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Bishop of Southwark criticises coalition’s housing benefit cuts

In his Christmas sermon the Bishop of Southwark, Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, has warned that in the coming year vulnerable people will fall through the safety net as a result of the Government's changes to housing benefit.

Rt Revd Christopher Chessun

"The Times reminded us only a few days ago that nearly 50,000 households will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation and 37,000 of these include children or pregnant women," said the Bishop in his sermon at Midnight Mass in Southwark Cathedral.

"Next year this situation will only get worse as we see the enforcement of major cuts in housing benefit.

"The reduction in the social welfare provision will make more people homeless. The safety net will have big holes in it and people will fall through.

"The very systems this country has been rightly proud of are being scaled back and those who are vulnerable will suffer most."

The Bishop alluded to the work of the Robes Project, an ecumenical scheme that provides a winter night shelter for rough sleepers in Southwark and Lambeth.

"Locally, care and provision for those who sleep rough is almost entirely provided by charitable and voluntary endeavour," he said.

"This has brought local churches across the denominations together in common purpose, raising the profile and giving encouragement to this good work, even more pressing in the winter months."

Last week Southwark Council's planning committee received a report on the local implications of the Government's changes to national policy on affordable housing, including the housing benefit cuts.

The Government is in the process of reducing Local Housing Allowance (a benefit payable to those renting in the private sector) from the median to the 30th percentile of market rent. For existing claimants this change will begin to kick in during 2012.

From October 2013 Universal Credit (UC) will replace most current benefits for people of working age.

For households where no-one is employed a cap will be placed on the maximum amount payable. According to the council this is currently understood to be 350 per week for a single person household and 500 per week for a couple/family household including all housing costs.

"The UC cap will have a disproportionate affect on London residents, particularly those residing in inner London boroughs such as Southwark, as no allowance has been made for the higher living costs associated with living in the capital," wrote Southwark planning policy officer Alison Squires in her report to the planning committee.

Initial modelling shows that a couple with two children in a two bedroom flat could afford to pay 251.91 a week once Universal Credit is introduced. This would mean they could potentially afford to pay a maximum of 67 per cent of market rent.

The council report [PDF] shows that in 2010/11 the average weekly rent for a two-bedroom flat in SE1 was 452.10 (compared to a Southwark-wide average of 354.76).

Read the Bishop's sermon in full or listen to the podcast [MP3].

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