Much excitement today at suggestions that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson opposes the forthcoming caps on Housing Benefit. Comments he made in a radio interview suggested he even agrees it could represent "social cleansing." In a later statement says he supports the policy and his remarks have been misinterpreted. But Labour have been encouraged to make a great issue of it.
I suspect many of the figures being thrown around about the number who would have to move are greatly exaggerated. Many landlords will accept a lower rent. Of the remainder many tenants will choose to stump up the shortfall in rent from other income. Often the gap between their capped Housing Benefit and their rent would be quite modest – say £10 or £20 – a week and they would rather pay it than have to move to get their full rent paid.
Furthermore in coming out with such hyperbole Labour show themselves to be out of touch with the voters. An ICM poll in June asked: "Do you support or oppose imposing a maximum weekly limit of £400 on Housing Benefit." Support was 68% with 23% opposed. Even among Labour voters there was strong support – by 57% to 35%.
A YouGov poll in August asked: "Here are some policies the coalition government have announced in their first hundred days. For each one please say if you oppose or support it?" Among them was: "Putting a limit on housing benefit." 72% expressed support. 17% said they were opposed. Again even among Labour voters there was strong support - by 53% to 35%.
The new policy will certainly involve some challenges for councils such as mine. The transitional arrangements must be handled with sensitivity. But we should remember that the policy is popular. Also that it is right.