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Housing Benefit

Volume 591: debated on Monday 26 January 2015

12. What recent estimate he has made of the number of people whose housing benefit has been reduced as a result of the social sector size criteria. (907184)

17. What recent estimate he has made of the number of people whose housing benefit has been reduced as a result of the social sector size criteria. (907189)

The latest published figures for August 2014 showed that the number of people affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy has fallen by 75,000. This follows a general downward trend, bringing the number of those affected down from 547,000 in May 2013 to 472,000.

In the Wigan borough, 3,386 people have had their housing benefit reduced due to the bedroom tax. Wigan & Leigh Housing estimates that it will take over seven years to re-house those who wish to downsize. Many of those affected have contacted me because, despite working, they are struggling to pay bills and feed their family. What is the Secretary of State’s estimate of the average income of those subject to the bedroom tax?

In previous speeches and today, the hon. Lady has talked about the fact that there are just not enough properties in her constituency to enable people to downsize. In fact, I understand that there are 2,700 people subject to the under-occupancy spare room subsidy, but something like 15,000 one and two-bedroom houses in the social sector properties in Wigan. There are many houses—many more than she might have laid out.

My point to the hon. Lady and the Opposition is that, in their opposition, they need to explain how they will afford it. The policy is saving some £500 million a year. It has already saved £830 million to date. They have no plans for substituting that, which means that their economic record is in tatters. After all, Labour, when in power, was the party that introduced that very policy for those in social sector private rented tenancies.

Once in every generation, there is a tax so bad that the next generation looks back and asks, “Why did they do it?” Such was the poll tax, now the bedroom tax. Will the Secretary of State tell us how many victims of domestic violence liable to the bedroom tax have had their sanctuary rooms deemed as spare rooms?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is just another attempt to start scaremongering about the whole idea—[Interruption.] Yes, it is. What has been disgraceful about the Opposition is that they have spent their time scaremongering up and down the country about this issue. He knows very well that local authorities and the police work together, they have discretionary housing payments to deal with that matter at a local level and they can resolve it. More than £380 million has been granted to local authorities for discretionary payments.

I have looked at what the hon. Gentleman said previously about the number of houses available. He said that some 5,000 people are suffering due to the under-occupancy rules because they had nowhere to move, but I remind him that there are 63,500 one and two-bedroom properties in Birmingham. He yet again mis-states the reality, which is that this has to work. I remind him again that it was his Government who introduced this for the private-rented social sector.

The Secretary of State is too complacent. The fact is that when a family pays the bedroom tax, the whole family suffers. The actual number of people affected is much higher than the numbers he quoted, at 750,000. Making families move is unkind, especially when it disrupts children’s education. There are not enough smaller properties, as colleagues have said, and people cannot move. So why did not the Government vote with Labour before Christmas to abolish the bedroom tax?

The hon. Lady, like many on the Opposition Benches, is living in cloud cuckoo land. They invent a whole series of issues about this. First, we get these lines about the fact that evictions are up. In fact, evictions are a very small proportion and are down. They say that rent arrears are up, but they are stable and have not risen. They say that homelessness is up, but it is actually down. The reality is that every time the Opposition talk about this subject, they invent these issues. But never once in the whole of the time they were in government—or even now—did they bother to talk about the fact that their policies meant that house building fell to the lowest level since the 1920s and that many people live in overcrowded accommodation, thanks to Labour’s failure, its crashing of the economy and its shocking mismanagement of housing.