2012: Millions face poverty and homelessness

Sarah Wrack

There’s been no good news for people worried about their housing situation over Christmas and New Year.

From 1 January the government’s various attacks on housing benefit were introduced. A report by the Chartered Institute of Housing showed that the reduction in the cap on the amount available will make a further 800,000 homes unaffordable to those receiving housing benefit.

Housing in London will be particularly affected. There won’t even be enough affordable housing in the poorest areas of London. For example in Newham, east London, there are expected to be twice as many housing benefit claimants as there are homes that can be afforded on housing benefit alone.

It is likely that tens of thousands of low income families will be forced to leave the capital and everyone now accepts the inevitability of ‘benefit ghettoes’ developing as they relocate elsewhere in the south east.

The changes are likely to push unemployment up as people are forced to areas with fewer jobs and are unable to afford to travel to big towns because of rocketing train prices. Homelessness will rise. In the ‘shanty towns’ that develop there will be all sorts of social problems resulting from poverty and unemployment.

The government has no solutions to the housing crisis. They recently unveiled plans to make it an offence to sub-let a council house. Housing minister Grant Shapps seems to think this is all that’s needed to find homes for the five million people on council house waiting lists.

Labour frontbencher Maria Eagle pointed out that Shapps was trying to cover up the decline in affordable house building under the Con-Dems. She said “I think the issue about affordable housing is that there isn’t enough of it.” Hear hear. But let’s not forget that during their time in government Labour continued and stepped up the Tories’ programme of selling off publicly owned housing.

Private landlords and companies can’t be trusted with public housing or public money. The Institute for Public Policy Research recently criticised construction firms for being more interested in trading land than building homes. They said “the government’s new housing strategy does not make sufficient demands of the house builders. Instead, it offers them public land, money and guarantees without a serious quid pro quo. The government must demand more bang for the taxpayer’s buck – if it doesn’t, the result will be subsidised stagnation and another lost decade of house building.”

But the government will never demand that these private companies put people before profit, just as they won’t force private landlords to do the same. They are a government of the rich, for the rich.

We need an immediate cap on private rents and for the housing benefit cuts to be reversed. And then we need a mass building and renovation programme of publicly owned affordable housing to deal with the housing crisis and to provide millions of jobs.