"Pack your bags, peasants, and make sure your dead peasant life insurance is updated before you depart London."
Councils plan for exodus of poor families from London
Benefit cuts force officials to book up B&B accommodation
More than 200,000 may leave capital in 'social cleansing'
Ministers were accused last night of deliberately driving poor people out of wealthy inner cities as London councils revealed they were preparing a mass exodus of low-income families from the capital because of coalition benefit cuts.
Representatives of London boroughs told a meeting of MPs last week that councils have already block-booked bed and breakfasts and other private accommodation outside the capital – from Hastings, on the south coast, to Reading to the west and Luton to the north – to house those who will be priced out of the London market.
Councils in the capital are warning that 82,000 families – more than 200,000 people – face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut their rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers.
The controversy follows comment last week by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who said the unemployed should "get on the bus" and look for work. Another unnamed minister said the benefit changes would usher in a phenomenon similar to the Highland Clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when landlords evicted thousands of tenants from their homes in the north of Scotland.
In a sign that housing benefit cuts are fast becoming the most sensitive political issue for the coalition, Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham, last night accused the government of deliberate social engineering.
"It is an exercise in social and economic cleansing," he said, claiming that families would be thrown into turmoil, with children having to move school and those in work having to travel long distances to their jobs. "It is tantamount to cleansing the poor out of rich areas – a brutal and shocking piece of social engineering," Cruddas added.
Meanwhile, at Windsor Central, the Queen's £38m a year offshore windfarm windfall - because she owns the seabed