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Reforms risk leading people into 'abyss of homelessness'


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Housing benefit is vitally important in keeping people from the "abyss of homelessness", the shadow work and pensions minister has said.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party conference entitled 'Are we still in it together? Delivering cohesive welfare and housing reform strategies', Karen Buck MP highlighted the fact that the proportion of people in work claiming housing benefit over the recession has doubled.

Buck warned of the implications of the government's reforms to housing benefit on those people who have lost their jobs, or had their hours reduced at work.

The event, organised by housing association, Moat, was chaired by the Guardian's David Brindle.

The long-term trend of hundreds of families moving out of social housing to buy their own homes, freeing up stock, has slowed down.

According to the Westminster North MP, the average age of a first-time buyer has rocketed to 32 and it has been calculated that someone on the minimum wage would be 52 before they could afford to buy.

Former housing minister Nick Raynsford MP accused the government of lacking joined-up thinking on social and housing policy, contrasting the work of the Labour government.

He highlighted the cut in capital spend on new houses of 60 per cent by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), a shortfall the government is hoping to make up with increased rents.

Referring to the government's 'social rent' model, which at 80 per cent of the market rate translates to an average rental price of £300pcm in his constituency, Raynsford insisted it was still a sum that most people would not be able to afford.

Simultaneously, Raynsford expressed concern at the cuts to housing benefit by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Brian Johnson, chief executive of Moat, highlighted areas of the government's welfare and housing reforms which he believed should be more carefully considered.

He warned that the housing benefit cap would make it no longer profitable for housing associations to build four-bedroom houses, potentially exacerbating overcrowding problems.

Under the new reforms the level of benefit people will be entitled to is set by the number of rooms, not by how many they use.

James Gregory of the Fabian Society argued that a similar number of people in poverty are owner-occupiers as are social renters, meaning that improvements to social housing would benefit the housing market as a whole.

Giving advice to the Labour Party, he said that much could be made from the issue as part of the 'squeezed middle' narrative.

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