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Housing Benefit

Volume 513: debated on Thursday 15 July 2010

13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the effect on housing and levels of homelessness of the proposed reduction in housing benefit levels. (8512)

Ministers from this Department regularly meet their colleagues from other Departments. We are looking closely with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions at how to support implementation of the recently announced changes to housing benefit.

Given the enormous upheaval that is likely to accrue from the cuts in housing benefit, will the Minister give a guarantee to the House today that he will not weaken the safety net of homelessness legislation?

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s considerable knowledge and interest in housing and matters of homelessness, which we have regularly debated. I can provide the assurance that this Government will take issues of homelessness and protection very seriously. I have recently set up a cross-ministerial working group for the first time to bring Ministers together, and we also have a discretionary fund, which we are expanding to £40 million to assist in this way.

Does the Minister accept that while we of course want to stop rip-off landlords from exploiting the state and tenants and to stop preventing people from getting back to work because their rents are too high making it impossible for them to come off benefits, we also need to ensure that no vulnerable person becomes homeless as a result of the changes? Will he and his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions meet a cross-party group of London MPs to ensure that the policy has the right objective and not an unfair one?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the policy needs to protect the most vulnerable and to introduce fairness into the system. The expansion of housing benefit to £21 billion—a 50% expansion in the bill—over just a 10-year period is unsustainable; it is more than the police and universities budgets put together and it simply has to be brought into line. It is not fair that people can be in receipt of £2,000 a week to live in areas of London that other people are unable to live in when they work. I am quite certain that Ministers will be very happy to meet such a group.