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Housing Benefit

Volume 557: debated on Monday 28 January 2013

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on low-income families of planned changes to housing benefit eligibility in respect of under-occupancy in the social rented sector. (139395)

Our impact assessment shows that of the 3.4 million social sector tenants receiving housing benefit, up to 660,000 could potentially be affected by this measure.

Do this Government ever get fed up with hammering the poor of this country? Punishing the poor seems to be the mandate that is running this Government. In my constituency, 2,000 households will lose anything up to 25% because of this bedroom tax. Will the Minister change this callous measure now, or will he wait until it becomes this Government’s poll tax and comes back to haunt them?

If we leave aside the issue of people in his constituency who are living in over-crowded accommodation, who would very much like the opportunity to live in one of these houses, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that for many years under Labour, people who rented in the private rented sector were not allowed a spare bedroom. Why is it fair not to allow private renters a spare bedroom, but to allow social tenants a spare bedroom?

Does the Minister agree that downsizing when people can no longer afford accommodation or when accommodation becomes too big is something that many people have had to do for many years? Would it not be perverse if the only people protected from what is a fact of life for many were those dependent on the state for their housing?

My hon. Friend is right that ensuring that we make the best use of the scarce resource that is the social housing stock does involve people moving to smaller accommodation later on in life—although not pensioners, who we have exempted. Many of the best housing associations and councils are managing their housing stock better in response to this change.

The bedroom tax will have an impact on thousands of people in Telford. Many might want to move to smaller accommodation, but it is not available and the Government know it is not available. The policy is designed to penalise people—it is nothing to do with the housing market.

There is a danger that this is viewed in a very static way. Many of the best housing associations are looking at groups of constituents, some of whom are over-occupying and are overcrowded, and are moving people around to create space. In the longer term, we need a housing stock that better meets the needs of people on the waiting list, and it is time that successive Governments addressed that.

Because of the shameful under-investment in social housing by the previous Government, there are simply not enough properties for people to downsize to. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the number of families who will end up moving to smaller, more expensive accommodation and end up receiving more in housing benefit?

My hon. Friend is right: successive Governments have failed to build enough affordable housing. It is worth stressing that moving is one option, but only one option, for those in work. Just two or three extra hours on the minimum wage would cover this deduction. There are a range of options—going into work, taking in a lodger or sub-letting—and good housing associations are working with their tenants to achieve best outcomes.