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Housing Benefit

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

Will the Minister advise me where he thinks Flintshire county council and other local authorities are supposed to find these mythical one and two-bedroom properties? While he is at it, why does he think it is a good idea to force disabled people out of homes that have been adapted by councils at high cost?

We are not forcing disabled people out of their homes. On the hon. Gentleman’s question about Flintshire, we are making available to his local authority more than £240,000 this year in discretionary housing benefit. I ask him to ask his local authority why it has more than 275 empty properties in the social rented sector. That is part of the answer to the local housing problems in Flintshire.

Is the Minister aware that in Swansea two thirds of the thousands of people affected by the bedroom tax are now in arrears and that those arrears have doubled since April? Will he and the Secretary of State have an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to make the case for Wales, which is the worst affected area in the whole of Britain, with fewer smaller units and the poor being thrust into dire poverty and the arms of loan sharks?

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about housing issues in Swansea, but he should be aware that there are about 300 empty properties in the social rented sector in Swansea. That should be part of the answer to the problems he is talking about. I am concerned to hear about the large increase in the number of people he says are suffering from rent arrears. We are making available substantial resource to Swansea borough council, and we should be asking how it is using those discretionary housing payments to assist people through the difficult transition.

One of the best ways to help those affected by changes in housing benefit is through the provision of new single-person housing, but that has not been helped by the reduction in social housing built by the Welsh Government or by the extra Welsh-specific building regulations, which have impacted on the private sector and driven it out of Wales altogether.

We have seen the comments by Redrow Homes and Persimmon Homes. These are important Welsh builders who need to be building new homes in Wales, but who are not building as many as they should be. The Welsh Government are responsible for the supply of new housing in Wales, and I think that serious questions need to be put to Welsh Ministers in Cardiff about that.

It is truly extraordinary that the Minister continues to defend the bedroom tax. Will he confirm for the record whether, according to the Government’s own figures, Wales is hit harder than anywhere else in the UK? As he mentioned the disabled, will he tell us how many disabled households in Wales are hit by the bedroom tax?

We have had this question before. Wales is not hit harder—to use the hon. Gentleman’s terminology—than other parts of the United Kingdom. What is remarkable is that he still clings to the mythical economics of plan B. More than anybody else in the Opposition, he argues for more spending, more borrowing and more debt, all of which is a road to poverty for people in Wales.

The Government’s own impact assessment states that 46% of households in social housing in Wales have been hit by the bedroom tax, which is a higher proportion than anywhere else in Britain. Those are the Government’s own numbers. The bedroom tax will also hit 25,000 disabled families. The Minister should confer with his colleague the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who said only yesterday that the bedroom tax was not working in Wales. It is not working for those 25,000 people—25,000 reasons why we need a Labour Government to scrap the bedroom tax and deliver justice for those people in Wales.

I did not see the specific remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), but we are making available to Wales more than £7 million in extra money for discretionary housing payments. On top of that, we are making money available for rural borough councils in Wales to assist with the transition. We recognise that it is a challenge and a difficult period for people going through our changes to housing benefit, but we are supporting local authorities in Wales to help Welsh people through that transition.