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Three questions about Coalition housing policy

By Tim Montgomerie

(1) Is it right that taxpayers are spending more on housing benefit than on the police and universities?

(2) Is it fair for the government to use the taxes of a family struggling to pay their mortgage in Manchester, to pay for a jobless family to live in a much bigger house in Kensington and Chelsea?

(3) Is it sensible for a government to do nothing about a total budget for housing benefit that has grown by £5 billion in the last five years and was forecast to grow by the same amount again, by 2015?

The questions answer themselves.

The Coalition's housing benefits policy is not only morally right it is a big first test of its determination to bring the deficit under control. It must not flunk the test and I was encouraged by yesterday's PMQs when David Cameron made it clear that he wasn't for turning.

Screen shot 2010-10-28 at 10.08.48 Grant Shapps MP has done a terrific job in defending the policy (watch last night's Newsnight and listen to this morning's Today programme at 07:53). The Housing Minister has been reasonable, on top of his brief and patient with the wild talk of interviewers and antagonists.

Unfortunately one person who has been guilty of wild talk is Boris Johnson. He has somewhat retracted since but comparing the policy to "Kosovo-style social cleansing" was very regrettable. He has since issued a statement saying that he is happy with the broad thrust of the policy and is hopeful of getting the kind of transitional relief that will make the policy work:

"I have become aware that some news outlets are quoting out of context comments I made on BBC London radio this morning about the government's housing benefit reforms. My consistent position has been that the government is absolutely right to reform the housing benefit system which has become completely unsustainable.  I do not agree with the wild accusations from defenders of the current system that reform will lead to social cleansing.  It will not, and if you listened carefully to what I said, no such exodus will take place on my watch.  But the point I was making this morning is that London has specific needs due to the exceptional way in which the housing market works in the capital and it is my job as Mayor to make the Government aware of these. From the very good discussions I have been having with the Department of Work and Pensions and Iain Duncan Smith I am confident that our arguments are being listened to carefully and we are continuing to negotiate a package of measures to ensure the changes are introduced in London with minimal problems."

I've written a piece for Comment is Free based on the three questions at the top of this post. It should be going up shortly. Read it here.


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