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Welfare Reform: Social Housing

Volume 591: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2015

5. What assessment he has made of the implications for the Government’s policies of the Auditor General for Wales’s report on “Managing the Impact of Welfare Reform Changes on Social Housing Tenants in Wales”, published in January 2015. (907062)

6. What recent estimate he has made of the number of households in Wales that have received a reduction in benefits since the introduction of the under-occupancy penalty. (907063)

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for the Government’s policies of the Auditor General for Wales’s report on “Managing the Impact of Welfare Reform Changes on Social Housing Tenants in Wales”, published in January 2015. (907064)

This Government will not shy away from the financial and social responsibility of reforming the way in which housing benefit is allocated. There are no plans to change Government policy following the report from the Auditor General for Wales. We plan to use this report to support local authorities to respond better to local needs.

As the Minister will know, there has been a large number of Government reports on the Government’s welfare policies. A Sheffield Hallam university report, for example, shows that the south Wales valleys will experience a £430 million cut in income, endangering 3,000 local jobs as a direct result of Tory welfare reforms. Is not the Minister ashamed?

The report that the right hon. Lady mentions is an important contribution to the debate, but it focuses on only one element of Government policy. It does not take into account the wider package of welfare reform—something that the previous Administration, sadly, shied away from. This Administration will not do so, because of the important need to tackle Government finances.

The 1,500 people in Flintshire who are impacted by the bedroom tax face no choice but to cut their incomes, which are already low, because there are no properties available. Will the Minister tell me how many two-bedroom and one-bedroom properties are available in Flintshire today?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point because the number of new social properties built in Wales over the past three years is, proportionately, far fewer than the number built in England over the same period. The Welsh Government have a responsibility to deliver in that area. The Wales Audit Office report also highlights the fact that 47% of tenants had no advice given to them on how better to manage the spare room subsidy and the obligations that it would bring.

Will the Minister explain why it is right to force disabled people out of a home and into a smaller property—should one exist in the first place—rip out all the adaptations that have been made to that property and, presumably, put new ones into a second property? Apart from being cruel, how can such action possibly be cost-effective?

This Government have made additional money available through the discretionary housing payment to help individuals facing difficult circumstances. Only three out of 22 local authorities in the whole of Wales—Cardiff, Caerphilly and Conwy—applied for additional discretionary housing payments. The hon. Gentleman’s local authority did not do that. Let us be clear: the roots of the removal of the spare room subsidy lie deeply in the Labour Benches, because it was a Labour Administration who took it away from the private-rented sector. We are merely extending that principle to the social-rented sector.

My own local authority runs a useful forum for local agencies to plan a response to the bedroom tax, but its work is bedevilled by a lack of certainty over central Government support through the discretionary fund. Will the Minister prevail on his colleagues to give more certainty to future funding, which would help our work?

The discretionary housing payment is completely flexible and local authorities should use their discretion to see that it is used in the best way. The Wales Audit Office report provides excellent data and highlights some authorities such as Caerphilly and Cardiff that provide excellent practice and support their tenants in meeting the obligations of the spare room subsidy. After all, it is about returning the long-term unemployed back to the workplace, as that offers them the best opportunities and the best prospects.