An impact assessment is on my Department’s website. These reforms will create stronger incentives for councils to get people back into work and will help to pay off the budget deficit we inherited from the previous Administration. This Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in society. We have made it clear that pensioners should be protected and that any changes should help to support work incentives.
I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. However, the budget for council tax benefit is being cut by 10% from 2013-14, so how can he guarantee that every hour of work will pay for the working poor in my constituency and that they will not be impacted by this budget cut?
I have made it clear that we intend to protect the most vulnerable, but, equally, the hon. Lady has to recognise that spending on council tax benefit more than doubled between 1997 and 2010. That needs to be reduced as part of the strategy to lower the deficit that we inherited, in order to get the country back on track. We intend to do that in a proportionate and measured fashion, to protect the most vulnerable.
Is the Minister prepared to apologise to the more than 10,000 people in the local authority area of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), many of whom are families with children, whose council tax will rise as a direct result of his policy? Given that families in Stretford and Urmston will, like other families, lose an average of £580 a year as a result of changes to be introduced in April, and that, scandalously, 930 adults in that constituency alone risk losing all their tax credits if they cannot find extra hours of work, is it not about time the Government abandoned this tax increase for the poorest families, instead of obsessing about cutting tax for those on more than £150,000 a year?
The apology should come from those who created the record deficit in the first place. The hon. Lady might also like to apologise for the inconsistency in standing at the last general election on a manifesto that promised to cut housing benefit when she says nothing now about how she would make reductions and nothing about how one can reform housing benefit without reforming council tax benefit, which goes hand in hand with it.
Order. I point out to the Chair of the Select Committee that the question relates exclusively to Stretford and Urmston, from which Sheffield South East is a little distant. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member and I am sure that he will tailor his question accordingly.
I am sure that the Minister will be aware that his proposals on council tax benefits potentially affect Stretford and Urmston and other constituencies up and down the country. The Minister is aware that Capita wrote to local authorities on 12 January, saying it had real concerns about its ability to deliver IT systems in time to meet the changes proposed for April next year. Is the Minister not aware that authorities could end up with a real risk of system failure, affecting tens of thousands of low-income families? Is not the real answer to delay these measures for at least 12 months?
I have in front of me the letter that Capita sent to all local authorities in the country, and it points out that the reforms are deliverable if we can bring forward the regulations and detailed schemes in time. To that end, we have set up an officer-level working group to discuss these matters with officials from the local government sector.