Christina Patterson: It's not 'social cleansing' if Newham Council can't afford to house these people any more

Is it fair some people can have as many children as they like, live wherever they like, and have their rent paid by people who can’t afford to do either?

Share

"I want us," said David Cameron, "to do better". It had, he said, "been a difficult month". He didn't exactly admit, in an interview on the Today programme on Monday, that his Government was an "omnishambles", but when you heard John Humphrys mention the "fuel fiasco", and "pastygate", and the "granny tax", and the mix up over Abu Qatada, you could almost hear him wince.

But there was one thing, he said, that got him out of bed in the morning, and much earlier, apparently, than most people think. "People come up to me in the street," he said, "and say, 'I've worked all my life and paid taxes, and my wife has worked all her life and paid taxes, but we don't feel the country does enough for people like us'." What kept him going, he said, was a "driving passion and vision" to change the country, and "make it much more on the side of the people who do the right thing".

It isn't clear whether this "driving passion" woke him up when he was at Oxford and Eton. It isn't even clear whether it woke him up when he became leader of the Conservative party, or Prime Minister. But it was very clear, one sunny day in June, six weeks after he wasn't quite elected, that people who did "the right thing" were going to start having a nicer time than people who didn't. "We will," said his chancellor, George Osborne, in his first Budget, "introduce maximum limits on housing benefit", of "£400 a week". No family, he said, at the Tory party conference, "should get more from living on benefits than the average family gets from going out to work".

The "average family" that works, though it's usually just the parents, earns about £26,000 a year. The new cap on housing benefits is £21,000 a year. That's quite a lot of money just to pay on rent, but in London it often isn't enough. In London, you don't have to live in a mansion in Chelsea to rack up well over £21,000. In London, you can rack up well over that even if you live in its poorest boroughs, and particularly if you're an immigrant and, like a lot of immigrants, have a very big family.

So perhaps it's not surprising that some London boroughs have been trying to find cheaper accommodation for their tenants elsewhere. Newham Council, for example, has written to 1,200 housing organisations, asking if they can help. It says the gap between market rents and the local housing allowance has become too big. It says it has been "forced to look farther afield for alternative supply". And one of the organisations it has approached, called Brighter Futures, is in Stoke-on-Trent.

Brighter Futures seems to think that 500 families on housing benefit from London isn't the kind of brighter future it wants. The local Labour MP, Tristram Hunt, seems to agree. Stoke-on-Trent, he said: "Doesn't need the difficult-to-house cases" that "London boroughs have had enough of." He looked forward, he said, to welcoming the Olympic flame from Stratford, but not "east London's exiles". The least London boroughs could do, he said, was "look after their poor and needy". Which is probably as near as a Labour MP will ever get to saying that he doesn't want more "poor and needy" people in his backyard.

Tristram Hunt made it sound as though it was quite an easy thing for a London borough to house thousands of families on benefits when there's a massive shortage of social housing, and when you can't pay higher private rents without breaking the law. Grant Shapps, the Housing minister, seems to think so, too. There was, he told the Today programme yesterday, a £190m fund available to cover the costs of making the change. He had, he said, "made the legislation and guidance clear". Rents, he told Sir Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham, were going down. But the Office for National Statistics seems to agree with the mayor that they're going up.

Is this "social cleansing"? Brighter Futures says it is, and so does Boris Johnson. If "social cleansing" means that poor people can't always afford to live in expensive places, then it is. Clearly, it would be much, much better if governments built more affordable housing. Clearly, it would be much, much better if private rents went down. But a government's control over the private rental market is limited, and mass building programmes take time. In the meantime, there's a housing benefit bill that's £21bn a year, and still going up.

Is it fair? Is it fair that some people who have lived in an area for quite a while may have to move? Certainly, it seems very tough. Is it fair that some people can have as many children as they like, and live wherever they like, and have their very high rent paid by people who can't afford to do either? It doesn't really seem to be. That, presumably, is why, in a recent poll, 76 per cent of the public said they were in favour of the benefit cap, and 69 per cent of Labour voters.

Labour, by the way, has said it's also in favour of a benefit cap, but it hasn't said what this should be. Labour seems to think, at least while it's not in power, that you can please the "hard-working families" who pay the £21bn housing benefits bill, and all the families whose rent it pays. It's a hard, but inescapable truth, which David Cameron, for all his "omnishambles", seems to have grasped, that you can't.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk; twitter.com/queenchristina_

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
 

I've tried reason, but my cat is pig-ignorant

Dom Joly
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin