London Mayor Boris Johnson said he is not prepared to accept “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of the capital as a result of the government’s planned changes to housing benefits.
Johnson, who will run again for mayor for the Conservative Party in 2012, expressed concern about the possible effects on the city of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to reduce social-housing subsidies, a step that may force people on low incomes to move to areas where rents are cheaper.
“The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs,” Johnson told BBC London today. “What we will not see and we will not accept is any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said on Oct. 4 that total benefit payments to any household will be capped at the median take-home pay for working households of about 500 pounds ($800) a week, starting in 2013. The welfare bill is being slashed as the government attempts to narrow its record budget deficit.
London Councils, the umbrella group for London’s 33 local authorities, estimates that as many as 82,000 households in the capital will become homeless as a result of the cuts. Cameron’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters yesterday that the government estimates the cap will affect 21,000 benefit claimants, 17,000 of whom are in London.
‘Does Not Agree’
“The prime minister does not agree with what Boris Johnson has said or indeed the way he said it,” Field told reporters in London today. The premier “thinks the policy is the right one and he doesn’t agree with the way he chose his words.”
Johnson is not the first lawmaker to express concern about the impact of the planned housing benefit changes. The Liberal Democrat deputy leader, Simon Hughes, told Channel 4 television on Oct. 24 that many of his colleagues oppose plans to reduce social-housing subsidies. The Conservatives depend on the Liberal Democrats for their majority in the House of Commons.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, used the weekly question-and-answer session with the premier in the House of Commons yesterday to taunt Hughes and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, describing them as “glum” and “glummer” over the planned changes.
Speaking of Clegg, Miliband told lawmakers, “No wonder he looks glummer. No wonder he’s back on the fags,” a reference to a confession by the deputy premier on a radio show Oct. 24 that he smokes.
“I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together,” Johnson said today. “People will always cry and say that I am at war with David Cameron and try and get a headline out of that, but the fact is we are in detailed negotiations” with the Department of Work and Pensions, which oversees benefits.
“On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots,” Johnson said.
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