Welfare 15 August 2013 How the number of housing benefit claimants has soared under the coalition New figures show that 320,738 more people are claiming housing benefit than in May 2010. Sign up for our weekly email * Print HTML At every opportunity, Iain Duncan Smith and other Conservative ministers seek to give the impression that they're reducing the number of benefit claimants, counterposing themselves to Labour - "the welfare party". But as so often, the statistics tell a different story. The latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that the number of housing benefit claimants rose by 40,526 to 5.1 million in the year to May 2013, an increase of 320,738 since the coalition came to power. Of the total, nearly a million (987,610) are in work, a rise of 52 per cent (337,059) since May 2010. May 2010 4,7521,526 May 2011 4,879,182 May 2012 5,031,738 Jan 2013 5,070,291 Feb 2013 5,078,523 Mar 2013 5,060,689 April 2013 5,062,172 May 2013 5,072,264 It's a reminder that by imposing punitive welfare cuts (the benefit cap, the bedroom tax), rather than addressing the underlying structural causes of the inflated housing benefit bill (substandard wages, the lack of affordable housing, long-term unemployment), the government will only increase the number forced to rely on state subsidy to stay in their homes. Before the recent Spending Review, Boris Johnson and Vince Cable, among others, urged George Osborne to remove the cap on the cap on councils' borrowing and allow them to build more affordable housing. Boris said: We should allow London’s councils to borrow more for house building - as they do on continental Europe - since the public sector clearly gains a bankable asset and there is no need for this to appear on the books as public borrowing. In policy terms, it is a no-brainer. The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that raising the caps by £7bn could enable the construction of 60,000 homes over the next five years, creating 23,500 jobs and adding £5.6bn to the economy. But for almost entirely ideological reasons, Osborne refused to act. As Vince Cable commented on The Andrew Marr Show last month: Well that’s where the big gap is [social housing] and certainly as Liberal Democrats at conference, we’re going to be arguing how the government through local councils should be doing much more to build social housing. Absolutely right, that is a big problem area. Nothing like enough has been done. There is a better way to reduce the benefit bill than the coalition's salami-slicing: building 1.25 million affordable homes over five years (the level required to meet need), extending use of the living wage and investing more in skills and training. After the government's failure, it will be up to Labour to demonstrate it. › The Pink Gang: the vigilantes in saris fighting for India's women Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith speaks at last year's Conservative conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images. George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman. Subscribe from just £1 per issue More Related articles Not since the Thatcher years have so many Tory MPs been so motivated by self-interest The economic slowdown is another reason Theresa May called an early election Should the UK get militarily involved in Syria?