Today’s publication of the London Assembly Housing Committee’s report on the consequences of welfare reform in the Capital is a surprisingly muted affair. Most of the committee’s recommendations call for the Mayor to monitor this or the Government to review that – proposals which you will struggle to get much media interest in. But it does highlight the four-fold increase in the number of homeless applications driven by the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy and finds that landlords are increasingly reluctant to let to those on Housing Benefit.
This report is perhaps hamstrung by the way the committee conducted this inquiry. Stakeholders weren’t invited to submit written evidence or called to answer questions on it. Instead, a one-off “seminar” was held just before Christmas at which DWP made a lengthy presentation explaining the changes to Housing Benefit and the early findings of the research. Organisations like Z2K were encouraged to ask questions and explain their own experiences, but there really wasn’t the time needed to get across any detailed evidence. That session was followed up in February, when three councillors gave the local authority perspective and the Deputy Mayor faced some rather ineffective questioning.
The committee has also been a bit unfortunate in the timing of its report. Just last week the Work & Pensions select committee published a report of its own on the cuts to Housing Benefit, which included hard-hitting recommendations like exempting some claimants from the Bedroom Tax and homeless families from the Benefit Cap. It also contained much more detailed evidence of the impact of the original Local Housing Allowance (LHA) caps and the Shared Accommodation Rate. Overall, it was a more direct and vividly-painted report, which is perhaps why it picked up the level of media interest it did.
All this is a bit unfortunate, especially for those remembering Mayor Boris Johnson’s well-publicised promise back in 2010 that, “On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”  Of course, it soon transpired that all the Mayor was actually going to do was lobby Iain Duncan Smith for a bit more Discretionary Housing Payment funding, rather than challenge the erosion of claimants’ entitlements. And in his recently-approved London Housing Strategy, welfare reform barely gets a mention.
To be fair, the committee has done a real service in reminding Londoners that their Mayor should be fighting for those adversely affected by welfare reform. But it seems the Chair, Green Party Assembly Member, Darren Johnson might have had to water down some of its recommendations to get all-party agreement. A good chair will always seek consensus in the first instance, but it’s certainly disappointing that a committee with this political balance (3 Labour, 2 Tory, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Green), hasn’t managed to put greater pressure on the Mayor to deliver on his promise to avoid “Kosovo-style social cleansing”.