The most appalling feature of this whole housing benefits saga is the way claimants have been demonised. Of course the housing benefits system needs reform, it is long overdue, but that’s not the fault of those claiming the benefit. It’s not their fault that successive governments have failed to build enough social housing. To demand that some 21,000 of them move out by 1st April shows a horrifying lack of compassion and chronic insensitivity to the human costs of this piecemeal ‘reform’.
Boris Johnson’s ‘social cleansing’ remark may have more to do with his re-election campaign than the fate of 17,000 of his fellow Londoners, but we have to thank him for his timely and memorable intervention. His phrase not only hits the nail on the head, but will haunt the coalition for many a month to come.
So what are the Liberal Democrats going to do when it comes to the vote? Is this going to be a coalition breaker? How are they going to play it? Frankly, if they support the Tories on this one, they are going to lose their credibility for ever.
If they want to restore faith in their liberal credentials, they should demand the coalition invest more, not less in social housing. There are 1.8 million families on council house waiting lists. Why don’t they demand the coalition adopt a ‘big idea’ for social housing? Better to spend £21 billion on social housing than on housing benefit?
Time for the Libdems to exact a price for their support? We’ll see. I’m not holding my breath.