In Britain there is currently a debate about the cost of welfare benefits. The government is introducing a welfare reform bill to reduce the welfare bill. In John Humphrys’ programme about benefits on BBC 2 tonight, one family, living in Islington had a main breadwinner who is a mechanical engineer but who could not get engineering work because of his poor English. The family lives in a nice four bedroom flat which costs £2,300 per month, most of which is aid by housing benefit. The breadwinner works as a cleaner. John Humphreys makes the point that 57% of a poll agree that people who receive housing benefits in expensive areas should be forced to move whereas only 29% disagree.
Behind this item is a question of whether a cleaner should be able to live locally. Specifically the cost/value of cleaning in London, and who should pick up the bill. My own view is that, if a person or company owns a property in London, and can afford to pay for someone to clean it, then they should pay a rate for the job which allows the cleaner and his (her) family to be able to afford to live locally. Some employers attempt to solve this problem by offering live in accommodation. Cleaning is neither the nicest job, nor a very skilled job, but the rewards are often at or close to the national minimum wage. I do not think this reflects the benefits which cleaning bestows upon those residing in the premises cleaned. At present housing benefit subsidises wealthy people to hire cheap local cleaners.
The proposed cap on housing benefit would result in people relocating to poorer areas more commensurate with their job. This reduces welfare bills, maintains the status quo and the differential between the rich and poor. It keeps cleaning costs down, and keeps the poor in their place. It would be nice to think that if cleaners move to poorer, cheaper areas, then a shortage of cleaners in the more affluent areas will result in an increase in the wage being offered for the job. The more likely outcome though is that someone will make money busing people in at national minimum wage. This will likely save some welfare money in these austere times, and continue to maintain the living standards of the rich, but will do very little for the living standards of the poorest.