NW6 renters will feel brunt of benefit cuts

David Cameron’s suggestion in today’s Mail on Sunday that people under the age of 25 could lose the right to housing benefit, as part of moves to cut the welfare bill, has prompted me to write a post on the impact of welfare cuts on NW6.

The reason is twofold.  First, recent figures from Camden show that the coalition Government’s welfare changes will have a huge impact in the north-west of the borough – bigger than many might have [originally?] thought.

Second, we know the area has a particularly young demographic (according the council’s place plan for West Hampstead, the area has a “significantly higher” proportion in the 20 -34 age group than the borough as a whole, making up approx 45% of the population).  So the chances are that the PM’s plans, were they enacted, would have an especially marked affect in West Hampstead and Kilburn.

When I looked at the data from Camden (see table, below), I was absolutely staggered by the estimated impact in NW6 – there are clearly more people in private housing and claiming housing benefit, relative to the rest of the borough, than one would expect in ‘leafy’ Fortune Green and West Hampstead (admittedly the picture in Kilburn is less of a surprise).

Kilburn, Fortune Green and West Hampstead are the top three wards (in that order) in the borough in terms of numbers of people claiming Housing Benefit  who are private tenants – 1,746 in total or 36% of the total across Camden.

This equates to more than a third of claimants in just three wards out of Camden’s total of 18 (as the pie-chart demonstrates).

An important factor here – and one that often gets missed from the debate about welfare cuts and the crude stereotype of a “benefit scrounger” that Government and the popular press alike so love to peddle – is that Housing Benefit is an in-work benefit.

You don’t have to be out of work to claim housing benefit.  Clearly, with high private rental costs in NW6, many more people than might have been thought claim housing benefit to help make ends meet and pay the rent.

The bulk of the changes to housing benefit and the introduction of the overall cap on benefits won’t come in until April 2013.  Given the high level of renters in this area, it’s these families that will be hurt the most by the cap and other changes.

It is difficult to see how many individuals and families are going to be able to cope with the changes – this is going to mean more child poverty, more people falling into debt and more homelessness.  It’s a stark picture and its equally clear that this Tory-Lib Dem government believes that it should not be supporting low income households in inner London.

We could end up seeing a number of families having to move with children’s education hugely disrupted as they are taken out of Camden schools.

The most cynical might even suggest it represents a sly attempt at the political re-engineering of swathes of central London.  Without doubt, these cuts will make it harder for ordinary, and in most cases, working, families and individuals to stay in NW6.

And if the Prime Minister does proceed with limiting HB to the over-25s, I suspect the impact on West Hampstead in particular will be quite considerable.

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