.
You can download the most recent Benefit Expenditure tables at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-expenditure-and-caseload-tables-2014
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