Monday, 4 July 2011

Housing Benefit Expenditure

It's not one of mine (because that would be 'vexatious' and we can't have that can we?) but there's an interesting FoI response on the 'What Do They Know' website about Housing Benefit expenditure.

The reply gives us the figures for actual expenditure on Housing Benefit and the number of claimants for the last three financial years. Expenditure has increased from £105,437,333 for 2008/9 to £125,973,607 in 2010/11, an increase of just under 20%. It's not a particularly meaningful comparison but to put that in context if expenditure had increase purely by the rate of inflation it would have increased to £109,654,826.

Furthermore, and partly in explanation for the above inflation increase in expenditure, the number of claimants rose from 30,465 to 34,085, an increase of about 11%. This means average annual expenditure per claimant has risen from £3461 to £3695, whereas by inflation alone it would have been £3599.

It's not clear what conclusions we can draw from this. I certainly don't think it is fair to blame NCC, in fact it's more arguable that NCC and the various advice agencies have been successful in increasing awareness of HB entitlement in Nottingham which is a good thing. I also don't feel safe in drawing any conclusions about rent levels due to the complex way in which HB is calculated, other variables include government set 'applicable amounts' (a kind of income threshold above which HB entitlement starts to reduce) and of course people's incomes.

I do feel on stronger ground in guessing that the figures are hardly consistent with a booming and expanding Nottingham economy. "No shit Sherlock", I hear you cry and you'd be right; it's no secret that the economy is in the shit pit and has been over the period covered by the figures. And despite NCC's tendency to claim the credit for any inward investment or other economy boosting measures in the city, government in the UK is highly centralised and I don't really think councils really have that much power to buck the national trend.

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