In Reading and I imagine in many other councils, especially here in the South East, it is no secret that we, as a council, have been worried by the benefits changes. We know it will hit not just families and individuals but also to the council's resources. In other words it is going to cost us more money to deal with people who are in worse situations.
So the substance of the news over the weekend wasn't a great shock - after all this is a government becoming known for incompetence - although it is a shock how stark the assessment is from Eric Pickles' own private secretary:
"Our modelling indicates we could see an additional 20,000 homeless as a result of the total benefit cap. This is on top of the 20,000 additional (homeless) already anticipated as a result of other changes to the housing benefit.”
“We are concerned the savings from this measure, currently estimated at £270million from 2014-2015, do not take account of the additional costs to local authorities through homelessness and temporary accommodation. We think it likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost.”
What is shocking is that apparently the Conservatives don't appear to think this is a particular problem.
For a government that is supposedly all about cuts to be proposing a change that will cost the country more financially without any discernible benefit and with huge human cost is frankly dangerously shambolic.
Even some Conservative councillors are against the changes - probably because they will be facing people who are in real trouble as a result. Shelter's recent survey of local government found that "More than three quarters (76 per cent) of councillors surveyed said housing benefit should be based on rental costs in their local area and not on a measure of national inflation."
As a Labour administration in Reading we will be doing all we can to reduce the impact of the government's drastic policies on people and in my first meeting with officers I asked that we get going with what we can do to reduce the impact of this particular policy. But we won't be able to stop the impact completely. The Conservative-led government needs to wake up and realise this is not a game or a chance to posture and score short term political points: it's real people with real lives who they are playing with.
(Hat tip: My headline comes from a facebook status that said "