Thursday, 11 October 2012

Housing benefit plans are not new

Excellent letter in Wednesday's Guardian.

Housing benefit plans are not new

The Guardian, Wednesday 10 October 2012

The chancellor's proposals to reform housing benefit for the under-25s are not new (Analysis, 9 October). The Thatcher government's Social Security Acts of 1986 and 1988 were underpinned by the assumption that families should take greater financial responsibility for their young people. This resulted in the ending of income support for 16- and 17-year-olds, except on proof of "severe hardship", and the abolition of "householder status" for under-25s, by the introduction of lower rates of income support for this age group. The impact of these changes proved disastrous.

First, many care leavers for whom family support was not an option experienced poverty and homelessness. This led to campaigning activity by care leavers which resulted in "exceptions" for limited periods. However, it was not until the introduction of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 that there was a comprehensive response to address their plight.

Second, there was a larger but at that time lesser-known group of abused and neglected older teenagers who suffered greatly at the hands of their parents. In order to qualify for benefits so that they could leave their families, or remain in their own accommodation, they had to prove "severe hardship" or "estrangement" at regular intervals. Many gave up on these draconian tests, officially described then, and proposed now, as "safety nets", but which reflected the long shadows of the deterrent poor law. They either remained and suffered at home or ended up homeless. We have become increasingly aware of the problems of maltreated young adults and developed more compassionate and effective policies to prevent youth homelessness. It would be inhumane to turn the clock back.

Professor Mike Stein
University of York

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Letter to Boris Johnson on Conservative London welfare cuts

Here's a letter I sent to Boris Johnson following the announcement of further welfare cuts in London (see previous posts).

9th October 2012

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Impact of reduced welfare support for Camden and inner London residents
Further to your Conservative Party conference speech today, I am writing to you with new evidence we have gathered regarding the impacts of Government’s welfare changes on Camden residents.

I am concerned that these reforms will make it increasingly difficult for low income households to live in our borough, and raises real questions about inner London’s social mix over the next decade.  As Mayor of London you have spoken before against the ‘social cleansing’ of London.  Our analysis shows that the hardest hit will be families with young children – raising the likelihood that your legacy as Mayor will be remembered for the migration of low income families to the outskirts of London and rising child poverty for families just about able to remain.

I would like to ask you to join us in trying to tackle the issue of high rents in inner London.  Contrary to what the Prime Minister says in the Daily Mail when referring to high levels of benefit payments in London, these payments support individuals who are in properties with high rents - the fault of the ‘landlord benefit’ system not the individuals themselves.  The simple remedy repeated by CLG and DWP Ministers to ‘get a job’ to pay for rent does not stack up when there remains a 4:1 ratio of claimants-to-job-vacancies in Camden.  It is also unlikely that the figures cited by you on increasing housing supply – even for intermediate housing - are at all adequate.  London – particularly inner London - needs a distinct approach to private sector rents and housing benefit, something which can come from active lobbying of central government and legislative change.    

Impacts of LHA caps on households
Of the 3,384 households which were claiming Local Housing Allowance in Camden in April 2011, one year on 1,104 households are no longer on our rolls.  Of these 49% were already workless; 36% are under-35 (see below) and 19% have children.  It is likely with these cohorts that, barring a swift change in fortune in an area with the 4th highest rents in the country and few jobs on offer that they are being priced out of the borough.   We have also noticed a churn inside of Camden for those continuing to claim LHA in the borough, with areas in the south of the borough, notably Somers Town, becoming more unaffordable for low income households.  Camden is also managing increasing pressure on homelessness applications and placements.

Camden cannot track housing benefit claimants moving from the borough, and we would urge the Mayor and GLA to do this on behalf of Londoners so an adequate evidence-base can be gathered for further representations to the Prime Minister.

LHA impacts on schools and pupil places
In Camden we estimate that 493 children come from households impacted by the LHA changes, with some households losing up to £90 a week. The number will be higher for all Camden residents, as some send their children out-of-borough.  Primary schools will very much be at the front-line coping with change, and already some are instituting breakfast clubs for low income households seeking, on reduced weekly incomes, to stay in their local area.  Again, we urge the Mayor and GLA to properly monitor the impact on schools and school place planning in order to assist further lobbying of Central Government.

Council Tax Benefit
The changes and cuts in Council Tax Benefit undermine the fundamental principle of ‘no minimum contribution’ which distinguished Council Tax from the previous Community Charge.   They also provide support for low income households at a time when inner London cost of living pressures are rising.  The impact of this will be widespread on  already hard-pressed families.

Our analysis shows that areas of high deprivation will be impacted most by these changes, with households in Somers Town, Kilburn and Gospel Oak most impacted.  We also remain concerned that the Government will cut the Council Tax grant in the future, forcing further pressure on low income households.

Our analysis shows that over 16,000 Camden residents, previously considered too poor to pay council tax, will see their exemptions wiped out amid government cuts. If boroughs are forced to ask people to pay more Council Tax, authorities will find it difficult to collect from households who are not used to paying and may be struggling financially at a time of huge churn in the welfare system, when other benefits are being cut. As I am sure you are aware, there is also a knock-on effect on the GLA’s revenue base.

Removal of housing benefit for under-25s
David Cameron’s plan to cut housing support for under-25s in Camden would see over 940 young people forced to move from the borough.  The largest group are young people in council housing, many of whom are vulnerable or were previously in care, or have succeeded tenancies from their parents after caring for them.  320 of Camden under-25s supported in this way are single parents with young dependents.

Shelter argues that the group most affected by the government's proposals would be young adults who do not have a family home to move back to, including care leavers and orphans - but also young people with:

• Abusive parents/step parents/partners
• Severely overcrowded parental homes – likely to be exacerbated by under-occupation housing benefit cut
• Parents who have downsized
• Parents who have moved abroad
• Parents who have divorced – children reaching maturity is the 'peak' point for divorcing parents
• Parents in prison
• Family breakdown – parents who refuse to accommodate children
• Parents on low incomes who will be hit by non-dependant deduction should their child move back home when universal credit comes in.

We know that changes of this kind will have an impact, as our LHA statistic cited above shows that changes to housing benefit for under-35s have seen over 380 leave Camden, over a third of the total impact this year.  For young people who have lost parents, but remain in the area, these new changes may well uproot them from their neighbourhood, and for vulnerable people getting settled after trauma this is another unwelcome change.

If these plans go ahead, London should prepare for a rise in the kind youth street homeless which was commonplace in the 1980s.

I would be grateful for a strong reassurance from you that you will support Camden in opposing the impacts of the Welfare Reform Act and associated changes and help stop the movement of low and modest income households and families from our borough.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Theo Blackwell
Cabinet Member Finance

Monday, 8 October 2012

DWP stats show upto 48k under-25s in London to be hit by Housing Benefit curbs

More reaction to Tory plans for more Housing Benefit changes for young people:  Further to my updated impact analysis of the changes for under-25s posted below.

DWP statistics show the full extent of the Housing Benefit changes for under25s in London: over 48,000 will be affected in the city.

Here is the breakdown by borough - any word from the Mayor of London on this yet?

Housing Benefit recipients aged under 25 by London Local Authority (Source DWP: March 2012).

Updated - impact on under-25s in Camden of Housing Benefit changes

(Updated from July) David Cameron's plan to cut Housing Benefit for under-25s in Camden could see nearly 1000 people forced to move from the borough or moved further into poverty, according to statistics we have analysed at Camden council. 

The plans, first mooted in the Mail on Sunday earlier this year and reheated in time for Tory Party Conference, will disproportionately hit young people in the social housing sector.
Our analysis of these changes on under 25s show that they seem to impact young people in social housing three times more than young people in private rented accommodation.

41% of LHA claimants who are under 25 are in council housing and a further 35% are in social housing, with less than a quarter in private rented accommodation. 

Typically young people in this situation are those who have succeeded to tenancies from their parents, or people who are very vulnerable and have found housing.  Help with rents which are also low suggest many are unemployed or on low wages. 

The various impacts of these changes have been discussed by homelessness charities and others - as has the social cleansing aspect, something we feel strongly about in Camden. Shelter argues that the group most affected by the government's proposals would be young adults who do not have a family home to move back to, including care leavers and orphans - but also young people who have:

• Abusive parents/step parents/partners – this will be those with convictions and those without convictions but where violence still exists
• Severely overcrowded parental homes – likely to be exacerbated by under-occupation housing benefit cut
• Parents who have downsized
• Parents who have moved abroad 
• Parents who have divorced – children reaching maturity is the 'peak' point for divorcing parents
• Parents in prison
• Family breakdown – parents who refuse to accommodate children
• Parents on low incomes who will be hit by non-dependant deduction should their child move back home when universal credit comes in.

For young people who have lost parents, but remain in the area, the changes may well uproot them from their neighbourhood, for vulnerable people getting settled after trauma, this is another unwelcome change.

Richard Exell Touchstone blog argues that this target for the government is not that big anyway - 2.4% of total recipients.  

But then, banging on an empty vessel is guaranteed to make a loud sound.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Living wage for private contracted staff in Camden

Camden Council today became one of London’s first boroughs to be accredited as a London Living Wage Employer by the Living Wage Foundation.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Sarah Hayward, raised a London Living Wage Employer flag to fly above the Town Hall to commemorate the occasion.

The move by Camden to introduce a LLW policy means that when contracts are considered or renewed by the Council payment of a fair wage will form an integral part of the decision making process. This means that once agreed by Cabinet, workers would be paid the current £8.30 per hour LLW as a minimum.

Camden’s commitment is in response to the Citizens UK campaign encouraging employers to consider paying the living wage – a campaign that has already lifted over 10,000 families out of poverty.

Already paying the LLW to staff that are hired directly by the Council, Camden is committed to ensuring contractors across the Council are also paying their workers the LLW as a minimum. The first contracts to be addressed are within the Carers’ Service. From this month, the Council will also introduce the LLW for all agency staff, finishing a process started in 2009 with a council scrutiny report pushed by Labour and going further than commitments made at the 2010 election and afterwards.

Councillor Sarah Hayward, Leader of Camden Council, said:

“We are proud to be one of the first boroughs in London to not only commit to introducing the LLW but to act on that commitment. Paying an hourly rate which supports a decent standard of living for some of our lowest paid workers is a positive example of how the Council’s policy can directly reduce inequality and provide a positive contribution to the lives of our residents.

“Camden Council already pays the LLW to staff that work directly for us, the next important step is to work with new providers and extend that commitment to new contracts. This may take us some time, but I firmly believe that it is an investment that will improve the quality of services and the daily lives of those who work for Camden. Paying a living wage is even more important as government cuts £18 billion from welfare benefits, including those paid to people in work.”

The commitment to the LLW was announced on the back of the publication of the Council’s new five year vision, the Camden Plan, which has a bold ambition to tackle long-term inequality in the borough. That includes working together with residents, businesses, partners and staff to deliver these ambitions.

Director of Living Wage Foundation, Rhys Moore, said:

“The Living Wage Foundation is delighted to award Camden Council the Living Wage Employer Mark. This move will mean a better life for hundreds of workers and their families. And crucially the Council’s leadership on the issue of low pay is an example to other major employers in the borough and beyond. The growing number of employers who pay the Living Wage understand that it’s not just good for workers, it’s also good for business.”

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Long term empty homes to be taxed 150% council tax

More detail on the BBC story this week on council tax changes - Camden aims to remove the second home discount of 10% and put council tax up to 150% for long term empty properties.

As reported in the Ham+High, Camden is preparing to use new powers which will give the Council discretion to increase the amount of council tax due from owners of second homes and empty homes.  It is anticipated that the Local Government Finance Act 2012 will introduce new legislation giving Councils flexibility to determine the amount of council tax they can charge as part of the localism agenda.  Camden Council’s Cabinet are expected to consider proposals in December once the Bill completes passage through the Commons..

There are 103,600 residential properties in Camden. Most of these are occupied by the residents as their main home. However, 1 in 16 is not lived in on a full time basis and it is these 6,473 homes that Camden is keen to see either put quickly back in to use or taxed appropriately.

Camden has a severe shortage of housing yet every year thousands of properties are left vacant by private landlords and those privileged enough to own more than one home. We will use our new powers to make sure that owners of empty properties are encouraged to make them available to the housing market more quickly and to tax those who leave them empty.

Our measure is both necessary and fair and we look forward to the prospect of new powers to end to what is effectively a tax subsidy for wealthy property owners.