Since it came to power, this government has delighted in cutting great big holes in our welfare safety net.
Conservative, Liberal and Labour politicians have jostled to “get tough” on welfare, buying into the idea that most benefit claimants are either cheating the system or sitting on their bums not looking for work, or possibly both.
So they have cut and capped the amount of housing that tenants can claim to cover their rents.
But these cuts have taken their toll, making it increasingly difficult to find somewhere you can afford. So more and more people have had to move somewhere cheaper.
First, this hit central London, and then inner London, and in the past couple of years it has started to hit my constituency of Lewisham West & Penge.
This chart shows the relative change in the number of private tenants claiming housing benefit since January 2011. Westminister started to empty out early on, Lewisham and Penge followed a year or so later, while cheaper places like Thanet remain more or less unaffected.
I produced this using the government’s handy but complex statistical analysis tool.
These cuts have certainly been tough, but they haven’t been fair.
Tory ministers and right-wing newspapers might howl about scroungers, but only 15 per cent of private tenant claimants in Lewisham West & Penge are unemployed, while 45 per cent are in work.
With the national minimum wage too little to live off in London and rents obscenely high, thousands of people in Lewisham West and Penge rely on housing benefit to make ends meet.
The way to help them and bring down the benefit bill isn’t through cuts, it’s through fixing our broken economy:
- Bring in rent controls similar to those enjoyed by tenants in other European countries
- Make the minimum wage a living wage, so people earn enough to build a life on
- Build more social housing so people on low incomes can pay low rents (and have secure, comfortable homes)
- Replace our complex and expensive welfare system with a citizens’ income, guaranteeing everyone enough to meet their basic needs without wasteful means testing
These policies will actually save the government money in the long run. Rent controls stop the housing benefit bill rising; people on higher wages pay more in tax, and need less in benefits; social housing needs up-front investment but pays for itself in rents and lower benefit payments; and a citizens’ income could bring an end to the hugely wasteful and complex benefits system we have today.
These will be the manifesto I will be standing on in May 2015. For a constituency everyone can afford, vote Green.