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Inadequate wages and extortionate rents are pushing up the Housing Benefit bill, it has been revealed.

What is the Coalition government’s solution? It is increasing its efforts to tackle fraud.

What genius.

“Forecast spending on Housing Benefit (we call it Landlord Subsidy) has been revised up by £2.5bn (11 per cent) since the expected number of renters and the level of rents relative to earnings have increased at a faster rate than predicted,” according to the New Statesman.

“As wages have continued to lag behind inflation, the number forced to rely on welfare to remain in their homes has surged. The government is now forecast to spend more than £27bn on housing benefit by 2018-19, accounting for more than 11 per cent of welfare [that’s social security] expenditure.”

It seems our Tory leaders find this far more acceptable than the alternative, which is to cap rents and pay working people a living wage. Remember that the vast majority of new Landlord Subsidy claims come from people who have jobs.

The Bedroom Tax must also take some of the blame: “One of the main causes of higher spending has been the shift from public to private rented housing,” states the Statesman. “In 2012-13, the number of private renters exceeded the nunber of social renters for the first time in nearly 50 years. Since private rents are usually higher than social rents, the housing benefit bill has risen accordingly.” This may be attributable to the introduction of the Bedroom Tax in April 2013, with social tenants scrambling to grab the cheapest – that’s right, the cheapest – private accommodation before everyone else.

The Coalition government’s response has been predictable: Falsely accuse tenants of fraud. It worked with incapacity benefits – why not with this?

“We know there is more to do to crack down on benefit fraud,” said Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper – who is himself a fraudster, having employed an illegal migrant and lied about it. “This month we have brought in a new detection system that will cross-check all housing benefit claims against up-to-the-minute information on earnings and pension income.”

Great. Will that bring down the level of fraud, which totalled £340 million for the tax year 2013-14 – a monumental 1.42 per cent of that year’s £23.9 billion Housing Benefit bill?

Who cares? Even if it eliminated fraud altogether, no new claims were made and HB was not increased, the bill would still be £23.56 billion.

(Here’s a little perspective: If the total spent on fraudulent claims was saved, the government would keep more money than it would make from selling the UK’s share in the Eurostar train service, which is expected to be £300 million.)

Labour has said it will increase wages and build more affordable homes – tackling the causes of the problem rather than scapegoating its victims.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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