Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Mennear
Published: 7 February, 2013
EXCLUSIVE by RICHARD OSLEY
THE Town Hall is looking at placing families stung by benefit cuts in cities as far away as Birmingham and Leicester.
Officials could be asked to start researching areas with similar communities to neighbourhoods in Camden and good rail links back to London.
The idea was welcomed by Camden’s Conservative leader last night (Wednesday), who said: “London’s not everything.”
But the move is seen by Labour as a last-ditch attempt to avoid homelessness among families who simply can’t afford to live in the borough with their benefit capped and the lack of opportunities in Camden’s astronomical private rental market.
At least 750 families look to be badly exposed by the housing benefit caps ordered as part of a government shake-up of welfare support.
The idea of housing people outside London for the first time has been discussed at internal Labour meetings and will be debated by cabinet councillors before being approved.
One leading Labour councillor said last night: “Nobody wants to do this, but what can we do? What can we do?”
There has been no formal approach to any council in any other area and councillors are wary of making any city feel they should expect an influx of new residents.
But sources at the council have told the New Journal that cities close to train routes into Euston and King’s Cross are at the top of the list and include Birmingham and Leicester.
Labour council leader Sarah Hayward vowed last night that no “vulnerable” residents would be uprooted and Camden would fight to protect them.
A £1.5million pot has been set aside to try and mitigate the introduction of benefit cuts.
The fear among critics of the cap is that it does not take into account the almost incomparable housing market in central London areas like Camden where prices to rent property keep on rising. Many Labour councillors warn that Camden is a classic example of the much-feared “doughnut effect” where welfare changes will make the borough a residential option only for the rich.
That analogy puts inner London as the unobtainable jam for anybody but the well off, with everybody else living on the outer ring.
This in turn threatens the city’s traditional diverse make-up where the affluent do not always live in different postcodes from the less well off.
Camden Town itself is often considered a textbook example of this mix.
Councillor Hayward said the council was “deeply concerned” about welfare benefit cuts and warned: “The mitigation put forward by government does not go far enough to protect all low-income households.”
She said: “The very high housing costs in Camden and across London mean that low-income households will find it increasingly hard to find affordable accommodation if they are not in social housing.”
Cllr Hayward said Camden had found solutions with some private landlords through mediation, but added: “Sadly, the scale of the cuts, high private rental costs and lack of available housing in Camden will mean that 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.”
Conservative group leader Councillor Andrew Mennear said: “Britain is not an enormous country geographically. London isn’t everything. There is a life outside of London.
“I give the council credit for looking at other cities to help people and looking at alternatives where there will be housing and people can live within the cap and possibly find it easier to find work.
“We were left in a horrendous economic mess by the Labour government. People recognise that, and see that welfare has to be reformed. The benefits system hasn’t been fair and it has appeared to people working hard that they have to work very hard just to get the same income as others were getting on benefits.”
Lib Dem councillor Chris Naylor, a former Town Hall housing chief, said that negotiations with private landlords in Camden might have been open to the council.
He said: “Obviously we are concerned about the impact that welfare benefit cuts will have on Camden.”