BBC London last night reported on the families kicked out of their homes due to the housing benefit cap who are now being put up in hotels at huge cost to the taxpayer – an entirely predictable scenario for anyone who has a basic understanding of the housing and benefits system.
The housing benefit cap was introduced after lurid stories appeared in the tabloids about families living in £2,000 a week Kensington mansions. David Cameron himself denounced the housing benefit system that led to people claiming £100,000 a year. The truth was not so dramatic and it turned out that less than five families were actually receiving that much in benefits – which it should be repeatedly pointed out went into to the pockets of landlords, not claimants. The average housing benefit award was just £85 a week.
This didn’t stop Iain Duncan Smith steaming ahead with the housing benefit cap which has seen most of London become unaffordable for private tenants on a low wage or who are out of work due to sickness, disability or sky high unemployment.
At the time IDS claimed: “‘We have got to bring an end to the hysteria and scaremongering around housing benefit we have seen this week. Our reforms are not about making people homeless.”
Since he made those remarks every measure of homelessness has risen sharply, from the number of people living on the streets to the number of children living in B&Bs and hotels.
London councils have been overwhelmed with homelessness applications, leading to some, like Westminster Council – a flagship Tory borough – housing families in hotels at astronomical cost. Less than five families who were living in what was very likely temporary housing at a cost of £2,000 a week have been replaced by possibly scores of homeless families living in hotels which cost £3,000 a week.
These are families who have already faced the trauma of eviction due to the benefit caps. Whilst the BBC points out that the shortage of accommodation is so acute that Westminster are sometimes using four-star hotels, a posh carpet and and a concierge are unlikely to make up for large families forced to share a room without cooking facilities or any long term security.
When the overall benefit cap is introduced in Croydon, Haringey and Enfield in April, this is a problem that is only going to get far worse as even more families will find themselves unable to pay the rent and forced from their homes.
Iain Duncan Smith whinged in the Spectator yesterday that criticism of the upcoming bedroom tax is ‘pathetic’ and ‘scaremongering’. Which sounds a lot like his tantrum when people warned the housing benefit cap would lead to a huge rise in homelessness in London.
IDS was wrong then, and he’s wrong now. There will be no comfort in saying we told you so however when hundreds of thousands of children’s lives are shattered by the inevitable poverty and homelessness that is to come.