The untold story of April’s welfare cuts: the combined impacts

440,000 families will lose £16.90 a week as they are hit by both the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax support.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the many individual changes to social security that are taking place this month. Not known are the combined impacts – when individuals and households get hit by numerous changes. It is a notable omission that no official estimates of the overlap between different reforms have been published. Our research, published today, tries to fill that gap.

We have analysed four major changes. Three of them are “absolute” cuts: the bedroom tax; the replacement of council tax benefit by council tax support; and the overall benefit cap (which is being piloted this month, with the aim of full rollout by September). All of these will result in a reduction of the amount of money these households have to spend on everything else. Additionally, the uprating of out of work benefits and some elements of tax credits by only 1 per cent, below the level of inflation (2.7 per cent), will result in a cut in real terms for those families receiving such benefits.

The headline figures show that 2.6 million families are affected by at least one of the three absolute benefit cuts, and 440,000 are affected by more than one. Almost two thirds (63 per cent) of the families affected by an absolute cut in benefit have also seen a fall in real terms to other benefits.

The biggest single group of losers from this month’s absolute cuts are those being hit by change to council tax benefit only, some 2 million families. Their average loss per week is around £2.60, but most will lose out additionally from a below-inflation increase in benefits. The smallest group to lose out are those being hit by the Household Benefit Cap: around 50,000 families. The average loss per week for these families is huge, however – some £93 per week. 

Those families hit by the bedroom tax are likely to be hit by other changes as well. More than two thirds of them will also lose out through changes in council tax benefit – around 440,000 families. The average loss in weekly income for these families is £16.90, which is 20 per cent higher than the individual bedroom tax cut. Around 320,000 of those hit by both changes, more than 7 out of 10, will also see a cut in real terms in the value of their benefits as a result of the 1 per cent uprating.

These changes inevitably hit those on lowest incomes. Sixty three per cent of those hit by any of the reforms are already in poverty, which rises to 67 per cent of those affected by both the bedroom tax and council tax benefit changes. Seventy five per cent of families hit by a single cut and 82 per cent losing out from both are workless.

Around half of the families losing out have a disabled adult, and a third of these adults receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Some of these families might be hit again by the transfer from DLA to the Personal Independence Payment, as 20 per cent are expected to lose their entitlement entirely under the changes, according to the DWP Impact Assessment.

This is, of course, only part of the picture. There have been various other reforms since 2010, such as the caps on Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit for the private rented sector); changes to Working Tax Credits; and the abolition of the Social Fund. These will have further overlaps with this month’s changes, particularly with council tax benefit changes.

The point here is not that any reforms are bad, even if they take money away from people in poverty. But the fact that there has been no analysis from government of the overlapping effects of these changes is indicative of a poorly thought-through process. Social housing could be better allocated, benefit uprating does need a consistent principle when wages stagnate, and council tax does need reform. But this month’s changes address symptoms, not causes, leading to misery for many for no good end. 

Adam Tinson is research analyst at the New Policy Institute

The New Policy Institute's report - How many families are affected by more than one benefit cut this April - can be read here

Washing hangs out to dry above children's bikes on the balcony of a residential development in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. Photograph: Getty Images.

Adam Tinson is research analyst at the New Policy Institute

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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