A further cut in the Benefit Cap, as pledged by David Cameron yesterday, could lead to the social cleansing of the entire south of England as families on benefits are pushed ever further north by soaring housing costs.
Although touted by the right wing press as an attack on the workshy, this move is aimed squarely at struggling low income families, and almost all them are single mothers. If these women were looking after one of Iain Duncan Smith’s four children they would be hard working people, toiling for the wealthy on poverty pay and doing the right thing. But looking after your own kids is no longer considered work and so they are scroungers who should have kept their legs shut as some of the nastiest and most virulent voices now claim.
Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the social security system was that the days when a working class woman was slut-shamed and stigmatised for having children on her own looked to be a distant memory. Benefits meant that single people of either sex could look after their children with some degree of independence and dignity if they found themselves without a wage coming in. They would be poor as fuck, but they would be housed at least. This applied whether they were single parents due to choice, relationship break up, bereavement or simply making a youthful mistake – and most people have had an unprotected shag at least once in their lives which is all it takes after all.
The introduction of the Benefit Cap, alongside workfare and sanctions for lone parents, has meant that single mothers are back in the firing line like never before. Lone parents now face being driven from the very cities they have lived and grown up in due to a succession of brutal housing benefit cuts that will punish their children most acutely of all. These are not people living in Chelsea mansions as this government pretend, but people living in the last remaining private rented slums that will still accept benefit claimants in places like Croydon, Tottenham or Catford.
The reduction of the benefit cap to £23,000 will mean cities such as Bristol, Bath and Cambridge will also become unaffordable to out of work parents with as few as two children. For the small number who need a property with more than three bedrooms, then barely anywhere south of Birmingham will be cheap enough. Councils in the midlands are already warning of pressures to housing and services in the region due to families being relocated from London and the economic cleansing from the first benefit cap has barely even begun. Should the cap be lowered even further then the trickle of families in poverty arriving in northern towns from the south could becom an avalanche, re-entrenching the North-South divide like never before.
The truth is that benefits have always been capped, but previously this took place at a local level. Benefits for an adult on unemployment benefits are capped at just £72.40 a week plus an additional amount towards housing costs. How much this is depends on where you live. In Islington, where the average rent for a one bedroom flat is estimated to be £415 a week by estate agents Foxtons, Housing Benefit is capped at £255.50 a week for a single adult without kids. That’s why, apart from those in social housing, not many poor people live in Islington anymore. In Barnsley the average weekly rent for a one bedroom flat is £89.30 according to this property website, whilst the Housing Benefit cap for a single adult is £69.23 a week. Lots of poor people live in Barnsley.
It is not the fault of claimants that rents have spiralled out of control. It is the failure of free market policies that have led to shrinking wages and soaring housing costs. Greedy landlords and exploitative employers who don’t pay proper wages are behind the growing benefit bill. And it is in their interests alone to blame struggling single mums and use nasty policies based on nasty prejudices to bully families out of their homes and communities.
Above pic from Haringey Solidarity Campaign.
A march for homes will be taking place in London this Saturday 31st January with meeting points in both East and South London. Please help spread the word: South London facebook page
East London facebook page
This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.