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5 October 2010

The electoral motive behind the Tories’ benefit cap

The benefit cap will force poor families out of marginal London seats.

By George Eaton

With the media focused on the child benefit cuts, there’s a danger that George Osborne’s hugely significant decision to introduce a cap on welfare payments won’t receive the attention it deserves.

As homeless charities and other groups have pointed out, the decision to cap the benefits of workless families at £500 per week will trigger the largest population movement for generations. The poor will be forced out of inner London and pushed into the suburbs, where rents are cheaper, inflicting huge pressure on public services.

One senior housing official said:

I have been in housing for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this in terms of projected population movements. London is going to be a bit like Paris, with the poor living on the periphery. In many boroughs in inner London in three or four years there will be no poor people living in the private rented sector … it is like something from the 19th century.

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While it’s far from the only motive at work, this is, among other things, an act of political engineering that would make Dame Shirley Porter blush. The Tories believe that the flight of poor, mainly Labour-voting families from inner London will allow hitherto unwinnable seats to fall into their lap. Many in the party are still aggrieved over their failure to win constituencies such as Westminster North (Joanne Cash) and Hammersmith (Shaun Bailey) — seats they felt were there for the taking.

Taken together with the coalition’s proposed boundary changes and their decision to target middle-class benefits (an attempt to erode Gordon Brown’s “client state”), these measures amount to a conscious attempt to construct a majority in time for the next election. The fact the Tories failed to win the last election is still a sore point among Cameron’s team. They’re determined to avoid a repeat.