Homeless 'pushed' miles out of city
A London council has said that it is being forced to move some of its poorest tenants to homes many miles outside the city because of the Government's housing benefits cap.
Newham Council in east London said it has written to 1,179 housing associations around the country - including one in Stoke-on-Trent 160 miles away - in an attempt to find accommodation for the 32,000 families on the waiting list.
Mayor Sir Robin Wales said a combination of spiralling rents in the borough - which hosts the London Olympics - and the housing benefit cap meant it could no longer afford to put up tenants in the private rented sector.
But Housing Minister Grant Shapps accused the Labour-controlled council of "playing politics" in the run-up to next month's local government elections.
Sir Robin said the borough - one of the poorest in the country - had been left struggling to cope with an influx of families from wealthier parts of the capital who had been forced out because of the housing benefit cap.
He accused ministers of ignoring a warning by the Department for Communities and Local Government that capping benefits would lead to a homelessness crisis.
"We are one of the poorest areas in the country, we have massive overcrowding, the people who are here we are trying to deal with," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"What happens? The Government, they pursue policies that push people out from the centre of London out to here. There just isn't the capacity to deal with them and we end up chasing round the country trying to deal with people who are in need. It is not a policy, I have to say, that I am particularly keen on or particularly want."
Mr Shapps insisted there was no justification for forcing families out of London. He said an internet search showed there were almost 1,000 homes available for rent within a five-mile radius of Newham within the benefit cap.
"The system is still very generous and I think that Newham are perhaps playing politics, given that we are in an election season, by writing these letters out," he told the Today programme. Not only do I think it's unfair and wrong, I have also made the legislation and guidance very clear that they are not to do this."