How we reported the story in last week's New Journal
Published: 14 February, 2013
by RICHARD OSLEY
CONSERVATIVE Party chairman Grant Shapps said yesterday (Wednesday) he had been priced out of living in Camden before his political career took off and warned the same thing could happen to families on housing benefit.
He said: “This is a fairness decision. Where you live is a choice you have to make according to your budget.”
Mr Shapps was in Hampstead village meeting new parliamentary candidate Simon Marcus and Leila Roy, who is standing for the Tories in next month’s Gospel Oak by-election.
Asked what he thought of Camden Council’s internal discussions about possibly placing families affected by housing benefit caps in cities as far away as Birmingham and Leicester – revealed by the New Journal last week – Mr Shapps said: “I condemn the council for doing it. You don’t need to go that far. It is nonsense.”
Labour councillors have said the measure is a last resort forced on them by government welfare reforms and the sky-high cost of renting in the borough. The idea of placing struggling families in similar communities in cheaper areas of the country has been seriously considered.
Mr Shapps, a former housing minister whose wife Belinda once stood for election to Camden Council, said the government had set up “housing benefit allowance areas”, safety net zones where properties would be affordable.
“What we have done is make sure that up to 30 per cent of properties in the local area are still available,” he said. “It is not necessary to be sending people to Birmingham or all of these other places and I think it is wrong for the council to be doing those things.”
Mr Shapps suggested the council was, potentially wilfully, ignoring a safety net for families in order to portray the government in a dark light. He is already furious that the Town Hall’s non-political communications department booked bus stop posters declaring the government to blame for public spending cuts.
He said: “What cannot happen under the legislation is people can’t be turfed out of town. Yes, they may need to move home but within the local housing allowance area.”
But Mr Shapps, who lives in Welwyn Hatfield in Hertfordshire, warned that nobody could “expect to have a right to live in the finest road in the country” and housing benefit recipients faced similar choices to everybody else. He said a cap of £21,000 a year still “seemed quite a lot in rent”.
His own family life illustrated the choices everybody had to face. “People working hard, paying taxes, in general don’t get to choose which road they live in,” he said. “If they do, it’s within their means. Camden is a very expensive place to live. Ultimately, we moved out of Camden. We had our first baby at the Royal Free, found we needed a bit more space and – guess what? – I found we couldn’t afford a property in Camden, so we moved. In life we all have to make choices.”
Labour councillors have warned that community and family support in Camden will be broken because the government has not made allowances for central London’s unique property market.
Council leader Councillor Sarah Hayward said: “Sadly, the scale of the cuts, high private rental costs and lack of available housing in Camden will mean more people will soon have to consider moving from the borough and in some cases from London entirely. I can guarantee that no vulnerable people will be moved from Camden and we will step up our efforts to engage with those most at risk of losing their homes due to these changes.”