A Labour-run council in east London has been accused of ‘social cleansing’ after it revealed plans to move some of its poorest residents as far away as Stoke-on-Trent.
Newham Council said it has written to 1,179 housing associations across the country – including one over 160 miles in the Staffordshire city - in an attempt to find accommodation for the 32,000 families on its waiting list for housing.
Sir Robin Wales, Newham’s Mayor, blamed a combination of spiraling rents in the borough, which contains most of the 2012 Olympic Park - including the Olympic stadium, and the Government’s cap on housing benefit, which he says has meant the council can no longer afford to house tenants in privately-owned accommodation.
But Gill Brown, chief executive of Brighter Futures – the Stoke-on-Trent housing association contacted by Newham Council, attacked the plans, saying London Boroughs shouldn’t be allowed to just “dump” unwanted tenants on other cities.
In an interview with the BBC, Ms Brown said: “I think there is a real issue of social cleansing going on…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.”
Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, accused Newham Council of “playing politics” in the run-up to local government elections next month.
Mr Shapps insisted there was no legitimate reason for forcing families out of London, saying an internet search revealed almost 1000 empty homes within a five-mile radius of Newham that were available at rents within the benefit cap.
Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “The system is still very generous and I think that Newham are perhaps playing politics, given that we are in an election season, by writing these letters out.
“Not only do I think it's unfair and wrong, I have also made the legislation and guidance very clear that they are not to do this.”
Campbell Robb, the chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said "This is the terrifying reality of our housing crisis today - hundreds of families potentially forced to move halfway across the country, uprooted from schools, support networks and employment opportunities.
"Taking families away from their support networks at the time when they need them most is not going to help them back on their feet. The Government must ensure that councils look out for homeless families' best interests when making difficult decisions about where to house people."