Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

We’re all in this together

Though it seems some more than others.

The UK government’s proposed cuts to housing benefits have me giving them the side-eye. Here’s my understanding of what the coalition want to get through parliament:

  • A cap on the allowance for people who rent in the private sector of GBP 250 a week for a 1-bedroom flat, 290 a week for a 2-bedroom flat, and 400 a week for a 4-bedroom house.
  • Housing allowance to be calculated against the 30th percentile of local rents rather than the median local rent.
  • Inflationary increases in housing allowance pegged to the Consumer Price Index, which is lower than the Retail Price Index.
  • A cut of ten-percent to the housing benefits of people who’ve been claiming Job Seekers Allowance for more than a year.

This will save the government about GBP 990 million by 2014-15.

I’m down with the idea that Old Blighty needs to get its house in order with regards to its finances, however when the preferred strategy for drumming up support for those money-saving policies involves picking on the least powerful members of society, I have a habit of becoming skeptical of those policies.

The Prime Minister had the following to say about the proposed changes:

Our constituents working hard to give benefits so people can live in homes they couldn’t even dream of? I don’t think that’s fair.

Cameron is giving succour to the impression that people receiving housing benefits are scroungers living in upmarket properties on the backs of the tax payer. According to this article in the Guardian, figures from the homelessness charity Shelter show only one in eight claimants of housing benefit is out of work. Furthermore, I can attest that rents in the city can be absolutely ludicrous. It’s no surprise that 89% of the households receiving more than GBP 400 a week in housing benefit live there.

For years successive governments have done little to increase affordable housing, effectively forcing people into expensive private accommodation, with rents going up because of the increasing demand, and the housing bubble. And now when the bill comes due, we are subjected to sophistry on the supposed lifestyle choices of poor people who happen to live in expensive areas of London, rather than the policies and wider structural issues that led to this situation.  Perhaps MPs ought to remove the logs from their own eyes:

Is it “fair” that normal people are expected to move to areas they can afford and travel in to work but MPs are not? Should we perhaps expect MPs under 35 years old to share London living arrangements, in the same way housing benefit claimants will be under the proposals?

Is it “fair” that lots of members of the Cabinet have not only claimed expenses to pay their mortgages on fast-appreciating assets but furniture to put in them too? In case you were wondering David Cameron claimed more than £1700 per month in mortgage interest for two years, and more than £82000 for his second home over four years. And for that matter is it “fair” that, while most people pay their own travel costs, MPs get the taxpayer to provide for theirs?

You have to laugh.

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