Cameron is repeating the housing benefit myth

The statistic Cameron ignores: only one in eight claimants is unemployed.

Having long abandoned the pretence that "we're all in this together", David Cameron is preparing yet another raid on the welfare budget. In a speech today, he will announce plans to abolish housing benefit for under-25s and will indicate that the government is considering "time-limiting" Jobseeker's Allowance, reducing the new benefits cap to £22,000 and restricting payments for large families (specifically, limiting child benefit to three children, although this proposal will not be mentioned in the speech).

As previously signalled by George Osborne, the cuts are designed to save the government £10bn but so far Cameron hasn't chosen to focus on the alleged savings. Rather, he has argued that the plans are necessary to reverse a "culture of entitlement". In his pre-speech interview with the Mail on Sunday, Cameron claimed that housing benefit "discourages" young people from working:

A couple will say, 'We are engaged, we are both living with our parents, we are trying to save before we get married and have children and be good parents.'

But how does it make us feel, Mr Cameron, when we see someone who goes ahead, has the child, gets the council home, gets the help that isn't available to us?

One is trapped in a welfare system that discourages them from working, the other is doing the right thing and getting no help.

With those words, Cameron perpetuated the biggest myth about housing benefit: that it is a benefit for the unemployed. The truth is that just one in eight claimants is out of work (not a statistic that you'll find reported in most papers). The majority of those who claim housing benefit, including the under-25s, do so to compensate for substandard wages and extortionate rents. A recent study by The Building and Social Housing Foundation showed that 93 per cent of new housing benefit claims made between 2010 and 2011 were made by households containing at least one employed adult.

It is meaningless of Cameron to claim that the housing benefit budget is "too large" without considering why. The inflated budget, which will reach £23.2bn this year, is the result of a conscious choice by successive governments to subsidise private landlords rather than invest in affordable social housing. Yet rather than addressing the problem of stagnant wages and excessive rents, Cameron, in a bid to appease his querulous party, has chosen to squeeze the already squeezed. 

That he should do so by abolishing housing benefit for under-25s is particularly egregious. Of the 380,000 young people who claim the benefit, a significant number do so because they have been thrown out by their parents. As Shelter notes, "Last year nearly 10,000 households in priority need were recognised as homeless after they were thrown out by their parents. Many more won’t have shown up in the statistics and will have resorted to sofa surfing, hostels or at worst the streets."

Others may be unable to live at home after their parents divorced or downsized or, as Petra Davies previously noted on the site, may have been rejected due to their sexuality. As she noted, around 25 per cent of the young homeless population in urban areas is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. 

But such objections will do little to deter Cameron's drive to shrink the state. With his latest attack on the working poor, he has finally outed himself as a compassionless Conservative.

David Cameron has vowed to tackle what he calls "a culture of entitlement" in the welfare system. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Commons confidential: Old friend or foe?

Kevin Maguire's weekly dose of Westminster gossip.

Hoots, mon! The Scottish Nationalists are lining up behind Welsh Labour’s Chris Bryant to replace John Bercow when the Speaker vacates the big chair. The deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle remains the favourite to succeed Bercow, who is expected to survive the uprising by Donald Trump’s Tory Taliban though he is due to hand back the gown in 2018 or 2019, before the next election. But the Rhondda Roisterer isn’t hiding his ambition under a thistle, and is emphasising his Scottish links to court SNP MPs’ votes.

McBryant’s mother was from Glasgow, and one of his grannies was a Gorbals GP during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The clinchers may be the ownership of a kilt and his boasts that he once played the bagpipes.

So my snout predicts that unless Chorley Chortler Hoyle learns to toss the caber or replaces the mace with a skean-dhu, McBryant will have most Scottish votes in the sporran.

The Leave vote is strong among the Farages, as Nigel and his wife have opted to live “separate lives”. This has required Farrago to tweak his moneymaking repertoire. His stock jokes are “In the City, I worked hard every day . . . until lunchtime” and “Do you want to be dominated by Germans? I am!” – but since he parted from Mrs Farage (or “Kirsten the Kraut”, as she was called by Ukip’s Kipperosaurus), the German quip has been redundant. Perhaps Farage could recycle it with a French theme?

Tommy “Two Dinners” Watson loves his meat, but Labour’s deputy leader boasted that he made the ultimate sacrifice after encountering his teenage crush Chrissie Hynde on Andrew Marr’s Sunday sofa. The frontwoman of the Pretenders is a vegan and a supporter of the hardline animal rights group Peta. In deference to the rock legend sitting by him at breakfast, Watson ordered vegetarian sausages. I hear he counted them as two of his five a day.

In the lead-up to Ed Balls hosting his 50th birthday bash, I was instructed by a long-time friend of the former shadow chancellor on the code adopted to signify whether fans are pre- or post-Strictly. Foes jumping on the popularity bandwagon call him “a friend”, while comrades who stood by Balls in difficult days use “old friend” to describe themselves.

The junior defence honcho Harriett Baldwin, a product of the £35,280-a-year Marlborough College and the merchant bank JPMorgan Chase, raised MPs’ eyebrows when she described the Royal Navy’s proposed Type 31 frigate as being “in its pre-concept phase”. My matelot snout translated that as: “HMS Baldwin hasn’t a clue what it’ll look like.” Let’s hope this warship isn’t another navy equivalent of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 – some Type 45 destroyers overheat and stop working. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit