Stop social cleansing: Cap rents, not benefits

Paul Kershaw

Camden council in London has announced plans to move poorer families out of the capital to places as far away as Bradford, Leicester and Birmingham, saying it can no longer afford to house them.

Camden is contacting 761 households, 2,817 people, who may be affected by the government’s benefit cap, which will limit total welfare payments to £500 a week for families later this year.

The Labour council warns that most of these families have three children and will need to find on average an additional £90 a week for rent to remain in their homes when the cap comes in.

Camden say they regret the move. But rather than acting to protect working class people by launching a mass campaign against the cuts and setting a budget based on the needs of the community, they are implementing a policy of social cleansing.

Other London councils are developing similar plans and four (Haringey, Enfield, Croydon and Bromley) will be trialling the new arrangements from April. Westminster has estimated that 2,327 local families will be hit.

A single mother was quoted in the press saying: “I want to stay where I am for my children’s education. What it seems like is the government just want London for the rich.”

Benefit myths

It is not even the case that people’s problems will ease when families are forced out. Bradford points out that it has 20,000 people waiting for social housing, 10% overcrowding in some areas, and a severe shortage of school places, especially in the areas where these families are likely to end up.

The government has defended the policy saying: “It’s not right that benefit claimants can receive higher incomes than families who are in work…” repeating the false idea that claimants are not workers. But the benefits system has become a mechanism for subsidising low-paying employers.

It is true that rents in inner London are sky high – rents of three bedroom homes in Camden are at least double the government’s maximum welfare payment of £340 a week for such properties in north London. But it’s landlords, not tenants, who get rich.

If your job is in London it’s likely that a rent that was once affordable has become unaffordable as rent increases outstrip wage increases.

The average rent in London increased by 6.7% last year. A minimum emergency step would be to cap rents instead of benefits. Most European and North American cities control rent.

Fighting councillors

Two Labour councillors in Southampton have stood up for working class people by refusing to implement cuts but have been expelled from Labour.

No councillors in Camden have had the courage to stand up against cuts and social cleansing.

Support Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidate John Reid (regional secretary of London Transport for the RMT transport workers union) in the Camden council byelection on 14 March as a voice against cuts and social cleansing.