Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Boris in benefit cuts clash with PM

Boris Johnson warned that the Government's housing benefit cuts could affect poor in London

The row over the Government's housing benefit cuts has escalated after Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he would not accept "Kosovo-style social cleansing" in the capital.

In remarks criticised by ministers including David Cameron, Mr Johnson insisted he would not allow thousands of poorer families to be forced out of London by benefit reforms.

His intervention increased pressure on the Prime Minister, who is already facing opposition from Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers over the housing benefit shake-up. There are claims that around 200,000 people could be driven out of areas with high rents as a result of the drive to reduce the cost of housing subsidies.

Mr Johnson said he was in "detailed negotiations" with Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith about the proposals.

"The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs," he told BBC London. "I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together."

The mayor added: "What we will not see and we will not accept is any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots. That is not what Londoners want to see, it's not what we are going to accept."

His comments drew criticism from ministers and Downing Street. "The Prime Minister doesn't agree with what Boris Johnson has said or indeed the way he said it," Mr Cameron's spokesman said. "He thinks the policy is the right one and he doesn't agree with the way (Mr Johnson) chose his words."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he too "very strongly" disagreed with Mr Johnson's comments. Business Secretary Vince Cable accused the mayor of using "inflammatory" language. "Simply using this dangerous language is seriously unhelpful, it's distracting from the underlying problems and the fact is the Government has got to reform this," he said. "As part of dealing with the public finances, we have got to get housing benefit under control because the budget was just escalating."

Mr Johnson later issued a statement saying he had been quoted "out of context" and that reform of the housing benefit system was "absolutely right". He stressed that his point was that London had "specific needs" and that he and ministers were "continuing to negotiate a package of measures to ensure the changes were introduced in London with minimal problems".

The planned moves include a £400-a-week housing benefit cap for four-bedroom homes and a 10% reduction for the long-term unemployed. The Government estimates that 21,000 households will be affected by the cap on different size homes - 17,000 of them in London. But more than 750,000 claimants could be affected by changes to the way Local Housing Allowance levels are calculated. The housing benefit cap will come into force next April, tougher limits on Local Housing Allowance next October, and the 10% cut for long-term unemployed in 2013.

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