Tag Archives: homelessness

Homeless Families Living in £3000 Per Week Hotels Due to Housing Benefit Reforms

homeless-familyNothing sums up the toxic mix of brutality and blundering at the DWP than the news that homeless families are being housed in hotels at a cost of almost £3000 a week.

BBC London last night reported on the families kicked out of their homes due to the Housing Benefit cap who are now being put up in hotels at huge cost to the tax payer – an entirely predictable scenario for anyone who has a basic understanding of the housing and benefits system.

The Housing Benefit cap was introduced after lurid stories appeared in the tabloids about families living in £2000 a week Kensington mansions.   David Cameron himself denounced the housing benefit system that led to people claiming £100,000 a year.  The truth was not so dramatic and it turned out that less than five families were actually receiving that much in benefits – which it should be repeatedly pointed out went into to the pockets of landlords, not claimants.  The average Housing Benefit award was just £85 a week.

This didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith steaming ahead with the Housing Benefit cap which has seen most of London become unaffordable for private tenants on a low wage or who are out of work due to sickness, disability or sky high unemployment.

At the time IDS claimed: “‘We have got to bring an end to the hysteria and scaremongering around housing benefit we have seen this week.  Our reforms are not about making people homeless.”

Since he made those remarks every measure of homelessness has risen sharply,  from the number of people living on the streets to the number of children living in B&Bs and hotels.

London Councils have been overwhelmed with homelessness applications, leading to some, like Westminster Council – a flagship Tory borough – housing families in hotels at astronomical cost.  Less than five families who were living in what was very likely temporary housing at a cost of £2000 a week have been replaced by possibly scores of homeless families living in hotels which cost £3000 a week.

These are families who have already faced the trauma of eviction due to the benefit caps.  Whilst the BBC points out that the shortage of accommodation is so acute that Westminster are sometimes using 4 star hotels, a posh carpet and and a concierge are unlikely to make up for large families forced to share a room without cooking facilities or any long term security.

When the overall benefit cap is introduced in Croydon, Haringey and Enfield in April, this is a problem that is only going to get far worse as even more families will find themselves unable to pay the rent and forced from their homes.

Iain Duncan Smith whinged in the Spectator yesterday that criticism of the upcoming bedroom tax is ‘pathetic’ and ‘scaremongering’.  Which sounds a lot like his tantrum when people warned the Housing Benefit cap would lead to a huge rise in homelessness in London.

IDS was wrong then, and he’s wrong now.  There will be no comfort in saying we told you so however when hundreds of thousands of children’s lives are shattered by the inevitable poverty and homelessness that is to come.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Squaring Up to The Bedroom Tax: Resistance Grows Around the UK

bedroom-taxResistance to the Bedroom Tax, which will lead to thousands of people at risk of imminent homelessness, is sweeping across the UK.

From this April, council tenants with a spare room will see vital housing benefits cut by an average of £15 a week.  This will see those who are unemployed, on low incomes, or out of work due to sickness or disability, facing paying a huge chunk of paltry benefits towards keeping a roof over their heads.

Along with changes to Council Tax Benefits, and soaring fuel and water bills, some claimants could find themselves left with virtually nothing left at all to buy food. Amongst those hit will be parents whose children have recently left home, separated parents, foster carers and disabled people living in specially adapted properties.  Around 660,000 tenants are estimated to be affected by the change.

The Government has demanded that tenants should just move if they have a problem paying the extra costs.  Yet there is a woeful supply of one bedroom social housing meaning transfers to smaller properties in most cases will be impossible.  This is likely to lead to an exodus of social housing tenants to the private sector – where rents are far higher.  Not for the first time this policy seems to be more about attacking the very poorest and undermining social housing then actually saving money.

Tenants are now acting together to resist these changes, with news of meetings, campaigns and actions happening across the UK.  Here’s a list, which is far from exhaustive, of some of what’s been organised so far.  Please feel free to add details of anything that’s been missed in the comments.

Liverpool – A wide network has emerged opposing the bedroom tax with a ‘Ruckus at Mutual Homes’ on Wednesday 7th February at noon.  Astonishingly the Chairman of Liverpool Mutual Homes proposed workfare for tenants to make up the rent shortfall.  For details of the protest visit: http://www.facebook.com/events/472210886178901/

Several local planning meetings are being held around Liverpool in the next few weeks – for full details visit: http://combatbedroomtax.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/liverpool-tenants-meetings-housing.html

Glasgow – Groups including Black Triangle Campaign, Govan Law Centre  and Glasgow Housing Action are all agitating against the bedroom tax with some form of action inevitable. A meeting has also been called by the Socialist Party Scotland on February 11th: http://www.facebook.com/events/615638345129882/ whilst Coalition Of Resistance have a meeting on the 13th.

Edinburgh – Similar mobilisations are taking place.  A call has also gone out on facebook for a protest against the bedroom tax in Scotland on March 30th: http://www.facebook.com/events/369488576491663/

Leeds – A website is up and a meeting has already been held in Seacroft, with a further meeting being held in Armley on February 14th.  Full details at: http://leedshandsoffourhomes.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/armley-stop-the-bedroom-tax-meeting/

London – A protest has been called on March 30th when campaigners will meet at Trafalgar Square then walk down to Downing Street to literally hand over the shirts off their backs – full details at: http://www.facebook.com/events/147409045413846/

A meeting in London recently took place in which a new network to fight all the welfare cuts was established including DPAC, Right To Work, Defend Council Housing as well as the PCS and UNITE Unions – more info at: http://www.dpac.uk.net/2013/01/campaign-for-benefit-justice-sign-up-to-our-statement-against-tory-attacks-on-the-poor/

And there is of course the inevitable petition aimed at scrapping the bedroom tax at: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Paul_Higgins/

Finally worthy of a mention is the SPeye blog which has featured some of the best coverage of the bedroom tax, including revealing that despite Tory lies, it seems many pensioners will be hit by the tax.

Please tweet, share and spread the word about all groups and events.  It’s early days yet and networks are still being formed and co-ordinated.  If your group is organising a meeting, action or protest then please spam the fuck out of the comments below.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Affordable Housebuilding Collapses – and it’s going to get worse

soup-kitchenFigures released today show that genuinely affordable housebuilding – meaning housing that most people can afford to actually live in – has dropped by 28% in the last year.

According to the National House Building Council, the number of public sector housing registrations dropped from 36,680 in 2011, to 26,390 in 2012.  This dwarfed a small rise in private sector house building, meaning the number of new homes built overall in the UK fell by 9% last year.

The devastating loss of social provision is only likely to get worse over the next year.  Social Housing providers have warned that they may have to cut new house building by 8% simply because of the impact of Universal Credit.  Early pilots of Iain Duncan Smith’s sweeping overhaul of the benefits system showed that arrears doubled in areas where the new payment system was trialled.  Housing Associations are stockpiling cash rather than building houses due to fears of an oncoming wave of arrears and evictions.

Not to be outdone, Housing Minister Mark Prisk is determined to make the situation even worse.  Prisk recently squandered almost a million pounds of tax payer’s money promoting the very same Right To Buy policies that created the desperate lack of affordable housing in the UK.

In many parts of the UK even so called ‘affordable homes’ can cost more in weekly rent than the wages from a minimum wage job will pay, or those on even average incomes can afford.  Recent changes to legislation could see Social Housing providers charging rents at 80% of the local private sector average.  In parts of London ‘affordable’ rents could be upwards of a thousand pounds a month, even in the outer boroughs.

With housing benefits being slashed, a collapse in social housing and private rents soaring out of control, millions may soon found themselves at very real risk of homelessness.   The safety net of the welfare state is no longer strong enough for even the working poor to be able to afford a place to sleep

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Rents Set To Soar as Wages and Benefits are Slashed

rent-risesOver one third of landlords are planning rent rises already this year, with around a quarter set to inflict an inflation busting 3% hike on struggling tenants a new survey has revealed.

The stark warning was issued by letting agents Spareroom, who also recently revealed that rents for rooms in shared houses had rocketed by a staggering 7% in the last year.

Average rents across the UK were 4.7% higher in December than a year previously according to the Homelet Rental Index.  This makes a mockery of internet con-man and Tory Party Chairman Grants Shapps’ claim last year that rents are falling due to welfare reforms.

In fact it is tenant’s wages which are falling, by on average 0.3% over the year according to Homelet.

With the bedroom tax and benefit cap to come into force this April a perfect storm is brewing which could lead to unprecedented homelessness.  MPs voting through the freeze on benefits last night mean it is possible any explosion in homelessness this year will just be the tip of the iceberg.

Housing Benefits, a benefit available to those in and out of work alike – as well as parents, pensioners and disabled people – will only rise at 1% from 2014, no matter what happens to the rental market.  With falling or stagnating wages, cuts to other benefits and soaring rents, this will create an ongoing catastrophe in the lives of the very poorest.

Every year people with almost nothing will see incomes squeezed as they attempt to pay ever increasing rent rises out of slashed benefits or poverty pay.  This can only lead to one thing, and for many tenants that will mean the streets.

As greedy landlords cash in on the ongoing housing crisis, the Government seem intent on making things worse.  The appalling lack of social housing is one reason that rents are out of control, a shortage caused by the right-to-buy policies which began under the Tory Party in the 80s.

Astonishingly Inside Housing this week reported that the Housing Minister Mark Prisk is throwing tax payer’s cash around like confetti in a bid to extend the scheme.  Almost £1 million has been spent on marketing and mail shots to social housing tenants encouraging them to buy their properties.

Already polls show that the public is finally turning against the escalating war on the poor.  Homelessness is one of the most visible signs of both poverty and a fractured society.  Few will forgive this Government when they see for themselves the carnage that has been created in so many people’s lives.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

What Is Homelessness And Why Does It Happen?

HomelessWhilst people on the streets are one of the most visible signs of homelessness, the problem extends far beyond rough sleeping.  The majority of homeless people live in hostels, night shelters or B&Bs, but the impact of being without a home is still devastating.

Hostels and B&Bs provide relief in a crisis, and can be both the first step towards a solution, but also the first fall towards the streets.  The accommodation is insecure, short term and hugely expensive.  For single people it can mean sharing a room with strangers whilst parents are forced to share with their children.  In particular private sector temporary accommodation is often dangerous, damp, dirty and unmaintained.

Some hostels and night shelters are ‘direct access’ where most residents were formally living on the streets and have been identified by charity outreach workers.  These hostels have strict rules, sometimes not allowing access to the premises in the day time, with bed spaces being lost should a resident sleep elsewhere for the night.  Many long term street homeless people find adapting to such a regulated environment difficult, whilst others find the atmosphere, where drugs and heavy drinking are  commonplace (though usually banned), intimidating and frightening.

After a period which can be several weeks but sometimes months, most people are referred to longer stay hostels whilst waiting to be moved to some form of more sustainable accommodation – usually a council or housing association flat or bedsit.  Residents can be in long stay hostels for anything from six months to a couple of years.   Generally residents have their own rooms, albeit often little larger than a single bed.  Meals are sometimes provided and any facilities are shared.   Overnight guests, or even guests full stop, are often banned.  Homeless people aren’t allowed to have relationships.

Those in temporary accommodation, whether long stay hostels or B&Bs, have ‘licence agreements’ rather than tenancies.  This is more similar to the type of contract entered into when using a hotel and means immediate eviction should someone fall foul of the rules.

Temporary accommodation charges eye watering rents which are covered by housing benefits.  This makes it very difficult for those in long stay hostels to work.  Residents also pay a service charge out of their benefits to cover the costs of heat, light and water as well as food if available.  Service charge arrears result in eviction.

A final large group of homeless people are the so called ‘hidden homeless’.  People sleeping on a friend’s sofa, staying with family or squatting.  Other people live in a vehicles – whether on the side of a road or on a traveller site, some pitch a tent away from view, many sleep in derelict properties or abandoned garages.  This is often the first stage of homelessness as precarious accommodation collapses and people are left with nowhere to go but the streets.

Local authorities only have a duty to help those with children or who are ‘vulnerable’ which in practice usually means someone with a severe disability or those above pension age.   To qualify for help a homeless applicant must also have a connection with the local areas and not be judged ‘intentionally homeless’.  Families who are deemed ‘intentionally homeless’, having given up a property for some reason, or in some cases been evicted for arrears, may be told that the council will take the children into care but the parents can fend for themselves.  With huge strains on the amount of emergency accommodation available, most local authorities will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid helping anyone.

It has long been the fashion, amongst governments and homelessness charities alike, to insist that homelessness is something caused by people, personalities and individual behavior.  They point to some homeless people abusing drugs or alcohol, failing to find work, committing crimes and, worst of all, not doing what charity workers tell them to do.  But many homeless people are just poor and have run into bad luck, although it is hard to stay a perfectly productive member of society when your world has collapsed around you.  Homelessness drives more people to drink than the other way round.

One factor unites all of the experiences of homeless people and that is a lack of money.  Whatever other difficulties someone is facing there will always be a point on the journey to the streets where homelessness is a purely economic matter.

It could be an eviction or repossession, or someone unable to afford a deposit on a property or not able to pay for a cheap B&B for the night.  This is why the tsunami of cuts to welfare, and in particular housing benefits, will send homelessness soaring.  Because when people need that kind of help most, when life has taken a terrible turn, to strip away payments available for housing will mean the fall to rock bottom is assured.  People in desperate circumstances are not incentivised by having less money.  They are demolished.

Everybody knows that when people are under great pressure they do not always act rationally or in their own interests.  It is sheer bad luck that sometimes unfortunate and devastating events can happen in quick succession.  Desperate people do desperate things.  When a relationship breaks down, sometimes people turn to drink.  This can lead to problems at work and even dismissal, followed by depression and heavier drinking.  Benefits are unavailable due to being sacked.  Rent goes unpaid, friendships deteriorate, support networks dismantle.  Homelessness follows and it’s hard to sleep on a pavement sober.

None of this is unusual or outside of the realm of normal human behaviour.  It is called a downward spiral and it can happen in a million different ways to anyone.  There are former successful business people living on the streets of London right now, whilst the vast majority of homeless people had stable, fulfilling lives at some point.

It is only at the very bottom of this decline, that if you are lucky, the state might just step in and offer to try fix the problems they helped create.  And so begins a climb back through the system of night shelters, hostels and temporary accommodation that can take years.  One small slip along the way, breaching hostel or benefit rules, and it’s back to the bottom.

Homelessness has many contributing factors and subsequent effects, but remains at heart an economic problem.  That’s why, even before the cuts, a stagnating economy was causing homelessness to rise. The number of people without a home is set to soar due to a toxic combination of cuts, rent rises, wage or benefit freezes and law changes.  Every single one of those people will have a tragic story, and all too often one that begins with a letter from the DWP telling them that their housing benefit is being cut.

How to Create Mass Homelessness the George Osborne Way

Cardboard2This week’s move by George Osborne to cap benefit rises below inflation at 1% is the final deadly touch in a toxic series of measures likely to lead to unprecedented homelessness in the UK.

The Chancellor’s decision came in the same week that Crisis released a report warning that street homelessness has risen by a shocking 23% in just one year.  Every other measure of homelessness has also soared recently with the numbers of homeless families in temporary accommodation up by 44%

These steep rises in numbers of those without a home have come before the impact of coalition cuts to Housing Benefits have largely been felt.

There will be a considerable lag before people made homeless end up either on the streets or presenting as homeless with local councils.  Many local authorities will not even accept a homelessness application until someone has been formally evicted from their home.  This means many of those affected by the last year’s Housing Benefit cap will be waiting to be evicted before they can get help from the council – and no doubt building up significant debts whilst they wait.

The Housing Benefit cap was implemented depending on when claimants made their initial claim for the benefit, meaning some people will only have seen benefits slashed in the last couple of months.  It is likely that virtually none of the recorded rises in homelessness seen so far are due to the vicious cuts to housing benefits, but simply the predictable consequences of a fucked economy.

The new rules for those under 35 – which mean that Housing Benefit will only pay for a room in a shared house – are likely to have now come into force for most claimants.  Once again there will be a lag before many affected are picked up in the homelessness figures.  Younger people make up one of the largest groups of ‘hidden homeless’, generally those sleeping on friend’s sofas or squatting.  For some this temporary support is enough, but for others it can be the start of a decline which ultimately leads to the streets.

Squatting recently became illegal in even abandoned ‘residential’ properties, so this vital lifeline has been cut short.

Next April the overall benefit cap of £500 a week is introduced – no matter where someone lives or the size of their families.  This will make much of the South East of England unaffordable for those on benefits with children.  If this wasn’t enough the Bedroom Tax, to be introduced at the same time, will see housing benefits cut for people who have a spare room for a carer, or happen to have children who have just left home.

For those hit by this measure, the path to finally losing homes will be long and drawn out.  Claimants living on just £70 a week unemployment benefit could find themselves paying £10, 20 or even more each week towards their rent.  Few will be able to manage without falling into arrears.

Many people are already paying a significant amount towards rent out of meagre benefits after the Government down-rated Housing Benefit payments to the bottom 30% of the housing market.  Just three out of ten properties in any local area are now affordable to those on benefits. Previously Housing Benefit would cover the bottom 50% of rents in the market, so some claimants are stuck in properties which housing benefits won’t pay for and are desperately trying to cover the shortfall themselves.

It is impossible to predict how many people may find themselves homeless over the next two or three years due to the Government’s cuts.   The Government themselves estimate 50,000 families will be affected by next year’s benefit cap alone.  According to the Children’s Society this could mean 80,000 more homeless children from next April.

It will not just be those on benefits affected by the changes.  Housing Benefit is an in work benefit and an increasing number of claimants have full time jobs.  The so called fall in unemployment has really just been a rise in workfare, sanctions and part time work.  Economic conditions alone would be enough to trigger a housing crisis in an increasingly unaffordable rental market combined with sky-high unemployment.

But the Government aren’t content to stop there.  George Osborne’s latest cuts will ensure that the mass exodus into hostels and B&Bs or onto the streets, is now enshrined within the welfare system.  Housing Benefit will no longer be pegged to the local rental market, or even inflation as had been first announced in 2010.  Despite rocketing rents in some parts of the UK,  Housing Benefit will now only rise at a rate of 1% a year.

To place this in context, it has been estimated that London rents soared by 32% in the last three years.  A property which cost £200 a week in 2009 now costs on average £264.  Under Osborne’s new measures,the amount of Housing Benefit available for that property would have risen by just £6.  Even outside of London rents have risen 7% over three years, so someone in a £150 a week property would need to find an extra £6 a week out of their benefits.

This is £6 a week is on top of the shortfall many people already face due to the cuts and before the benefit cap/bedroom tax have been introduced.  Crisis estimate the average shortfall facing many Housing Benefit claimants is £23 a week.  When Universal Credit is introduced, those on benefits or low incomes may also lose some  Council Tax benefit .  In the worst case scenario, people on Job Seekers Allowance could find themselves paying out almost half of their £70 a week in rent and Council Tax.

Half a million benefit sanctions were handed out last year, which leave  claimants forced to live on £42 a week ‘Hardship Payments’ – and only then if they qualify.  When Universal Credit is introduced the number of sanctioned claims is expected to rise.   Rent payments are usually still covered during a sanction, but housing benefit often needs to be re-applied for.  This can take considerable time and lead to arrears and even eviction.  As Housing Benefits increasingly don’t pay the rent, claimants living on £42 a week, could see the bulk of it swallowed up by trying to keep a roof over their heads.

And even those paltry benefit rates are to face a cut in real terms, along with in work benefits such as Working and Child Tax Credits.

It is scandalous that so much of the benefits bill ends up in the pocket of grasping landlords.  It is a tragedy just how much social housing provision has been eroded by successive governments. But Housing Benefit is the most vital and life-saving part of the benefits system – keeping a roof over the heads of low paid, sick, disabled, unemployed or retired people alike along with millions of children.

It is not our fault the housing market is so fucked and that rents are unaffordable.  Whilst the pampered middle classes gushed about their property prices in the house market boom and buy to let landlords pushed up rents to new heights a social time-bomb was being created which housing benefit ended up paying for.

The victims of rampant property speculation and soaring rents are now to be punished again as Housing Benefits are stripped away.  For every latte slurping Tarquin’s property portfolio, there is now a family of homeless children whose lives have been destroyed before they have barely even begun.

Homelessness Charities Slam Floundering Work Programme

Three of the UK’s largest homelessness charities have issued a scathing report condemning the Government’s Work Programme.

According to the report there is currently no provision on the Work Programme for homeless people in London, 22% of homeless claimants have had benefits sanctioned whilst on the scheme and Work Programme contractors are picking up huge job outcome fees for work the charities have done themselves.

The report, authored by St Mungo’s, Crisis and Homeless Link, comes in the week that performance figures are expected to be released showing the Work Programme is an hugely expensive disaster.

St Mungo’s have already handed back their Work Programme contract after claiming they were unable to place a single person into work under the scheme.

Whilst these charities were only too happy to endorse the scheme when they thought there might be some money in it for them, this report does suggest a change in direction from some of those in the third sector.  The report warns of the crippling poverty inflicted by sanctioning vulnerable claimants and also highlights how many homeless people had been forced to give up college or volunteering to attend the Work Programme.  Showing that these charities have a long way to go before they truly get behind there service users however, the report stops short of calling for an end to the brutal sanction regime.

Concerns are also raised about how claimants are treated on the scheme, with 58 per cent of homeless people surveyed stating they were not treated with ‘dignity or respect’ by Work Programme providers.

The report also claims that Work Programme contractors such as A4e and G4S often pick up huge job outcome fees for claimants who found work through schemes the charities themselves ran and funded.  This means that someone could successfully find work after a course with a homelessness charity – funded by donations from the public or other funding body – and all the Work Programme contractor has to do is get some paperwork signed and they can trouser up to £6,600.  The most lucrative benefit scam in  history is taking place right under the noses of the DWP and yet still  Iain Duncan Smith sings the praises of the whole shabby racket.

The document also highlights how in some cases the Work Programme has effectively destroyed people’s lives:

Sam lives in a St Mungo’s hostel. When he told his Work Programme adviser that he wanted to work in construction, his adviser suggested that Sam become self-employed.

He was assured that he could claim different benefits and led to believe that his income would not be affected. Sam followed this advice and signed-off JSA, which meant that his housing benefit was also stopped. He tried to claim benefits for those who had declared themselves self-employed, but was told by the Jobcentre that he was not eligible.

“They said I would get help and my benefits wouldn’t get cut off, but that’s not how it went – it put me in jeopardy for three or four weeks. My housing benefit was cut off, my JSA stopped….I was misguided.” He was left with no income apart from a £51 one-off grant from the Work Programme provider. After several weeks Sam started to receive JSA again.

Around this time he was planning to move-on into more independent accommodation but he had to abandon this move because he had no housing benefit to pay the rent. Because he had signed off JSA, Sam also became ineligible for Social Fund grants that would have helped him to furnish a new flat.

The report can be read in full at: http://www.crisis.org.uk/data/files/policy_research/TheProgrammesNotWorking_final_23-11-2012_PDF.pdf

2 Million Face Rent Arrears Due to New Benefits System Admits Lord Fraud

Almost half of all claimants of Universal Credit feel they will be unable to manage their money when the new benefits regime is introduced next year research has revealed.

Universal Credit will replace all out of work benefits, housing payments and in work benefits such as Working and Child Tax Credits.  Unlike the current system, all payments will be made monthly, whilst there will no longer be an option to have rent paid directly to landlords.

This has led to concerns that those already on pitifully small incomes may have difficulties managing budgets and may fall into further poverty and rent arrears due to the changes.

The DWP are currently carrying out pilots projects to test the new payments system and the transition to monthly, online only benefits administration.  Predictably they are refusing to reveal the exact results of these projects.  What they are prepared to tell us reveals why.

Ever the optimist, Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, claims that just 54% of claimants feel they will manage the transition to direct payments – when housing benefit payments are no longer sent direct to landlords.  The number of people claiming Housing Benefits, which is available to those in and out of work alike, is over 5 million.  What scant information has been revealed from the pilots suggests that around two and a quarter million people may fall into rent arrears due to the implementation of Universal Credit.

Astonishingly Lord Fraud attempts to spin this as a good thing, although concedes that ‘more work is needed’.  Perhaps of most concern is that the study appears to have been carried out using social housing tenants, where rents are lower and some support is already available through housing offices for struggling tenants.

In the private sector, where rents are soaring and landlords can evict tenants at the drop of the hat, the impact of Universal Credit is likely to be even more devastating.

Along with a toxic combination of housing benefit cuts and rocketing rents, the impact of this Government’s flagship welfare reform increasingly look like levels of homelessness never before witnessed in the UK.  This social deficit, of poverty, poor housing and desperation, is the real legacy that Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Fraud are leaving to the next generation.

The Legacy of Grant Shapps – Soaring Rents, Homelessness and Housing Benefit Costs

Grants Shapps’ claims that Housing Benefit caps would lead to lower rents have been demolished by a report published this week by the National Housing Federation (NHF).

The NHF warn in stark terms that rents are soaring, a trend they believe will continue and lead to millions of people unable to afford to buy, or rent a home in the near future. The Evening Standard also warned last week that rents across London are at an all time high, having risen 6.2% in the last year. In Hammersmith and Fulham, one of the boroughs most impacted by the government’s caps on Housing Benefit, rents have soared by 15%.

Speaking about the housing benefit caps, Grant Shapps, when he was Minister for Housing, claimed that: “Rather than some of the catastrophic predictions that have been made, what’s much more likely is that rents will start to fall.”

The Housing Benefit caps were justified by lurid stories claiming people were living in Chelsea mansions whilst claiming benefits at a cost to the tax payer of thousands every month. The truth was that this represented a literal handful of homeless families who were in emergency temporary accommodation in expensive ares of London.

The housing benefit caps were set at a far lower rate than the cost of a Kensington town house and resulted in much of London becoming unaffordable for those claiming full housing benefit awards. The impact of these changes has barely begun to be felt and already every measure of homelessness in rising.

Whilst central London is socially cleansed an influx of housing benefit tenants into outer London boroughs and the home counties will mean soaring demand for rental properties. The impact of the housing benefit caps will be higher rents for everybody as competition for what few low cost rental properties exist intensifies.

The National Housing Federation also report on the huge rise in the number of people claiming Housing Benefit who are in work. In just three years the number of people claiming the benefit to top up wages has grown by 417,830 people. According to the report this number is increasing by 10,000 people a month.

Whilst rising rents are undoubtedly to blame for some of this increase, it hides a larger truth. Unemployment, we are led to believe is falling. Yet the number of people who need to claim Housing Benefit, a benefit based on income rather than employment status, is rocketing.

This apparent paradox is easily explained. The fall in unemployment has been largely down to people being sent on workfare, part time jobs, and the record number of people registering as self-employed. All of these people still need to claim Housing Benefit, because even if they are ‘officially’ working, they aren’t making any fucking money.

The Government plans even more cuts to Housing Benefits, with the threat to remove the right to a home for those under 25. Already people under 35 are now only permitted to claim for a room in a shared house. A perfect storm is coming which may yet see record numbers of homeless people once again hitting the streets of London and other large cities.

Despite the brutal cuts the Housing Benefit bill is rising. The Government’s policies so far have led to more homelessness, higher rents and more government spending on housing benefits. The only people to benefit have been greedy landlords (like Chris Grayling) who are pulling out all the stops to cash in on this Government’s housing shambles.

Every Women’s Refuge in the UK Could Close Due to Universal Credit

A toxic combination of Universal Credit and benefit caps could lead to every single women’s refuge is the UK closing their doors the charity Women’s Aid has warned.

Critics have also raised concerns that the new benefits system, which will see all benefit paid to just one member of a family, could leave people trapped in abusive relationships with no hope of escape.

Many homelessness hostels and night-shelters will also be affected by the benefit cap, although shockingly it will be those with children who are at greatest risk.

The benefit cap, set to be introduced in April 2013, will see benefits capped at £350 a week for a single claimant and £500 for a family of any size.  This cap includes support with rent payments, which make up the bulk of almost all benefit awards.  Already Housing Benefit caps are leading to soaring homelessness and the impact has barely even been felt.  The situation is set to become far worse when payments for temporary or emergency accommodation are also subject to the cap.

Women’s refuges and other types of emergency accommodation are forced to charge high rents (paid by Housing Benefit) to cover staffing costs.   Experienced staff are critical to the services they offer, for both resident security and ongoing vital support.

When the cap is introduced next year Women’s Aid warn that the loss of income will “decimate the refuge network”.  To make matters even worse, the move to a monthly payment system for Universal Credit -  along with ‘direct payments’ which means housing benefits will no longer be paid to landlords – may see some residents falling into arrears placing further pressure on services.

Homelessness hostels which support young people who have suffered abuse may also be forced to close.  With brutal cuts already made to Housing Benefits for those under 25, there may well be nowhere left to run but the streets for children who are abused in the family home.

Universal Credit will only be paid to a single family member as opposed to benefits being split between between couples as at present.  For those in abusive relationships this could prove devastating, allowing abusive partners  to trap people in a financial straitjacket from which there is little chance of escape.

Women’s Aid supported 180,000 adults and children last year.  This support could disappear completely when Iain Duncan Smith’s inept benefit changes are driven through.

Whilst hostel and refuge accommodation has improved over the years it could still best be described as basic.  Women fleeing domestic violence, or homeless teenagers escaping abuse, are a world away from the plasma screen collecting mythical claimants so often portrayed in the media.

It is a sad truth that already those who have suffered trauma or abuse and are unable to work are forced into poverty by paltry benefits.  The decimation of refuges and emergency accommodation services will now mean homelessness as well for those seeking to escape their situation.  That this savage scenario doesn’t even seem to have occurred to Iain Duncan Smith tells us everything we need to know about the posh boys in this Government’s attitude to women.

UPDATE:  Not quite a u-turn, more a bodge has been announced.  With no clear details however services for those fleeing domestic violence remain under a grave threat.

A briefing report on the impact of Welfare Reform produced by Women’s Aid can be downloaded at: http://www.womensaid.org.uk/core/core_picker/download.asp?id=3744 (PDF)