Changes to how housing benefit will be allocated in April 2011, presented by the Coalition as dealing with benefits fraudsters and rogue landlords, will of course have almost the reverse effect. Recipients of housing benefit are people on some of the lowest incomes in London – and rather than sorting out rogue landlords it will encourage more slum landlords as people are driven into cheaper, overcrowded, older accommodation.
The impact in London will be more dramatic than anywhere else in Britain, due to the size of population and rented housing market share, with some 82,000 families – an estimated 250,000 people – then having to seek cheaper accommodation.This is expected to create a substantial population shift into the cheaper boroughs: Newham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Barking and Dagenham. The expected impact on schools, social services, public transport etc will be catastrophic.
Some Tory boroughs – Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster etc – plan to do away with any social housing provision and relocate tens of thousands of people to Dagenham and the East End. Together with the housing benefit changes, this will see the largest gerrymandering, election rigging, social cleansing exercise carried out since the Wandsworth housing scandals of the 1980s. It is intended to destroy any possibility of Labour winning council seats in these boroughs.
In addition, Crown Estates, the Queen’s property portfolio, has been trying to offload her 1,400 tenants from social housing in central London. An estimated £250 million was expected to be creamed off from social cleansing of properties in Regent Street and the West End. To date resistance by tenants and blocking of attempts to raise rents and sell properties from under sitting tenants has frustrated the sale across London.
Housing benefit has, in effect, provided a fat public subsidy to private landlords and pushed up rents, but the solution should be to regulate rents in the private sector.