2. What assessment he has made of the effects of changes to housing benefit rules in Wales. (153884)
Information on the expected impact in Wales and Great Britain of the changes to housing benefit is provided in the impact assessments prepared by the Department for Work and Pensions.
When the Minister gave support to that policy, what assessment did he make of the number of one-bedroom properties available in Wales for the 40,000 people hit by it? Does he agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, his noble Friend Lord Freud, who suggested that those who are concerned should sleep on sofas?
I followed closely yesterday the questioning of the Under-Secretary of State who has responsibility for welfare reform. His comments about sleeping on sofa beds were made in the context of families where the parents have split—he discussed whether there is a duty on the state to provide benefits sufficient for each separated parent to have family-sized accommodation for children during the same week. If the position of the Labour party is that they should have such provision, it should be stated clearly from the Opposition Front Bench, but picking up all the costs of relationship breakdown in that way would be an enormous burden on the taxpayer.
Is it not the case that, despite the jeering and catcalls from Opposition Members, they will make no commitment to reverse those reforms, which have been introduced because of the financial mess the country is in? They know that better than most since they were the ones who caused it.
As ever, my hon. Friend is correct. The Opposition’s position is characterised by two things: opportunism and hypocrisy. They know they will not reverse the changes if they ever form a Government again.
Today, 10 brave families will be applying to the High Court to declare the immoral bedroom tax unlawful. They are parents of disabled children and, in many instances, are disabled themselves. Will the Minister update the House on what steps his Government are taking to exempt those families from this immoral, unjust and unworkable tax that, according to an all-party report in March, will not save a penny?
I am not going to comment on the specifics of the legal case, but the right hon. Gentleman rightly asks what we are doing to protect the most vulnerable people—those with severe disabilities in housing with adaptations. [Hon. Members: “Nothing.”] Opposition Members are heckling from a sedentary position, but contrary to what they are saying, we have set aside an extra £25 million for people with severe disabilities living in adapted accommodation and who need additional support at this time.
I hear what the Minister says, but I would like him to respond to recent research conducted by BBC Wales, which revealed that there are approximately 28,000 individuals in Wales living in social housing that is considered to be under-occupied, with 400 one-bedroom homes available for them to move to. What will happen about that disconnect, or does he not care?
There is a mixture of housing stock throughout Wales. Decisions will be taken on a localised basis, which is why we have more than doubled the amount of discretionary housing payment to more than £6 million to help meet the issue that the right hon. Gentleman raises.
My hon. Friend has just mentioned the £6 million increase in discretionary housing payments in Wales. In Conwy in my constituency, the increase to £300,000 doubles the amount available to the local authority. Is it not the case that many of the individual cases mentioned by Opposition parties will be dealt with at a local level as a result of this fantastic increase?
We have more than doubled the amount available to local authorities for discretionary housing payment. In the local authorities of Wrexham and Caerphilly, it has been increased by more than 300%. We are determined to protect the most vulnerable people at a time when we have to restore budget discipline to housing benefit expenditure.
Official housing allowance figures indicate that even if only a third of bedroom tax victims in Wales manage to move to smaller private accommodation, that will mean at least a £17 million increase in the annual housing benefit bill going straight into the pockets of landlords. How many jobs does the Minister reckon could be created with that £17 million?
I am not sure that the hon. Lady will want to talk about jobs, because today’s figures show yet again that unemployment in Wales is falling, economic inactivity is falling, and employment is up. I do not really follow the logic of her question, but she should welcome today’s good news