BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, outlines the latest raft of Tory government cuts to benefits which will make yet more people homeless, and which have been supported by housing minister Gavin Barwell
The role of Tory-led governments, and their current housing minister, Gavin Barwell, over the past seven years in increasing levels of homelessness has been highlighted with figures just out which show the numbers of families with children stuck in B&B temporary accommodation up 40 per cent since the 2015 General Election.
And now Barwell and his Tory chums have enthusiastically applied a whole range of additional cuts to benefits which will make an already bad situation worse. Much worse.
From the beginning of April, most single people aged between 18 and 21 have been stripped of any entitlement to housing benefit. The measure has been pushed through by the Tory government (it was first mooted under David Cameron when he was Prime Minister in 2012, included in the 2015 Conservative manifesto which Barwell endorsed and it was made law last month). The National Landlords’ Association admits this single measure alone will make it less likely that their members will rent properties to younger people, increasing their risk of homelessness. Estimates suggest 9,000 young people face homelessness as a consequence of this latest Conservative cut.
The move has made some people very angry. Idris Elba, the actor, told a recent fund-raiser for the charity Shelter: “The government is trying to take away housing allowances from 18- to 21-year-olds. Seriously man. No one should be homeless, it’s fucking bullshit.”
Barwell’s response when he has been asked about this issue has usually been to patronise, and insult the electorate’s intelligence, while trying to score cheap political points out of the daily misery of thousands of people. “People are right to be angry about homelessness,” was what Barwell said recently on national television. Barwell then slyly set out to deceive over his and his government’s role in creating homelessness.
“It has been going up over the last few years,” Barwell said. “It’s still lower today than it was in most years under the Labour government. But it is absolutely right that people should be angry about that.”
Barwell made his remarks knowing full well that, under the previous Labour government, rates of homelessness were much reduced. He will also have known that, since 2010, under governments in which he has served with enthusiasm, homelessness has risen every year.
In fact, the number of rough sleepers in this country has more than doubled in the time that Barwell has been an MP, up by 133 per cent since 2010.
And it’s continued to go up since he was re-elected, by 51 per cent since 2015.
Research shows 4,134 people were sleeping on the streets of England in 2016, a 16 per cent rise from the year before, many of them forced out of their homes because of previous changes in benefits introduced by the government in which Barwell has served.
Barwell has never voted against any government measure intended to reduce or remove benefits.
Without a chimera of shame, nor any sense of irony, Barwell recently merrily rolled up at the opening of Crisis shelter for the homeless in his own Croydon Central constituency.
And measures contained within the housing white paper, which Barwell introduced on behalf of the government earlier this year, are likely to cause even more homelessness, according to a Croydon charity chief writing for Inside Croydon.
Yet still Barwell’s party ploughs on with benefit-cutting policies which, in many cases, ultimately cost the public more, and cost those people affected their dignity and ability to live together as families.
The cap on housing benefit by the Tories, of course, neatly avoids the real issue, especially in areas of high rents, such as Croydon: housing benefit is really only a subsidy handed directly to private landlords. It would be a far more effective, and just, piece of social policy if rents were capped, rather than housing benefit.
Because the impact of housing benefit caps are profound, and are already tearing apart families.
Dawn Foster, the Guardian writer on housing, recently outlined one case where a mother has had her benefits – including child benefit for her children, income support and housing benefit – cut by almost £200 per month. As a result, she fell behind with her rent.
Now, the mother sleeps on her sister’s sofa while her children have been separated and live with foster carers.
As Foster writes, “In order to scrape back £44 a week from Sarah’s benefits, the government has broken up a family, separated seven young children from their mother, and are spending more than £1,000 a week in payments to foster carers to carry out the parenting that Sarah did.”
Foster describes this as a “miserable, nonsensical predicament”.
It is hard to characterise such nonsensical benefit cuts as anything other than an assault on the poor and the vulnerable. Foster cites Alison Garnham, the head of the Child Poverty Action Group, which states that 80 per cent of the households affected by the recent rounds of benefit cuts can’t work, either because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities. “It’s the children who suffer,” Garnham said.
None of these points seem likely to be put to Barwell tomorrow night, when he makes an appearance to speak to a specially hand-picked audience of “supporters” about “Croydon’s housing crisis”.
Nor is Barwell likely to admit to his meeting that this crisis is one which he has helped to create and make worse, and which will end up costing the exchequer even more money.
Latest figures show that on Barwell’s watch, more than 75,000 families, including 119,000 children, are forced to live in emergency B&B accommodation, a rise of 10 per cent in 2016, the year in which Barwell was appointed minister for housing.
Which means that Barwell is the housing minister who presides over a block on any investment in genuinely affordable social housing, which might provide the sort of homes which, if built by local authorities, could actually provide long-term homes for all those children being forced to grow-up in cramped and often time dangerous B&B rooms.
As Barwell himself has said, “People are right to be angry about homelessness”, and they should be angry at the people like Tory ministers who are making the problem worse.
- From the archive: Barwell, benefits and a load of old b… – the views of Jeremy Corbyn adviser Andrew Fisher from 2013
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