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Under-occupancy Penalty

Volume 559: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2013

10. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the under-occupancy penalty on social housing in Wales. (144380)

12. What assessment he has made of the potential effect of the under-occupancy penalty on social housing in Wales. (144383)

Information on the expected impact of the social sector under-occupancy measure is provided in the impact assessment prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Local authorities in Wales need roughly 550 new couples every year to volunteer to be foster parents. Is it not a ludicrous own goal to include potential foster families in the bedroom tax? Before Government Members start complaining about the term “bedroom tax”, let me say that I heard the Prime Minister use it. It looks like a tax, it feels like a tax and it is unfair on those who are going to have to pay it.

The hon. Gentleman describes a reduction in Government expenditure as a tax. Opposition Members confuse their debt with their deficits and they spent 13 years describing out-of-control public spending as investment. I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on 5 February when he said that people who suffer from low levels of financial literacy struggle to make correct budgeting decisions. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and his party are proof of that.

The right hon. Lady’s question has been grouped. Her moment is now and we should hear from her.

I shall take the moment, Mr Speaker.

One immediate measure that would protect the most vulnerable people would be to exempt those on disability living allowance from this tax. Will the Minister urgently review this policy?

Let me start by wishing the right hon. Lady well with the important job that the Prime Minister has asked her to do on complaints in the NHS. I know that she has the respect and support of the whole House.

I understand the concerns among the disabled community about the implementation of this measure, but we are making substantial resource available for local authorities to assist with the difficult specific cases, among which I expect the disabled to be included.

Can there be any justification for treating tenants on housing benefit in social housing differently from tenants on housing benefit in the private rented sector, and how can it possibly lie in the mouth of those who changed the law on housing benefit for those in the private rented sector to complain when we extend exactly the same provisions to those on housing benefit in social housing? Have I missed something?

My hon. Friend highlights very well the total incoherence of Labour’s position. It is even harder to justify maintaining a subsidy for spare rooms given the country’s financial condition and the need to reduce the deficit and restore financial budgetary discipline.

I draw the House’s attention to the motion this afternoon and encourage right hon. and hon. Members to participate in the debate and to join us in the Lobby.

DWP Ministers tell me that no assessment has been made of the flexibility of the housing market in rural Wales in order to respond to the bedroom tax. Has the Under-Secretary made any such assessment?

There are different types of housing stock throughout Wales, but one problem facing the whole of Wales is that of overcrowding and long housing waiting lists. It cannot be justifiable that, at the same time as people are receiving housing benefit for spare rooms, in the same streets and on the same housing estates there are houses with three or four children in the same bedroom.

How on earth can the Minister defend a policy that is unfair and unworkable and will penalise the disabled, forces’ families and foster parents in Wales? Does he deny that his Government’s own impact assessment shows that Wales will be harder hit than anywhere else in the UK? Is there not a single issue on which he and the Secretary of State will stand up for Wales?

There is nothing caring, compassionate or progressive about walking away from our responsibility to fix the deficit and the debt. If we do not do that, the very people we will hurt in the future will be the poor and the vulnerable—the very people whom we all came into politics to defend.