The Czech ruling ANO party is planning to cut housing benefits for the socially disadvantaged – a move that has been criticised by members of the opposition.

In an interview with Radio Praha online, Kumar Vishwanathan, a community worker in North Moravia, said: “In this country we have had increasing homelessness of very vulnerable sections of the population, like the Roma. Municipalities sold off their housing stock and consequently many Roma and poor people were forced to live in hostels.”

Why hostels? Vishwanathan explained: “Because to this day the government doesn’t have any plan of social housing. So the market immediately captured the opportunity and started renting, at very high prices, very substandard housing for poor people. That is called trading in poverty.”

Asked whether the government’s plans will in fact restrain those who are trading in poverty and will benefit the victims, Vishwanathan said: “It’s very clear that the prices in these hostels won’t come down, because we had this experiment a few years ago. Recently they reduced them again and once again the rents didn’t go down. Now what they are planning is to reduce it 60 or 50% of the average commercial rent in a locality.”

“So they’re expecting once again that the owners will reduce rents but that wouldn’t happen because the traders in poverty wouldn’t sacrifice their profits,” added Vishwanathan.

According to the opposition parties, if these government plans go ahead it could impact hundreds of thousands of households.

“I’m just wondering how the government doesn’t see that,” said Vishwanathan. “The people living in these hostels etc. won’t be able to pay the exorbitant rents. I would advise the government to take the initiative and present to the Parliament a law on social housing.”