Benefit caps and central London: how many children will be moving school?

Many Liberal Democrats I’ve spoken to have mixed feelings about the proposed benefit cap and some of the housing benefit changes. On the one hand, they have very little sympathy with the complaints of people such as Frank Dobson that rule changes means he wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in his council flat. Count me in the camp who doesn’t think council housing should be used to let ex-ministers with decades of salary earning that puts them amongst the best paid in the country and with membership of a decent pension scheme live in one of London’s most expensive areas.

I’m not in Frank Dobson’s class, but even providing council housing to me would be an appalling waste given the pressing needs there are from people who really are in need of a helping hand.

But… on the other hand, people having to move looks very different if it involves disruption such as children having to change schools. That’s the angle the Evening Standard has picked up on:

The impact of the new limits on housing benefit has been laid bare in a report by Westminster City Council.

The stark scenario revealed shows that one in six primary school age children in the borough may have to move home and in many cases go to a new school.

In Maida Vale it is an astonishing 43 per cent who could be affected in this way.

Across central London, thousands of school children may have to move.

“May” is very different from “will”, of course, but even with that caveat Simon Hughes is on the case:

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is due to meet with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith next week to demand changes to the policy.

It is only certain parts of London which are particularly hard hit by the caps and Mr Hughes, who backs the policy in principle, wants ministers to lessen the blow for many of the households affected.

“It is crucial that the Government uses this time to think of a solution now that more and more evidence is emerging of the severe consequences the benefits caps will have on London and Londoners,” he told The Standard.

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  • Totally agree that Dobson should not have a council flat. But, and it’s a big one, others less fortunate will probably have to move.

    Westminster are only coming to the same conclusion many raised on this site months ago when the changes were first mooted. Mind you, forcing children to move schools will be just up Westminsters street, poor children have less chance of becoming Tory voters. Were they not the authority that sold Council flats to Tory voters ? Getting rid of those pesky people who need a bit of support will help move more Tory voters in !

  • Also people who are on incapacity benefit will have to move flat in lots of places and many of them are not well enough either physically or mentally to deal with the stress of that, myself included. It’s not just London that’s affected. I live in Bath and I don’t see any way I can afford somewhere to live after the changes. There will be a rush on for social housing and cheap properties – which in Bath are always let to students with just the kitchen as a common area. And I can’t share a place – it wouldn’t be fair on myself or others. Also, everyone wants financial guarantors on the contract and I have no one who would do that for me now. I predict thousands of landlords trying to get rid of tenants who can’t afford the rent and having to take them to court.

  • If we hadn’t purposely created a housing bubble with low interest rates then maybe more people would be able to afford to live in central London without help from the state.

  • I just find all of the complaints about the benefit cap a bit dubious as every single complaint can also be applied to people who work hard on a low wage yet don’t receive excessive benefits:

    Claimants will have to move to less pricey areas: People who work on a low wage generally aren’t able to live in pricey areas.
    Claimants won’t be able to have loads of children: People who work on a low wage have to think about how many children they have.
    etc. etc.

    It can seem a bit heartless but people do have to live within their means, and the state can’t be expected to give a better standard of living to those who have made dubious life decisions than those who work hard. My family can’t afford to live in Chelsea and everyone who isn’t in education has a job.

  • I agree that capping benefits will produce a number of undesirable consequences involving poorer people having to move out of rich areas, but is spending a fortune subsidising people to live in places beyond their earnings an effective solution?

  • This line of reasoning just isn’t going to be accepted by the rest of society. How is it that there are certain people (and I have no idea how you get to be one of them) who have a right to be subsidised by the rest of us to live in a place the rest of us couldn’t dream of affording? And not only that, but it’s largely the subsidy paid to these people that makes it so blasted expensive to live in these places that no-one in my family will ever be able to afford it.

    And the places where these ‘poor’ people who have to be subsidised live have just about the best employment prospects on the planet.

  • At the risk of sounding facetious, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the education standards of most outer London boroughs, and the surrounding shire counties, are in general far higher than Westminster or other inner London boroughs. A significant influx of children, as is evidently expected by the outer London borough in which I live, will undoubtedly create problems for the council, but could actual benefit the children who are forced to move to here.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Jun '11 - 11:12am

    Why is it that with all this talk of the housing benefit cap, no-one seems to be talking about where the housing benefit money actually goes to – private landlords? When we had sufficient supply of council housing let out at cost price, housing benefit would only have to go as far as meeting this cots price. Now it has to go many times higher to line the pockets of the private landlords. And yet the right-wing press (i.e. most of the press) writes as if it is the tenants rather than the landlords who get the money. See the posting by someone called “Chris” above at 5.03pm yesterday for more of this nonsense. Chris, it ISN’T the tenants who are being subsidised, it’s the LANDLORDS! The reason they are being subsidised is because we sold off the council housing that used to be let to those in need of housing. Where I live, a former council house which has gone through right-to-buy and then buy-to-let is let out at about three times the rent of an otherwise identical house still under council ownership. The difference is PURE PROFIT to someone, paid for by the taxpayer.

  • David Boothroyd 24th Jun '11 - 11:57am

    Need it be pointed out that Frank Dobson was living in the same flat as a private tenant when Camden council, not under his leadership, bought up the entire block in anticipation of a major redevelopment scheme for the area. All the existing tenants then had their tenancies converted to council tenancies. The redevelopment scheme did not eventually happen, which is why they are still there.

    It is therefore wrong to imply that Frank Dobson was allocated a council flat off the waiting list. In effect he became a council tenant by accident. His housing is not subsidised as council flat rents are set so as to meet the cost of maintaining the building.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Jun '11 - 1:43pm

    @matthew Huntbach
    ” Where I live, a former council house which has gone through right-to-buy and then buy-to-let is let out at about three times the rent of an otherwise identical house still under council ownership”

    or to put it another way the people in the council houses are having an enormous subsidy from the rest of the community?

  • And too think that little over a year ago a benefit cap would of been seen by the LDs as something to oppose given the effect on the poorest and most vulnerable.
    Mind you if they say a week in politics is a long time, a year is an eternity, just look at the difference that amount of time did to a once principled party. (oops my bad, it was 24hrs not a year, the 4th – 5th may 2010 to be exact)

  • I don’t think that we should be under any illusions here: if this change goes through, and people move from inner to outer London and have more than 1 kid, they will struggle to find a school to take all of them. Having three primary age kids in three different schools would be tough. In a place like Kingston school places are like gold-dust.

    The cost of accomodating people in very expensive places is very high, and there are better ways to spend the money, But I would have prefered to see this brought in for new claimants first, then people without kids, and then on a case by case basis – that is, if the housing officer can find you somewhere cheaper, within range of the school, that is different to if no reasonable alternative can be found.

    Mark makes the comment that as Dobson is paying a rent lower than the market, he is being subsidised. Mark is correct. But it follows that if we oppose paying HB in inner London, we should also oppose council housing in those areas, since these are subsidised just as much (they could otherwise be sold off for a lot of money). Do we want to think that one through?

    Finally, this is not gerrymandering by the Tories. Kicking Labour voters out of K&C and into marginal outer London or Medway, for example, is bad news for the Tories. Labour votes are wasted in K&C, but could be critical in these areas.

  • David Boothroyd 25th Jun '11 - 10:09am

    No Mark Pack it bloody well isn’t. He is paying the cost of his housing. The fact that profitmakers are able to get away with charging some other people more than the cost of their housing does not affect that. Typical Liberals defending profiteers, that’s why we have a Labour Party.

    In any case the market rent is arbitrary because it derives from a rental market in which a large amount of rental property is part of the social rented sector. If all that property was suddenly put on the open market, the market rent would be substantially lower (and the private landlords would be hopping mad).

  • Mark – my apologies – I misread your post and therefore mis-represented your position. (But you are right that Dobson gets a subsidy, in that the property could be let at a higher rent, and the money used to help someone more in need. Which would be pretty much anyone!!)

  • When the effects take place it will be interesting to see what the result will be to voters in general in those affected areas, will it produce areas free from the poorest, and who do those poorest vote for… and no… I am just asking the question

    Interestingly we will not see the results will we, with the boundary changes to hide those forced to move, but I am sure some assumptions can be made, but I see the figures of one in six or in one case 43% of children, now relate that to one in six families or at one school 43% of families who “may be” effectively be forced out of the area they live in.

    What would we call this if it was taking place in a poor country?
    Just because it is being done economically instead of with violence does it change the reasons?
    Again I am just asking the question, not accusing… but should these questions be asked, I don’t really know, I am but a lay person, but I find it disconcerting…

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jun '11 - 1:15pm

    Simon McGrath

    @matthew Huntbach
    ” Where I live, a former council house which has gone through right-to-buy and then buy-to-let is let out at about three times the rent of an otherwise identical house still under council ownership”

    or to put it another way the people in the council houses are having an enormous subsidy from the rest of the community?


    Council house rents are set at the cost of paying the loans used to build the housing and paying for repairs and maintenance. There is no subsidy, by law local authorities must keep the housing revenue account separate from the general account and neither may subsidise the other.

    I suppose your argument is that the council could be making a profit by letting out the housing at more than cost price. This is to ignore the huge benefit society gains from there being stable low cost housing. Stable well-housed families contribute so much more to the community than those whose lives are wrecked through instability. If we are going to accept that people do ultimately have a right to housing as a human right (maybe you don’t accept this), then a stock of housing let out at cost is cheaper to the community than paying much higher costs in housing benefit. Low cost housing also means there are workers available living locally who are willing to take on low-paid jobs – it’s a subsidy to the employers in some way. The safety net of at-cost housing allocated by need also works to slow down the boom in private housing costs, which given the way that boom has wrecked our economy is surely not a bad thing.

    Simon, there is more to life than money. This is something you need to learn. Cash market distribution works in many ways, but it is not always the right answer. Have we not seen enough of its failures now for that to be obvious?

  • The biggest problem with this issue is ignorance. People are dealing with extremes either cases quoted are that of £2000 a week or 82, 000 families to be made homeless. The issue can be resolved without much fuss and only thing needed is understanding of facts and a bit of common sense. I believe it is the beauty of London that poor and rich live in mixed neighborhoods and the children of a poor person gets all possible opportunities to make their life a success and this beauty should be retained. Ms Roe failed to mention how many individuals in Westminster have a net worth of over £271 million probably thousands so in such a rich borough it is not such huge cost. But I do believe some changes are required and following two can achieve Govt the maximum benefit with minimum backlash.
    1. Move around 125 4Bed+ entitlement families from Westminster to either council properties or private properties nearby but at cheaper rates and people should not be allowed to take tenancies above say £700 a week in wWstminster. Just to mention we are dealing with few dozen people. This action will remove those big headlines like Somalian family living in X million property which then costs other 82000 families their houses.
    2. LHA rates be reduced to 30th percentile across the country and it will save money without any mass relocation as it does not hurt landlords enough to make them evict people but does save considerable sums.
    I believe these two measures will save Govt considerable money without have to move many or in fact any people. It is important to understand that London is one of the most expensive cities and housing is expensive here so people can not expect houses here to be same rents as Birmingham or any other city but at the same time the rules should not allow ridiculous exploitations like £2000 a week rents for unemployed.


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