Party politics overshadows social cleansing row

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Newham is struggling to find council housing for 500 residents
Newham is struggling to find council housing for 500 residents

An East End council has been accused of "social cleansing" after seeking to find housing for its poorest residents in Stoke-on-Trent.

Newham council's letter to the Brighter Futures housing association offering to pay 90% of housing benefit, plus a further £60, has reopened the debate about the impact of the nationwide cap on housing benefit introduced by the coalition government.

That has prevented housing benefit payments rising above £400 for a four-bedroom property. Newham's letter complained that the Olympics and "the buoyant young professionals market" meant the council had no choice but to look further afield.

"We know it is very hard to get property in this borough and around the east end of London," Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, told the Today programme.


"We're not looking to push people off... we're looking to find the best solution for our citizens."

"I can't be in a position where people will end up in bed and breakfast. We've got to make sure people can be housed somewhere."

Newham, a Labour-run council, was accused of "playing politics" by Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps.

"It can't be right to have people able on housing benefit to live in streets and homes that hard-working people are unable to live in themselves," he told the same programme.

Two years ago Mr Shapps' party colleague Boris Johnson, now in the middle of an intense race for the London mayoralty with Labour rival Ken Livingstone, voiced fears about "Kosovo-style social cleansing" of the capital's inner city areas.

"I think there is a real issue of social cleansing going on," Brighter Futures' chief executive Gil Brown said.

"We are very anxious about this letter which we believe signals the start of a movement which could see thousands of needy people dumped in Stoke with no proper plan for their support or their welfare.

She warned that past relocations had put strain on local services facing an "influx of very needy people".

Ms Brown added: "We believe that, if London boroughs are allowed to export their most vulnerable and challenging families to cities like Stoke-on-Trent, then exactly the same will happen again."

Brighter Futures has written to the Local Government Association calling for a code of conduct which would prevent local authorities exporting their most vulnerable families.

Mr Shapps said rents were falling and that the government had made £190 million of discretionary money available to help councils deal with the pressures.

The coalition was saving £2 billion on the housing benefit bill over the course of this parliament, he added. 

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