Two households, both alike in dignity?
Bradford, where we lay our scene, has a new MP and will soon have a new council leader. IPPR’s report, Alike in dignity? Housing in Bradford, assesses the serious housing problems they must now tackle.
It is a far cry from the fair Verona of Romeo and Juliet. A place of extremes, Bradford is the most polarised district in England in terms of concentrations of high and low income households. This is linked to the way the housing market operates. The areas with highest concentrations of low income households are also associated with the poorest quality housing stock, overcrowding on the one hand and empty properties on the other. Yet those on the lowest incomes and living in the cheapest areas still face the worst affordability constraints, measured as the proportion of their income taken up by rent.
The government’s cuts to housing benefit will exacerbate this problem, especially in the private rented sector. Although in Bradford the average reduction for households in receipt of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) is only £6 per week, for under-35s it is £29 and for large families affected by the restriction of LHA to four bedrooms the shortfall is £23 per week. The reductions may seem modest, but will scarcely be affordable for the 43,000 households in Bradford bringing home less than £192 per week.
In the social rented sector, housing associations’ rental revenue (which they use to build more homes) faces a significant threat from benefit cuts to ‘over-accommodated’ tenants. The estimated impact of the ‘bedroom tax’ is £2.15m in Bradford, where there are three times as many ‘over-accommodated’ as there are ‘under-accommodated’ households. This means under-occupiers priced out of their social homes will have no alternative social housing to move into. Many will go to the private rented sector, where their living conditions are likely to be worse and their rent will cost the taxpayer more.
Bradford council, and councils like it, should reach out to the private landlords in their area through local ‘something for something’ deals to improve security and standards for tenants, as well as support for landlords, in a sector that houses an increasing share of low-income households who cannot afford to ‘vote with their feet’. And the government should allow local flexibility in housing benefit reforms, testing them through local economic impact assessment. A growing private rented sector and a growing housing benefit bill are both in growing need of reform, but Whitehall’s one-size-fits-all caps and cuts are not the answer.