5. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the Government’s welfare reforms on Northern Ireland. (901227)
8. What recent assessment she has made of the effect of the Government’s welfare reforms on Northern Ireland. (901230)
When fully implemented, the introduction of universal credit will make over 3 million low to middle-income households in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK better off. These reforms will ensure work always pays and help lift people out of poverty by helping them into work.
First, I do not recognise the figure that the hon. Lady has used, although I am sure that it has been put out by Labour party headquarters. As I have said in answer to previous questions, the way in which we can help people to prosper in Northern Ireland, as we all want, is to improve the economy and to get people into well-paid work. That is what we are doing. We are rebalancing the economy away from the disproportionate number of public sector employees in Northern Ireland. Currently, 30% of people in Northern Ireland are employed in the public sector whereas in the rest of the United Kingdom the figure is only 20%.
Some 32,000 households in Northern Ireland are affected by the bedroom tax. Although existing tenants are exempt, new tenants will be hit by the fact that the vast majority of social housing in Northern Ireland has three bedrooms or more. Is that not just another example of how the bedroom tax is unworkable? It is costing more money than it saves and should be abolished in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the UK.
The purpose of social housing is to help those who cannot afford their own housing, which I welcome. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to discuss with his constituents and, indeed, the people of Northern Ireland whether the general taxpayer should pay for unnecessary housing for people who do not use it. That is why we are ending the spare room subsidy and that, I think, is supported by the people of Northern Ireland as well as the rest of the United Kingdom. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman might find that he is on the wrong side of the argument with his constituents.
But does the Minister of State not accept that if what was termed the “bedroom tax” here on the mainland was introduced in Northern Ireland, it would cause rent arrears to rocket, cause havoc across settled communities and increase already high levels of poverty?
I am afraid that I do not entirely accept that. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right. I know that the Northern Ireland Executive are considering, through the discretionary housing payments, having a transitional period, which is sensible. If he asks his constituents in Northern Ireland whether they believe that the general taxpayer should support extra accommodation for people in social housing, he will find that most of them do not.
13. Does the Minister agree with the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) that Northern Ireland is getting the best deal on welfare when changes could potentially take £450 million a year out of vulnerable people’s—[Interruption.] (901237)
I agree with commentators in Northern Ireland, including the Belfast Telegraph, which stated:
“Quite simply, we cannot pretend that we can have it both ways; that we can continue to benefit from the Treasury—we get back more than we raise in taxes—while people in other parts of the UK suffer from the reforms.”
These are necessary welfare reforms across the United Kingdom. We support them and I think the hon. Gentleman will find that his constituents support them, too—[Interruption.]