If you want to reduce dependency you’ll have to cut rents, Mr Cameron
Parents of Britain, rejoice! If David Cameron and the Tories win an outright majority at the next election you can expect to be seeing a lot more of your children – your grown-up children that is. If they haven’t left yet they may be staying longer than you thought. If they have, you may have to clear out the spare room and prepare for your not-so-little ones to fly back to the nest.
Of course this assumes that you have a spare room. And that you and your kids are on speaking terms, for that matter.
It hasn’t taken long for some of the more obvious problems with David Cameron’s proposal to take housing benefit away from the under-25s to become apparent. The Prime Minister acknowledged that young people coming out of care or from violent households would still be eligible to claim housing benefit. But no consideration has been made for those whose parents no longer have room for their grown up children to stay at home, or for those children who have fallen out with their parents. It’s almost as if this idea has been dreamed up by a man who’s never lived in a house with less than six bedrooms.
It’s obvious what’s going on here, of course. David Cameron, under pressure from the rabid right-wing loons on his backbenches and a surge in support for Ukip is throwing some meat to the sharks. And there’s no meat the Tory sharks like more than the poor.
Proponents of welfare cuts have attacked the “dependency culture” supposedly created by benefits. But forcing young people to live at home for longer is only going to make them more dependent – on their parents. Only one in eight housing benefit claimants are unemployed, and 93% of new claimants are from working households. People are not dependent on housing benefit because they’re not working, they’re dependent because rents are too high.
Another quite obvious objection to Cameron’s proposal is that it prevents young people doing exactly what he and Iain Duncan-Smith have been telling them to do: move to areas where there are jobs. If there are no suitable jobs near your parents’ house and you can’t afford to move elsewhere because of sky high rents how on earth can you be expected to find work?
There’s no doubt that we need to get to grips with the soaring cost of housing benefit. But the reason that it’s soaring is that rents are soaring. Unless the government makes a serious commitment to invest in building new affordable homes, and gives councils real power to build more council homes, the annual cost of housing benefit will continue to rise regardless of Tory attempts to shave bits off.
Nick Pearce of the IPPR points out that in the 1970s, 80% of public spending on housing was on building affordable homes with just 20% on housing benefit. Over the next four years 95% will be spent on housing benefit, with just 5% being spent on new affordable homes. This is not the fault of one government alone; it’s the result of the failure of successive governments over the last thirty years. Sorting out this problem will need to be at the top of the agenda for the next Labour government.