Labour’s Shadow Wales Minister Nia Griffith MP has claimed that headline benefit cap figures based on London rents are masking what will be a grim reality for many households in Wales as the UK Government’s proposals will introduce a series of much lower local caps on housing benefit which will leave almost 50, 000 households in Wales with too little money to pay their current rents and put Welsh councils “in an impossible situation”, as they struggle to deal with families evicted by private landlords.
The Westminster government’s proposals to make substantial cuts to the Housing Benefit budget, part of the controversial Welfare Reform Bill, which has been criticised by a range of charities, will affect almost 50 000 Welsh households. Housing benefit is paid to people on low pay and low-income pensioners as well as those who are out of work. The range of reforms include local caps on the maximum allowance households can receive to help them pay rent, penalising those with spare bedrooms and forcing single under-35 year-olds into shared accommodation. The Department of Work and Pensions has predicted that the average loss in Wales will be £9 a week, and as families struggle with rising food and fuel bills, by the Chartered Institute for Housing Cymru estimates that 30,640 homes in Wales will be put out of reach of people on housing benefit as a result of changes brought in by the UK Government in 2012.
Ms Griffith said, “Government Ministers are living in cloud cuckoo land if they think that by cutting back on the money families receive to cover their current rent, private landlords will miraculously lower their rents. That is simply not going to happen, certainly not in the short term. The reality will be that we will see low income families either having to use money they now spend on essentials like food and heating to pay their rent or getting into serious debt. If private tenants then get evicted from their homes, it will be local councils across Wales who are left to pick up the tab for botched Tory cuts, putting them in an impossible situation. As Labour MPs, we have proposed amending the bill to say that a cap should not apply if it will make a family homeless. The precise effects will vary from area to area depending on what rented accommodation is available. The real way to lower the housing benefit bill is to stimulate the economy to create more jobs and get people back to work, and build more affordable social housing. ”