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Daily View: Housing benefits

Clare Spencer | 09:40 UK time, Thursday, 28 October 2010

Commentators focus on Ed Miliband's criticisms in Prime Minister's Questions of the proposed housing benefit cap.

In his Guardian sketch Simon Hoggart seeks to explain why housing benefit is such a contested issue:

"This is a tricky one. Nobody wants to see homeless, destitute families on the streets. On the other hand, Cameron gets some resonance by saying that people who are in work will resent paying taxes for people without work to live in nicer houses than their own - 'homes they could never dream of owning!' as he put it.
 
"There was a whiff here of a view that the poor should never lead agreeable lives. Why should they? They're poor and so undeserving. But isn't it the Tories who are always banging on about the politics of envy?"

The Telegraph editorial congratulates David Cameron for "sticking to his guns":

"The intention, he reminded MPs, is not just to shave £2.5 billion from the housing benefit bill, but to rein in spending that has - as in so many areas - got utterly out of control. It is not just that the cost has jumped by 50 per cent in the past five years alone; it is that families are receiving quite astonishingly excessive amounts. To put it in perspective, consider how much you would have to earn, after tax, to pay rent of £30,000 or £40,000 per year. Taxpayers are not only being inordinately generous: they are being taken for a ride."

Peter Hoskin suspects in the Spectator that tweaking housing benefit may have an effect on the wider debate about cuts:

"[I]t leaves ministers backing policies that might then be diluted or retracted only weeks later (see: Clegg yesterday). And it also bares the inner frictions of the coalition for all to ogle and exploit. When it comes to the longevity of this broad band of politicians, some Tories might prefer it if Simon Hughes's victories weren't accompanied by headlines of 'government U-turns'."

The Independent editorial argues that the opposition should go further with its scrutiny:

"Labour should beware falling into the trap of simply defending the present system and all its distortions and inefficiencies. A more credible approach would be to demand that the Government do more to increase the supply of social housing. The Coalition's claim that it can build 150,000 social homes over the next four years while halving the social housing budget in real terms deserves rigorous scrutiny.
 
"Even better, politicians of all parties could come up with policies that will curb the tendency for Britons to view their houses as cash machines and substitute pensions plans, rather than places in which to live. It is not just housing benefit that needs reform, but wider social attitudes to bricks and mortar."

Cathy Newman at the Channel 4 News Fact Check blog points out that the cap, limited to £290 a week for a two-bedroom flat and £400 a week, for a four-bedrooms, is only a small part of the change:

"The more lucrative change is how LHA [Local Housing Allowance] will be calculated - and it's actually this change that will affect far more people. At the moment the amount you claim in housing allowance is based on the 50th percentile (the median average) of rents from the area you live in (or a group of areas, called the Broad Market Rental Areas). But from October next year, that entitlement will fall significantly - you will only be given a housing allowance calculated against the 30th percentile. That will claw back £425m by 2014/15."

Former Conservative candidate Iain Dale highlights in his blog a letter sent to him listing "no shortage of" properties in London which fall within the cap, while former Labour employee Hopi Sen suggests in his blog that Labour should focus on attacking the "welfare wealthy" - those who don't pay their fair share.

Links in full


Simon Hoggart | Guardian | Are benefits cuts the politics of envy?
Telegraph | Housing benefit reform: beneficial, not brutal
Peter Hoskin | Spectator | The pros and cons of tweaking the housing benefit cuts
Independent | Only root and branch reform will be enough
Cathy Newman | Channel 4 News | Who's right on housing benefit?
Iain Dale | Draconian Housing Benefit Cuts? Do Us a Favour...
Hopi Sen | Strategy, not tactics


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