Article in Guardian on how housing benefit changes are going to lead to more disabled homeless people
"Patrick Butler guardian.co.uk, Thursday 2 June 2011 14.27
Homeless charity Crisis says that the change to housing benefit could lead to more disabled people sleeping rough. Photograph: Charlotte Colman/Alamy Controversial government changes to housing benefit could see 11,000 young disabled people forced out of their flats, putting them at risk of homelessness, according to campaigners.
The homeless charity Crisis says the government's own figures (pdf) show that almost one in five of the 62,500 people in England, Scotland and Wales affected by the proposed extension of the Shared Accommodation Rate (SAR) have a disability.
From 1 January 2012, single people aged 25-34 will only be able to claim housing benefit based on the cost of a room in a shared house rather than a modest one-bed flat, bringing them into line with existing rates for people under 25. The average loss will be £41 a week.
This will force many disabled people into housing that is inappropriate for their condition, said Crisis.
Although 4,000 of the most vulnerable disabled claimants will be exempt because they need help through the day or night, most ill and disabled people will be forced to move into cheaper accommodation, often outside the area where they live.
In a survey of housing professionals published by Crisis last month, 87% said they already had problems finding appropriate properties for people on SAR and 72% believed there was not enough shared accommodation in their area.
Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: "This disturbing cut will force people suffering serious physical disabilities or mental illness to share with strangers, even if it damages their health.
"Government claims that discretionary funding will be able to support those who need it just don't add up.
"We are deeply concerned that some of the disabled people affected by this will end up homeless, and in the worst cases rough-sleeping."
James, 31, from Coventry, who is on incapacity benefit, faces a cut of £43 a week in his benefit, which will force him to leave the small one-bedroom flat he has lived in since 2008.
He has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism; a hereditary condition that results in severe mobility problems; and has suffered from ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
He says his Asperger's makes it hard for him to live with strangers, and he fears that the stress of moving from his home will trigger health problems.
He says there are no affordable one-bedroom flats where he lives. "I think it's going to be horrific. I just won't have the money to stay where I am. It will basically be 'look for the least terrible option'."
James says he is frustrated by being unable to work. He says he has applied for jobs without success.
"One of the things I'm most frustrated by is people saying I'm workshy. This is not a 'lifestyle choice'. I'm not living in luxury at the taxpayer's expense, I'm living in penury at the taxpayer's expense, and I hate it, I hate living on handouts."
According to an equality impact assessment carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions, the average loss per week is £41, rising to £45 a week in the south east and £87 a week in London.
The highest losses will be incurred by young people renting in Camden (a loss of £116 a week), Brent (£111), Islington (£109), Tower Hamlets (£109) and Westminster (£108).
The Department for Work and Pensions said the measure, which it hopes will save £200m a year, was to ensure greater fairness so that people on housing benefit face similar "affordability choices" to those not on benefits."