London boroughs are booking bed and breakfast lodgings in Hastings, Reading and Luton as London prepares to see some 82,000 families forced to leave the city because of George Osborne's changes to housing benefit. London is about to see an exodus of the poor from the city.
The controversy follows comment last week by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said the unemployed should "get on the bus" and look for work. Another unnamed minister said the benefit changes would usher in a phenomenon similar to the Highland Clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when landlords evicted thousands of tenants from their homes in the north of Scotland.Honestly, only a Tory could bring up the subject of the Highland Clearances and imagine that he is being witty when making a comparison with present day Tory policy.
This is almost a textbook re-run of what we witnessed under Thatcher. Until she became Prime Minister, the sight of people sleeping rough in London was a relatively rare one. Under Thatcher, it became an almost routine vision.
In a sign that housing benefit cuts are fast becoming the most sensitive political issue for the coalition, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, last night accused the government of deliberate social engineering.
"It is an exercise in social and economic cleansing," he said, claiming that families would be thrown into turmoil, with children having to move school and those in work having to travel long distances to their jobs. "It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering," Cruddas added.
The National Housing Federation's chief executive, David Orr, described the housing benefit cuts as "truly shocking". He said: "Unless ministers urgently reconsider these punitive cuts, we could see more people sleeping rough than at any stage during the last 30 years."
Now the Tories have, once again, launched a savage attack on the poorest members of society and are introducing policies which will see many of them unable to afford to live in the capital.
There are rumblings of discontent amongst the Liberals, but it won't amount to naught. Power has, seemingly, removed their teeth.
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said last night he would table amendments to change housing benefit rules. He said: "I would fully expect to be one of those putting forward proposals for changes in the housing benefit rules, particularly for London."But, as always when the Tories are in power, the middle class will remain largely unaffected by the chaos which they are dealing out to the poorer members of society.
This will play out on their TV screens as stories of the random poor. Eventually, they will tire of it and flick channels.
That's, certainly, what the Tories and Liberal Democrats are hoping for. As it's not as if they haven't been warned of the results of what they are about to do.
The truth is that the Tories don't care. I honestly have come to believe that they loathe the poor. It's the only rational explanation for the way they behave each and every time they gain power. They are simply shockingly oblivious to the pain they are causing.
At a meeting of the Commons work and pensions select committee last Wednesday, the day Osborne announced £81bn of cuts in the spending review, MPs were told by London council chiefs that the housing benefit cuts could have devastating results.
Nigel Minto, head of sustainable communities at London Councils, who works closely with the capital's housing directors, told the committee that since June London councils had been "procuring bed and breakfast accommodation" in outer London and beyond. The committee was told similar problems would occur in other cities with high-priced property such as Brighton and Oxford.
Jeremy Swain, chief executive of the homelessness charity Thames Reach, said he was particularly worried about the impact on numbers sleeping rough in London. "We have reduced rough sleeping dramatically and we have a target of zero rough sleeping in London by 2012. For the first time I'm thinking that we will not achieve that," he said.
Karen Buck, shadow minister for work and pensions, said: "The sheer scale and extremity of the coalition proposals means almost a million households are affected across the country."
But last night Cameron insisted the cuts were tough but fair. "Departments have to make savings. I don't underestimate how difficult this will be. But we are doing what we are doing because it is the right thing to do – right by our economy, right for our country."Because it would obviously be "wrong" to ask those of us who could afford it to contribute more in taxation. That would, to the mind of a Tory, be insane talk. The Con-Dem coalition plan to wipe out the deficit by raising 23% by taxation and 77% from benefit cuts. That statistic alone says all that needs to be said about their priorities.
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