Thursday, 1 September 2011

Housing benifit crisis brings despair , united response needed

A father killed himself after his housing benefit was cut, an inquest heard on Tuesday 23 August. Richard Sanderson of Southfields, south west London, committed suicide after receiving a letter from Wandsworth council informing him his housing benefit would be cut by £30 a month.

Mr Sanderson's death came a month after the government capped housing benefit (Local Housing Allowance) at between £250 and £400 a week depending on property size. Recording a verdict of suicide, the Coroner said: "He carried out a considered act in response to his inability to find employment and the fact that his housing benefit was about to be cut and the family would have faced having nowhere to live."

Merton council estimates that 3,000 people in the area will be hit by government housing benefit cuts. Annys Darkwa, from a local housing charity, was quoted as saying that tragic cases like this would become more frequent in the coming months because housing benefit cuts would hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Mrs Darkwa said: "We are going to see this happen more and more as we expect 80,000 people across London to be evicted due to housing benefit cuts." Publicly, ministers deny that their policies will produce homelessness but leaked correspondence between ministers' aides has shown that they have been coolly discussing 80,000 homeless as a result of this stage of the housing benefit cuts. When fully implemented the figures could rise still higher.

Even before the housing benefit cuts began to bite, homelessness was on the rise because of the impact of recession. For example, in the London Borough of Haringey, which includes Tottenham where August's riots began, applications to the council for assistance due to homelessness were up by 83% year on year in the first three months of 2011. For every family making such an application many more will be suffering hardship but avoiding homelessness.

Next year, further changes will mean that single people between 25 and 35 years old will no longer be able to claim for a flat and will be expected to live in cheap shared accommodation despite the shortage of such accommodation.

Many such people already have to make up their rent because they cannot find anywhere cheap enough to be covered by existing benefit rates. In Haringey alone, for example, this change will hit 810 young people.

The government claimed that rents would fall but in fact they have continued to rise. According to the latest buy-to-let index from LSL Property Services the average rent in England and Wales rose by 0.6% to £705 a month in July.

The average rent is now £29 a month higher than in July last year. London had the greatest annual rent increase (7.9%) to hit a new high of £1,009 a month.

This crisis hits low-paid workers as well as people entirely dependent on benefits. In London around a third of people getting housing benefits are workers in low-paid jobs. Many others who cannot claim benefit are finding rocketing rent levels very hard to pay.

The combination of rising rents and cutting benefits is placing people in an agonising vice and none of the main parties speaks up for them - Labour had its own plans for benefit caps when in office.

We need an energetic trade union and community campaign against low pay, for emergency rent caps instead of benefit caps and for a programme of social house building and renovation.


In this issue


Fighting public sector cuts

Mass action can stop

The fact that Labour in their 113 years in government in the so called "boom" years failed to build anywhere near enough housing renders them absent in this debate. We are still feeling the effects from Margret Thatchers days of where council housing was sold off to the private sector and people could buy their own homes. One of the worst things ever to happen to this country i feel. It moved people on and gave them a false sense of a advancement in class, many wallowed in their greed and it was actively encouraged by the then tory government. The fact that no government since labour or tory has done anything about a mass housing crisis is a disgrace in my view. The fact that we even have homelessness in this country one of the richest in the world is just appauling . We can afford to build more houses and invest in peoples future but housing builders and the governemnt wont do it as they see no profit in building social housing they feel its a waste of money and too much of a cost and they get very little rent back. This highlights again the ruthlessness of the capitalist system that greed and profit comes before peoples needs. A change is needed and the trade union movement should be putting housing at the top of their agenda i would say.

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