LETTER: Benefits of low-rent housing

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From Mrs J. D. Kent

Sir: Nicholas Timmins's article today ("One in four families on means- tested benefits", 19 August) fails to mention what is surely a major cause of the increase in reliance on means-tested benefits, namely the decrease in the availability of low rent (council) housing since 1979 as the result of the sale of council housing and other Conservative housing policies.

Current government housing policy has the following results:

1. Many householders who would have previously paid full rent on council accommodation now have to seek housing benefit to enable them to pay much higher "market" rent on private rented accommodation.

2. Couples who might have obtained council accommodation 20 years ago now stretch themselves financially to buy - there is no practical choice. When one of them becomes unemployed, one income is insufficient for them to live on, whereas, 20 years ago, it would have sufficed to pay a modest council rent. In the absence of a mortgage benefit, the other has to give up work too, to get help to pay the mortgage.

It is very, very difficult for those with modest earnings or earning capacity and high housing costs to lose dependence on benefits.

Money ought to be found to provide low-rent housing for those who need it - this would encourage self-reliance in a way the current system does not, and surely the cost could not be more than the current housing benefit system, which allows some private landlords to charge excessive rents.

Yours faithfully,

J. D. Kent

Oxford

19 August

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