The government’s bid to cap housing benefit for social rented properties is one of those policies that sounds, in its dry wording, almost painless. But listen to Becky Elton talk about the child abuse victims she sees, who are struggling with their mental health, or the veterans who have been sleeping rough, and you get an idea of some of those who will be affected by this nasty cut.
Elton, 39, is director of housing at Changing Lives – a charity that runs supported accommodation throughout the north-east. The service has 262 beds, and helps more than a thousand people each year: women fleeing domestic violence with their children; severely ill people leaving hospital who don’t have an address to be discharged to, because their landlord threw them out or they were homeless to begin with; young people – 16 or 17 years old – fresh out of children’s homes or whose foster families are no longer willing to care for them. Supported housing provides not only a roof over people’s heads but anything from counselling to job coaches.
“These people aren’t just people who need ‘putting in a house’,” explains Elton. “They need help.”
The government had intended the cap to come into effect from next month – it will bring housing benefit for social housing tenants in line with the private sector. This means that because rents in supported housing tend to be higher to reflect the extra facilities and resources involved, they could be left with huge shortfalls. But after an outcry from landlords the Conservatives announced a temporary stay: supported and sheltered housing will be exempt from the cut for a year while a review takes place.
For this week’s Guardian austerity column, I look at the very human cost of the supported housing cut.