Campaigners say benefit changes will hurt families

Housing benefit changes that came into force on Friday, 1 April,  are a betrayal of promises made by parties in the Coalition that they would support family life in Britain, say the Christian Peoples Alliance party. The Christian Democrats say the measures will have a disproportionate impact upon larger families and are another attack on the poor. In addition to new benefit conditions, "affordable rent" changes will mean Housing  Association landlords who want to provide desparately needed homes for those  on housing waiting lists will have to part fund them by charging new tenants  up to 80 per cent of market rent. Tenancies could also last as little as two years.

Susan May is a public housing specialist and London spokeswoman for the Christian Peoples Alliance who says the changes damage large families,  including those with disabled and elderly dependents, and betray Conservative  claims to back Church teaching. Not long after the Coalition was formed,  David Cameron promised that "making Britain more family-friendly is.... a  crucial objective of this Government."

She commented: "Larger households with a low to medium income will not be able to afford homes, particularly in high value areas if rents are set as high as 80 per cent of local levels. The new rent formula could price them out of the market - any market - for housing.  If they are out of work and are on benefits, the additional benefits cap may mean that they simply do not have enough to live on. A condition of benefit will be to continually look for work. However, if the tenant found a job, it would be likely to make them homeless as they could lose their benefit and could not then afford to pay the higher rent."

Housing Association landlords will be expected to implement the new product, referred to as 'near market rent' by the National Housing Federation, if they want to access any of the £1.8 billion allocated to provide new homes for people in housing need over the next four years. According to the Chartered Institute of Housing, the new definition of "affordable rent" does not equate with peoples' ability to pay.

In a further blow to families with children, or with additional needs because of disability, how much benefit a household can receive will be capped and in order to be eligible for it, the maximum household size will be reduced to four bedrooms from five . And next autumn, Local Housing  Allowance - the money claimants receive towards the cost of their housing  - will be brought into line with the bottom third of private sector rents, rather than the bottom half as is the case now.

Susan May says these cumulative changes could force people to either  lose their homes or have little to live on:  "As a result of the changes, families in high value areas, particularly  London and the south east may then be forced to move to an area away from  family and support networks in order to afford to live either on benefits or to pay their rent if they found a job. This will empty high value areas of residents in affordable homes and concentrate them in low value areas. Those unable to  find affordable alternative accommodation at rents within the new housing  benefit limits will be at real risk of homelessness."

The Christian Peoples Alliance party is also pointing to other worrying trends, with Westminster Council recently consulted on new bylaws to prohibit rough sleeping and handing out of free refreshments in any public places. The CPA says that if as a result of low benefits or high rents, people are forced onto the streets, it will be illegal to sleep on them and those who would like to provide food will also be prosecuted.  As a result of cuts to supporting people budgets, a number of shelters are also closing just as people most need them.

Sue concluded: "To every Christian who voted Conservative, the question remains - what next for the poor? Despite the rhetoric of equal sharing of the financial crisis, the shoulders who are being asked to bear the pain of the cuts seem to be those of the poorest and most vulnerable. What does this say about us as a nation? It seems that the most basic of safety nets which is currently in place for those who fall victim to market forces and labour market movements as well as personal tragedies has just been ripped apart, and all but the wealthy are at a risk of falling through it."

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