Some visitors to this site may have noticed the article in this week's Croydon Advertiser, which features some 'Labour research' which shows that working people claiming housing benefit has gone up by 1,200% since 2010.
Wow. That's worrying. Or at least, it would be if it were true!
As with so much that emanates from the office of Croydon North's new Lambeth-import Labour MP, Steve Reed, the 'facts' don't actually stack up when you look carefully at them.
Here is what the Advertiser reported, unfortunately without taking the trouble to ask Croydon Conservatives for their point-of-view on the story:
Labour Party research shows Croydon to have seen by far the highest increase in the country as 12,610 employed people claimed the benefit in 2013 compared to just 1,051 in 2010.
This is compared to a 60 per cent increase across the country since 2010 and the closest local authorities to Croydon were Fareham (883 per cent) in Hampshire and Pendle (777 per cent) in Lancashire.
You can read the full article here.
We're fascinated to know what this 'Labour Party research' consisted of. One suspects it was most probably the back of a fag packet and helped along by some over-active imaginations. Certainly Labour did not ask the council how many claims it actually processes, which you would have thought might be a good place to start if you want some facts!
The facts are these.
There are currently a total of 36,385 people claiming housing benefit compared with 32,505 in 2010. That's a rise of nearly 13%. The Advertiser and Labour got these total figures nearly right.
This total is split into three roughly equal groups: those who are seeking work, those who are in work and those who are not seeking work (this last group including people who are unable to work for one reason or another, such as people with a disability).
The group Labour are talking about, those who are in work but on a sufficiently low income that they qualify for Housing Benefit (hereafter refered to as HB), have risen from 7,495 in April 2010 to 13,302 in April 2014. This is an increase of just 77%, compared with Steve Reed's claim that it is 1200%. So he's only a factor of 15 out!
And if Labour's figures for national averages and other authorities are correct (and, to be honest, we wouldn't put money on that.....) then Croydon's figure is a little above national average - but you would expect that, as this is more of an urban issue than a rural one. We would also compare very favourably with the other authorities quoted.
Over this same period the number of customers claiming benefit whilst seeking work has increased by only 15%, from 11,001 in April 2010 to 12,816 in April 2014.
So what does this tell us? Effectively that more residents are now in employment than before. With the Government's welfare reforms seeking to get the long-term claimants into work, you would expect this figure to rise. The long term unemployed are unlikely to go straight in to high paid jobs, so the HB is there to help them establish a track record in work and give them the prospect of a career with rising earning potential, so that they are untimately able to live well without the HB.
One the main factors behind this positive change is the direct work carried out by the council in the last twelve months helping residents meet the challenges of the recent welfare reforms. We have directly engaged with over 3,400 households and we have found sustainable solutions for just under 2,000 of those households. These solutions include over 400 finding work, over 1,100 receiving money advice concerning budgeting and over 280 successfully moving within Croydon, with only 20 moving outside of the borough. Between April 2013 and April 2014 the housing benefit caseload has only increased by 0.4%, from 36,232 to 36,385.
So, despite Labour's bleating, we think the welfare reforms are working and Croydon's population is well placed to take the thousands of extra jobs that the Westfield-Hammerson town centre redevelopment will bring.
And our advice to Steve Reed? Forget the spin, let's have some facts instead!