Building affordable homes is the way to control the housing benefit bill

(This item was first published in the Brighton Argus on 23rd August 2016)

Housing benefit payments to tenants in the private rented sector have doubled in the last ten years, to £9.3 billion a year.

Successive governments have tried to reduce this by capping payments to the equivalent of the cheapest 30% of privately rented homes.

The Local Housing Allowance cap is now frozen, ignoring spiralling rents in the private rented sector. Very few homes in Brighton are now covered by the LHA which caps payments for a one bedroom flat at £153.02 per week. The average rent for such properties is £244.50.

For those under 35 it is much worse with LHA capped at £82.66, supposedly the cost of a room in a shared house.

Housing benefit has not gone up because tenants are exploiting the system. They are very much the victims of a housing market in crisis, central to which is the loss of social housing with truly affordable rents.

Plans to encourage first time buyers are ineffectual for people in high cost areas like Brighton. The much vaunted Help to Buy ISA, where savers can get from government a 25% bonus towards the cost of their first home, looks like a hollow promise as the bonus will be paid only after the home is bought. It might help the better off, but not ordinary people.

We need a new national housing strategy, where homes are where people live, not investment opportunities. A huge building programme of homes for rent by councils and housing associations should be the cornerstone of this strategy.

That way the housing benefit bill can be brought back under control.

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