And, in a parallel universe…

… we find the Grauniad’s star columnist, incensed with rage. Yes, its Polly Toynbee, ranting on, on a subject she clearly knows little about – social housing, and benefits.

Do they know what they are doing? Are they incompetent bunglers or do they mean to clear low earners out of the country’s prosperous districts? As some residents since time immemorial are driven away – with maybe a few picturesque pearly kings and queens among them – this will become a cut that brands this government. Perhaps they think nobody will notice the new ranks of rough sleepers. Or that housing benefit is too fiendishly complicated to understand. Few Conservative voters claim it, and the removals will be an invisible migration, not a mass exodus in special coaches. However, these cuts are so extreme and random as to who will be evicted that the political noise will rise to ear-splitting decibels.

Ok, so we start with assumptions. Apparently, these cuts will be causing people to sleep in the streets, and are “extreme” and “random”. Well, let’s give you the benefit of the doubt, and  move on to see if you can back up these claims…

Follow these numbers carefully and see how they multiply upon one another. This month people who lost their job have had their help with mortgage interest payments cut in half. Expect more arrears and repossessions.

Why should we pay people’s mortgages if they lose their jobs? Last time I borrowed money, I was hounded by the bank several times trying to sell me unemployment insurance. Had I thought my job at any risk, I would have taken it. As it was, I was pretty sure my job was secure, so I didn’t. I doubt many mortgage providers fail to provide the option of unemployment insurance, so why should we reward those who weren’t prepared to pay for it? Anyway, unless you have been extremely reckless, you should be able to sell the house, pay off the mortgage, and go into rented accommodation on HB.It’s not much fun, but its hardly as if the next stop is sleeping on the street in a cardboard box.

Next year housing association and council rents will rise from their present heavily subsidised rents to 80% of the market rent for new tenants – about £100 more a week. New social housing will no longer be available to the poorest, but only to those who can pay high rents.

And what exactly is the problem with that? If you can’t afford to pay, you get HB to cover the rent, so its just larger sums of money going round in circles within the local authority. The only difference is those who can perfectly well afford to stay will have to pay market rents, rather than being given subsidised housing for life because they were poor once. Again, hardly cruel and baby eating – why should someone on £30,000 a year be able to continue subsidised living in a house for £60 a week just because they were unemployed 20 years ago. This should reduce dramatically the pressure on social housing, so the real poor can be housed, rather than the no-longer poor.

People in private rented accommodation will see their benefits capped from April. From October only rents below the 30th percentile for the area will be eligible. The Department for Work and Pensions says families will pay an average £22 more a week, but evidence suggests in many places it will be far more. But that’s only part of it. In a radical change to benefit philosophy, anyone out of work for more than a year will lose another 10% from their housing benefit. This is a departure into the realms of US welfarism, influenced by the architects of American time-limited welfare who have been visiting David Cameron. Conditionality now gives way to punishment, shadow DWP secretary Douglas Alexander points out, regardless of how hard someone tries to find work that isn’t there. This arbitrary cut is the first step to an entirely new policy.

I have information for you. There is currently NO true unemployment in this country, for able bodied people. The firm I work for is recruiting now for packing staff. We ask for no experience. We don’t care about criminal records. The job isn’t particularly unpleasant – its clean and warm, the goods packed are domestic hardware (which is about as nice as packing gets), it’s just a bit boring. We don’t care if your thick, or if you can read and write. All we ask is you send in a CV (we don’t care what’s on it, its merely a way of determining if people care even slightly. The job centre will help you sort one out if you ask them), turn up for an interview, then turn in to work on the start date. We offer minimum wage, rising to a piece rate that works out about £8 an hour if you work hard. Despite all this, we struggle to get staff. We have advertised 5 times in the last couple of months, and each time around 4 people have turned into interview. With 1 exception, all have been offered jobs.  About 75% of those offered jobs take then, however half of those fail to turn in by the end of the first week. All the while people are being offered work, and refusing it, I simply don’t believe there is really unemployment out there. Before anyone asks, rented housing round here is pretty cheap – £350-£400 a month gets you a pretty tidy flat in walking distance of the factory. By the time you have claimed the various benefits available to those on low incomes, its going to leave a good £400 a month for food, water, heating etc, which sounds pretty g0od to me. (It’s a lot more than I get, due to the fact I am buying my accommodation outright by sacrificing most of my income on it in the short term).

But that’s not all. The sum paid towards the rent will fall every year, in perpetuity: it will no longer rise as average local rents rise but will be pegged to the consumer price index. If that had happened in the last decade most people would have been priced out: rents rose by 70%, but the CPI only rose 20%.

And you know why rents rose by 70%? Ah, yes, because they were driven by limitless amounts of housing benefit. The major objective of the exercise is to get rental prices back down, by reducing the ability of housing benefit to drive rental prices up. Simple really.  Anyway, basic maths… prices can’t fall if they are only rising by CPI – by definition, that is a rise, just not quite as big a one as  before. CPI is roaring away at the moment anyway (been shopping recently, my weekly food bill seems to have gained nearly 10% in the last 6 months, without any change in what I buy), and rents are stagnating, so sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

Now add in something more sinister. Council tax benefit, worth an average £16 a week, is to be cut by 10% and then handed over to each local authority to decide how much benefit to offer: if some councils want to push poor people out, they can pay virtually nothing to their residents. But hey, that’s localism. Add up the cumulative effects and there is the biggest welfare cut ever attempted: even Margaret Thatcher was careful never to take benefits away from existing claimants.

Possibly the biggest cut in subsidy to buy to let landlords ever, but hey, that doesn’t sound quite so baby eating somehow.

New claimants don’t know what they are missing, but old claimants – especially pensioners – make very nasty headlines indeed. Ministers know what will happen, since the housing minister has set aside £10m to £12m for “transition costs” – the cost of removing families and their belongings from London boroughs to places like Hastings, or Shoeburyness. London councils told the work and pensions committee that they are already block-booking bed and breakfast and cheap properties in far away places. London will be hardest hit, but low earners in salubrious parts of the south-west, Bristol, Nottingham, Manchester and anywhere prosperous will also see rent rises that force removals. Those in new jobs will only be able to find homes in districts that are cheap because there is no work.

I think I’ve answered this point already. There is work, in area’s where housing is cheap. I live in such a place, my employer can’t find people to work for him. I can’t believe this is in any way a unique situation.

Children will be taken out of their schools, however close to exams they may be. Who will do the cleaning, caring and catering in expensive places once low earners are cleared away?

Well, as the government won’t be subsidising them, the cost of cleaners and carers will rise. Then they will be able to afford the accommodation to live in. Markets at work you see. That way, the rich pay for their lifestyles directly, rather than via the tax system. Cuts out the middle man, sounds good to me.

Karen Buck, DWP shadow minister and MP for the poorer part of Westminster, will see many depart. The borough has 5,300 households living in private rented flats who draw housing benefit, with 6,000 children in Westminster schools. All will face huge rent rises, most will move. How will Iain Duncan Smith explain that his reforms are meant to make work pay when he is forcing people to move to cheap ghettos where there is least work?

For the third time, if people want it, there is work out there. If the don’t want it, why does it matter where they live, it’s their choice after all.

In his London constituency of Redbridge, 5,110 households in private rentals will lose heavily, 290 of them pensioners: that’s the number in just one borough. A family in a Chingford two-bedroom flat will lose £624 a year. Add in another barrier – anyone wanting to work will lose 65p in housing benefit for every pound they earn. What would Duncan Smith say to the caretaker Buck met? He lives in Brent, one of the third of housing benefit claimants who are in work, and he earns £12,000. But he will lose £80 a week, so he can’t afford to stay. He will look for somewhere cheaper, and distant. That means losing his job with its 7am start: Duncan Smith and his “get on your bus” will not get him there in time. Another problem – will this caretaker qualify for jobseeker’s allowance, or will the jobcentre say he made himself intentionally unemployed? And has he made himself “intentionally homeless” when he throws his family on the mercy of the council to be rehoused?

No, what will actually happen is if the place where he is a caretaker will have to pay him another £80 a week, as clearly £12000 isn’t a living wage in Brent – otherwise when he leaves, how will they replace him? Either he could live more cheaply, or wages need to rise.

The great house price bubble helped cause the crash: US sub-prime loans to the poorest lit the fuse. Labour failed to build enough private or social housing while waiting lists grew. House prices doubled in the golden decade but that unearned windfall for the lucky generation went untaxed. Meanwhile housing benefit claims soared as lack of cheap council housing saw councils put people into expensive private housing instead.

You seem to be mixing up cause and effect. A major part of the house price boom was buy to let, and a lot of that was driven by the rising circle of housing benefit. Leaving HB unchanged would just encourage it to all happen again.

The crash meant new claimants among the unemployed and those whose hours and pay were cut. Councils put people into private rentals for lack of cheaper social housing, and of course the number of households is growing as people live longer. The shortage will get much worse with the housing budget halved.

The shortage of housing stock has everything to do with planning restrictions, and almost nothing to do with the HB budget. Otherwise, the 70% rise in rents in the last few year would surely have kicked off massive house building.

Rent was always the glitch in the benefit system, and Beveridge never found a logical answer. Well, here at last is a final solution he never considered: put all poor people in distant dumping grounds where nobody wants to live because there is no work, then call them workless scroungers, lacking in aspiration for the children they have taken out of class to throw together in schools where nobody’s parents work. Might we hear a little less sophistry about fairness from David Cameron and Nick Clegg?

Leaving aside the shockingly wrong comparison between killing at least 6 million innocent people, and making a few people move house, has it never occurred to you that the reason that people view a lot of the unemployed as workless scroungers is simple… its because the are. There is work out there, they just don’t want it.


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