Judging by headlines in the right wing press, you’d think Housing Benefit claimants are so carefree and loaded that they set flaming tenners loose in the wind – just to see them fly! Such misinformation means we need to have a conversation. We need to talk about Housing Benefit: what it is, who it’s for and where it really goes.
Yes, we do. Housing Benefit has been cut (no – not ‘capped’ it’s actually a cut in disguise) and undermined by the new accepted dictum that claimants are scroungers, when they are you, me, and everyone you know. HB claimants are more often than not in part time work. Official government stats support the view that it keeps people with precarious lives and few options in housing.
But let’s look at what this is again. We have created a system where rents are so ridiculously and unsustainably high, that they need state subsidy for tenants to afford them. Most claimants are employed. This again raises the spectre of low wages, which in turn means that the state is propping up the profits of companies who are cynically raking in profits while paying low wages (the minimum wage, and even the so-called living wage are both too low for long term survival, to rent, let alone buy a home.)
I have little sympathy for profiteering buy-to-let landlords who are cranking up the rent when interest rates are still so low. Yes, mortgages are hard to come by, but as I have said many times before: profit was once, and should be again, made by accruing equity long-term rather than screwing and squeezing renters, who must beg the state for help.
This is the problem with the housing Benefit issue: the money goes not to claimants, but to bail out and landlords. The money is paid to the person who owns the place and rents it out. They charge what they want, and where demand is high and supply low, they even accept sealed bids on rented properties; the highest bidder wins.
We really need are rent caps, powerful rent officers, and more social housing. All are achievable. It’s funny isn’t: bailing out banks was never seen as state aid to ‘spongers’ (well, not by the scroungers themselves) but an entire section of society is victim to unregulated rent rises. Instead of rent caps, ministers limit the amount paid to claimants. This makes no sense at all.
This is true cruelty: housing benefit cuts reverse the binoculars and place the problem of that escalating benefits bills not on landlord greed, pension concerns, or even (shhh…) capitalism’s nastier inevitabilities, but on the poor blighters living in hovels where rents are being ramped up every six months due to lack of supply in some places, and elsewhere pure blinding greed.
I’ve been saying this for ages, and I’m getting the feeling nobody is listening, and that nobody in power (Condems are Labour) care about the stinking, fetid, despicable stench of a mess that is the private rental sector.