Schools fear mass exodus as 264 children affected by new cap and 6,000 extra homes to pay tax
IN FOCUS by Kaye Wiggins
Picture a stroll from Brixton station down Effra Road, turning left just before the Hootananny and looping back on yourself via Shakespeare Road to reach Loughborough Junction station. Now head back to Brixton station via Loughborough Road and Max Roach park.
On that three-mile circle – it may even be your jogging route – you have roughly covered the boundaries of the Coldharbour ward, home to almost 17,000 people and one of the most deprived parts of Lambeth.
Over the next few months, the area will be at the sharp end of a series of benefits cuts. 1,600 of its 7,100 households will have to pay council tax for the first time. Nearly 300 households will be hit by the so-called “bedroom tax”, of which 155 are already in rent arrears. With arrears worth an average of £900, they are likely to struggle with the extra charge of, on average, £21 per week.
But 51 families within that three-mile loop will be hit even harder, losing on average £97.40 per week because of a new cap on the total amount of benefits any household can claim. Together these families have 102 children at local schools.
Government ministers argue these families can find a way out of the situation by getting a job. However, others argue some will be forced to leave Brixton altogether, moving to cheaper parts of London or to areas outside the capital.
“Many families may no longer be able to afford their private rental housing”, a report from Labour-run Lambeth council says. “Obviously there is unlikely to be sufficient cheaper accommodation in Lambeth so families will be forced to move further afield.”
If the council’s predictions are right, the impact is likely to be felt across Brixton. People on low incomes who are renting flats in the private sector may be “priced out”, the council predicts, as families from more expensive parts of London move to the area after being hit by the benefits cap.
And the “gentrification” of Brixton, as wealthy newcomers replace long-established communities, looks set to accelerate.
A stark warning comes in another council report: “Families in receipt of benefits are likely to be restricted in the areas they are able to live, limiting their choice of school, while more affluent families are able to move into catchment areas of popular schools, taking advantage of school places becoming vacant as low income families are forced to move away.”
Julie Fawcett, a Stockwell Park estate tenant and director of the community trust that runs the estate’s services, is seeing the changes first-hand.
“When I moved to Brixton in 1981, nobody wanted to live on these estates”, she says. “But together we worked really hard and made the estates a better, safer, nicer place to live. We painted our front doors, we cleaned the place up and we arranged for a playground to be built.
“The fact that Brixton is a great place to live is a testament to those people, my neighbours, and their families – and now they’re being moved out. We did all this for our children, so they would have a better community to grow up in, but they can’t afford to stay here.”
Fawcett is worried about the effects that the changes will have on Brixton. “This has always been a mixed community, and that’s what has made it a good place to live”, she says. “I don’t object to the young, trendy people moving into the area, and I think the success of the market is fantastic. But Brixton needs to be a place for everyone, and the balance is tipping.”
Sara Tomlinson, a Lambeth National Union of Teachers representative and a teacher at a local primary school, says she is worried about the effect of benefits cuts on her pupils – including those whose families are not directly affected.
“A serious proportion of our families will not be able to live here any more,” she says. “Some people at the school are predicting an exodus of pupils, but there’s also talk of an influx of pupils moving into the area from more expensive parts of London.
“Undoubtedly there will be instability for the children that stay at the school as they see classmates leave and new ones arrive. There’s also likely to be an increase in disruptive behaviour if children are in stressful situations at home.”
Many of the effects of the welfare cuts on Brixton’s communities are yet to be seen, and difficult to predict. But perhaps the most startling assessment comes in an unexpected place: the jargon-speak of a report by a council officer. The borough, it says. is set to become a “net exporter of families”.
Brixton Customer Centre,
Olive Morris House,18 Brixton Hill, SW2 1RD, every Wednesday, 2 to 5pm
Lambeth Citizens Advice Bureau
Address: Ilex House, 1 Barrhill Road, Streatham SW2 4RJ, Telephone: 0844 243 8430
Lambeth Savings & Credit Union
Address: 10 Acre Lane, Brixton, SW2 5SG, Telephone: 020 7787 0770
Brixton Advice Centre
Address: 167 Railton Road
Telephone: 020 7733 7554
Disability advice service Lambeth (DASL)
336 Brixton Road, Brixton, SW9 7AA
Telephone: 020 7738 5656
Lambeth Law Centre
11 Mowll Street, Brixton, SW9 6BG
Telephone: 020 7840 2000
Waterloo Action Centre
Address: 14 Baylis Road, Waterloo, SE1 7AA
Telephone: 020 7261 1404