Last December and January I possibly overstepped the mark on party political comment by being quite critical of government (see here and here). The issue related to the proposed cap on the benefits paid to residents of specialist supported housing, known as the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) Cap.
At first I felt quite a lone voice on that the issue which did not seem to be causing much concern in the housing sector.
The issue was then picked up by the then Shadow Housing Minister, John Healey, and he and BHT appeared in a special Channel 4 News feature. Since then it has become a mainstream concern in the social housing world.
Now it has cropped up on Prime Minister’s Questions when, last Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn asked Theresa May to provide assurances that women’s refuges would not be subject to the cap. This follows a warning from Women’s Aid that two out of three refuges might have to close.
I was delighted with the Prime Minister’s response: “The right honourable gentleman raises a very important issue on the issue of domestic violence. We are doing all we can to stop these terrible crimes taking place and to provide support to the victims and survivors of these crimes. That’s why we are working on exempting refuges from the cap.”
This is great news for women’s refuges, but my concern is much, much wider. BHT’s own research says that many of our supported housing schemes will become unaffordable for anybody under the age of 35 and some accommodation will be unaffordable for those over 35.
Many housing associations are now reviewing their lettings policy to exclude lettings to those under 35 (who are eligible for lower rates of benefit).
I hope the Prime Minister will be able to say where all these young people will live when, currently, special supported housing is the only place that will accept many of them due to their particular needs.
The new Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell, recently said some very positive things about ending rough sleeping, but the LHA cap alone could see a deluge of young people ending up on the street.
Let us not forget that research has shown that every pound spent on especially supported housing saves the public purse £4.11. This return on investment, surely, provides a rationale for proper and stable investment in this vital, life-saving provision. The LHA cap is absolutely ill-conceived.
The government must abandon this ridiculous, damaging and dangerous proposal.