Thanet Star

Is Thanet ready for the migration of people on benefits?

Thanet is about to suffer and it might just be all our fault

Croydon at a standstill July 7 2005
Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey Borough Councils will from April be capping the rate of housing benefit available to claimants. The justification for this seems idealistic (some might even ague fair) on the surface: people on benefits not being paid more than anyone in work.

However there are a few repercussions to be considered. Repercussions that we in Thanet are going to have to pay for.

The cost of living in these London boroughs is much higher than in other parts of England (say Thanet, for example). The cost of renting even a modest home is beyond people on he lower wage ranges which means that from April it will be beyond people on benefits in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey. That goes the same for those who have recently been made redundant and are looking for work and those who have been out of work for some time.

The only answer is going to be to move out of those areas. So where do people go when there is a mass exodus of benefit claimants?

They go wherever they can.

Loop logo
The surrounding areas are unlikely to be able to absorb the need for people to move. There will be huge pressure on people to get out of London altogether. To go somewhere that is nice. Somewhere that is cheap. Somewhere where the benefits cover the rent.

That is where Thanet comes in. It is cheap to live down here, there is the beach, masses of properties that are available to rent, converted hotels right on the seafront... Land lords happy to rent out every last bit of space to whoever is desperate enough to take that option. Don't like what you are being offered? Too bad, there is a queue of people desperate enough.

It gets worse though.

Quad Biking at Margate
Those without families, commitments to schools, to part time jobs and so forth will have the greatest freedom to move. Generally these are going to be single people and young couples. Those with few ties.

Also these are going to be those with criminal records, a penchant for crime, fraud and bad behaviour. Those folk who noone else realyl wants are going to fiond themselves pushed further away than ever.

We are not likely to see an influx of families. We are likely to see an influx of single people, long term unemployed and criminals.

Thanet is already technically overcrowded and now we face the possibility that Thanet's rogue landlords will get a free ride with a massive influx of unemployed homeless people.

Already I have seen signs of people getting ready for this influx and what may sicken you is that those who are getting ready are getting ready to make money out of it. One landlord of whom I am, shall we say, aware has began evicting all of his tenants. Why would he do that? Let me see now - there is just enough time between now and April to covert his two and three bedroom flats into many more one and two bedroom places.

So while insightful landlords get ready to double profits the rest of us face a starker reality. The amount of money Thanet District Council gets from central government will drop by 8.52 million in April (0.01m less than expected) and April next year sees a further drop of 7.1 million, according to the front page of Friday's Gazette. Yet that same council will find over the next 18 months that demands for housing benefit are going to rise.

Who is going to pay for this difference?

Two groups of people are going to pay: The vulnerable and the hard working.

The hard working are going to pay because Thanet Council will have no choice but to steeply increase council tax to cover these costs. The police will be forced to ask for more money to cover the cost of policing the increased crime thus council tax goes up some more. Crime and bad housing means more medical need... you get the picture - it is going to get expensive.

Homeless Rough Sleeper
To counter the voter backlash ministers will instruct managers to "find savings". Whenever this happens managers are forced to place claimant reviewers under extreme pressure to disallow claims for any reason at all. That means that claiming benefit is going to become a quagmire of paper work and red tape. One false step and your claim is rejected. The people who will carry the bulk of this cost will be the vulnerable - those not best suited to coping with paperwork at the best of times.

The result will be more evictions as landlords sift the increased renting population for those tenants that can keep a claim running.

But what of the rest?

Porchlight report that there are more people sleeping rough in Thanet this year than last. Can anyone reasonably suggest that this is going to get better in the next few years?

Laura Sandys at the international climate change conferenceRoger Gale MP
This is the start of the fallout of the Conservative led charge on benefits and we have only ourselves to blame - having, for some reason, elected two conservative MPs. Well, okay, elected one conservative MP - we didn't really have much choice about the other one.

There is every chance that we will be taken back to the benefits-by-the-sea of the 1980s. There is every chance that all pretence that the private rental market will continue to be anything but a huge risk while demand for council housing sky-rockets.

If you are living in council housing I suggest that you stay there. If, by chance, you have a good landlord I suggest you buy him a bottle of bubbly and make sure he (or she) knows how much you appreciate them.

Hold on tight Thanet things are about to get rough again.

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