The Mark Harper article in The Citizen claiming housing benefit cuts were fair didn't just make me angry (see my earlier comments here) - local Greens discussed it at a recent meeting and responded to the article with the following letter below.
Photo: Randwick woods
But also it is worth noting that the BBC quoted Age UK's warning re pensioners over housing benefit reforms ie that housing benefit reforms could leave some elderly people on such low incomes their health may be at risk. These are all issues that will impact on the District Council's own housing standards and will no doubt be raised as part of the inquiry that I am chairing.
Mark Harper writes in The Citizen on 5th November saying the cuts to housing benefits are fair. The Con-Dem coalition has a knack of addressing problems in isolation to make them look reasonable. But once you know that over a million households will be affected, with many forced to move out, you begin to ask questions. Are the tenants responsible for the high rents charged? Do the government want an exodus of poorer people from their neighbourhoods, schools, relations and friends? Will it mean people being moved further away from their work? Will they even find anywhere else at a lower rent? The properties they leave may well go on the market for purchase by better off people. Even Boris Johnson has called this a "Kosovo-style social cleansing."
The reason we have so many poorer people in private rented accommodation, much of which is expensive, is that both Tory and Labour governments have continued the policy of selling off our council housing. The cash has been frittered away on tax cuts for the wealthy, instead of investing the proceeds in building more council homes, which has caused a crisis in social housing. Owner-occupier status for poorer people has been made impossible by the shortage of private housing, which drives up house prices. The only humane option in these circumstances was to pay rent for people.
So no Mr Harper, the cuts are not fair and it's not benefits that drive up rents. There is an alternative: to begin a serious program of building sustainable social housing. This would mean many new low and average income jobs, a boost to local economies and housing with lower energy consumption and running costs. During this financial crisis, we must not lose sight of the larger picture. Government must invest now to safeguard our future. If Mr Harper is so concerned about the hard working subsidising the out of work, he should explain the logic of why ALL tax payers have had to pay for the bail out of the bankers for an amount that exceeds the whole of the benefits budget.
Yours faithfully, Gerald Hartley, Stroud District Green Party
It maybe also worth looking at Caroline Lucas' speech which was given to the national pensioners rally at the end of last month - see here.