Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Cuts: "Devastating impact" on Hackney's ultra orthodox Jewish community

On Tuesday (13 July) Meg Hillier initiated a debate on the government's caps and cuts to housing benefits. In it she said that large numbers of Hackney residents might have to move to boroughs like Barking and Dagenham for cheaper housing.

In her opening speech she said:"I need to touch on a problem in the north of Hackney... where orthodox Jewish families will be severely hit. Such families typically have more than four children, and many of them live in the private rented sector, so the limit on benefit will have a devastating impact. The council and social landlords in Hackney will be unable to take the strain, so I need answers from the Minister on how councils will be supported in dealing with that."

Changes in housing benefits could be particularly painful in this community. Firstly, the options to move are limited as their religion says they should live within walking distance of a synagogue.

Secondly, Hackney's ultra orthodox Jewish community has been the life blood of the borough's Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition.

Now the ultra orthodox community's poorest are stuck with being represented by Labour politicians who may feel less obliged to act on their behalf - or by their own leaders who support the parties that are initiating the cuts.

In the debate Meg said: "Perhaps the most vicious measure is the cutting of benefits by 10% after a claimant has been unemployed for 12 months. What possible rationale can there be for punishing the victims of the recession?"

According to a post on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday: "How Hackney Cuts" Hackney folk prefer to stick their heads in the sand rather than face the reality of these cuts. Could more be done by the council to highlight the seriousness of this situation for some residents - may be something more realistic than Hackney Today's most recent "Summer of Fun" front page splash.

In her speech Meg Hillier mentions Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe in a new role as joint spokesman for London with London Mayor Boris Johnson.

"The Conservative Mayor of London and the Labour chair of London Councils (Jules Pipe) have joined together - in the spirit of coalition government, I suppose - and have written to the Government to point out the error that they have made... On this occasion, I agree with Boris, which is not something that I expect to say regularly. At least we have some voice for London through him and through Mayor Jules Pipe, who chairs London Councils."

Meg will have her eye on a role in the shadow cabinet and another eye on who will win the leadership battle. Diane is fighting for Labour leadership. Jules is a spokesman for London.

A remark that might haunt Meg: "It is rare to have a Minister who is an expert. Governments often seem to conspire to put people in office who do not know much about their subject, but in this case we have a Minister who knows what he is talking about and can make a difference."

MPs from Labour and other parties were lining up to speak on the issue and praised Meg Hillier's success in securing the debating time. It will have distracted attention from her attempts to defend ID cards (for which she was a minister) two days previously apparently calling for changes that would have only affected one 'transgendered' person in whole of the UK.

Meg Hillier: "Of the nearly 40,000 people in Hackney currently in receipt of housing benefit, just over 9,000 live in the private rented sector. Two thirds are in receipt of benefit, but one third are working tenants, many of whom would like to continue to work but, as a result of the proposals, will find a serious shortfall between their rent and the benefit provided for it, and will have very little income to make up the difference. In the three bands for the broad rental market areas that operate in my constituency-inner east, inner north and London central-all properties with more than two bedrooms are above the Government's proposed cap. That is ludicrous. It means that those in Hackney living in a two, three or four-bedroom property-or a larger property-will have nowhere to go. They could go out of Hackney, but there are not many boroughs they could go to. I am not entirely clear how the Government propose to ensure that people can stay living in London-and, crucially, working in London and supporting its economy-because many people need that benefit to subsidise their rent so that they are able to live locally to their jobs.

Meg Hillier: "1,642 claimants will be affected by the bedroom size proposals in my borough alone, which is devastating. Shelter has kindly done some research that shows that the average three-bedroom household in inner-east London, which is a band in my constituency, will need to find an additional £35 a week to keep a roof over their heads. I do not know how people on the minimum wage or benefits can do that. For example, how will a pensioner surviving on £98 a week find that additional £35? Perhaps they would not be in a three-bedroom property, but they would still have to find some extra money. How will someone on the minimum wage-£218 a week-find that additional money?"

Timing: "The hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch asked about timing. It is important that I place it on the record that I need to make some corrections. Nothing happens this autumn; nothing will change until next April. We have to put regulations through the Social Security Advisory Committee, so there will be a process of consultation on the regulations. The regulations will be laid before Parliament in October or November. There will then be a further six months before anything changes. As she rightly said, those are the changes that will go through secondary legislation. Some of the longer-term changes will require primary legislation, so there will be a further process of scrutiny and consultation."

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