Cllr Catherine West (left), and Grant Shapps
Published: 4 May, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
HOUSING minister Grant Shapps is telling “bare-faced lies” by claiming private rents in London are coming down, Islington Council’s Labour leader Catherine West has said.
Councillor West last week challenged the Tory minister to back up his claim, made on the Radio 4 Today programme after it emerged that Newham Council was considering sending tenants to Stoke-on-Trent, where rents are more affordable.
A row over the “social cleansing” of areas of London has raged since the government’s cap on housing benefit came into force in April last year.
Opponents say the cap means that many people are being forced out of the areas where they live.
In Islington, as many as 100 families a month are having to leave the borough, according to Labour housing chief Councillor James Murray.
Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn is also a vocal critic of the benefit cap. But its supporters say the cap is bringing the cost of rents down.
A recent report by housing charity Shelter found that people living in Islington needed to earn at least £72,000 a year to rent a two-bedroom flat in the borough and that rents had risen by up to 11 per cent last year.
At a meeting with officials at the Communities and Local Government Department, Cllr West challenged Mr Shapps to back up his claim that rents are falling.
In response, he sent a letter to the Town Hall, received on Wednesday, which argued that, although rents had risen, they had done so at less than the rate of inflation, and therefore had gone down.
“The recent English Housing Survey for 2010 shows an average annual increase in private rents of only 2.5 per cent annually. In real terms, this is a fall, given current levels of inflation.”
He added: “The most recent reports by LSL Property Services show that in January rents were rising by only 0.1 per cent and, in February and March, falling by respectively 0.6 per cent and 0.3 per cent. All of these figures are consistent with a fall in real terms.”
But Cllr West said national figures were not the point.
“The issue in question is whether London rents are rising or not,” she said. “They are rising, and by quite a lot. Rents from our point of view are shooting right up and there is no policy with this government to put them under control.
“We need rent controls and we need to be building more affordable housing. Denying that rents are rising is not a solution. I don’t think he should get away with telling bare-faced lies on the Today programme.”