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Housing Benefit

Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

In June, the Prime Minister instigated a debate about the merits and risks of taxpayers continuing to meet the £2 billion bill that automatic entitlement to housing benefit for people aged under 25 brings. More work is required, and that discussion and debate is still going on.

Last year, 10,000 young people became homeless because, through no fault of their own, they could no longer live with their parents. Will the Secretary of State give the House a categorical assurance that there will be no further plans in this Parliament to take away young people’s housing benefit?

I repeat what I said in my first answer: there is a discussion and debate. The policy debates are likely to go ahead, but I have no plans as yet to implement any policy—there are further discussions to be had.

When the Secretary of State is having those further discussions, perhaps he will take account of experience in my constituency, where around a third of residents are under 24. Nationally, an estimated 400,000 households are headed by someone under 25 who claims housing benefit, half of whom have dependent children. When he is having those discussions, will he consider the impact on children of his policy proposal?

That would go without saying—all impacts on various groups will be taken into consideration. The main point I would make is that, no matter what else, if we were to implement such a policy, we would have to take into consideration categories of people who might find it incredibly difficult, such as those described by the hon. Lady. There would not necessarily be carte blanche—there would be nuances and changes. However, as I have said, discussions are ongoing, and as she can see, no policy exists at the moment.

Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that less than 16% of the 204,300 young people under 25 with children who claimed housing benefit are in a couple?

That is obviously a matter for concern, but also for wider change. We want to ensure that couples stay together, and our plans and changes with universal credit will help with that enormously. It is worth reminding ourselves of the situation left by the previous Government. Labour Members go on about our policy, but in the past decade the housing benefit bill doubled from £11 billion to £21 billion. We are reducing the overall rise, but housing benefit under this Government will still rise by around £2 billion, as opposed to the huge sum the previous Government would have instigated.

What would the Secretary of State say to the GISDA organisation in my constituency, which works with homeless and vulnerable people in marginal and rural areas uniquely through the medium of Welsh? It depends on housing benefit to move those young people into housing, employment and training.

Up until now, many people have been trapped on benefits, as they will continue to be without change. The point has been made in this discussion and debate that many who are not on housing benefit but on low incomes find that they must make difficult decisions on where to live—on whether to stay at home or share. My point is simply that we are looking at how we bring those who fall under the benefit bill into line with others, thus giving them a greater opportunity to take work and profit by doing well from an early age. That is all the debate is about. It should surely be welcomed as a right debate to hold.

It is interesting that, despite the Liberal Democrat campaign, the Secretary of State is not ruling the proposal out. Young people have been coming to London to get on in life since Dick Whittington. What does the Secretary of State say to the youngster who took the advice of his predecessor, Lord Tebbit, and got on his bike, moved to London, worked hard and paid taxes, but was made redundant? Should he lose his home and have to move hundreds of miles to live with his parents, where there might not be any jobs? All hon. Members want housing benefit to come down, but how would that promote aspiration?

This Government are doing more to help unemployed young people back to work than was ever done by the previous one. I remind him that his Government left us with rising youth unemployment. They took all those who were unemployed for over 10 months and put them on a course. When those who were unemployed came off the course, they went back to zero, and therefore were never registered. We have a better record than they had.