I suppose it seemed like a good day to bury good news. Most media outlets only have room for one social security story at a time, and with the social policy world buzzing with discussions about the Government’s plans to shift the goalposts on child poverty the government must have hoped that no-one would notice today’s release of Housing Benefit statistics.
Last month, Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne fingered young people’s Housing Benefit for the next round of benefit cuts. As Crisis has pointed out, many young people can’t live at home but cannot afford the rent on any sort of accomodation. For young people in this position,
housing benefit is their last option and all that stands between them and homelessness.
Against this, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State argue that school leavers “are able to move directly from school to a life on housing benefit without finding a job first.” But today’s figures prove that thousands of people don’t fit this stereotype.
Firstly, most Housing Benefit claimants aren’t that young. More than half (55 per cent) are over 45 and just 7.5 per cent are under 25. I hope the government doesn’t plan to stop young people with children from being able to pay the rent – but a majority of young HB claimants have children (204,000 out of 381,000). In fact, under 25s without children make up just 3.5 per cent of all claimants.
Secondly, the government likes to give the impression that everyone on HB is out of work. Of course that’s true of nearly all the million-plus claimants over retirement age – more than a fifth of all HB claimants. But nearly a quarter – 23.2 per cent – of working age claimants are in employment. And the working poor have accounted for a rising share of HB claims ever since the recession started:
And most of the rest are out of work for very good reasons – they are disabled, looking after small children or trying to find a job.
Today’s figures also show how much a typical HB claimant gets. The newspapers have been full of stories about people getting £100,000 a year in Housing Benefit; the average is actually £4,650 – which goes, of course, to the landlord. Last week, Full Fact investigated how many people are actually getting £100,000; they found that “around five” families receive this much.
That may be an abuse (when the numbers are this small you need to have some details about individual cases to make a judgement) but it’s hardly the basis for a benefit reform that will hammer hundreds of thousands of people.