'Social cleansing' housing benefit cap row: Duncan Smith hits back

Olympic Park The Olympic Park sits in the borough of Newham - one of the poorest in London

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The government has defended its housing benefit cap after it emerged London's Newham council was trying to find homes for some families 160 miles away.

The council has been accused of "social cleansing", but its mayor said it was trying to find the best solution.

But Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said there were "thousands of houses" within five miles of Newham which fell within the cap.

Westminster council is also understood to be considering a similar proposal.

As part of its welfare reforms, the government has introduced weekly caps on housing benefit of between £250 for a one-bedroom flat and £400 for a four-bedroom property.

Local Housing Allowance, which is used to determine housing benefit payments, has also been changed so it is being calculated on the basis of cheaper rents - rather than on the mid-point of rents in an area.


Labour-controlled Newham Council runs one of London's poorest boroughs in the east of the city - which is home to much of the new 500-acre Olympic Park.

Housing benefit changes: Impact on number of available properties

Top five areas Property loss

Source: Chartered Institute of Housing research, Jan 2012

1. Westminster


2. Birmingham


3. Kensington and Chelsea


4. Glasgow City


5. Camden


Total: England, Scotland, Wales


It has written to Brighter Futures Housing Association in Stoke-on-Trent, offering it the "opportunity" to lease it homes for up to 500 families on housing benefit.

It says the local private rental sector in Newham is beginning to "overheat" because of the "onset of the Olympic Games and the buoyant young professionals market", and it can no longer afford to house tenants on its waiting list in private accommodation.

Newham Council is offering to pay Brighter Futures 90% of the local housing allowance plus £60 per week.

But Brighter Futures chief executive officer Gill Brown says she will not agree to the request: "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."

She said previous efforts to relocate needy people had put strain on local public services and led to "the collapse of already vulnerable neighbourhoods and the rise of divisive right-wing extremism".

'Not pushing'

Newham's mayor, Sir Robin Wales, blamed government policies which had left his borough "chasing around the country trying to find ways to deal with people who are in need".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have got a waiting list of 32,000 - we've got hundreds of people looking for places to stay and the result of government benefit cuts, which are still working through as well, means that many more people from wealthier parts of London are looking for places to live in London and they're just not there.

"We have written to 1,179 organisations [housing associations] saying could you accommodate some people? We're not looking to push people all to one place, we're looking to find the best possible solution for citizens."

But ministers have pointed to a £190m discretionary fund available to help councils and insisted that even after the cap, families can still claim up to £21,000 a year towards their rent.

Mr Duncan Smith said the cap had been in place since April 2011 and "every other council" was "managing" with it even though it was "difficult".

"We need to get people into housing they can afford to go work from, so the taxpayer doesn't have to foot that bill."

He added: "I suspect this is somewhat a little political at a time of local elections."

'Kosovo-style cleansing'

Ministers say the way housing benefit is calculated means 30% of homes in an area will be within the cap - and they argue the changes are simply "shaving £2bn off a £25bn per annum budget".

But Sir Robin said just because there were 1,000 properties available, did not mean landlords would take housing benefit claimants.

Meanwhile, Westminster is said to be considering an offer from Smart Housing Group - a private association with homes in Nottingham and Derby - in conjunction with its partner councils Chelsea and Hammersmith, and Fulham.

It has suggested it could provide properties for Westminster residents deemed "homeless" as a result of the cap - and if accepted, each of the three London councils would send 50 families.

Ben Denton, Westminster's director of housing, worklessness and regeneration, said there were more than 1,000 families on the waiting list so it had no option to look for "fair and realistic" alternatives.

He said candidates for a move were those "with minimal connections to Westminster", while those with "a genuine need to live in Westminster such as those with children at crucial stages in their education or those with social care packages", a discretionary payment could be made to allow them to stay.

Shadow communities secretary Jack Dromey said the government's policies were "harming families and forcing them from their homes" and as private rents in London had risen by 7% in 2011.

When the housing benefit cap was announced in 2010, London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson said he would "not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London" adding: "The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    21 free willy
    it should be a human right to look after your own family not everyone elses

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Why is the term "Social Cleansing" being used ?

    Is it being used so that it invokes images of the horrors of "Ethnic Cleansing" ? People are not being murdered here - so stop using the language of war to try and win your argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Comparing the movement of families into cheaper "free" housing to the atrocities of war by using the word "cleansing" just indicates how sensationalist the media has become in this country.

    We should expect, and must demand, better from our publicly funded broadcaster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    If ever a politician were guilty of being economical with the truth, it was Grant Shapps on the radio this morning. He claimed he had found using an online system, several hundred properties within a short range of Newham Borough. what he omitted to add was that most landlords now will not rent to Housing Benefit claimants and also that many of the agencies cannot be relied on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    These Landlords are greedy money grabbing parasites, I should know, I rent out a property myself, not in London unfortunately.

    If Lansey is going to pay Proportional regional salaries to NHS staff, nurses in London will be on £100,000 a year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I think it is unfair to term this "social cleansing", when its a short term event driven by the Olympics (not the housing benefit change) It's out of the control of the council and government. Of course a landlord would prefer to offer up a property for £5,000 a week to people wanting Olympic accomodation, than let it to poor social tenants for £400. It'll all be back to normal in September.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I agree with the cap on benefits but I also think there is a need for a cap on what rent landlords can charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Has anyone asked Stoke on Trent if they want a whole load of families on benefits clogging up their social structure?,
    filling their schools..presumably on free school meals,
    competing for local jobs..as I assume these families will be looking for work, which they will have difficulty providing child care for because they are 160 miles away from support networks.
    Or are there volunteers ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Regardless of this oversensationalised article, soon even visiting London will be beyond the means of a large portion of the population. Seen the cost of getting into london by 'public' transport these days ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    About time!!! I live some 40 miles from my work but in these times it's what we have to do. I could sit at home and claim benifits and say there is no work but I would be lying. If you don't work and pay your own way i'm afraid moving into afordable accomodation should be the least you are expected to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    22.GasheadGooner - " couldn't find a job where I lived so I got one elsewhere and moved. I don't see why these people having to move to live somewhere more affordable is at all controversial."

    The VAST MAJORITY of jobs are in places like the SE, & are the reason why rents are so high - why force the unemployed to move 100s of miles to where there are no jobs for them...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This was heralded as a major cut in spending. What it will cause is a major increase in homelessness.
    Rental properties will be standing empty. Rental incomes fall. Multiple home owners flood the market with houses to realise capital.The housing market will collapse.
    Gideon's Genius. The Rich will snap up property at the expense of middle income earners and so the gap widens further.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The Olympic Games are proving to be bad news for families with insecure tenures.

    We have friends who have had to move out of their flat because the landlord can make more money letting it to visitors for the duration of the Games

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I sympathise with those who will get affected but support the capping. If my rent in zone 4 goes up I will have to move further. Circumstances change and we need to adapt. What is the incentive for these families to get back in work if they know they will need to move to another area? Benefits are a means to support those in need and cannot be looked upon as an entitlement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I couldn't find a job where I lived so I got one elsewhere and moved. I don't see why these people having to move to live somewhere more affordable is at all controversial.

    In addition, it seems like the Labour council are doing this so the media latch on to it and blow it out of proportion - note that the line stating there are hundreds of houses available is virtually ignored in the article.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    When Stalin undertook this kind of behaviour we saw him as a monster.Do these people wish to move a long way from where they are now,or are they being forced?The Government should cap rents,not benefits,but then all their landlord friends would complain.Having somewhere to live is a human right & should be seen as such.Even Gaddafi knew that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I cannot see the problem here.. everyone knows including the Govt, that areas have been indigenously cleansed.
    So what are they actually saying ? and whats the difference ?
    Please don't let anyone dare come on here and demand more is stolen off the workers to enable benefit recipients
    to live in areas that these same workers cannot afford !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Is this the same Newham council who are investing 40 million to adapt the olympic stadium.


  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Cannot believe that Kosovo is has been mentioned in this article, what utter rubbish. I rent a 1 bedroom flat in a good area outside of London and pay only £450 a month and the government is offering people £400 a week for the same size property! If you want taxpayers to pay your excessive rent then you can't be picky about where you live.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    This policy is a modern day clearance of the poor and the working poor from london this is no different from the 17th century clearances of the poor from the countryside to the industrial towns to be used by the same aristocracy that moved them as slave labour .Today a millionaire aristocratic elite in politics who dont wish to see the poor where they live are now doing as their ancestors did


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