A damning picture of communities stricken by poverty, crime and unrest, tenants savagely competing "Lord of the Flies" style for housing, has been drawn by peers, bishops and charities as the welfare reform bill is debated in the House of Lords this week.
Baroness Meacher, a social worker and Crossbencher in the House of Lords, warned of civil unrest, while Baroness Hollis, a Labour peer, accused the government of creating a housing situation where "tenants will, Lord of the Flies style, compete savagely to occupy that property."
The Welfare Reform Act 2012 and the Benefits Uprating Bill 2012, which proposes bedroom tax as well as a punishing 1% cap on benefits were being discussed in the Lords on Monday.
Comparing the current lack of affordable housing with the great potato famine in 19th century Ireland, Baroness Hollis said: "Housing, like potatoes, is not a discretionary item-its consumption cannot be reduced except by illegal overcrowding in illegal slums-yet it is being treated by government as though it were rather like going to the cinema. People cannot choose not to have any housing unless they sleep rough or in cars or on cathedral doorsteps.
"By tying Housing Benefit to 30% instead of the 50% median, all government is doing is subsidising the landlords of the least salubrious, most squalid property. However, Housing Benefits tenants will now, Lord of the Flies style, compete savagely to occupy that property. Complain and you are out."
Kevin Gulliver, Research and Development Director at the Human City Institute, supported the Baroness' claims. He told the Huffington Post UK: "People living in social housing are undergoing a number of squeezes already. These are some of the poorest people in society. We think civil unrest is a possibility, along with destitution and erosion of community. People are going to get desperate and desperate people in desperate times sometimes resort to desperate measures."
A stark portrayal of communities strained to breaking point by lack of accomodation, reduced benefits and rising prices was painted by both the Bishop of Leicester and Baronness Meacher.
Quoting government figures that said a further 100,000 children from working families into poverty, the into the Bish.. said the bill as it stands "seriously fails to protect working families, and will cast children into poverty.
He said the bill "simply does not go far enough to promote work, so that work always pays, particularly for the lowest earning working families" and proposed an amendment to this end.
Meacher, who is a social worker, said government savings from the bill were "only achieved only through imposing the most incredible hardship on many of the most vulnerable people in this country."
She asked if the money saved would convert into actual terms after dealing with increased mental breakdowns and the resulting impact on mental health services. She also insisted the cuts would result in increased crime rates, saying: "It is very difficult to believe that we will not experience unrest in communities that are profoundly hit by the combination of all these changes-not just arising from this Bill, but from a combination of everything that is being done."
Her points were supported by Labour peer, Lord Howarth, who argued "there is abundant evidence that incidences of crime and mental illness are significantly higher in more unequal societies" and that the bill will exacerbate inequality.
Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, said in a statement to the Huffington Post UK: "George Osborne announced the 1% cap in benefits with a callous glint, putting short term headlines before the real time hardship he was inflicting on millions.
“The truth is that from April, the most brutal changes to our social security system since the 1960s will hit millions of people, both in and out of work. Many will be forced from their homes. Children will suffer. People with disabilities will be hounded. Foster parents and army mums will not be able to give their kids a home. Millions of people face a cut in income, and hundreds of thousands will be force to food banks to meet the most basic need of feeding their family."
In December the council leaders of Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield wrote a letter to the Observer, warning the government to stop cuts before crime and community tensions broiled over onto the streets.