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Thursday, 14 October 2010

Benefit plans could aid far right groups (UK)

Plans to cut housing benefit could boost support for the British National Party, according to the Labour MP who defeated the leader of the far-right group in the general election.

Margaret Hodge accused the government of deliberately forming policies to drive the poorest families from central London for political motives, and said the moves would create tensions in areas such as her Barking and Dagenham constituency.

The government is proposing a series of reforms to housing benefit, including setting limits on the maximum amount of local housing allowance that can be claimed at between £250 and £400 a week depending on property size.

Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the impact of housing benefit cuts on local authorities, Ms Hodge said the government is ‘deliberately forcing tens of thousands of families out of central London in a shameful act of social engineering and political gerrymandering which will cause irreparable damage to our communities’.

She added this would ‘inevitably reignite tensions’ that allowed far-right groups to establish a foothold in her constituency. BNP leader Nick Griffin secured 14.6 per cent of the vote in Barking and Dagenham in the general election in May.

Responding on behalf of the government, Department for Work and Pensions minister Steve Webb denied the changes would destroy settled communities.

‘The idea that there are these static communities where any sort of disruption will undermine the sense of community seems to me a parody of what is going on,’ he said.

He added that there is evidence that housing benefit is currently ‘subsidising landlords’ rather than vulnerable people.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said he was sure the government was not deliberately trying to move people from central London, but added ‘there can be unintended consequences’.

Inside Housing