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Benefit Cap

Volume 557: debated on Monday 28 January 2013

The benefit cap will be implemented from 15 April 2013 in Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey local authority areas. This will be a phased roll-out, with the remaining local authorities implementing the cap by the summer. This is in keeping with the way that the culture has changed in DWP. All the programmes that we are implementing are being rolled out on a staged basis. That includes changes to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, universal credit, personal independence payment and universal job match.

Can my right hon. Friend give me some reassurance that vulnerable people will not be affected by the cap? Can he also assure me that every effort is being made to support people back into work?

Clearly, the cap and the principles behind the cap are supported by Government Members—that is, that people who are on benefits should not be earning more than those, for example, on average earnings. Those who are exempted are those who are entitled to working tax credit—because this is about getting people back to work, not stopping them doing that—war widows, widowers, those in receipt of disability living allowance/personal independence payment, attendance allowance, industrial injuries benefits, those on war disablement pension and compensation scheme and the support component of employment support allowance. There is also a 39-week grace period for those who fall unemployed so that they can get back to work without having to change their arrangements.

Despite what the Secretary of State has just said, it is clear that he sees the need now to delay an implementation that was previously seen as so important. What about those households where there is an adult receiving DLA and where there are parents who act as the carers? They are two separate units for benefit purposes. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure that those households are not penalised?

First, I must say to the hon. Lady that she is talking complete nonsense. I would much rather implement a programme learning the lessons as we implement it, than follow the practice of the previous Government, who had a period of collapsing programmes because they rushed them. This is the right way to do it and it is a shift in culture. On the second part of her question, under the Government that she supported—and it is still the case today—when someone becomes an adult, they effectively form their own household. We have discussed and are discussing those matters continuously, but households are formed when someone becomes an adult, and the previous Government never saw any reason to change that in all the years that they were in power.

As the Secretary of State confirmed, Croydon will be one of the first places where this policy is rolled out. May I thank Lord Freud, who is the Minister responsible for welfare reform, and the housing Minister for meeting me to discuss this? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will work closely with my local authority to ensure that this important policy is implemented smoothly?

I say to my hon. Friend and to all hon. Members and hon. Friends whose areas are affected by the roll-out that we are in deep discussions with all those councils. Jobcentre Plus will be working hugely with each of them, advising, helping and supporting them—in many senses, giving them more support than is necessarily likely to be the case when the national roll-out follows the pilot programmes.

But as the roll-out happens, some of the areas that will be most affected are not the pilot areas—the first areas—but places such as my constituency, where people are already being moved out of London housing into Slough because there is relatively cheap housing there. Will the Secretary of State undertake that during the period when, as he said, he is taking time to introduce this, he will make revisions and talk to those authorities that are not the pilot authorities and are affected, as mine will be?

I am glad to see that the hon. Lady realises the point of this whole process—to learn the lessons and to understand how best to implement the pilot programmes properly. Of course we will be talking to all local authorities, particularly those that are directly affected, and all other local authorities will listen to what they say. Despite the massive protestations of collapse and doom and gloom that we heard when we announced these proposals—we should remember that all local authorities have known about them for over a year—we now see statistics showing that there has not been the mass migration that was predicted. As for access to housing, housing benefit caseloads in London have risen by 5%, not fallen.