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  1. Politics
29 October 2010

Coalition’s housing benefit plans under fire

The storm over the government's housing reforms rolls on, after Boris Johnson warned against "Kosovo-style social cleansing" of poor people from cities like London.

By New Statesman

The storm over the government’s housing reforms rolls on, after Boris Johnson warned against “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of poor people from cities like London.

Speaking to BBC local radio, the Mayor of London said: “We will not accept a kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have put down roots.”

In response, Downing Street signalled that there would be no retreat on the reforms to social housing, which are the biggest in recent history.

Last week, George Osborne announced that the housing budget for England would be cut from £8.4bn in the last three years to £4.4bn over the next four years with any new properties being built by “massively increasing” rent to up to 80 per cent of the market rate.

As the fallout from his remarks began, Johnson insisted that he supported the government’s housing benefit reforms. He is currently trying to negotiate extra cash to stop families from being evicted.

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Johnson’s remarks signal a new low in relations between the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

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Showing tension within the coalition, the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, criticised Johnson: “Simply using this dangerous language is seriously unhelpful, it’s distracting from the underlying problems, and the fact is the Government has got to reform this.”

However, criticism of the measure is not only coming from Johnson. The National Housing Federation added its voice to those critical of the plans, pointing out that the new scheme would actually increase welfare bills as most tenants charged these new, higher rates would need their rent to be paid through housing benefit.

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Because it is based on near-market rents, the new funding model will trap thousands of tenants in welfare dependency because they will simply not be able to earn enough money to pay for their homes without the support of housing benefit – which means the benefit bill for new low-cost housing will go through the roof.”

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