What a pickle!

On Sunday it emerged that the government’s plan to cap benefits has led to splits within the Cabinet concerning the potential fallout of these controversial reforms.

This revelation came to light after a letter, leaked to The Observer, from the office of Communities Secretary Eric Pickles outlined the possibility of between 20,000 and 40,000 families being made homeless as a result of the £500-a-week benefits cap.

Ironically, while having the aim to cut government spending on benefits, Mr. Pickles’ letter addresses the possibility that savings made from the benefit cap will be wiped out by the need to put extra resources into helping the newly homeless, which could actually lead to the policy having a net cost.

While undoubtedly being a high-profile disagreement over policy (Cue visual imagery of the Labour high command elatedly rubbing their hands in glee) this admission once more emphasises the very real concerns regarding the far-reaching affects this cap could have on some of the most vulnerable members of British society.

Estimates so far have indicated that the cap, which would affect a number of benefits such as jobseekers allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, might result in around 50,000 families receiving £93 less per week.

With homelessness already on the rise (The first quarter of this year saw a 23% increase from 2010 in the number of people presenting themselves as homeless to their local council- See link below) this trend of financial struggle is only likely to worsen with recent figures not accounting for either the public spending cuts (April 2011) or the scheduled housing benefit cuts (January 2012).

What will this mean for children and families? Many of those affected by this cap could have to leave their homes. Resulting in children not only being domestically uprooted but also removed from their schools. This inevitably leads to the question of what schools these displaced children will attend? And, can these schools accept this new intake?

In London, although not a problem exclusive to the capital, there are fears that this could lead to a form of social cleansing, with poorer families being priced out of their council properties, with boroughs such as Hammersmith & Fulham and Islington already seeing substantial increases in homelessness in early 2011. Obviously, the sceptic inside would see an opportunity for local councils to turn huge profits on selling off re-possessed homes.

Despite this, of course the government claim that their reforms will have little impact on child poverty and homelessness. However, this internal disagreement over key policy clearly indicates that not all within the government are happy with the nature of these proposals.

Perhaps these objections mean that in Eric Pickles we have found a socially compassionate Tory. A rare blue diamond amongst the rough if you will. This is highly doubtful, to say the least. For one, Whitehall sources have claimed that Mr. Pickles supports the policy and regardless of this, arguably the real reason for Pickles’ discontent arose from a disagreement on the cost of the policy and not the potentially damaging social fallout.

However, what this letter has done and thank you Mr. Pickles for this, is kindly remind us that bleak times are ahead.

For more on recent homelessness statistics.

Butler, P, The Guardian – Homelessness on the rise as recession and cuts bite – http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/10/homelessness-rise-recession-cuts

Kenneth Way.

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