Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

coalition consequences logoI have posted before about the impact of the Coalition’s welfare polices in Greenwich, and Blackheath Westcombe ward in particular, and about the cuts in housing benefit which could force many people – including families with children – to have to move out of areas like Blackheath and Westcombe Park.

Since the “Benefits cap” came into force (it is being phased in between 12th August and September 30th 2013), we are beginning to see what the real impact is on families in the borough.

In a nutshell, the government’s new policy is that total benefits cannot now exceed:

  • £500 a week for couples (with or without children living with them)

  • £500 a week for single parents whose children live with them

  • £350 a week for single adults who don’t have children, or whose children don’t live with themold dover road

According to figures from the Royal Borough of Greenwich, about 340 families in the borough are affected by the Benefits Cap. Of these, the council is already advising 110 families – of which 68 (well over half) are in private rented accommodation, not council or housing association homes.

On average, each household is losing £56 a week of benefit. 35 of these 110 households are losing between £50 and £100 a week, and 18 are losing more than £100 a week. With the cap not yet fully phased in, and more cases likely to come to light, this is probably just the tip of an iceberg. Of course, many other households not affected by the Benefits Cap have already been hit by the many other changes to Housing benefit introduced in the last three years.

it is important to realise that much of the income that these families receive is not cash in hand – it is housing benefit which in many cases is passed on directly to their landlords in the private sector. In Blackheath Westcombe ward, one in four households is now rented from a private landlord, as the 2011 census data reveals.

rent mapWith rents in this area high, and rising further all the time, for those who are unwell, are single parents, or find it hard to find jobs, the choice is simple: economise, or up sticks and move. According to the Mayor of London’s figures on private sector rents, the median weekly rent for a home with four bedrooms or more in the SE3 postcode is a whopping £600 – well above the benefits cap. The median weekly rent is £358 for a three-bed home – and even for a single room  in a shared property, it  is £123. This effectively makes it difficult, if not impossible, for families with children on housing benefit to be able to afford to rent in areas like Blackheath or Kidbrooke, where rents are higher than many surrounding areas like Charlton, Eltham or Lewisham.

It is important to remember that the many housing benefit claimants – nearly a fifth – are not unemployed, but in low-paid work. Of course, in some cases these families do contain adults that can be helped into work and the council’s employment scheme GLLAB can, and will, help them. But real life is very different from the stereotypes peddled by the right-wing media, which has us believe that most housing benefit claimants are work-shy council tenants who have a huge disposable income courtesy of the state, and just need their benefits to be capped to be compelled to return to work.

One case I have recently been dealing with in Blackheath Westcombe ward concerned a young widow with three children – a single parent family that arose out of circumstance, not choice. Once the head of the household fell ill and was unable to work, and her private landlord upped the rent above what Housing Benefit would cover, she faced destitution. Luckily, in the nick of time she was offered a housing association tenancy elsewhere in Greenwich and she and the children moved to their new home last month. I shudder to think what impact the Coalition’s policies would have had if she had not been offered more affordable housing. combe ave

Even if they do find jobs, many of these people will find their housing benefit gets clawed back so they have to move anyway.

Rather than address the real issue – the chronic shortage of affordable housing in inner London – the benefits cap demonises the poor and in many cases forces them to uproot themselves to other parts of London, with children forced to change schools, or even move out of the capital entirely. Do we really want to live in a society where only the well-off can afford to live in SE3?

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3 Responses to Coalition Consequences: Benefits Cap hits those in private rented accommodation hardest

  1. Pingback: All is forgiven, planners: you are now needed more than ever | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  2. Pingback: Labour offers a fairer deal to those renting their homes privately | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

  3. Pingback: After 16 years as a Labour councillor in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, Alex Grant says thank you and goodbye | Blackheath Westcombe Labour

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