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Housing Benefit

Volume 555: debated on Monday 10 December 2012

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of changes to housing benefit rules on married disabled people living in specially adapted two-bedroom properties. (132028)

When developing the social sector size criteria policy, we considered the impacts on disabled people, as set out in our impact assessment. We have added a further £30 million a year to the discretionary housing payments fund from 2013-14 aimed specifically at those in adapted accommodation and foster carers.

Why will the Government not withdraw the housing benefit changes, which are having a devastating impact on disabled people, including my constituents, Mr and Mrs Harris of Seven Sisters, Neath, about whom I have written to the Secretary of State? They live in an adapted property. Mrs Harris cannot sleep at night, Mr Harris is a full-time carer for her and they need two bedrooms, but the draconian and oppressive changes the Government are implementing mean that there is funding for only one bedroom. There is a shortage of one-bedroom properties in Neath and they cannot afford the extra rent. It is time the Government withdrew these policies. Do they not understand that the changes will have a massive impact on the most vulnerable people in our society? The Secretary of State started off with the seemingly sincere motive of tackling poverty, but he has ended up by punitively and callously hitting the most vulnerable.

That is not the case. An impact assessment has been done and £30 million of discretionary funds have been put in place for exactly the people the right hon. Gentleman is talking about. We have to do this in the round. There are a million spare rooms in the country and millions of people on waiting lists and in overcrowded homes, and we have to find properties for them, too. The case that he mentions, however, is precisely the sort the discretionary fund will be for.

As co-chair of the all-party group on carers, my understanding is that, where a person requires a full-time carer, local authorities may provide housing benefit for them to have a two-bedroom property. Have I misunderstood the situation, or have I understood it correctly?

What will be the total estimated cost of moving people into smaller homes as a result of the bedroom tax, and how does that compare with the total estimated saving to be made?

There are major savings to be made and continual assessments will be done, but, as I said, in the round we have to find accommodation for other people and people have to understand the cost of the accommodation that fits their need.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the anxiety felt by those who have received notification that they might be affected by these changes? Will she guarantee help not only for those we have heard about, whose homes have been adapted, but for those with noisy respiratory equipment, for example, with whom it would be unreasonable to expect others to share a bedroom at night? How long will this fund last, and is she confident it will cover all those cases?

Yes, I am confident it will. Guidance will go to local authorities on how to use the discretionary housing payments and all factors will be taken into account, including those concerning my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Disabled people across the country currently have to cope with a torrent of piecemeal welfare reform changes that will impact on their lives. Disability Rights UK, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Mind, Scope, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Carers UK, among others, including tens of thousand of people who have signed Pat’s petition, have asked the Minister to conduct a cumulative impact assessment. If she is confident she is doing the best for disabled people, why does she not listen to them and conduct a cumulative impact assessment? Why does she stubbornly refuse to do one?

I am afraid that the right hon. Lady never did one when Labour was in government. Disabled people remain my top priority. Let me reiterate to the House that the disability living allowance, carer’s allowance and the support group of the employment and support allowance will all increase with CPI. We have protected the disability support programme in its entirety, and an extra £15 million is going into Access to Work.