Receiving a petition from York Welfare campaigners calling upon Government to change boundary used to set housing benefits in York
I met Helen Graham and members of the York Welfare Campaign group this morning to receive a petition with over 500 signatures on it. The petition was organised by the group in response to the Government’s changes to the Housing Benefit system which mean that many people in York are worse off and unable to pay their rents.
The petition was launched after a report published by Shelter last October confirmed that York is the most unaffordable city in the Yorkshire and Humber region for private rents and average rents are on a par with those in the South East and East of England and not other cities in the north. The report showed that the average rent for a two bedroom house in York is £648 per month and this is unaffordable for people earning the average gross income of £24,738.
In October, I wrote to the Housing Minister to ask him if he would be willing to base his figures for the Local Housing Allowance (which is the figure used to calculate housing benefits) on average rents across York Unitary Authority and not on other parts of the region which have lower rents than in York. The decision to group York with neighbouring towns in the Broad Rental Market Area means that rents in York are unaffordable to the majority of people on housing benefits.
In March, I met Lord Freud, the Minister responsible for Welfare Reform to discuss my concerns. The Minister accepted that there are four cities, Oxford, Cambridge, York and Edinburgh which all have difficulties because they are costly cities with a cheaper hinterland which is used for the calculation of housing benefits. At the meeting the Minister put it to me that people should travel to work in York from neighbouring places such as Easingwold, Tadcaster, Selby, Bubwith and Malton, as rents in these places are cheaper. I argued that this could be feasible for some people during the day but it is not possible for people working early or late shifts before or after the last buses. I also pointed out that the cost of fares is high and for people on a low income, it could force them to give up their job. The Minister acknowledged that he does not yet know the full impact that the changes to the Housing Benefits system will have on York residents and asked me to meet him again later this year when the impact of the Government’s cuts will be better known.
York Welfare Campaign have learned of a number of people who are struggling to pay their rents and they organised the petition which calls upon the Government to change the boundary used to set Housing Benefit levels in York. I agree with them and will ensure that the Minister receives the petition. York needs to be treated as a special case for the calculation of Housing Benefits.