Housing benefit cuts will lead to black and ethnic minority flight from inner cities to poorer outer London boroughs.
With more black and ethnic minority people living in London and forced to live in privately rented accommodation because of acute housing shortages there are real fears that the proposed cuts to housing benefit will have a hugely disproportionate effect on black and ethnic minority communities.
A report published today suggest that as many as 250,000 people could be affected with a huge proportion of this figure represented by black and ethnic minority households.
Despite the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act requiring both Government and local councils to equality impact assess all major policy changes, so far, there has been a scant disregard for the law and no real assessment of the impacts of London’s diverse communities has been conducted.
With the demise in 2009 of the Federation of Black Housing Associations, there is now no longer a campaigning body to challenge the authorities in the issues of race and housing.
Such dismantling of the black voluntary sector will lead to communities failing to be heard and effectively consulted in important policy arenas.
Such is the speed at which Government policy is moving many black and ethnic communities are feeling bewildered and overwhelmed.
Those community organisations that do exist dare not speak out for fear of losing funding in the forthcoming cuts to Local authority expenditure.
Mainstream Organisations such as Citizens Advice have however voiced strong concerns about the proposed cuts to housing benefit, they state that these cuts will result in higher levels of poverty, debt, rent arrears and homelessness and should be delayed.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:
“We are extremely concerned at the potential impact of the cuts to housing benefit on people’s ability to pay their rents and avoid rent arrears and homelessness. Tens of thousands of private tenants will find their rent is unaffordable and will therefore need to move at short notice to areas with lower rents as a result of the proposed cuts.”
“For many, such a forced move will be highly disruptive and stressful as well as putting additional strain on very limited budgets. It will be particularly hard for families, whose options could be limited to moving somewhere smaller with the risk of overcrowding, or moving to a cheaper area further away, breaking vital links with jobs, schools, healthcare and family support. Those unable to find affordable alternative accommodation at rents within the new housing benefit limits will be at real risk of homelessness.”
Up to 82,000 households in London are at risk of losing their homes according to the Financial Times as a result of the government’s imminent cuts to housing benefit, according to analysis done by London Councils.
A survey of hundreds of landlords by London Councils will mean large numbers of families being forced to find cheaper accommodation.
In a report published today London Councils commented:
“The cuts will have an immediate impact on inner London boroughs which will essentially become no-go areas for anyone on housing benefit.”
London Councils believe that huge numbers of families moving out of inner London will result in real pressure on outer suburbs of the city, which would see thousands of incomers needing schools, public transport and other services, according to the report.
Such huge dislocation of black and ethnic minorities to outer London boroughs could lead to increases in community tensions and an increase in extreme right wing activity as we saw in Barking and Dagenham during 2003 -2007.
Changes to local housing allowance announced in the June Budget are expected to save £1.8bn a year from Britain’s annual benefits bill of £21bn. From April, the maximum weekly rate payable will be capped at £250 for a one-bed home or £400 for a four-bed property.
Research commissioned by homelessness charity Shelter and conducted by Cambridge University to investigate the true impact of the cuts, both on households and on the government’s own finances, shows that 134,000 households will either be evicted or forced to move when the cuts come in next year as they will be unable to negotiate cheaper rents.
Of these, an estimated 35,000 households will approach their local authorities for housing assistance, and where councils have a legal duty to help, they will face costs of up to £120 million a year for providing temporary accommodation such as hostels or bed and breakfasts.
The costs would cancel out a fifth of the £600 million the Treasury has said it will save from the cuts in 2012, the first full year they are in force.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, stated:
“Shelter’s research clearly shows that not only is the Government’s budget regressive, it doesn’t even add up. The devastating impact of cuts to local housing allowance on some of the poorest families in Britain will mean the government will not save anywhere near as much as it has claimed.
“Now that the true cost of these proposals has come to light, the Government must urgently rethink these reforms and develop an alternative that protects the most vulnerable and deliver real savings to the housing benefit bill.”
“We are extremely concerned that so many of London’s landlords say they will evict tenants who fall into arrears, while some will stop renting to local housing allowance claimants altogether. This will not only make it even more difficult for claimants to find a place to live, but will add to the already significant levels of homelessness and overcrowding in this city.”
The DWP response is to demonise all housing benefit claimants for the excesses for a few:
‘It is not right that some families on benefits were able to live in homes that hardworking families could not afford’.
‘We are absolutely committed to supporting the most vulnerable and have tripled our discretionary housing payments to provide a safety net.’
Citizens Advice, Shelter and London Councils are urging the government to pay the local housing allowance directly to landlords rather than tenants, which would be likely to persuade many to remain in the market.
The black community remains without a coherent voice to represent its concerns in relation to this issue a trend that is likely to continue in other policy areas with grave consequences.