Housing benefit cuts hit families
Family Action has published new research documenting how the social segregation resulting from Housing Benefit cuts will price poor families out of the catchment areas for the best schools. Rhian Beynon, Family Action’s head of policy, told Children and Young People Now that:
To live within sufficient distance of the top scoring primary school in Hackney, you need to be able to pay upwards of £300 a week in rent for a two-bedroom flat…from next year housing benefit for the neighbouring area will be limited to between £265 and £290. We do not see how children of low income parents are going to be helped by these proposals.”
The DWP have responded by stating that “it’s not right that some families on benefits were able to live in homes that hard-working families could not afford”. This argument seems misplaced on several counts. Firstly, Housing Benefit is available to working families, who will lose income as a result of these cuts. And secondly, HB is available to many non-working families not expected by the Government to be in paid work (e.g. single parents with very young children and severely disabled people). Is it fair that low-income working families and families who can’t work are consigned to poor quality accommodation?
In addition, the Government has yet to publish statistics on the numbers of families who are in accommodation that ‘hard-working families’ could not access. Logic suggests that this problem mostly applies to the relatively small numbers of families on HB in very high rental areas, for example zone 1 in London and some high cost rural areas. But while there has been much discussion of the inequity of the current Housing Benefit system, evidence as to the scale of this problem remains thin on the ground.
Even if you accept this is an issue, the cuts that are being introduced will do far more than place workless families in accommodation that is comparable with those in employment. The reductions the Government is talking about will mean that workless families’ accommodation is inevitably far worse than their working counterparts. Many non-working families are already in housing that is worse than many working households can afford, and will, as a result of these cuts, find that their accommodation becomes even poorer.
Which brings us to the other side of the argument – if you think that those in work should have better housing than those who are not then you also have to accept that families where adults cannot find jobs should be consigned to overcrowded poor quality accommodation. If you believe that unemployment is not the fault of lazy individuals, this is not an argument that can be accepted. And even if you do believe that unemployed people only have themselves to blame, is it really fair to punish their children too?
Moral pronoucements in this area are often more complicated than they first seem. Surely the ambition of Government should be to ensure that as many people as possible have quality accommodation that gives children and families the best chance of success – not to apply blanket punishments to those who are unlucky enough to be out of work. Fairness in the social security system should not be about judging the morality of people’s employent status.