The deputy leader of Leeds City Council has claimed some of the city’s private rented houses rank among “the worst living conditions she had ever seen”.
Speaking during a meeting of the authority’s environment, communities and housing scrutiny board, Coun Debra Coupar suggested the committee should look at how the council can better regulate the city’s privately rental sector, as well as focussing on how to help some of Leeds’s “hidden poor”.
Both Labour and Conservative councillors also agreed that the government’s new Universal Credit (UC) benefits system has not been a success.
Coun Coupar told the meeting: “The private rented sector’s stock has overtaken is way over and above what [the council has] in our own housing stock.
“There are a number of things in the pipeline in terms of regulating the private rented sector. I would ask to look at the private rental sector and what the council is doing to regulate it.
“Some of the poorest living conditions I’ve ever seen are in some of the densely populated private rented sector areas in the city.
“I am sure you would all recognise that.
“We also have an ambitious council house growth programme that is going to continue, so it would be interesting to get some views on how we look to take that forward.”
She added that, while the committee had previously focussed on the effects of the government’s new Universal Credit (UC) benefit, many “hidden poor” were still slipping through the net.
Coun Coupar said: “In the past, you have looked into UC in depth, but I would ask that this year you look at the wider remit around poverty and the impact in the city.
“We need to see some of what I call the hidden poor in this city, that don’t make claims for UC or are frustrated by the process of it, so they don’t actually follow it up.”
Panel member Coun Ron Grahame (Lab) added: “We have spent many hours looking into UC, and it is an absolute disaster. The Department for Work and Pensions have spent millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money bringing a problem into our areas.
“The majority of this hasn’t worked. People have got into debt, poverty has gone through the roof, four million children are now in poverty.
“It’s an absolute disaster – I am voicing that opinion on behalf of the people that we represent.”
Chairing the meeting, Coun Barry Anderson (Con) responded: “I think people would agree that UC has not been a total success.
“Because the Government is otherwise engaged at the moment, I don’t think they are giving due weight to a number of things.
“Concentrating on poverty in general will add value – UC is part of the solution, but there are other areas that needs to be focussed on such as job opportunities.”
The comments came just weeks after analysis into UC was published, branding the new benefits a “jaw-dropping failure”, adding that thousands of Leeds residents had been plunged into financial turmoil.
The second phase of UC – moving more than three million people on “legacy benefits” – is set to begin in next month with a trial in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.