Ben Reeve Lewis writes an open letter to The Prime Minister
Dear Mrs May,
Back in October 2016, you announced to the world that helping those “Just managing” were one of your key priorities.
Admittedly you seemed to be referring to families but would I be wrong to presume that you have no concerns for people excluded from those families and those not entitled to homelessness assistance?
Or is the welfare of single people under 22 not one of your key priorities?
On Friday you announced that the Universal Credit (Housing Costs Element for claimants aged 18 to 21) (Amendment) Regulations 2017 would, after much protest and warning, begin coming in shortly.
What happened before
A few years back those under 35 were subjected to the Shared Accommodation Rate, a cut in benefit that limits claimants to the amount of HB they would get for a single room in a shared house only.
People who had been renting happily for many years in a home of their own were suddenly forced to downsize to HMO land. A few examples aside not the best place to be and hardly a first choice for many.
Those well short of 35 facing the prospect of house sharing in what are traditionally low-quality housing for the most part and for their foreseeable future, putting aside questions of home ownership over questions of simply ‘Can I afford a room to rent?”
In my job, I go into hundreds of these HMOs across London with licensing and enforcement officers every year and I see first-hand the appalling conditions so many of them are in, a fact already acknowledged by Parliament, which is why HMO licensing was introduced to raise standards and punish slumlords.
The new regulations
Under your new regulations persons under the age of 22 who require housing benefit won’t even be able to afford to live in a slum.
Could anyone get any lower to the bottom of the heap?
Not forgetting that housing benefit isn’t just paid to people out of work but also to people in work but on low wages and for the most part people under 22 don’t usually get the best wages in the ordinary world, discounting pit traders and public school types, whose parents contribute to your party’s coffers.
Of course, the parents of those under 22 who need housing benefit don’t contribute to your party coffers, nor do they receive knighthoods, which is probably why they have slipped off of your priority radar.
Why people go on the street
I want to point out to you that people don’t sleep rough for a laugh, they do it because they don’t have a home and they can’t get assistance under homelessness legislation because they aren’t in priority need under those regulations.
You don’t see families on the street because they are entitled to assistance, you see single people in doorways because they aren’t and now your vicious new statutory instrument will add to that number.
In case it has slipped your attention rough sleeping has risen for the 6th clear year in a row with figures from last year’s rough sleeping count estimated at 4,134 people, a 16% rise on 2015 and with the vast majority of these people not eligible for homelessness assistance, hence the flattened cardboard boxes and sleeping bags.
Your new regulations will add to that list because those under 22 who might even now be enjoying the warmth of at least a one-bar electric fire in a dangerous and disgusting bed-sit, courtesy of the Shared Accommodation Rate, will be forced onto the street, having first run up rent arrears with their landlord who will then be forced to spend money to evict them that they know they won’t get back because their ex-tenant will be surviving on food picked out of skips.
Let’s not forget the young people living in difficult family circumstances who at least could get some distance between them and their dysfunctional families by using housing benefit to rent a room in a house.
Where do they go? Back to the abusive home or onto the streets?
Drops in the ocean
Your government announced in 2016 that they had acknowledged the homelessness crisis and were going to make £550 million available to deal with the problem so I am a bit disturbed that you are now using my tax money to increase the problem.
Of course, there are exceptions. What government would call our attention to as if an act of astonishing kindness. Care leavers, people with no parents etc. well done, have a brandy and feel good about yourself but how about the people who aren’t exempted? Let’s keep them firmly in mind, shall we?
I have read that the stated aim of this restriction is to shave a mere £3.3 million off of the housing benefit bill – but how much will it be adding to the homelessness bill? Where are those figures?
If I am missing the point and it’s a genuine financial problem I have a suggestion. Why not cancel your invitation to Donald Trump take the money that will be spent on security to keep away the inevitably huge protest crowd hitting the London streets as he rolls up Whitehall in his Bentley and use it to pay for housing benefit for the under 22’s?
I think many would be happy with that compromise.
Ben Reeve Lewis