Spurred by the need to honour its promise to cut welfare expenditure by £12 billion, the LHA cap for social housing has all the character of on-the-hoof policy making by the Treasury, done without any prior consultation with the departments responsible for housing and social security.
The expedient aspect of the decision became apparent with the groundswell of protest, particularly around the impact on supported housing, and a highly critical adjournment debate led by Conservative MP Peter Aldous.
Shortly afterwards the Government announced that it would defer the imposition of the cap on supported housing to April 2019, pending the outcome of a review of supported housing.
Subsequently there was an announcement that supported housing, while still subject to the LHA cap for its ‘core’ housing costs, would get extra funding to cover the additional costs from a budget allocated to councils in England and to the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.
The shared accommodation rate is just the latest assault on younger benefit claimants
The promise is that the overall funding will remain at the same level; what’s more, recognition would be made of the need to cater for an increasing demand for this type of accommodation. We will see if this commitment is honoured along with a promise to ring-fence this extra funding – but as providers of supported housing will bitterly tell you, they have heard that one before.
The shared accommodation rate is just the latest assault on younger benefit claimants. (In April, entitlement to Universal Credit housing costs to 18-21 year olds will be withdrawn.) Wherever a single person under 35 may live, the harsh fact is that if they’re reliant on benefit they need to supplement their rent obligation from their personal allowance. This can be anything from a few pence (if they are very lucky) up to one half of their personal allowance.
Housing associations do not let homes to under 35’s on a whim. Their tenants are more likely to be vulnerable and may well have had to move to escape an abusive relationship. Are they to have stay to endure these relationships? Others may have moved to take up work, then lost their job. Are they to turn away from what they have built up in the meantime?
The greatest condemnation of this policy is its sheer short-sightedness. The alternative to supported housing is likely to be some form of institutional care, which will ultimately cost more. As Bill Scott of Inclusion Scotland put it while giving evidence to the last Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, it is not cost saving, it is cost shunting.
There is a Glasgow based housing association that gives young people, as well as a place to call their own, access to training and specialist support, such as drug and alcohol counselling. To fund these services it has to charge a rent above the LHA rates. If this forces the association to curtail its activity, what chances will these young people have? What benefit to the wider community is that?
There’s a proverb that goes along the lines of:
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the battle was lost;
For the failure of battle, the kingdom was lost –
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.
We expect government to keep a keen focus on the bigger picture, that being the wider implications of its policy decisions. In its failure to take a strategic approach, the Westminster administration threatens to unravel the delivery of a coherent and resilient social care and health system.