• Josie Channer

Josie on: Housing

Now I’m a GLA candidate for Bexley & Bromley as well as a councillor in Barking & Dagenham, for me one of the most concerning issues is the effects that the Government’s planned Housing Benefit cap and Universal Credit changes will have on outer London.

The Universal Credit system changes are due to begin in 2013 and will see the eight tax credits, as well as employment and income benefits, abolished. The aim is that the absolute maximum income for a household on benefits should be £26,000 per annum (roughly £500 per week) — including Housing Benefit.

The East London Housing Partnership reported that 19,503 claimants will be affected by the cap in London. This might result in families being unable to afford to live in inner-London and being forced instead to move to outer London.

The proposed changes will have different implications on residents across London. The tale of the two outer London areas illustrates this. According to a recent University of Cambridge report (1), only 25% of Bromley will be ‘affordable’ by 2016, whereas 91% of Barking & Dagenham will be described as such, Overall only 36% of London with be deemed ‘affordable’ to Londoners by 2016.

The policy, so far as I can see, will create nothing more that social segregation within London, with the majority of our city being off limits to low income families.

Affordable outer London boroughs might see a further concentration of low income families, with people moving into neighbourhoods which are already deprived, suffering from over-crowding and in high need. Any expansion of housing provision in these areas will be in the private rented sector, the scale and nature of which London boroughs are struggling to identify as landlords often provide little or no information to the authorities.

Investigating the private rented sector in my own borough, I’ve uncovered some of the challenges that London faces. 47% of privately rented homes in Barking& Dagenham fall below the Decent Homes Standards and 22.3% of households are actually considered to be ‘a hazard’. Largely unregulated, there is little guidance or information available to landlords and their tenants, making it difficult for councils to help people who might be living in appalling conditions. What’s needed is a London wide approach.

The debate of how we got here continues, for me it’s difficult to blame Thatcher’s right to buy policy on the lack of social housing when we had 13 years in Government, although many try to do this. I’ve heard Karen Buck, shadow Housing Minster, speak passionately on the issue a number of times. Leading the good fight, she’s been warning of the Conservatives’ housing policy since before the election and has been pressing them ever since. But she’s faced with the accusation, as I will be now, that Labour’s previously passive housing policy, which saw private landlords charging extortionate amounts and with tax-payers footing the bill, has helped to create this problem. Where was the investment in social housing across London that could have tackled the rising costs of housing benefit in the city? What can the answer be to that, other than, “Yes, mistakes were made and now we must move forward”.

What’s now clear is that the London boroughs will need to work together on these issues, with a Mayor and GLA members that will fight this socially divisive policy. I believe we need effective regulation of private landlords – as there are far too many voiceless tenants out there! I accept that the current benefit system needs reforming, but what we should be fighting for is social housing so that our nurses, cleaners, shop-workers, bus-drivers, teachers and all of the other people that keep London going, can continue to live across London.

1. Cambridge Centre of Housing & Planning Research : Housing Benefit reform and the spatial segregation of low-income households in London (January 2011)