Cap rents not benefits!

by Daphne Liddle

MORE THAN 200,000 households in England and Wales were threatened with losing their homes in the 12 months up to last September, according to a report released by the housing charity Shelter. That is equivalent to cities the size of Liverpool or Bristol being evicted or repossessed.

The report shows that the numbers at risk of eviction are much higher in some areas than other, with the 15 most at risk areas being in London.

This is because both house prices and rents are highest in the capital. Those buying have been forced to negotiate mortgages that leave them very little margin in their household budgets.

A perfect storm of rising prices for essential such a food and fuel, coupled with pegged wages or job cuts and mounting debts have left thousands bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy.

Those who are renting in the private sector have faced all these problems plus cuts in housing benefit that have forced them out of their homes looking for cheaper accommodation. Only there isn’t any available cheap accommodation in London.

Barking and Dagenham has one in every 37 homes at risk, nearly double the national average.

Shelter also found a strong correlation between unemployment and people losing their homes.

And the charity says that more then 75,000 children will wake up homeless this Christmas — an outrage in a country that claims to be civilised and has so many very, very rich people living in it.

The price of a home in London is further exacerbated by wealthy people living abroad regarding owning a house or flat in London as a great investment they can use as leverage to borrow and make themselves even richer.

They take the most luxurious properties in the giant tower blocks with fantastic views over the Thames — but rarely, if ever, occupy them. These luxury homes are stored like gold or paintings in a vault while the spiralling house prices they cause force families out into hostels and young people out on to the streets.

And squatting has recently been made a criminal offence.

A separate report from Crisis, the housing charity that deals more with single homeless people, finds that young people are bearing the brunt of the rising tide of homelessness.

The Homelessness Monitor 1, published by Crisis, is a major five-year independent study into the impact of the economic downturn and policy developments on homelessness across Britain.

This is the second year of the study to be published by Crisis and undertaken by Heriot-Watt University and the University of York.

This new report warns says there is much worse to come, particularly for young people and families with children.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: “The coalition is sweeping away the safety nets that have traditionally saved people from the horrors of homelessness. Housing benefit, the duties of local councils and the security and availability of social housing are all being cut back.

“Young people are already bearing a disproportionate burden of the cuts and economic downturn, yet the Government seems set to increase the pressure by abolishing housing benefit for under-25s.

“The research is clear; if we carry on like this, rising rates of homelessness will accelerate — a disaster for those directly affected, and bad for us all.”

But there is a little good news. The Chancellor’s autumn budget speech last month did not mention cutting housing benefit to the under-25s. This does not mean the idea has been dropped but it may be under reconsideration.

It would throw thousands of young people — many with jobs which they would be likely to lose — out of their homes.

Yet housing benefit ends up in the pockets of the landlords, not the tenants.

We must fight for the sale of council homes to be halted, thousands of new ones to be built and for squatting to be decriminalised.

And we must raise a campaign call for a new Rent Act; our slogan must be: “Cap rents, not benefits!”