The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today interrupted their tour of Australia to send a heartfelt message of sympathy to the Duchess of Cornwall following the death of her brother Mark Shand in New York.
The father of three severely disabled children allegedly killed by their mother was today said to be “beyond shock” as full details of the family’s struggles emerged.
24 April 2012
Newham Council created a furore today after its approach to 1,179 housing associations around the country in an attempt to accommodate housing benefit claimants it says it cannot house locally.
This has sparked a political firestorm, with the chief executive of Brighter Futures - a Stoke-on-Trent housing association - accusing the council of 'social cleansing'. In turn, Labour-controlled Newham Councils' mayor, Sir Robin Wales, blamed the government's housing benefit caps for forcing families on support from across London into his borough, one of the poorest in the capital. Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps also entered the debate, accusing the council of 'playing politics' ahead of the elections.
This is deeply unfortunate timing for Boris Johnson, who actually opposed the Housing Benefit cap when it was first proposed by the government in 2010. Shapps' allegations of politicking threaten to portray Boris as on his side of the dividing line on this particular issue. He may well have been better off had Shapps not commented at all.
Shapps told the BBC that the rent was falling in real terms, being below inflation. This contradicts Shelter's figures - based on Valuation Office Agency data - that show inner London rental increases of 7.4 per cent over 2011 (vs an average 3.8 per cent salary increase), and outer London increases of 5.5 per cent (vs an average 1.8 per cent salary increase). This averages out at almost double inflation for the period. And let's not forget 2010, which according to analysis by Savills saw an average London rental increase of 11.5 per cent (in some areas by as much as 17.6 per cent).
Shapps also claimed that there were nearly 1,000 rental homes in Newham that fell within the cap. Given Wales claims Newham has a waiting list of 32,000, then even if some exaggeration has crept in, that still leaves a considerable shortfall. And as Labour MP Karen Buck stated, "If a very poor borough in East London feels itself so desperate that it has to try and find accommodation as far away as Stoke, what is that telling us about demand?"
This is an incendiary situation. Proponents of the housing benefit cap claim that the preceding system contributed to the overheating rental market, leading to landlords profiting at the expense of the taxpayer, and contributing to a positive-feedback effect pushing up rents across the board. No doubt the government policy is designed to try and mitigate this effect whilst saving money in the process, and many others will question why people should be homed in central London properties they could never dream of affording.
Yet - human interest aside - these arguments neglect a more pragmatic angle: that by uprooting people from their contexts and social support systems when they're at their most vulnerable, they are going to be less well equipped to return to supporting themselves, particularly in deprived regions already plagued by unemployment. This will see disruption to children's schooling, family breakdowns, mental health issues and increased crime, and will ultimately undermine any efficacy of the 'Big Society' ethos so championed by the government.
Both arguments have merit, and both approaches carry costs. But this situation is primarily a product of insufficient housing supply, and until serious progress is made on significantly increasing London's housing stock, no solution will be perfect.