Tower Hamlets and Hackney have the highest rates of housing benefit claimants in the country, it emerged this week.
The shocking statistics, which show that four in ten households in the two boroughs rely on the payment, were highlighted by Conservative MP Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, on Monday.
41.9% of households in Hackney and 36.9% of those in Tower Hamlets are dependent on the support, which is worth an average of £81.03 a week. “These are truly shocking figures and once again provide more damning evidence of Labour’s complete failure to tackle welfare reform,” said Ms May.
The data, which was compiled by the Department for Work and Pensions, showed the two east London boroughs’ rates of claiming to be more than double the national average of 17.6%, and worse than cities renowned for their levels of deprivation such as Glasgow and Manchester.
Councillor Abjol Miah, for Respect in Tower Hamlets, said the statistics suggested the Labour government was not doing enough to stem the current jobs crisis in inner London. “If decent jobs for decent wages, given the high costs of living in inner city London, are not available for many residents in Tower Hamlets, then inevitably they will become dependent on benefit,” he said.
“We were promised that the Olympics would bring jobs for local people, but in fact very few have gone to long-term Tower Hamlets residents.”
Tower Hamlets has had an exceptionally high rate of unemployment for some time. Data from the Office for National Statistics showed in March that the borough had the second highest proportion of jobless people in the country at nearly 12%. Hackney, too, suffers from high levels of joblessness and deprivation.
A spokesperson for Hackney Council said that half of the borough’s residents live in social housing, but that the situation was improving slowly. Investments in four new academies are paying off as students achieve better and better exam results, and £400,000 has recently been released to help get people back into work, he said.
“Although Hackney is an up-and-coming area, it still faces challenges such as low levels of unemployment,” said the spokesperson. “The council runs the Ways into Work programme [which] in its first year helped 700 residents into employment.”
The spokesperson also pointed out that transport links in Hackney have always been poor, meaning that residents find it hard to move within and outside the borough for work. Tower Hamlets resident
Jake Attwood-Harris, 22, has a degree in architecture from University College London. He has been claiming housing benefit of £117 per week since August to pay the rent in his ex-local authority flat, and thinks the government’s present initiatives would not be enough.
“The cost of living around here is huge,” he said. “Minimum wage in London should be higher. A blanket minimum wage for the country doesn’t really make sense, because in inner London it just isn’t a living wage.”