‘Economic suicide’ alert on benefits

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THE GOVERNMENT’s radical benefit reforms have been described as “economic suicide” which will add to a Yorkshire’s city’s housing problems, in a report published today.

Cuts in housing benefit could lead to more people living in poor quality shared housing and an increase in empty social housing properties, according to a think-tank.

A report by the IPPR (Institute for Public Policy Research) focusing on housing in Bradford warns that action is needed to raise the standard of homes in the district and ensure new properties are created in an area which has the fourth fastest growing population in the country.

Bradford Council believes the district needs an extra 2,700 new homes every year to meet the demand, according to the report which warns the city is already blighted with overcrowded homes, empty properties and that almost two-thirds of houses in the private rented sector do not meet the Government’s Decent Homes standard. About a third of homes in Bradford were built before 1919.

The report’s author Jenni Viitanen says cuts to housing benefit will add to the city’s housing problems. She said the “bedroom tax” in which council and housing association tenants have benefits cuts if they have a property with a spare bedroom will result in a “mass increase” in vacant social housing as people move into smaller homes.

The reforms could also add to overcrowding because they raise the age limit for single people who can claim housing benefit to live on their own in private rented accommodation to 35.

Dr Viitanen said: “This could lead to more people living in shared houses – student type accommodation which tends to be of low quality. This is not something Bradford needs.”

The benefits changes will also include cuts to the amount of Local Housing Allowance people living in five-bedroom houses can claim and Dr Viitanen said the number of claimants living in such properties was higher in Bradford than the national average.

The IPPR report is part of a major review of the country’s “housing crisis”. Nationally, 750,000 new homes will be needed by 2025 but house building is at its lowest level since the First World War.

Dr Viitanen has warned the recession and land owners reluctance to sell land for housing at a lower cost than they bought it is preventing new homes being built. This is said to be a particular problem in areas where the housing market is weak such as Bradford.

The study recommends that decision on housing benefit are made by local councils rather than by Whitehall through the new Universal Credit system. It also calls for a partnership to be created between councils, banks, central Government and landlords to improve housing stock and create an accreditation scheme for people renting out private property.

The report also praises Bradford Council for its approach to improving housing stock. This include’s Bradford’s Move to Improve scheme run by the council and Incommunities – formerly Bradford Communities Housing Trust created to manage the council’s social housing stock. It aims to help tenants who live in a house which they are struggling to manage to move to a smaller property.

The report’s findings have been backed by Bradford MPs George Galloway and Gerry Sutcliffe.

Mr Sutcliffe, Labour MP for Bradford South, said he agreed with the findings. “If we don’t invest to tackle housing inequality then it leads to health inequality as well. A programme of investment in housing would also help to create jobs. Home Improvement grants for older properties were something which made a difference but they have been stopped.”