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Board And Lodgings Allowance

Volume 75: debated on Tuesday 12 March 1985

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received concerning the proposals to place a limit on the board and lodgings allowance.

We have received a large number of representations about the proposals directly, and the Social Security Advisory Committee has received over 500.

Is the Minister aware of the disastrous effect that that change would have on organisations such as the Oldham single homeless project, which has now been operating successfully for seven years in Oldham? Is he aware that it would split families in the same way as the old means test did 50 years ago? It would also affect the young unemployed, who, even if they did get on their bikes, would be unable to find work outside their local area.

I see no reason why it should have the effects that the hon. Gentleman has described. I hope the House will agree that it is no service whatever to young people to give them undue encouragement to come to the big cities and then to trap them on benefit rates which mean that they cannot possibly afford to take work.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since 1979–80 the cost of board and lodgings allowance has risen by some 900 per cent? What will be the estimated cost in 1985–86 after the changes, and how does that compare with 1979–80?

At the moment I cannot give my hon. Friend an estimate for 1985–86. However, between December 1982 and the estimate for December 1984, the total of those payments, including residential care, has risen from £205 million to £570 million. No responsible Government could allow that rate of increase to continue.

Why has the Minister decided to make this change when he refuses to contemplate any of the sensible suggestions for improvements to other benefits and allowances, which have been put forward by hon. Members on both sides of the House, on the basis that a full-scale review of social security policies is taking place? Why has the hon. Gentleman gone ahead with this change when he refuses to show the same willingness to make sensible adaptations elsewhere?

We have made the change for the reasons that I have already made clear. We are doing no service to many of those who gain from the increase in benefit, and the increase is proceeding at a rate that makes it more difficult to do what we would wish to do for those in genuine need.

Is the Minister aware that one of the groups to suffer most from this cut in the board and lodgings allowance will be the men who are kicked out of their homes as a result of his proposal to close 21 DHSS resettlement units? Is it not dogmatic privatisation of the worst kind when it is directed against people who, in addition to being homeless, have severe psychiatric problems? Do the Government not care that many of those men will not receive proper care in the community, and will die sleeping rough?

The hon. Gentleman has an absolutely relentless tendency to go completely over the top with any argument that he adopts. He referred to the resettlement units, but he should bear in mind that a significant number of those establishments are found in old-fashioned, decrepit, old RAF camps on the outskirts of our big cities.

I accept that not all of them are in that situation, but our declared purpose is to ensure that current resources are used to provide what we regard as more effective services to meet the needs of those people.