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Leaked memo shows government lied over its homeless policies
Welfare cuts could make 40,000 homeless according to a leaked letter sent on behalf of Eric Pickles (cabinet minister responsible for housing) by his private secretary to the prime minister on the planned benefit caps.
It also states that the associated costs would mean that the measures wouldn't even save money.
Their lack of concern for the homeless is all too believable, but since the policy was announced in October last year they have repeatedly stated that homelessness would not rise and that it was not possible to quantify the impact.
We now know that Cameron and Pickles did have figures on the impact: they weren't telling the truth!
Independent research has been piling up showing the impact of benefit changes since they were announced but the government told us they were unable to do the sums.
A Cambridge University report in October last year for example showed that at least 19,000 households would be made homeless by these changes, as the Socialist reported at the time.
The housing charity, Shelter, found that nearly half of recipients of Local Housing Allowance already had to make up a shortfall of almost £100 a month - a situation created by the changes made to the system under New Labour - and were therefore in no position to make up bigger shortfalls.
No wonder that the homeless figures have risen and the homelessness charity, Bondway, reports that rough sleeping in London has risen by 10% in the last year.
In the Tory flagship borough of Westminster a report by council officers gives a sense of how people will be uprooted and children's education disrupted. Even assuming some landlords lower rents - and rents are actually rising - the analysis shows that Westminster could lose 17% of primary school age children and 11% of 11 to 13 year old pupils.
In the Maida Vale ward 43% of the primary school age population would have to go. You can see why an (unnamed) cabinet minister likened the housing benefit cuts to the highland clearances last year. But like the government, Westminster has been publicly denying that there will be a homelessness crisis.
The Westminster report makes the outcome clear; within three years, homelessness will start to become a thing of the past as more people on high incomes move in. Expensive 'problem families,' at-risk children, and older and disabled people requiring intensive home care will have moved out.
In his first response to the revelations the housing minister, Grant Schapps, resorted to pointing out that Labour was pledged to introduce benefit caps in its election manifesto.
But the Thatcher government deregulated the private rented sector deliberately to make it more 'attractive' to be a landlord.
Reflecting the impact of recession, low pay, insecure jobs and the shortage of social housing, private renting has grown by 40% in the past five years.
Labour cannot give voice to the agony of people struggling with rising rents because it is committed to capitalist policies.
The answer to rising rents is not to hit tenants claiming housing benefit. Anti-cuts campaigners and trade unionists should call for the reintroduction of rent controls as an emergency measure, and full nationalisation of the banks to mobilise resources for a massive programme of house building and repair.
Slum landlords on the rise
The reality of life in much private rented accommodation was shown on Channel 4's recent 'Dispatches' programme, giving shocking examples of arbitrary eviction and squalid accommodation. The figures show that these are not isolated cases.
Environmental health officers report that a million out of 3.4 million privately rented homes are actually dangerous and a YouGov survey for Shelter found that 7.5 million people have had issues with their landlords in the past ten years but many could not get them resolved because the landlord didn't respond, and 550,000 did nothing because they were afraid of the consequences - given the lack of protection from arbitrary eviction this is no surprise.
Both government and the opposition talk of the need to clamp down harder on benefit claimants. Trade unions and anti-cuts campaigners should argue for proper protection from eviction and for councils to clamp down on substandard housing; the real scandal is high rents charged for bad housing.
Shelter's research shows 66% support for stronger and clearer rules for landlords so private tenants are protected. An energetic campaign by trade unions and anti-cuts campaigners taking up the questions of low pay and bad housing will get an enormous response over the next few years.
In The Socialist 6 July 2011:
30th June strike and after
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