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Housing benefit reforms should not go ahead, warned government advisers PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 01 December 2010 12:31

The government\'s own social security advisers warned ministers "not to go ahead" with housing benefit reforms that risked increasing levels of homelessness and crime and would seriously disrupt poor children\'s schooling, in reports released on the day the controversial welfare changes became law.

In two separate assessments, the government was told of concerns that poor families would be forced out of more affluent parts of the country "into the poorest and most deprived areas, away from jobs, opportunities and access to the services that households ? particularly those of claimants who are not of working age, or unable to work ? will need".

At the centre of the proposals is a shakeup of housing benefit, which provides means-tested support for the housing costs of 4.8 million poor families. The secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, says paring back housing benefit will bring down rents in the private sector and save the taxpayer money ? a claim disputed by the department\'s expert panel.

The social security advisory committee, a body tasked to examine welfare reforms, said: "There is little evidence to suggest that landlords will reduce their rents to reflect the resources available."

The experts cautioned instead that the poor would face "large income shocks ? reflected in worsening rates of child poverty". It described ministers\' proposed safety net as "inadequate ? representing around 4% of the total cash losses that will result from these measures".

In summary, the experts said the "proposed measures are neither a coherent expression of the government\'s objectives for making work pay, nor a certain formula for achieving savings to the public purse as a whole".

This analysis was echoed in an equality assessment for the Department of Work and Pensions, which warned that savings today would be paid for later by the high cost of social failure.

Local authorities, the assessment said, would have to build temporary classrooms to accommodate the influx of poor pupils. There would be "increases in the number of households with rent arrears, eviction and households presenting themselves as homeless". The result would be rising crime and pressure on legal aid budgets, it said.

Concern was also expressed that families with a history of "antisocial behaviour" would be forced to relocate, with "knock-on impacts for their new neighbourhoods".

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said: "The government has finally admitted that the housing benefit changes will ruin the lives of thousands of people across the country ? including children, people with disabilities, teenage mothers and families from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.".

Labour said that ministers were "pursuing a high-risk approach that could have serious unintended consequences and perverse results".

The shadow work and pensions secretary, Douglas Alexander, said: "The independent expert group that officially assesses welfare policy has made its views very clear today; the government\'s plans as they stand are ill-thought-through and unworkable."

While refusing to back down over its reforms which aim to curb the rising cost of housing benefit to the taxpayer -forecast to rise to £24bn in 2016, tBut the government confirmed it would delay a new cap on housing benefit by nine months to give those affected more time to negotiate a cheaper rent or find a new home.

This affects some 17,000 households, mainly in London. To pay for this, 770,000 people will lose out after ministers brought forward from October to April next year its plan to peg welfare payments to 30% of market rents rather than half.Abigail Davies of the Chartered Institute of Housing said the concession was a welcome "bit of breathing space" but that "the government has not understood the cost in the long term of the consequences of their reforms".

Courtesy to guardian.co.uk.

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