Leslie Morphy is chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis

Comment: Challenging the false debate on housing benefit

Comment: Challenging the false debate on housing benefit

The current row over the housing benefit cap is obscuring the real impact cuts will have on low income people across the country.

By Leslie Morphy

Cuts to housing benefit have rightly been headline news of late. However much of the coverage of these cuts has concentrated on capping the benefit at £400 a week for larger families – a cap that only accounts for 0.7% of the total households affected by the changes coming into force next year.

Even taking into account the caps to all property sizes (from £250 for a one bed to £400 for a four bed) only 2% of the 937,000 households on housing benefit in the private rented sector are in properties priced above these levels and these are largely concentrated in London. It is as if the government wants to draw our attention to a tiny number of higher claims as political cover for huge cuts elsewhere. The average housing benefit award is £109.25 per week in the private sector and £72.60 for social tenants.

The vast majority of the cuts will actually fall on poor households spread across the country, many of who are actually in work but low paid. More households affected by the caps are in low paid employment (26%) than unemployed (22%). Others are pensioners, the disabled or sick or those with caring responsibilities.

While London will be particularly badly hit other areas across the country – such as Nottingham, St Helens, Brighton and Edinburgh for example – will also see people face significant losses.

The average annual loss to poor household is £624, a heavy blow to the already stretched finances of those that can least afford it. Particularly heavy when nearly half of private sector housing benefit claimants already face an average shortfall of £23 per week between their benefit and the rent.

Tenants will face ever tougher choices between meeting the rent payments, heating the house, getting into debt or moving house, away from jobs, family and support networks. Some will be made homeless.

I for one do not wish to live in a society where the rich and poor no longer live in close proximity with little chance of sharing public or private facilities – whether that is schools, libraries or parks. That way leads away from social cohesion and surely away from the ‘big society’.

We should not allow myths about housing benefit and the people who claim it to create the backdrop for draconian cuts. Local authorities have the power to challenge excessive claims and they should do so, but the real story isn’t about mansions in Kensington – it’s the suffering that will be felt by families from Cornwall to the Highlands of Scotland.

Leslie Morphy is chief executive of the homeless charity Crisis.

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