THE LONDON Borough of Newham last week approached Brighter Futures, a social housing association in Stoke-on-Trent, to house 500 homeless families because Government caps on housing benefit now make it impossible to house the families within the east London borough.
Private rents in the Labour-controlled borough have soared over the last few years, exacerbated by the impending Olympics to be held mainly in Newham.
The Government has responded by accusing Newham Council of frightening vulnerable residents.
And Brighter Futures has rejected Newham’s proposal on the grounds that moving large numbers of families around the country would cause serious problems in providing vital social, health education and other services to support them.
Newham Council is being accused of social cleansing but shadow housing minister Jack Dromey has told LBC, a London local radio service, that the authority has no choice.
He said: “If the council in London is faced with a collapse in affordable house building, soaring rents in the private rental sector and the benefit changes that the Government has introduced, you put councils like Newham – which is a good council – in an impossible situation.
“It’s Grant Shapps and the government who are responsible for this absolute scandal.
“We warned that it would happen and it’s now happening on a grand scale.
“These are decent families who are homeless through no fault of their own, who are desperate to find accommodation in London, but they are forced to move hundreds of miles.”
Tory-controlled Westminster council is also understood to be considering a similar proposal.
As part of its welfare reforms, the Government has introduced weekly caps on housing benefit of between £250 for a one-bedroom flat and £400 for a four-bedroom property.
Local Housing Allowance, which is used to determine housing benefit payments, has also been changed so it is being calculated on the basis of cheaper rents – rather than on the mid-point of rents in an area.
The cap on housing benefit has drastically reduced the number of private sector rental properties that are now affordable to the low paid and those on benefits.
According to the Chartered Institute of Housing research, in a report issued in January this year, the top five areas of affordable property loss are:
1. Westminster 20,700
2. Birmingham 14,200
3. Kensington and Chelsea 14,100
4. Glasgow City 10,120
5. Camden 10,000
Total: England, Scotland, Wales 800,000
Newham Council is offering to pay Brighter Futures 90 per cent of the local housing allowance plus £60 per week.
But Brighter Futures chief executive officer Gill Brown says she will not agree to the request: "I think there is a real issue of social cleansing going on.
"We are very anxious about this letter which we believe signals the start of a movement which could see thousands of needy people dumped in Stoke with no proper plan for their support or their welfare."
She said previous efforts to relocate needy people had put strain on local public services and led to "the collapse of already vulnerable neighbourhoods and the rise of divisive right-wing extremism".
Newham's mayor, Sir Robin Wales, blamed Government policies which had left his borough "chasing around the country trying to find ways to deal with people who are in need".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have got a waiting list of 32,000 – we've got hundreds of people looking for places to stay and the result of Government benefit cuts, which are still working through as well, means that many more people from wealthier parts of London are looking for places to live in London and they're just not there.
"We have written to 1,179 organisations [housing associations] saying could you accommodate some people? We're not looking to push people all to one place; we're looking to find the best possible solution for citizens."
Meanwhile, Westminster is said to be considering an offer from Smart Housing Group - a private association with homes in Nottingham and Derby – in conjunction with its partner councils Chelsea and Hammersmith, and Fulham.
It has suggested it could provide properties for Westminster residents deemed "homeless" as a result of the cap – and if accepted, each of the three London councils would send 50 families.
If the Government really wanted to cut the housing benefit bill it would cap rents, not benefits. The benefits end up in the pockets of greedy landlords, who are the true social parasites