House of Commons
Wednesday 20 July 2016
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
North-south Electricity Interconnector
1. What discussions he has had with System Operator Northern Ireland on the completion of the north-south electricity interconnector. 
Let me say at the outset what a privilege it is to have been appointed as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and I pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers). She played a very important role and made a significant contribution, and I, for one, fully recognise that. I look forward to working with right hon. and hon. Members across the House to maintain that approach of continued political stability, greater economic prosperity, and safety and security, as part of a bright positive future for Northern Ireland.
I understand that the previous Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), met EirGrid, the electricity system operator across the island of Ireland, to discuss the proposals for a new interconnector. I hope that proposals to deliver a stronger, more secure and more competitive network in Northern Ireland can be progressed quickly.
May I start by welcoming the Secretary of State to his new position and welcoming all his colleagues? I look forward to working with them over the coming months. He will know the benefits that the interconnector would bring, not only to Northern Ireland, but to the Republic of Ireland. Our understanding is that Sinn Féin is one of the biggest objectors to this. Does he agree that that shows its lack of understanding of simple economics?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for warmly welcoming me to my post, and I felt this in a positive way when I was in Belfast on Monday. He raises the issue of the interconnector, as he has done on a number of occasions. This is being considered by the Northern Ireland Planning Appeals Commission—it is a decision for the Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive—but I reiterate that given the significant potential to help to reduce energy costs for Northern Ireland businesses, I would hope to see the project move forward as quickly as possible.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position and his very able partner, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has been an outstanding Member of this House. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity, at this early stage, to make an assessment of the long-term future of the all-Ireland energy market in the light of the referendum result? Will the result alter that market in any way?
Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. I certainly recognise the importance of the all-Ireland arrangements for electricity and for gas. In the continued negotiations and discussions on Northern Ireland and the UK being outside the European Union, that will be a core part of the issues we will be taking forward.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State and his team on their appointments, and thank the previous team for all the work they did for Northern Ireland. On an alternative electricity supply and the renewable heat initiative, the Northern Ireland Audit Office has told us that it may cost our block grant £140 million. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there is an investigation as to what has happened?
Coming into this role, I recognise the issue of costs for electricity and power more generally, and its importance in the context of the Northern Ireland economy. Indeed, this is why I made the points I did about the electricity interconnector. I will look closely at the points the hon. Gentleman makes, and I look forward to discussing this and other issues with him and other colleagues in the months ahead.
2. What recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development in Northern Ireland. 
5. What recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on economic development in Northern Ireland. 
I am determined to build on the progress this Government have made in delivering peace and prosperity to Northern Ireland. We have already taken significant steps to back businesses across the UK, including reducing corporation tax and bringing the Exporting is GREAT campaign to Northern Ireland in May.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment and I join in the remarks made about his predecessor. Will he continue the Government’s work to ensure that the private sector continues to grow? In his discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive, will he emphasise the need to improve private sector investment, so that more jobs are created in Northern Ireland and more people can gain from prosperity?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point about the creation of jobs and prosperity. I am sure that he welcomes today’s figures, which show further falls in unemployment and the claimant count in Northern Ireland, and increased employment, underlining the important aspects that he highlights. Yes, I will certainly be discussing with the Executive the role that I have to play with regard to investment and how we promote further jobs, growth and opportunity.
Will the Secretary of State reaffirm the Government’s commitment to the devolution of corporation tax powers as set out in the Stormont House agreement? Does he agree that a vital part of that is that the Executive demonstrate that their finances are on a stable and long-term footing?
We do want the UK to stand out as a low-tax destination for business. We have already cut the rate of corporation tax from 28% to 20%, and we will cut it further. My hon. Friend makes the point about the devolution of corporation tax powers. They are subject to conditions around fiscal discipline and financial stability. We look forward to working with the Executive to achieve that and to see that that further devolution takes place.
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State and to his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), on their new positions? I look forward to working constructively with the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office in the coming days. May I also pay tribute to the outgoing Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who played an enormously positive and constructive role in Northern Ireland, and was instrumental in bringing about the “Fresh Start” and Stormont House agreements? We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to her.
I thank the Secretary of State for the discussions that he has already had with some of us and with the First Minister and the Executive Office. Can he spell out for the benefit of the House once again what he has already said publicly in Northern Ireland, which is why there is no question of a border poll in Northern Ireland?
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome and indeed for the very warm comments that he made about my predecessor, which I wholly endorse. I have been quite straightforward about this issue of the border poll. The conditions are set out very clearly in relation to the Belfast agreement, and I have been very clear that those conditions have not been met.
The reason why they have not been met is that the overwhelming majority of people in both communities in Northern Ireland want to remain part of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State recognise the irony and the illogicality of those who are talking so much doom and gloom about Northern Ireland and the UK post the Brexit referendum, when their main policy—their main raison d’être—is to drag us out of the United Kingdom, which would be the most financially catastrophic and politically demoralising thing that is possible to imagine?
Let me underline the comments made by the Prime Minister about the very special bond that binds the peoples and nations of the United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a very simple message. Now is the time to come together and to work together to secure that bright positive future for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom outside the European Union.
On behalf of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, may I welcome the new ministerial team and indeed the shadow Secretary of State to their positions? I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), who was the former Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers), who really has carried out an enormous amount of work in Northern Ireland.
May I ask the Secretary of State about south-east England airport connectivity, which is very important to the economy of Northern Ireland? Could he have a word with his Cabinet colleagues and speed up the decision on airport capacity in the south-east of England?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome. Indeed, I very much look forward to working with the Select Committee. I note that he is tempting me into a broader area of policy in relation to airport capacity. He will know that the previous Transport Secretary made a clear statement on the timing of that, and, obviously, the matter requires further consideration.
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State on their appointments? Has the Secretary of State and his officials, working with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, made any calculation of the economic damage to Northern Ireland as a result of the vote to leave the European Union when the people voted to remain?
I certainly recognise that there were differences of view on the EU referendum, as there were across the rest of the United Kingdom. Our focus now needs to be on what Northern Ireland can be, and on what we can achieve in terms of trade, jobs and new opportunities. It is precisely that positive agenda that I intend to take forward.
I welcome the new Secretary of State to his position, and also commend the former Secretary of State for her hard work on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. Austerity has hit all of us hard, but Northern Ireland has special circumstances which make the impact even harder. Will the Government now consider reversing the austerity measures so that Northern Ireland’s economy can recover from the damage done?
I thank the hon. Lady for her warm words of welcome. Again, I underline the figures that we have seen today, showing further falls in unemployment. It is right that we have a strong, stable economy, and that we continue to look outwards. I point the hon. Lady to the fact that the total value of goods exported from Northern Ireland over the past year has increased by 9%—a figure which outperforms the rest of the UK.
I, too, welcome the new Secretary of State and his Minister to their posts, and assure him that we on the Labour Benches will do everything we can to carry on the bipartisan approach, doing the best we can for the people of Northern Ireland. I also thank my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). Everyone I have met in Northern Ireland asked me to thank him for his work.
For years the rebalancing of the Northern Ireland economy has been promoted by the Government, and intrinsic to this has been a push to reduce corporation tax, but in recent discussions that I have had with businesses in Northern Ireland, they have told me that it is much more important to address the huge skills gap in Northern Ireland, where far too many young people are leaving school unable to read and write properly. What will the Secretary of State do to help the people of Northern Ireland to bridge that gap?
We need great brevity as there are a lot of questions to reach.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. I certainly want to continue the bipartisan relationship. He highlights the issue of skills. I absolutely recognise that and will work with the Northern Ireland Executive on apprenticeships and on creating jobs and opportunities for young people, to give them the best possible advantages.
May I suggest to the Secretary of State that for his summer reading this month, he looks into a number of reports—the report recently produced by the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on the referendum, the report from the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association on its economic plan, and crucially the report from the Economic and Social Research Institute that was produced for the Irish Government in November last year to show that the trade deficit between the north and the south following Brexit could fall by at least 20%? Will he come back to the House in the autumn and tell us why his predecessor and the Northern Ireland Office were so badly prepared for Brexit?
I am always grateful for recommendations for summer reading and I will add the hon. Gentleman’s suggestions to my list. It is important to recognise that exports from Northern Ireland to the United States increased by more than 80%, and also increased to Canada and Germany. We will certainly promote that positive outlook for Northern Ireland.
3. What steps the Government are taking to reduce cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. 
8. What steps the Government are taking to reduce cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. 
The joint agency task force, created under the “Fresh Start” agreement, is tackling cross-border crime in Northern Ireland. The task force has completed a strategic assessment to identify priorities and is co-ordinating joint law enforcement operations against the criminals involved.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for welcoming the report of the joint agency task force. Does he welcome the success of the joint operations already carried out?
Yes, I certainly do. It is important that we maintain the focus on combating organised crime and on responding implacably to paramilitarism. I do recognise the successes to date.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. I am sure his previous experience as Security Minister will stand him in good stead. Does he agree that in this pending Brexit world, closer co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana is more important than ever? What plans does he have to make that happen?
I entirely endorse my hon. Friend’s comments on the need for good cross-border working relationships between the PSNI and Garda Siochana. I have already had a conversation with Frances Fitzgerald, the Irish Justice Minister, to underline that. We have very good relationships and I want to see them continue.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Does he agree that tackling cross-border crime involves tackling paramilitarism? Has he had a chance to look at the report published by Stormont yesterday with respect to action, in particular, to consider what may be done about decommissioning residual paramilitary weapons? How is that going to happen?
At the outset, may I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work? He and I have obviously had a number of discussions on issues of crime and security over many, many years. I welcome the publication of the Northern Ireland Executive’s action plan on tackling paramilitary activity, criminality and organised crime. This represents another significant milestone in terms of the commitment set out in the “Fresh Start” agreement. It provides a positive basis on which we can now move forward, and I look forward to the more detailed action plan, which will be published shortly.
May I warmly associate myself with the comments made by so many other people? I note that this is now my sixth opposite number facing me—it is almost as if I am being used as a training aid for young, thrusting Tories.
Last week, when my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and I met Chief Constable George Hamilton, he expressed his grave concern about the implications for the European arrest warrant post-Brexit and the desire not to go back to the old extradition methods. What assurance can the Secretary of State give us that the European arrest warrant can survive post-Brexit?
I am always grateful to continue the interplay between myself and the hon. Gentleman in so many different ways. He makes a serious and important point about the European arrest warrant—something I was very conscious of in my previous role at the Home Office. I see this as a core part of the negotiations that the Home Secretary and others will be taking forward, recognising the huge benefit to the UK—and to Northern Ireland—of having those extradition arrangements under the European arrest warrant.
14. In respect of paramilitary groups that are engaged in cross-border organised crime as well, what steps is my right hon. Friend taking to identify and deal with these individuals specifically? 
I have already highlighted the work of the joint agency taskforce. It is a question of all the law enforcement agencies working together to identify the organised criminal groups. That is precisely the activity that is intended. Equally, I recognise the work that the National Crime Agency does more broadly, which absolutely helps to support this.
In Northern Ireland recently, incidents have increased and severe violence has been used at cross-border posts. Organised crime gangs and criminal networks outside of the islands are involved. Does the Minister recognise that the increase in crime needs to be top of the agenda in any forthcoming Brexit talks?
As I have already indicated, I do see the whole issue of safety and security as a priority. That requires good working relationships between the PSNI and the Garda Siochana. I had a meeting with Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris in Belfast earlier this week to discuss those very issues, and this certainly is a matter that I regard as a priority in moving forward with my role.
Security Situation: Trade
4. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on trade of the security situation in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. 
May I begin by recognising the enormous contribution of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace)? I wish him well in his new role. I am determined to build on the progress this Government have made in delivering peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland. This Government have already taken bold steps to back businesses across the UK, including reducing corporation tax and bringing the Exporting is GREAT campaign to Northern Ireland.
I, too, welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box—he was an excellent member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. On trade and crime, he will know that there has been a hangover of paramilitary crime affecting trade along the border. There has been a complete delay in dealing with fuel fraud. Will he agree to meet me and the hon. Members for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), for Belfast South (Dr McDonnell) and for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and to bring along Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officials to boot, to allow us to discuss this issue and resolve it once and for all?
I would be absolutely delighted to meet the hon. Gentleman and other Members from both sides of the House. May I just put on record my respect for the fact that he has managed to secure a £5 million trust for local employers? [Interruption.]
Order. We are discussing very serious matters, including the security of Northern Ireland, to which exchange the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), who has a related question, might wish to contribute now.
10. Following the recent threat increase, will my hon. Friend assure the House that he remains absolutely committed to ensuring that our security agencies, police and others have the equipment to deal with any threats they might face? 
I reassure my hon. Friend that this Government have already increased PSNI funding by £160 million, with £25 million specifically to address paramilitary activity.
6. What the Government’s plans are for the future of electoral offices in Northern Ireland. 
The Government want to make sure that Northern Ireland voters can benefit from the introduction of digital registration. This new technology also provides an opportunity for the chief electoral officer to examine how electoral services can be delivered more effectively.
I, too, welcome the Minister and the Secretary of State to their place and thank the former team. Does the Minister accept that there may be some difficulties with online registration that are particular to Northern Ireland and not to other parts of the United Kingdom?
The system has been working in the rest of the United Kingdom since 2014. A full public consultation on the reform proposals and models will start this autumn, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will make a full contribution to the process.
13. What consideration has been given to adopting the cross of St Patrick as a unity flag for all communities representing Northern Ireland? 
The issue of flags in Northern Ireland is sensitive and complex. Any change in existing arrangements would require cross-community support. The Stormont House agreement included a commitment to a commission on flags, identity, culture and tradition, and that was established in June.
During the consultation process on electoral services, will both the Minister and the Electoral Office ensure that accessibility is a top priority, so that local people outside Belfast can have access through their local electoral offices for registration and photographic ID purposes?
The key thing to say about the issue of digital registration is that it is not replacing the old system. The existing system will stay in place and there is an opportunity to contribute on the issues relating to rural communities in particular, which I know many Members from Northern Ireland are concerned about.
I call Fabian Hamilton. Where is the fella? He is not here.
Republic of Ireland: Discussions post-EU Referendum
9. What discussions he has had with the Government of the Republic of Ireland since the EU referendum. 
Order. Answering Question 9, Secretary of State.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have held a series of meetings and phone calls with political leaders in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, and these will continue.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and his team. There is not one politician with an ounce of sense who suggests that a hard border would be of benefit to either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, but some are suggesting a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State take this early opportunity to rule out such a nonsensical and dangerous proposal?
The issue of the common travel area and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is absolutely at the forefront of my agenda. I recognise, as do the Irish Government, the real benefits of the common travel area. It is about not just the movement of people, but goods and services. I certainly do not want to see a return to the borders of the past, which is why I will engage with colleagues across Government, as well as the Irish Government, to get the best possible outcome for Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) must be heard on matters that pertain directly to his constituents.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I extend my courtesies to the new ministerial team.
Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the concern is to avoid not just the creation of new border posts, but the unnecessary and unhelpful borderism that the separation of north and south—of non-EU and EU—would entail? The new Immigration Minister gave an example of borderism yesterday when he boasted of his pre-Brexit bout of borderism with the HGV levy on cross-border trucks.
I certainly recognise the various points the hon. Gentleman has made. Border issues are significant both for the movement of people and for goods and services, and that is intrinsic to the overall arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. It is why I have made a very clear commitment in all my statements to ensuring that we do not return to the arrangements of the past, and that is precisely what will remain a priority for me in my role.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If she will list her official engagements for Wednesday 20 July. 
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in welcoming today’s employment figures, which show employment at another record high, the lowest unemployment rate in over a decade and wages rising.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today. This afternoon, I will travel to Berlin to meet Chancellor Merkel to discuss how we implement the decision that the British people took in the referendum, and I expect we will also cover a number of other pressing international issues. Tomorrow, I will visit Paris for similar discussions with President Hollande.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her place. Given her unwavering commitment to delivering economic stability and national security in our United Kingdom’s interest, does she welcome Monday’s emphatic vote in this House for the Trident successor programme, and will she ensure that economic stability and national security remain the guiding principles of her premiership?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I join him in enthusiastically welcoming the vote taken in this House on Monday evening to renew our nuclear deterrent. I think that vote showed the commitment of this House: it showed that we have not only committed to our own national security, but considered the security of European and NATO allies. We can now get on with the essential job of renewing our nuclear deterrent. May I thank the 140 Labour Members of Parliament who put the national interest first and voted to renew the nuclear deterrent?
May I welcome the right hon. Lady to her first Prime Minister’s Question Time, and congratulate her on her appointment and on becoming the country’s second woman Prime Minister? I hope that she will agree with me that Prime Minister’s Question Time in this House should be an opportunity to debate seriously the issues that face our country and our place in the world.
On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister talked very eloquently about “fighting…burning injustice”, yet her last act as Home Secretary was to shunt the Orgreave inquiry into the long grass. The Advocate General told the House of Lords:
“The IPCC told Home Office officials that if it announced any action to set up an inquiry or other investigation relating to Orgreave, it would have an impact on the Hillsborough investigation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2016; Vol. 774, c. 216.]
The Independent Police Complaints Commission disputes that account. I hope Parliament was not misled. Will the Prime Minister now proceed with a full public inquiry into the terrible events at Orgreave?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the welcome he has given me. He referred to me as the second woman Prime Minister. In my years in the House, I have long heard the Labour party asking what the Conservative party does for women. Well—it just keeps making us Prime Minister.
I welcome the comments the right hon. Gentleman made about Prime Minister’s questions. We do debate serious issues at Prime Minister’s questions. I look forward to the exchanges he and I will have, and I hope that we will be having those exchanges over the Dispatch Box for many years to come.
As regards the Orgreave inquiry, I think the shadow Home Secretary has an urgent question on that this afternoon, to which the Home Secretary will be responding.
The new Prime Minister also said on the steps of Downing Street:
“If you’re young, you’ll find it harder than ever before to own your own home.”
In 1998, more than half of working households of people aged 16 to 34 were buying their own homes. Today, the figure is 25% and the Resolution Foundation suggests it will fall to 10% in the next nine years. What figure has the Prime Minister set herself for home ownership among young people?
I notice the timeline that the right hon. Gentleman referred to. He might have forgotten that during that period we had 13 years of a Labour Government—a Labour Government who had a very bad record on house building. It is this Government who will change that and this Government who are putting more into building more homes to ensure that young people have a better opportunity to get on the housing ladder. That is why we are a Government who will govern for everyone in this country.
That Labour Government put a decent homes standard in place in every part of this country. I am not sure that—[Interruption.] I am not sure that starter homes at £450,000 for young people earning 7% less than their parents’ generation represent a good prospect for people owning their own homes.
The Prime Minister is rightly concerned that:
“If you’re black, you’re treated more harshly…than if you’re white.”
Before appointing her new Foreign Secretary, did she discuss with him his description of black people as “piccaninnies” and ask why he had questioned the motives of US President Obama on the basis of his “part-Kenyan” heritage?
The right hon. Gentleman started his question by making reference to the issue of starter homes and the upper limit in London of £450,000. I have sat on these Benches and heard him raise that with my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) on a number of occasions when he was Prime Minister. Can I just explain this to the Leader of the Opposition? If he looks at house prices across the country, he will see that they vary. In Liverpool, the average house price is just over £116,000. In London, the average house price is just over £676,000. That is why we have a higher limit for starter homes in London. If he objects to that, he needs to tell his constituents why he is against their having opportunities to get on the housing ladder.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the remarks I made. It is correct that if you are black, you will be treated more harshly in the criminal justice system. That is exactly why, as Home Secretary, I dealt with the issue of stop and search. I was concerned to make sure that nobody should be stopped and searched on the streets of this country because of the colour of their skin. I did that as a Conservative; in 13 years, Labour did nothing on it.
My question was actually about the language used by the Foreign Secretary.
Earlier this week, the new Chancellor abandoned the Government’s budget surplus target, which Labour has long called for. The Prime Minister’s Government are already missing their targets on debt, the deficit, the welfare cap and productivity. Six years of Government austerity have failed. The long-term economic plan is clearly dead. Is there a new one?
It is the long-term economic plan that has delivered the record level of employment that we see today. Perhaps I could put the right hon. Gentleman straight. We have not abandoned the intention to move to a surplus. What I have said is that we will not target that at the end of this Parliament. He uses the language of austerity; I call it living within our means. He talks about austerity, but actually it is about not saddling our children and grandchildren with significant debts in the years to come. It is not about austerity; it is about ensuring that we have an economy that works for everyone.
Jobless claims have risen for the fourth month in a row and welfare claims have risen as well. Austerity actually means people being poorer, services being cut and local facilities being closed. In her speech on the steps of Downing Street the Prime Minister also addressed insecure workers, saying:
“You have a job but you don’t always have job security.”
Does that mean that those people who are worried about their future in work—[Interruption.] I am talking of the people who sent us here to serve them. Does that mean that she is proposing to scrap employment tribunal fees, repeal the Trade Union Act 2016 and ban zero-hours contracts, as more than a dozen European nations have done already? That would help to give greater job security to many very worried people in this country.
Again, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that yes, I said that on the steps of Downing Street, because it is very important that here in this House we consider not only what might be called the more obvious injustices, but life for those people who are in work and struggling to make ends meet. That is essential, and the Government have raised the threshold at which people start to pay income tax, for example. It is also about making sure that we have more well-paid jobs in this country, which the Government are also doing.
I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman referred to the situation of some workers who might have job insecurity and potentially unscrupulous bosses. I suspect that many Members on the Opposition Benches might be familiar with an unscrupulous boss—a boss who does not listen to his workers, a boss who requires some of his workers to double their workload and maybe even a boss who exploits the rules to further his own career. Remind him of anybody?
We are sent here to represent people. Many people in this country are struggling with low wages and insecure jobs—[Hon. Members: “You!”] I know this is very funny for all the Conservative Members, but I do not suppose there are too many Conservative MPs who have to go to a food bank to supplement the food on their family’s table every week. We should reflect on that.
The Prime Minister highlighted the failures of her predecessor on social justice, home ownership, education and the cost of living. Some might say that, as a Cabinet Minister, she too was responsible for those. She empathised with working people, saying:
“I know you’re working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best, and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.”
Yesterday a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that two thirds of children living in poverty in Britain have at least one parent in work. What, other than warm words, is she going to offer those families and those children, who are often hungry and very insecure in their way of living? Is it not our duty to offer some hope and security to them?
Yes it is, and we are concerned about those people, but the answer is not the Labour party’s unlimited, uncapped welfare for people. The answer for people who are in work and struggling and for those who want to get into work is to have a strong economy that delivers jobs, and well-paid jobs in particular. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that on the Government Benches we are focused on building a country that works for everyone. That means an economy that ensures that everyone can benefit from the nation’s wealth, a society where everyone gets the opportunities they deserve and a democracy that everyone can have faith in.
Finally, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that the Labour party may be about to spend several months fighting and tearing itself apart; the Conservative party will be spending those months bringing this country back together.
There will be more. I call Sir Edward Leigh.
Q4. I agree with the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] We are leaving the EU and we are going to make a success of it, so will she make my day special by saying that she is prepared to reject staying in the single regulated market and to offer instead to our friends in Europe a free trade deal that is very much in their interests? Let us take back control. 
I am tempted to say that I probably ought to sit down and enjoy that for the rest of the day. My hon. Friend has made my day, and I hope that I can make his day by wishing him a very happy birthday. I assure him that as we look at the result of the referendum, I am very clear that Brexit does mean Brexit, and as he says, we will make a success of it. In negotiating the deal, we need to ensure that we listen to what people have said about the need for controls on free movement, and that we also negotiate the right and best deal for trade in goods and services for the British people.
May I extend my congratulations to the Prime Minister on her first outing at Prime Minister’s questions, ahead of her travels to Berlin? The German Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, has already confirmed how Scotland is able to remain in the European Union. Did the Prime Minister discuss that when she met First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Edinburgh, and will she do everything to ensure that remain means remain for Scotland?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his welcome, for his comments in Monday’s debate, and for his recognition of support for my husband Philip. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we all rely on support from those around us to do our jobs, and we should never forget that. I did discuss arrangements in relation to the negotiations for the United Kingdom leaving the EU with the First Minister, and I was very pleased that my first trip was a trip to Scotland and that I was able to do that so early in my premiership. As I have been clear, the Union is very important to me. I was also clear with the First Minister that I think that some of the ideas being put forward are impracticable, but I am willing to listen to options that are brought forward, and we will be engaging fully with all the devolved Administrations.
Germany has the highest level of support of any continental European country for Scotland remaining in the European Union. Will the Prime Minister thank Chancellor Merkel for the interest of the members of her Government and of the Bundestag in having Scotland remain within the EU? Will she assure the Chancellor and other Heads of State and Government that we in Scotland will do everything—everything—that is necessary for us to remain in the EU?
The right hon. Gentleman has taken that line for some time—he took it with my predecessor—but I find it a little confusing, given that only two years ago in the Scottish referendum, the Scottish National party was campaigning for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, which would have meant leaving the European Union.
Q6. We all stand with the people of France, and particularly Nice, following the appalling terrorist act there last week. Will the Prime Minister update the House on how the security collaboration between our two countries can help to prevent such attacks in future, and will she reassure the French people that although we are leaving the European Union, the close links between our two countries will remain steadfast? 
My hon. Friend raises an important topic, and as has been said in this House before, our thoughts are with all the people of France after the appalling attack that took place in Nice last week. We continue to work with the French authorities in the aftermath of that attack, and my hon. Friend is right to say that we must continue our security co-operation with France and other European countries. We will not be cowed by terrorists; we both face the same threats, and we need to work together to defeat those threats. I absolutely confirm that, yes, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but the United Kingdom is not leaving Europe and our co-operation will continue.
Q2. I welcome the Prime Minister to her place and I wish her well in healing the country in the months and years to come—after all, it is she and her colleagues who so bitterly divided it. I also thank her for her wholehearted support for and endorsement of official Labour party policy on Trident. It is such a refreshing change to hear that from the Dispatch Box. As a type 1 diabetic and a father and uncle to children with type 1 diabetes, and on behalf of 500,000 people in this country, 30,000 of them children, may I thank the Prime Minister for the example she has shown in demonstrating without doubt that diabetes does not hold us back in any way whatsoever? There is no doubt that the Prime Minister’s predecessor left the NHS in a much worse condition than he found it. Will the Prime Minister visit West Cumberland hospital in my constituency, honour the promises made by the previous Prime Minister, and stop her Government cutting services there further? 
The hon. Gentleman refers to divisions on the Conservative Benches. I have to say: which party was it that took three weeks to decide who its unity candidate should be? It is the Labour party that is divided.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks on type 1 diabetes. There are many youngsters out there, from tiny tots to teenagers, living with type 1 diabetes. It is important that we send a message to them that their future is not limited: they can do whatever they want.
The hon. Gentleman is the first hon. Member at Prime Minister’s questions to invite me to his constituency. I will, of course, look very closely at all invitations I receive. It is important that decisions about the construct of local NHS services are taken at a local level by the NHS. He made a point about the agreement in the official policy of the Conservative party and the Labour party on Trident. I simply remind him that where we did disagree at the election was that the Conservative party agreed to put in the money that was necessary for the NHS. The Labour party refused to commit to that.
Q7. Extremism takes many forms, from the atrocity in Nice to the violent murder of Qandeel Baloch by her own brother in Pakistan. That murder was justified as an “honour killing”. There have been 11,000 incidents of self-styled honour crimes in the UK in the past five years. Does the Prime Minister agree that such crimes are in fact acts of terror, not honour? Will she therefore direct her new Government to choose to lead and end the use of the word “honour” to describe these vile acts in order to stop giving any legitimacy to the idea that women are the property of men? 
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue, one that I think resonates across the whole House. She is absolutely right: extremism does take many forms. That is why, in the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, we are looking very widely across the breadth of issues of extremism, including tackling the root causes of some practices within communities, such as so-called honour-based violence. I absolutely agree with her that there is absolutely no honour in so-called honour-based violence. It is violence and a criminal act, pure and simple.
Q3. I, too, welcome the Prime Minister to her first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Will she listen to the headteachers of the excellent primary schools in my constituency? They tell me that the recent unprecedented changes to primary education, including the new SATs, have led to negative impacts on children’s learning outcomes. Will she urge the new Secretary of State to take those concerns forward, listen and make useful changes? 
I thank the hon. Lady for her welcome. Getting education right is absolutely crucial if we are to ensure that people can take up the opportunities they deserve and have the aspiration to take up those opportunities. Obviously, my right hon. Friend the new Education Secretary will be looking across the board at the education provision that is in place. We have made some important changes already over the past six years that are improving the quality of education and mean that more children are receiving the quality of education they need. There is, of course, more for us to do and we will be looking to do that.
Q8. In my constituency, aerospace is of vital importance, with Rolls-Royce employing more than 1,000 people at sites in Barnoldswick. Aerospace is important not just to Pendle, however, but to the whole UK economy, so will the Prime Minister congratulate all the companies that attended the Farnborough airshow last week on the deals they signed, and does she agree that the nearly £100 billion of trade deals already done this year demonstrates that Britain is very much still open for business? 
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Britain is open for business, and I know what an important role the aerospace industry plays in his constituency, as he pointed out with his reference to Rolls-Royce, and in constituencies across the country. I also know of the importance of the Farnborough airshow. My hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) was telling me last night what a great airshow it was. The Government committed at Farnborough to providing a new £365 million fund for research and development to ensure we retain our leading position in the sector. As my hon. Friend also said, a significant number of trade deals have already been signed, which shows that Britain is open for business. I would encourage other companies to go out there and get that business.
Q5. I, too, welcome the right hon. Lady to her place. Newcastle airport was voted “best in Britain” this week, but the good news that it is really waiting for is a decision on Heathrow expansion. The Prime Minister knows that Britain needs to be open for business, so will she do better than dithering Dave and give us a decision without delay? 
I have fond memories of Newcastle airport, from the time when I stood in the North West Durham constituency some years ago and made quite good use of the airport. It has changed and expanded rather since then. Our position on Heathrow has not changed. Obviously, there was the Howard Davies review, and further work has been done on the question of air quality around the proposals put forward. The Cabinet and the Government will take a decision, in the proper way, in due course.
Q12. Based on an analysis of the crime survey for England and Wales by the Children’s Society, it is estimated that 113 16 and 17-year-old girls in my constituency experienced a sexual offence in the past year. Given the progress made in tackling child sexual exploitation in the last few years, will my right hon. Friend outline whether the Government have plans to strengthen the protection for this particular vulnerable age group? 
My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. We have seen recently the appalling circumstances in Rotherham in relation to child sexual exploitation, but as she has shown, in every constituency in the country, young people are being subjected to sexual offences of various sorts. That is why, since Rotherham, the Government have been working with all the appropriate agencies to ensure we put greater support in place. We have provided an extra £7 million of funding to ensure that victims of sexual abuse receive the right support, launched the whistleblowing helpline to help authorities to spot patterns of failure, and made child sexual abuse and exploitation a national threat, meaning that police authorities have a duty to collaborate on this terrible crime. In the coming months, we will also be strengthening our arrangements. We are all appalled by child sexual abuse, and we need to carry on making sure that we eradicate it.
Q9. In her first statement from the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister stated that she would lead a Government who would work for everyone. Since she became Prime Minister, I have tried unsuccessfully to get assurances on the continuation of the northern schools strategy and the £80 million set aside for it. Will she give me that commitment today so that children in Bradford and the north can have the same chances as those in London and the south? 
It is important that we ensure that children across the country get the opportunities they deserve, and the quality of education they receive is an important part of that. The review launched in March by Sir Nick Weller will make recommendations to address this particular issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Education Secretary will look carefully at the result of that review and, in due course, make clear the Government’s response to its recommendations.
Q13. Growing up on a council estate, I found it tough coming out—as a Conservative. Difficult as it was, I understood then, as I do now, that it is only Conservative Governments that deliver real social mobility. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the Government’s job to fight for such opportunities for the people of Britain, because the Labour party are too busy fighting each other? 
My hon. Friend puts it very well. If we look at the Conservative Benches, we see, as he said, Conservative Members of Parliament who were brought up in council houses and Conservative MPs brought up by single parent families, while the chairman of the Conservative party is a former miner. It is this party that is looking at opportunity for all. I am certainly very clear that the Government I lead will be driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by the interests of everyone in this country. We are not entrenching the advantages of the privileged few in terms of opportunity, but extending opportunity to all.
Q10. Whatever one’s politics, one cannot help but be inspired by last week’s image of the female Prime Minister of the UK meeting the female First Minister of Scotland. It sends a message to girls everywhere that they can achieve anything they want and nothing should be off limits to them. Does the Prime Minister agree that to do this, girls and women should be able to live free from gender-based violence and domestic abuse, and will she commit to supporting the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) and ratify the Istanbul convention? 
It is an important symbol for girls and young women when they can see women in positions such as Prime Minister and First Minister of Scotland. I respect the First Minister; we had a very constructive first meeting. There were certain issues on which we disagree and will continue to disagree, but we will work practically and pragmatically together.
It is important to deal with the issues of gender violence and domestic violence against women and girls. That is why the Government have—I led this as Home Secretary—a strategy to deal with violence against women and girls, which is now being taken on by my right hon. Friend the new Home Secretary. We have a good record on what we have done, for example, putting into operation domestic violence protection orders and the new coercive control offence, but there is always more to do and we will be doing that.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her place, and if it is not too untoward to say, I declare it as game, set and match to her this afternoon. Last week, when I met local National Farmers Union representatives in North Dorset, they understood precisely what we were doing in delivering on Brexit, but were keen to ensure that the needs of agriculture and British farmers are front and centre in those discussions and that their interests are not neglected. May I invite my right hon. Friend to make that commitment today?
I am very happy to make the commitment that, as we look at the position we will take in the negotiations for the UK to leave the European Union, we will consult widely. I recognise that agriculture is a sector that is particularly affected by Brexit, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we will consult and listen to the views of farmers and others involved in the food industry and agricultural sector.
I congratulate the right hon. Lady on becoming Prime Minister, and gently remind her of the conversation we had a few weeks ago when I said she was going to come through the middle and trounce the men standing for that position. I was right. I also said I was going to put some money on her, but I never got round to it —unfortunately, because the odds were very good at the time.
May I ask the Prime Minister a serious question about the younger generation, the millennials? So many of them in our country believe that they are citizens of Europe who have the ability to travel, to work and to be true Europeans. Will she soon give them her vision of how that reality as European citizens can be delivered even in the present circumstances?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I do indeed remember the conversation in which he said that I would, as he put it, “trounce the men”. I have to say, however, that the Conservative party came up with an all-woman shortlist, without being required to do so.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the younger generation. This is what I would say to them today. As I said a little earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), we are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be setting out our negotiating position on the relationship with the European Union when we leave. I would also say to the young people that the hon. Gentleman talks about that we should not limit their opportunities and their horizons by just looking at Europe. This country will make a success of Brexit, because we will be out there in the world as an outward-looking, expansive country, with opportunities around the globe.
May I warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her post? Unlike dithering Barry, I did place a bet on her becoming the next leader of our party. I apologise for the fact that my phone was obviously turned off when she was calling me to invite me to join her Government.
The reason the people of Yorkshire voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union was largely to do with immigration control. Can the Prime Minister reassure them that when we finally do leave the European Union, she will insist on keeping her original promise to bring the immigration figures down to the tens of thousands?
The vote that took place on 23 June sent a very clear message about immigration. It sent the clear message that people want control of free movement from the European Union, and that is precisely what we will ensure that we get in the negotiations that we will undertake. I also remain absolutely firm in my belief that we need to bring net migration down to sustainable levels, and the Government believe that that means tens of thousands. It will take some time to get there, but now, of course, there is the added aspect of the controls that we can bring in relation to people moving from the European Union.
Finally, I call Mr Tim Farron. [Interruption.]
You are all very, very kind.
May I, genuinely, warmly welcome the Prime Minister to her position? She has come a long way since we were on the hustings together in North West Durham, and she is no doubt reflecting on the fact that she is receiving more support in the Chamber than either of us received in Consett working men’s club.
There are reports today that the new Brexit unit will be hiring lawyers at a cost of £5,000 per head per day. May I ask whether the Prime Minister will be using the mythical £350 million to pay the legal fees, or is that still pencilled in for the NHS, as promised by her Cabinet colleagues who campaigned for Leave?
I think it absolutely right for us to create a new Department to focus on the work of negotiating the United Kingdom’s departure from the United Kingdom, and that Department will need the expertise that will enable it to undertake the negotiations.
I am very happy to remember the days that the hon. Gentleman and I spent campaigning in North West Durham at the time of a general election. Little did the voters of North West Durham know that the two unsuccessful candidates in that election would become leaders of two of the country’s political parties, although I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that my party is a little bit bigger than his.
Orgreave: Public Inquiry into Policing
To ask the Home Secretary if she will clarify comments made last week in another place on calls for a public inquiry into policing at the Orgreave coking plant in 1984.
Last week my noble friend the Advocate General for Scotland answered an oral question asked by Lord Balfe of Dulwich on whether the Government had yet decided whether there would be an inquiry into police actions during the Orgreave miners’ clash in 1984. He explained that the previous Home Secretary had been considering the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign’s submission, and that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is working with the Crown Prosecution Service to assess whether material related to the policing of Orgreave is relevant to the Hillsborough criminal investigations with decisions yet to be made by them on whether any criminal proceedings will be brought as a result.
The Government take all allegations of police misconduct very seriously and the then Home Secretary considered the campaign’s analysis in detail. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have today written to the campaign secretary, Barbara Jackson, to say that I would be very happy to meet her and the campaign immediately after the summer recess. I would also be happy to meet the right hon. Gentleman to discuss this case as I know this is something that he feels very strongly about. This is one of the most important issues in my in-tray as a new Home Secretary, and I can assure him that I will be considering the facts very carefully over the summer. I hope to come to a decision as quickly as possible following that.
I promised the Hillsborough families the full truth about the 20-year cover-up. They will not have it until we also know what happened after Orgreave. A year ago the IPCC found senior officers gave untrue statements exaggerating violence from miners to distract from their own use of force, some would say brutality. So the force that would wrongly blame Liverpool supporters tried to do the same against the miners five years before. In response, the then Home Secretary promised to consider a public inquiry. That was welcome because the miners’ strike caused deep scars when, in the words of a former chief constable, the police were used as an “army of occupation”. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign has, as the Home Secretary said, submitted an application, but there was a somewhat unexpected announcement in another place last week that it would now be substantially delayed. The Advocate General’s exact words were:
“The IPCC told Home Office officials that if it announced any action to set up an inquiry or other investigation relating to Orgreave, it would have an impact on the Hillsborough investigation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 July 2016; Vol. 744, c. 216.]
However, the deputy chair of the IPCC says:
“I would like to clarify that the IPCC has not taken or offered any position on whether there should be a public inquiry...That is a decision that is entirely a matter for the Home Secretary.”
That is why we have brought the Home Secretary here today.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s offer to meet me, but might it not help to build the right climate if she today corrects the misleading impression given to Parliament that the IPCC had advised against the establishment of an inquiry at this time? Does she accept that there is no reason why ongoing investigations should delay an Orgreave inquiry, and that in similar situations it is commonplace for protections to be put in place to manage any risks? Can she see why the Government’s actions look like a Home Office manoeuvre to shunt a controversial issue into the long grass?
This, one of the final decisions of the former Home Secretary, was announced as she stood on the steps of Downing street promising to “fight injustice”. People may remember another Tory Prime Minister quoting St Francis of Assisi outside No. 10 and the subsequent gap that emerged between her fine words and her deeds. To ensure that history does not repeat itself, will the Home Secretary do the right thing? Will she restore the trust that has been damaged among people who have already waited more than 30 years for the truth and, today order a full public inquiry into Orgreave?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that this Government have not been slow in looking at historical cases. There have been Labour Governments and there have been Conservative Governments since 1984, but it is this Government who are taking the campaign very seriously. I will not resile from that. I have told the campaign I will look at the evidence I have. It was submitted at the end of last year; it is a substantial file. It is because I take this so seriously that I am not going to rush it. It would be a mistake to do that today. What I am going to do is look at it over the summer, meet the campaign group in September and reach a decision after that. The right hon. Gentleman should not allow anybody to think that this means I do not take it seriously; the Government take it very seriously and will reach a proper conclusion when I have looked at all the evidence.
The future of South Yorkshire police is clearly linked to this. These allegations are historical, but if we bring them together with more contemporary problems it seems to be a force that has institutionalised dysfunctionality. Surely my right hon. Friend now must look at the future function of South Yorkshire police’s management, and not shy away from any fundamental reorganisation?
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that we are doing exactly that. He draws an important point to our attention, and it is particularly that issue that the IPCC is looking at. I can reassure my right hon. Friend, as well as the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and the House, that the work of the IPCC will not delay the work that I will be doing in looking at this particular case.
The 1980s were a quite shocking time in politics. I know that Conservative Members will disagree, but it was a difficult time to be growing up, under Thatcher, and a distressing experience for many of us. There are many examples to illustrate that, but what happened at Orgreave was one of the most shocking examples of all. It is not just me who is saying that. Liberty has said:
“There was a riot. But it was a police riot.”
Michael Mansfield QC has called it the
“worst example of a mass frame-up in this country this century.”
Obviously, he was talking about the last century. Alan Billings, the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner has said that, on that day, the police were
“dangerously close to being used as an instrument of state.”
That is frightening indeed. The SNP welcomes the findings of the Hillsborough inquiry and urges the UK Government to ensure that accountability follows, but we call on them to go further by not looking at that tragedy in isolation. It is imperative that there should be an inquiry into the policing of Orgreave to ensure that justice is done and the public can regain trust—
Order. I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but I am afraid that she has exceeded her time.
I am sorry. I thought I had two minutes.
Order. We really must establish the principle that a time limit on an urgent question is a time limit on an urgent question. I do not want to single the hon. Lady out, but her question was too long. Forgive me.
I understand entirely the point that the hon. Lady is raising. It is about the crossover of police behaviour in the Hillsborough incident and the Orgreave incident. She raises an important point, and she is right to say that there are serious allegations to be addressed. That is what the IPCC will be looking at, but we will also be making sure that the incident at Orgreave and the questions that she has raised will be carefully examined.
Will my right hon. Friend also assure us that any investigation that takes place will hear evidence from police officers who were allegedly injured by missiles while doing their duty in allowing people lawfully to go to work?
My hon. Friend is of course right: this cannot be a one-sided inquiry or investigation. I will ensure that we look at both sides of this, but I must tell him that there are some serious allegations to be considered.
One of the things that occurred in the Hillsborough inquiry was that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and other people exposed the fact that the police were writing similar things about similar incidents. It has already been explained that the South Yorkshire police did exactly the same thing at Orgreave. I went there and saw it for myself. It was one-way traffic by the police, and then the same statement was written over and over again for each of the miners. So I hope the Home Secretary is not going to be hanging about for very long on this. An overt promise was made by the last Home Secretary that, arising out of Hillsborough, the Orgreave case would be linked to it. Let’s have some truth and justice for Orgreave.
The hon. Gentleman is right to ask for truth and justice. That is why I contacted the campaign leader this morning to ensure that we have an appointment to see each other in September. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not hanging around on this. It is one of the most important items in my in-tray. There are a lot of allegations, some of which he has raised here today, and I will look at them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to her new position. I also welcome this urgent question from the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), because these are important issues. I very much back up what my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) has just said. As I have said before, when talking about the Hillsborough verdict, the name “South Yorkshire police” now does a disservice to the honest, hard-working officers who put themselves on the frontline. I appreciate that the Home Secretary is taking time over the summer to consider this inquiry. May I ask her—I know she cannot answer today—to acknowledge that the time has come to consider reorganising Yorkshire policing and to remove the name “South Yorkshire police”?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the new leadership has made a clear commitment to address issues within South Yorkshire police. The incoming chief constable will have in place a long-term package of support, comprising several subject experts from across policing and the College of Policing. They are aware of the damage that has been done and my hon. Friend’s suggestion may be one thing that they consider, but it is most important to have clear leadership to deal with the legacy of difficulties.
I welcome the new Home Secretary to her position and wish her well. It is not unreasonable in these circumstances for her to want to take time to consider the matter, but it will not go away. While it may relate specifically to South Yorkshire, it has implications for the credibility of policing right across the country. Does she accept that this matter is wholly exceptional and will need a wholly exceptional resolution?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I made a point earlier about historical cases, which make it feel like there is a series of issues and allegations to be dealt with. I hope that he will take some comfort from the fact that this Government and the previous Home Secretary have a reputation for not shying away from addressing difficult issues. I hope to ensure that we continue to deserve that reputation.
My father was a West Midlands policeman in the 1980s and spent some days policing at Orgreave. Clearly, where there is solid evidence of police malpractice, it must be dealt with effectively and with the full force of the law. Does the Home Secretary recognise the concerns of many serving and retired police officers about what they perceive to be a political campaign with a predetermined outcome?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will take my time to come to what I feel will be a fair answer after looking at all the information. Nothing has been prejudged. Serious allegations have been made, but I will look at both sides.
There is a strong thread between Orgreave and Hillsborough, but there is also a parallel with Shrewsbury. The only way to disprove what the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) just said about political motivations is to have a full independent inquiry. Why doesn’t she get on with it and just do it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his view, but I repeat that it would be wrong for me to just, as he puts it, “get on with it”. I want to look at the evidence; the process must be driven by evidence. The Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign spent six months pulling together a substantial package and body of evidence. I will not ignore its work; I will take a careful look at all of it.
I am really concerned at the language already being used by the right hon. Lady about the Orgreave incident. She just classified the incident at the Dispatch Box as a “miners’ clash”. Would she like to clarify those words to the House?
I am happy to refer to it as an incident—the word that the hon. Gentleman uses—but it is more important to ensure that we look carefully at all the evidence. Once I have had a look at all the evidence and have reached a conclusion, I will be able to come back and describe it as what it really was.
Orgreave is in my constituency and people still come to my surgery in tears after reliving the horror they saw when they went with their families to picket peacefully, the violent abuse that they suffered and the vile media campaign afterwards. Will the Home Secretary please give them justice and peace by holding a public inquiry?
The hon. Lady makes a clear and passionate case as she always does in the House when she campaigns. My office spoke to the campaign group this morning and I will be meeting the group in September. I appreciate the levels of distress, hurt and historical anger that are part of this case, which is why I will take it seriously.
With my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I brought the campaign group down to meet the then Home Secretary over a year ago. It was therefore unexpected and unwelcome to hear last week that, after all that, she was still waiting for the investigations to be concluded. The shadow Home Secretary raised a serious question about the IPCC’s advice. Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to correct the record, and will she give a firm commitment about exactly when after meeting the campaign group in September she will be making a decision?
I recognise that this has been a long time in coming—the incident happened of course in 1984. The previous Home Secretary met the campaign group in July last year. Six months later, it came back with the evidence, so we have had that since the end of last year. I have decided that I will look at it over the summer—it is substantial—and will meet the campaign group in September. I will come to a decision as soon as I can after that. I hesitate to say anything firmer than that, but I reassure the hon. Lady that I will come to a decision as soon as I can.
Does the Home Secretary recognise that Orgreave was a scandalous episode that we will not get to the bottom of unless we get to the top of it? That is why many people are suspicious of any possible denial or deferral of a due inquiry.
I know about the concerns that the hon. Gentleman refers to when he says “the top of it” and that is what the IPCC is focused on. It is about looking at the connections between the Hillsborough inquiry that we have already had and Orgreave. I will not shy away from looking carefully at wherever there has been wrongdoing or wherever there are links.
While Orgreave happened many years ago, problems still exist in South Yorkshire police, as the recent peer review identified. I thank the previous Home Secretary and the previous Policing Minister, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), for their help in setting up that peer review and their support for the police and crime commissioner in getting in an interim chief constable and then appointing a permanent chief constable—that was welcome. Will the Home Secretary now commit to support the IPCC in addressing the issue identified by the peer review? Will she also have a look at the role of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary? It has done several reviews of South Yorkshire police in recent years but never identified the issues raised by the peer review.
The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. He is right; we hope that there will be progress under the new leadership. We will carefully follow progress under Dave Jones. My colleague the Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has already said he will be going to visit over the summer, so we are taking seriously the improvements that the new leadership has said that it will make.
The Home Secretary said that she will make a decision in the autumn, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and for Halton (Derek Twigg) and I, as chair of the all-party group on the Hillsborough disaster, spent many hours talking with the Home Secretary’s predecessor and the IPCC to understand the consequences of the decisions being made about that injustice. Will the Home Secretary speak to the Prime Minister about that experience to learn those lessons and will she commit to meeting extensively with Members about the horrific events at Orgreave?
I can certainly give the hon. Lady that commitment. I have already said that I will meet the right hon. Member for Leigh. If any other colleagues would like to join us in that meeting, I will also meet them to ensure that I am fully informed and up to date on the whole issue and the campaign thus far.
It is important that not all police officers are tarred with the same brush on Orgreave. I have heard personal testimony from Greater Manchester police officers saying that they did not co-operate with the corrupt practices of South Yorkshire police during the dispute. How does the Home Secretary suggest that I feed in that evidence?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, which was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) in reference to his father. We must ensure that not everyone is tarred with the same brush—if indeed that is what happens. I will be delighted to receive any information from the hon. Gentleman that would help to reach a decision and that could form part of the inquiry that I am looking at in September.
Order. Presentation of Bill, Geraint Davies—where is the chappie? He is not here. [Hon. Members: He’s behind you! Better late than never.]
UK International Trade and Investment Agreements (Ratification) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Geraint Davies, supported by Sir Edward Leigh, Ms Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, Hywel Williams, Mr Mark Williams, Helen Goodman, Sir Alan Meale, Jonathan Reynolds, Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck, Mark Durkan, Stewart Malcolm McDonald and Stephen Twigg, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to lay bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements before Parliament; to prohibit the implementation of such an agreement without the approval by resolution of each House; to provide a process for the amendment of such agreements, including any arrangements for investor-state dispute settlement, by Parliament; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 28 October, and to be printed (Bill 56).
Perinatal Mental Illness (NHS Family Services) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Rehman Chishti, supported by Norman Lamb, Yasmin Qureshi, Kelly Tolhurst and Tim Loughton, presented a Bill to make provision about the appropriate level of access to NHS services and accommodation for mothers with perinatal mental illness; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 2 December, and to be printed (Bill 57).
Electoral Reform (Proportional Representation and Reduction of Voting Age)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a bill to amend the Representation of the People Acts to provide for the introduction of proportional representation as a method for electing Members of the House of Commons; to reduce the voting age to 16 in all UK elections and referendums; and for connected purposes.
I am introducing this Bill today because our electoral system is broken and we urgently need to address some of the reasons why. As a country, we pride ourselves on our strong commitment to democracy, yet the vast majority of votes cast up and down the land simply do not count. Power is held by a small minority, and the voting system upholds that status quo. We may be on the path to leaving the EU, but all those who were promised they would be given back “control” simply will not have it without meaningful electoral reform.
The current unrepresentative voting system is doing long-term pervasive damage, which manifests itself in phenomena such as a widespread lack of trust and faith in public servants, and the growth of what some have coined, with Orwellian overtones, “post-truth politics”. Far too many of our constituents are disillusioned, disaffected and disengaged, and continuing to deny them a voice in the decisions that affect us all only perpetuates the problems. Yet, that is exactly what happens under our first-past-the-post voting system. It is a system where votes are not all equal, because unless someone lives in one of the small number of heavily targeted marginal seats, their vote simply does not count. The Electoral Reform Society has described the 2015 general election as
“the most disproportionate in electoral history”,
with this Government elected on just 24% of the eligible vote.
First past the post has a long record of failing to deliver Governments who command genuine majority support. In 1997, Labour gained 43.2% of the total votes cast but won 63% of seats at Westminster. In that same election the combined number of votes for the Tories and Liberal Democrats represented 47.5% of the total votes, nearly 4% more than Labour, yet between them they got 32.1% of the seats available at Westminster. No Prime Minister since 1931 has won a majority of the vote to match his or her majority in the Commons—not Blair, not Thatcher, not Attlee.
Moreover, first past the post creates seats so safe that some incumbents are so relaxed as to be almost horizontal. This complacency in MPs is matched by disillusionment among voters. How does it engage people in the political process if large numbers are driven to vote tactically, rather than to vote for what they actually want, because, as so many campaign leaflets are always reminding us, “Party X can’t win in this area”? Interestingly, MPs in safe seats were twice as likely as those with the smallest majorities to be found abusing the expenses system.
In the 1950s, most people simply voted Labour or Conservative, but since then the proportion of people voting for the two main parties has fallen from 97% to 67%. Parties other than the big three received 10% of the votes at the 2005 and 2010 elections, but in 2015 that rose to a staggering 24.9%—nearly a quarter and the biggest share since 1945. In other words, people vote differently now, and we need a voting system that is updated to reflect that.
My Bill would introduce a proportional voting system. There are two main PR systems, but my preference is for the additional member system, because it retains the constituency link, which most MPs value enormously. But I have deliberately not specified which system should be introduced, because it is the principle that I am seeking to establish at this stage. All voting systems have advantages and drawbacks, but none are so mind-bending that the public cannot cope with their complexities, despite what many detractors of PR like to claim. They perhaps forget that voters already manage with a PR system used for the London Assembly and for the Scottish and Welsh Parliament Members, and of course we have the single transferable vote for European elections. That same attitude demonstrates the very lack of respect for voters that adherence to the disproportionate first-past-the-post system perpetuates. Voters are not stupid; they know when they are being spun a line or patronised. It is deeply insulting to be denying them a fair vote on the basis that they would not know how to use it. As an aside, let me say that the fact voters decisively rejected the alternative vote system in 2011 is irrelevant; AV is not PR.
Under PR there is a simple relationship of cause and effect for voters. If they vote for a candidate, they increase his or her chances of getting elected. If they vote for a party, they increase that party’s entitlement to seats. By doing this, they achieve more representation for their views. First past the post does not deliver seats that look like the votes cast, whereas PR does. A winner-takes-all system in which the Conservatives claim to have a mandate based on 37% of the vote and just 24% of the electorate is not sustainable, nor is one in which the Greens quadrupled their share of the vote nationally, to 1.1 million votes in 2015, and got one seat. The UK Independence party polled 3.8 million votes, and although I do not like its policies, it is still not right that it got just one seat. The Scottish National party, whose Members I am glad to call my hon. Friends, polled 1.4 million and won 56 seats. I know that even they would agree that that is a little disproportionate, which is why they are here in such force—I welcome that and am grateful to them. Of course, changing the voting system would not necessarily have changed the overall outcome, but that is not the central point here. The main reason for introducing PR is that making every vote count is a vital part of the process of reconnecting people and politics. I believe that encouraging more people to come out to vote because they know their vote matters would lead to an increased voter turnout.
Some people say that people are not interested in politics, but everyone is interested in the state of their local schools and in whether or not they have a local hospital. Those are political matters. Whatever someone’s take on the recent EU referendum, it demonstrated that if people are given a say, they can be very political indeed, in the best possible sense of the word—as citizens who feel they can be genuine agents for change. I would also anticipate that under PR we would return a Parliament that better reflects modern Britain. Only 29% of MPs are women and although that is more than ever before, it still not right when women make up just over half the country’s adult population. People of colour, disabled people, carers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender—LGBT—people are still under-represented in Parliament. I think that would change under PR, because MPs would not be able just to rely on the votes of their tribe. To win the support of the majority of voters, they would be forced to reach out across the party divides to the wider electorate: to more women, to more black and minority ethnic—BME—communities and so forth. I hope that would mean traditionally excluded groups standing for election, too.
Above all, proportional representation is about fairness, which is why my Bill puts PR hand in hand with giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote. Sixteen-year-olds are considered old enough to enter into marriage and civil partnerships, pay income tax and national insurance, obtain welfare benefits in their own right, and join the armed forces, a political party or a trade union. Surely they should help elect the MPs who make decisions about those very things. About 64% of registered voters aged 18 to 24 went to the polls in the EU referendum, compared with an estimated 52% in the last general election. In other words, increased awareness of voter registration, combined with a vote that actually counts, means that young people come out in large numbers to voice their opinions.
The United Kingdom was one of the first countries in the world to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, but it is now trailing behind countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Austria—unless, of course, you live in Scotland, which has blazed a trail with a more inclusive and equal political system, through giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the independence referendum. Those young people need a say, not just on the future of the Union, but on all the decisions that affect their future. We also need equality between 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland and those in the rest of the UK.
If democracy is about fairly representing the views of the people, our current democratic system is failing. In future, especially with the Government’s planned boundary changes, that could get even worse. PR would bring some much-needed fairness, as well as helping to tackle some of the reasons why people do not vote—the idea that their vote does not make a difference. Just under a month ago, people opted to take back control of our democracy, yet unless we reform the electoral system they will still have virtually no control over who runs the country or represents them in Parliament. Much has rightly been said about the importance of reversing the alienation and neglect felt in many parts of our country, which this EU referendum result laid bare. I believe that electoral reform and votes at 16 have a key role to play in healing the country and bringing it back together. They are a way of demonstrating to people that, yes, every vote they cast is important and, yes, their voice does matter and indeed has been heard.
As we have heard, this Bill would do two things. Reducing the voting age has been repeatedly discussed and rejected by sizeable margins in the Commons in the past 12 months. It was discussed, for example, in multiple stages of both the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill and the European Union Referendum Bill, so I will not rehash all the same arguments here.
The proposed Bill would also change the voting system. Although I acknowledge and respect the energetic commitment and zeal of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for this particular cause, I fear that this Bill may harm our democracy rather than help it—the exact opposite of what she intends to achieve—because we held a referendum on whether to change our voting system in 2011 and, collectively, we voted against change. We decided to keep our tried and trusted first past-the-post system by a hefty margin of more than two to one. Therefore, a proposed Bill that claims to be about improving our democracy starts with a proposal to ignore a very clear democratic decision. The people have spoken, and, by a majority of more than 6 million, they have decided that they want none of this. Some would argue—in fact the hon. Lady did—that the 2011 referendum result should not count; that it asked the wrong question about the alternative vote system, which is not technically a proportional system at all; and that if only they could be allowed to rerun the poll with a slightly different question somehow a completely different result could be achieved.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Order. There is no concept of giving way in respect of exchanges on ten-minute rule motions, a factor of which the right hon. Gentleman with his long experience ought to be aware.
I am happy to pick the matter up with the right hon. Gentleman in the Tea Room afterwards.
Let us ignore, for the moment, the unlikelihood of a 6 million vote majority being overturned by a small change in the question, and just consider for a second the dozens and dozens of different forms of proportional and alternative voting systems. It does not matter whether we are talking about open lists, zipped lists, the D’Hondt method, supplementary votes or transferrable votes, every different version has its own passionate and committed band of dedicated enthusiasts. Some of them are highly reputable organisations and others are lonely obsessives blogging furiously in the privacy of their parents’ spare bedrooms. No matter who they are, it is simply not possible to argue that we should ignore the AV referendum result just because it did not propose precisely their preferred flavour of new voting system. That fundamentally misses the point. Not only did voters reject changing our tried and trusted first-past-the-post system, but they will take a very dim view indeed of the prospect of many further referendums in future as dozens of other organisations queue up to argue that the last poll did not propose precisely their particular favourite voting system and to demand yet another rerun with a slightly different question.
Even worse, this Bill comes at a time when a large proportion of the population is far more concerned about the much more recent EU referendum where there was a narrower—although still decisive—majority verdict. I am not alone in getting hundreds of emails from people who do not like the result of the EU vote and are loudly demanding a rerun, a vote in Parliament, a lawsuit, anything in fact, to change the result. By telling people they can ignore the results of the even more decisive AV referendum in 2011, this Bill would implicitly encourage people to believe that they can ignore the result of the EU referendum too, telling them, in effect, that if they stick their fingers in their ears and sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” loudly enough, Brexit may not actually mean Brexit after all.
Our democracy is already pretty fragile, with trust in politics and politicians, and election turnout, already worryingly low. I cannot think of anything more calculated to stoke the fires of anti-political anger than acting as if the will of the people, clearly expressed in not just one but two separate referendums on different issues, might not be democratically binding or sovereign after all.
So please, Mr Speaker, enough already. This Bill ignores the repeatedly expressed democratic will of Parliament, which has already rejected lowering the voting age many times over the past year, and it ignores a thumping referendum verdict against changing the voting system in 2011 as well. We are about to abolish an entire layer of proportionately elected representatives when we get rid of MEPs as we leave the EU. Now is not the time to replace them with something else. The people have spoken and even though I understand and respect the fact that the answer is not to the hon. Lady’s liking, I urge her please to respect its democratic power and to leave the issue alone for a long, long time.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23).
20 July 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
[6th Allotted Day]
Supported Housing: Benefit
Before I move the motion, I take the opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and members of his team to their posts.
I beg to move,
That this House notes that the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people in specialist housing, including elderly people and people who are homeless, disabled or fleeing domestic violence; believes that this will have harmful effects on current and future tenants of these specialist housing schemes; further notes that there is already a significant shortfall in this type of housing provision across the country; notes that charities, housing associations, councils and others have made Government Ministers aware of the damaging impact these cuts will have on tenants and the financial viability of these schemes and that the Government’s proposal to mitigate these cuts with discretionary housing payments will not compensate for these cuts; notes that the Government’s own evidence review into the impact of its decision, commissioned in December 2015, has yet to be published; notes that the Government has postponed the implementation of these cuts for new tenants to April 2017 but plans to fully roll out its planned cuts to housing benefit in April 2018; and therefore calls on the Government to exempt supported housing from its planned housing benefit cuts and to consult fully with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it.
Six months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) led an Opposition day debate on the Government’s decision to cap housing benefit support for vulnerable people in specialist housing. The decision will affect elderly citizens, our armed forces veterans, those with disabilities, people with learning difficulties and people with mental health problems. It will hit homeless people and it will jeopardise the safety of people fleeing domestic violence.
Following pressure from the Opposition Benches, and concerns raised by Members on the Government Benches, there was an interesting debate last week led by the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). A campaign has been mounted across the country by community groups and housing providers. I was pleased that the Government agreed to delay the implementation of the cap, but I press Ministers now to go one step further. They must reverse their decision to slash housing benefit for a huge range of vulnerable people living in supported housing. What kind of country would we be if we abandoned the most vulnerable in our society? What kind of message will it send, not just to the country and to vulnerable people but to observers around the world, about the priorities of this Government?
What credibility will be left for the outgoing Prime Minister’s repeated assertion that the Government would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest? Unless Ministers reverse that destructive decision, that is precisely what they will be doing. I am willing to give way to the Secretary of State if he is prepared to stand at the Dispatch Box, say that he will reverse the decision and make the announcement that we are all hoping for. To implement that decision would be a damning legacy for the former Prime Minister and a broken promise to those who can least afford it. The decision is not just detrimental to the most vulnerable members of society; in purely financial terms, it makes no sense.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that it is becoming more difficult for people to get housing benefit, and that in some instances, it might not be adequate?
Indeed, that is the case. The groups I originally listed are some of the most vulnerable in society—they are people who should be protected and who require supported housing. If the Government proceed on their intended course, some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people will be further disadvantaged, and the cost to the taxpayer and the Exchequer will be greater.
The Government’s proposal does not make financial sense, and it leaves the providers of supported housing in an invidious position. I know that housing providers—I have met many of them—breathed a collective sigh of relief when the decision to cap support was delayed pending a review, but they are still left in a very precarious position, with the sword of Damocles hanging over the services they provide.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne pointed out in a debate in the House on 27 January, unless the Government reverse this pernicious proposal, 156,000 units of supported and sheltered housing may have to close.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have received a letter from the New Charter housing group, which operates social housing in the Tameside part of my constituency. New Charter hits the nail on the head when it says that, as a result of this proposal, it
“will not have the income to sustain the provision of supported housing”
“will inevitably see the closure of some schemes.”
“Many of these supported and sheltered schemes”
in Tameside will
“become financially unviable”.
Is that not exactly what will happen up and down the country if these cuts continue?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point in a very concise way. [Interruption.] A member of the Government is saying from a sedentary position, “They don’t know,” but the situation is absolutely clear. The point I am trying to make is that housing providers need certainty over their income streams before they can plan for new provision—that is a reasonable point, which I am sure is not beyond the understanding of Ministers with a financial background.
Is it not important to do this review, with housing benefit being rolled into universal credit? There is scaremongering that there are going to be cuts, but people do not actually know what the outcome is going to be, so let us have a constructive discussion during the review and give some certainty to the sector.
With respect, I must point out that Government decisions should be based on evidence. Before embarking on a plan and a policy, it would be sensible to look at the evidence objectively and scientifically. If the hon. Lady wants expert opinion, I am happy to give her that and to quote the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, David Orr, who met the then Housing Minister on 18 December last year. He said—this is an expert in the field—that the impact of the local housing allowance cap will be
“stark and make it extremely difficult for any housing associations to develop new supported housing.”
He also said:
“providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”
There is plenty of evidence of that, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have had representations from housing associations and housing providers.
Does the hon. Gentleman understand that a research project is now looking at this evidence? That conflicts with his motion on the Order Paper, which says:
“the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people”.
That is pure scaremongering.
It is a matter of fact. It is a kind of chicken-and-egg situation: surely you review the evidence before you announce a decision and then put it on hold. I believe the review was started in 2015—perhaps the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—so why are we still waiting for the results? Why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer make an autumn statement that had huge implications for some of the most vulnerable people living in supported housing, without looking at the evidence first?
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way this once, and then I would like to make a little more progress.
I do hope the hon. Gentleman will talk about the 20 years prior to this review, when there was no review. For many years under the Labour Government, there was no review of what was happening with the additional housing benefit for people in supported housing or of how it was being spent. Does he remember that in the last debate on this issue, many people said they did not know where that money was? They did not know how much money was being spent, what it was being spent on or whether it was effective. Are the Government not therefore absolutely right to conduct this review and then to come forward with their proposals? Is he really not just scaremongering?
We have to deal with the position we now find ourselves in. Demand for supported housing has changed and increased dramatically. One million people rely on food banks, which certainly was not the case 10 years ago. We have a huge problem with people suffering from mental health problems and learning difficulties. We have a debt to our armed services personnel—our veterans—many of whom have post-traumatic stress disorder and need supported housing.
There are therefore new factors that we need to take account of, but, if I may be so presumptuous, it is surely the job of the Government to commission the studies. [Interruption.] Well, indeed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne and my noble Friend Lord Beecham—or Jeremy Beecham, as we know him—have tabled a series of questions and got the answer that Ministers do not know. That is a bit of an indictment of Ministers, who are supposed to compile an evidence base on which to make decisions.
Looking again at the advice of professionals, we see that the National Housing Federation estimates that a staggering 80% of the total planned new build will not be built.
The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, but this is—[Interruption.] In practical terms it means that 9,270 specialist homes will not be built—[Interruption.] I will tell the hon. Gentleman why that is, because he is chuntering.
Sorry, the hon. Gentleman is sceptical. The reason is that providers need certainty; without certainty they cannot proceed. Often, they are raising funding for these schemes—I can see the Minister for Housing and Planning nodding in agreement—and they need certainty when going to the market. Where there is uncertainty, they cannot raise the necessary funding. On that basis, as responsible organisations—they are a mixture of local authorities, housing associations, charities, charitable trusts and so on—they cannot reasonably go on to build the supported housing units I think everyone in the House agrees we need.
There is another effect as well. That situation, in turn, has a knock-on effect on the construction industry. The jobs that would have been created, and that I think we all want, will not now happen. This is an important sector, and we should be growing it, not allowing it to contract. At a time when house building outside London remains in the doldrums, that will be another setback for the industry and the economy.
How on earth can Ministers expect supported housing providers to continue, when they know that spending cuts and other policy decisions have already hit people living in supported housing schemes? Supported housing provides vital help for tens of thousands of people across this country. It is mark of a decent, civilised society that services such as this exist in the first place. They play a crucial role in providing a safe and secure home with support so that people can live independently and others can get their lives back on track. As I mentioned, that includes supporting ex-servicemen and women to find a stable home, including those suffering from post-traumatic problems, and with mental health needs and physical disability needs.
I remind the House of the armed forces covenant, which sets out the relationship between the nation, the Government and the armed forces. It recognises that the nation as a whole and this House in particular have a moral obligation—I call it a debt of honour—to members of the armed forces and their families. It establishes how they should expect to be treated and how we should expect to treat them. I am an eternal optimist—I am a Sunderland supporter and we have escaped four times—but if Ministers do not do a U-turn today, they will be breaking that covenant with our veterans and those who have given so much in service to their country.
In addition to ex-servicemen and women, many older people also rely on supported housing to maintain their independence. These elderly citizens have worked all their lives and paid their taxes, only to find in the autumn of their lives that their Government are turning their back on them. Personally, I think that that is morally indefensible and a betrayal of a generation that gave us the welfare state and the national health service.
I know that some of my hon. Friends are going to address the issue of victims of domestic violence, who are another important group. Over time, a number of Members—not just Opposition Members, but Government Members—have raised concerns about the closure of homes for victims of domestic violence. I understand that at least 34 such establishments have closed, and I am advised by housing associations that all eight in my own region are at risk of closure, including that in my own constituency.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about domestic violence refuges, but this Government committed £40 million in the autumn statement for services for victims of domestic abuse, which is a tripling of funding compared with the previous four years. Does he not welcome that?
I welcome the Government’s commitment to providing that specific support, but the problem is that the hostels, establishments and places of safety are disappearing. Places of safety are needed, mostly for women, but also for some men who have suffered violence and threats of death. It would be a terrible indictment of the Government if they allowed such establishments to be closed.
On the £40 million, which has yet to be allocated, and the £10 million gift before the election, the bids for money to be allocated to Refuge were submitted with sustainability plans for the future based on housing benefit at its current rate. The Government signed off on every single one of those plans, but then, dishonestly, went back on them.
I am grateful for that instructive intervention.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for bringing up the important issue of domestic abuse services. I am sure that he will agree with the concerns expressed to me by De Gwynedd Domestic Abuse Service and many other agencies that arrangements for abuse sufferers under the age of 35 when they are moving out of refuges may well put victims at risk.
I completely agree. This is a very real concern that affects the constituencies of Members on both sides of the House. I shudder to think what the consequences will be if these facilities are allowed to close. It would be simple for the Secretary of State to announce from the Dispatch Box that he will do a U-turn on supported housing. The whole House and the country would breathe a sigh of relief if he did that.
Homeless people are another defenceless and vulnerable group who can and do benefit from supported housing. Supported housing for homeless people with complex and multiple needs, such as mental health problems, can help them to make the transition from life on the streets into a settled home. It can help them with education, training, life skills and normal socialisation. It also helps homeless people in desperate circumstances to stabilise their lives, and it can assist them into employment and a stable future. In short, it brings dignity back into homeless people’s lives and enables them to participate fully in society once again. It can also provide huge savings for our criminal justice system.
There has already been a steep rise in rough sleeping since the coalition Government came to power in 2010. That has been caused by a number of factors, not least the combined impact of rising rents, cuts to housing benefit allowances, which have affected younger people in particular, and reductions in services that local authorities can offer to vulnerable people on the brink of homelessness. Unless the Government have a rethink about the housing benefit system, there will be a further rise in homelessness. The inherent cost to the Treasury and society must not be pushed to one side. Are Ministers seriously suggesting that, in the sixth richest economy in the world, this country cannot provide that vital assistance to homeless people?
I have heard Ministers waxing lyrical about the importance of mental health provision, and I absolutely agree with them. It should be a priority and they have said that it must be a higher priority. People with significant mental health needs often have to utilise supported housing—the hon. Member for Waveney made this point in an Adjournment debate last week—to stabilise their lives and live more independently. If the Government’s rhetoric about prioritising mental health means anything, Ministers must not proceed with the plans to slash housing benefit for supported housing.
People with learning disabilities also need supported housing. I declare an interest, because I have an association with Mencap and Golden Lane Housing. In fact, I met the previous Minister, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who is in his place, to discuss some specific points. If Ministers are really serious about helping people with learning disabilities and learning difficulties to maximise their independence and to exercise choice and control over their lives, they cannot possibly countenance these cuts.
I remember that meeting, which made it clear why this review cannot be rushed. Many unique challenges have to be supported through supported housing, and it is right and proper that the Government do not rush this. Crucially, support in the short term remains in place. That view has been echoed by Denise Hatton, the chief executive of the YMCA, who has said:
“It is positive that the Government has listened to the concerns of the sector and we welcome the fact it has taken appropriate action to protect supported housing.”
We cannot rush this, because that is how mistakes will happen.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for the courteous way in which he met the delegation from Mencap. As a basic principle, however, surely we should compile the evidence and assess it before making a decision, but the Government have made an announcement, and that has introduced uncertainty. That is why schemes have been cancelled and why housing providers are giving notice of their intention to close facilities. A basic principle needs to be applied. The amount of time that the review has taken—I think it is of the order of 19 months or so—is another issue. Does it really have to take that long to have an impact study on which the Government can base their policy?
I will make progress because a lot of right hon. and hon. Members want to take part and I do not want to stifle their contributions. In my opening remarks, I said that these cuts make no financial sense. I remind Ministers that the Government’s own Home and Communities Agency has found that supported housing provision has a net positive financial benefit of about £640 million for the UK taxpayer every year. Rather than cutting provision for supported housing, the Government should now expand and improve it. The National Housing Federation has calculated that there is a current shortfall of 15,640 supported housing placements, so there is already considerable pressure on the sector. I have mentioned some of the reasons for that. Local authorities, housing associations, charities and other providers in this sector really want to deliver the supported housing that the people of this country need, but delivering this ambition is virtually impossible because the Government have made the operating environment so uncertain.
Incredibly, in last year’s autumn statement, the then Chancellor introduced the cap on housing benefit to local housing allowance levels without the Government actually knowing what its impact would be. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne highlighted this point when he spoke at this Dispatch Box in January. Before the debate, he had asked Ministers for evidence about the impact of the decision. Specifically, if memory serves, he asked the Minister—
Perhaps I am mistaken and it was one of the Minister’s colleagues.
My right hon. Friend asked how many elderly people, how many women fleeing from domestic violence, how many people with mental health problems and how many young people leaving care would be affected, but, incredibly, the then Minister for Housing and Planning was not able to provide an answer. If the Government do not know how many people in supported housing are in receipt of housing benefit, how can we expect them to make a decision? It is absolutely vital to have such information to hand to make an informed decision. Ministers did not know what a profound impact their decision would have on providers and on the people who depend on these services, and it seems that they still do not know, unless they are just not answering questions on this.
To be fair, Ministers did commission an evidence review, but that was back in January 2015. Even though the review had not reported on its findings at the time of the last autumn statement, the then Chancellor still ploughed on regardless. Six months ago, my right hon. Friend was assured that the review would be ready later this year. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), teased us in the Adjournment debate last week by suggesting that the review would be published imminently.
Did Ministers know what the impact would be when the Chancellor included this decision in his autumn statement? They did not know what the impact of their decision would be—that is for sure—when the issue was debated in this House six months ago. That raises the question: what is happening, and when will we know?
When it comes to making policy, Ministers are old hands at making policy in an evidence-free zone. The use of evidence to develop policy seems to be an alien concept to the Government, but I would have thought it was in the natural order of things. This is something of a travesty. Although the Government’s evidence review seems to have ground to a halt, Ministers cannot claim to be completely ignorant. After all, the providers of supported housing have made their feelings known. I am sure that Ministers—even those in the new ministerial team—have met housing associations, charities and providers. We have met them regularly, and they have made their views absolutely plain.
I have mentioned the views of David Orr. He has said that housing
“providers across the country will be forced to close schemes.”
He has described the difference between supported housing and general needs social housing and explained why rents in supported housing are higher. He has pointed out that
“the uncertainty about the future approach is already leading to supported housing under development being delayed or cancelled because of the long lead times involved in investment and development.”
The hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. He mentioned an “evidence-free zone”, but all I have noted so far from his speech are continual references to David Orr of the National Housing Federation. There are more voices in this industry than his. Is not the process the Government are going through about taking on those voices, and about gathering and discussing the information? There is not therefore an evidence-free zone.
I am grateful to the Minister—[Interruption.] I am sure it is just a matter of time. This is a terribly confusing time.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right that there is a plethora of housing providers. I have met and received evidence from Mencap, Golden Lane Housing, Rethink Mental Illness and Changing Lives, as well as various housing associations, such as North Star and the Durham Aged Mineworkers Homes Association, and the National Housing Federation itself, all of which have raised concerns about supported housing in particular sectors. I have not listed those supporting members of the forces, but there is a similar thread and strand bringing this all together.
Before my hon. Friend finishes his long list, which could possibly be even longer, may I remind him that the YMCA is desperately concerned about these proposals? We should place that concern on the record. I cannot believe anyone in this House wishes to destroy all the good work that the YMCA has undertaken.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out what an important role the YMCA plays in providing supported accommodation for young people, particularly those leaving care and those in the younger age bracket.
It is important that we look at the evidence. I do not think that the sums add up. Ministers seem to be drawn to an evidence-free policy, but surely it should be obvious to them that a local discretionary scheme will not work. Ministers have previously said that discretionary schemes can assist in mitigation, but that does not alleviate the uncertainty. Providers of supported housing need certainty in the rental stream to fund the cost of managing these schemes and to service the loan charges incurred in developing them in the first place. Any reasonable person—let alone a Minister—will know that people cannot rely on a fluctuating income stream to service the cost of a loan. If Ministers persist with this ham-fisted plan—let me call it that—existing supported housing schemes will close, new supported housing schemes will be cancelled and some of the most vulnerable people will be left to fend for themselves.
The new Prime Minister once talked about the Conservative party as the “nasty party”. When she spoke on the steps of No. 10, she said she wanted
“a country that works for everyone”.
The Government have an opportunity today to prove that the Prime Minister meant what she said just seven days ago, but if the newly appointed Ministers refuse to listen to reason and proceed with these callous cuts, they will be demonstrating that the Conservatives have not really changed and truly deserve their label as the “nasty party”. I commend the motion to the House.
It is an unexpected pleasure to be back at this Dispatch Box. I thank the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) for his welcome to me and my new ministerial team. May I say at the outset that I absolutely understand the concerns he has expressed and that have been expressed by other Opposition Members in this and previous debates and, indeed, by Government Members as well? This is clearly a hugely important, sensitive and difficult issue, which is why I welcome this debate.
Before I move on to the principles on which I will take the decision, may I respond very directly to a couple of points made by the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Labour party on these issues? I agree with him that supported housing can and does relieve pressure on other public services. It performs a hugely important job. That is precisely why I am considering very carefully the costs and benefits of supported housing in the round as part of the review that the Government have been conducting.
The hon. Gentleman asked for two things in his speech. First, he asked me to change the policy now. Secondly, he asked us to take the evidence first and then make a decision. I can either take one piece of advice or the other, but I really cannot take both. I have decided to take his second piece of advice: I will look at the evidence first and then take a decision, because that is the rational way to make policy.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned various representations he has received, particularly from the National Housing Federation. I am happy to assure him that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), and Lord Freud met David Orr last week to discuss the precise details that we need to get right.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his post. Is he aware from his briefings that the evidence review started in December 2014? When will it be concluded?
I will, as the right hon. Gentleman would expect as an experienced denizen of this Dispatch Box on this subject, come to that in the course of my speech. This is, as I have said, a complex matter and it is important to get it right.
Let me start by setting out the principles on which I will operate in this area.
It is a great pleasure to welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. He has mentioned David Orr and there are other organisations that have concerns and that take different views on this subject. The Government have been in very active dialogue. Will my right hon. Friend commit to maintaining that dialogue as he goes through the evidence behind this policy?
Absolutely, I will. I am coming up, in a minute, to the six-day anniversary of my occupation of this post, so I apologise if I have not taken all the representations in person yet, but my Ministers and I are certainly trying very hard to do so.
As everyone on both sides of the House knows, the supported housing sector provides important support to a diverse range of groups and individuals across the country. It supports those with learning difficulties, allowing them to live as independently as possible; it provides a safe refuge for those escaping domestic violence; it helps ex-offenders make a successful transition back into mainstream society; and it supports those who have experienced homelessness. The sector helps to transform lives and it allows people to live as independently as possible, to move into work where possible, which is hugely important, and to be safe, healthy and happy. It is a very important sector.
As constituency Members, we all have examples of that kind of support being provided. I have visited the Porchlight project in my constituency, which helps vulnerable and isolated people get support with housing, mental health issues, education and employment. Vital work is done by this sector. From my previous experience in government, I have seen the value of the sector in the criminal justice system. A stable and supportive environment can be the key to reducing reoffending. For example, Stonham BASS provides accommodation for people who have been bailed by the courts or released on home detention curfew after they have served a prison sentence. The service reduces unnecessary imprisonment and the negative effects that it has on family life, employment and housing, and so helps to deter people from reoffending.
I have discussed this matter with Solihull Carers, which has concerns. It understands that this is the first review of these things for 20 years. It also understands that the total bill for housing benefit in this country is some £25 billion, and that it is right that we take our time, explore all the options and try to come to the best resolution.
My hon. Friend is exactly right and the representations he has received are very wise. A huge sum of taxpayers’ money is being spent and it is important to spend it in the right way, not just in the taxpayers’ interest but so that it helps the particularly vulnerable groups that I have referred to as much as possible.
The Government have a strong track record in protecting supported housing. In the last Parliament, we found that many hostels and refuges were treated as “supported exempt accommodation” even though they did not fit the precise technical definition. We acted swiftly to introduce regulations to regularise the position and, vitally, to protect their income streams. We exempted supported housing from the benefit cap. We have continued to meet the housing costs for universal credit claimants through housing benefit. That is hugely important, because it means that providers do not have to adapt processes to accommodate the new arrangements while we work towards a more sustainable funding model that works for all parts of the sector.
I assure the House that I am prepared to listen carefully to the concerns of the supported housing sector regarding the application of local housing allowance rates. I will pray in aid as evidence of the flexibility with which I will approach this issue the written statement about welfare reform that is on the Order Paper today, which the hon. Member for Easington and others may have noticed. It deals with changes that I am making to and flexibilities that I am introducing into the universal credit regime. I hope people will take that as a sign that I am prepared to be as flexible as possible in making sure that these vital welfare policies actually work.
This issue is high on my list of priorities, so I am keen to ensure that the decisions I make do not unduly affect the sustainability of provision, the commissioning of new services or, particularly, the individuals who receive support. It is worth noting that the local housing allowance cap will not affect any benefit recipient until April 2018. My Department is working hard with colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government to resolve this issue. It is better to get this right than to rush to make a decision.
To answer the question from the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) directly, I expect to make an announcement on the way forward in the early autumn. We will spend the summer looking at the evidence and I will make an announcement in the early autumn.
I am grateful for that confirmation, although we have seen other commitments and timescales come and go. We look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State and will hold him to that. May I correct something he said earlier? It will be from April 2017 that new tenancies will then be affected in April 2018, so these changes will come into effect before 2018 and affect people from April 2017 onwards. That is why it is important that he gets to grips with this problem urgently.
There is no disagreement between us. In cash terms, nobody will see their payments change until April 2018. That is what I was referring to. As I said, I expect to make an announcement in the early autumn. I hope that will provide the certainty that the sector is quite reasonably demanding.
Of course we understand that there are higher costs associated with providing supported housing than with providing general needs housing. I recognise the potential impact that this policy could have on the sector and its ability to support vulnerable people. I am also aware that this policy needs to be considered not on its own, but alongside other policies that affect the sector, including the 1% annual rent reduction for social sector tenants in England.
To return to the point about timing, in March, the Minister for Welfare Reform announced an exemption for this sector for one year. I hope that has provided some assurance for providers that nothing will happen precipitately while we complete the evidence review. That exemption, and a similar deferral of the 1% rent reduction, has been welcomed by the sector generally and, in particular, by the much-quoted National Housing Federation. When the deferral was announced, its chief executive said:
“We are pleased that the Government is listening to our concerns and has delayed the application of the LHA cap to people in…supported and sheltered housing.”
He also welcomed the fact
“that there will be a full strategic review into how these services are funded and we will contribute fully to that review.”
I am very grateful to the NHF for making that commitment. It is doing so and will continue to do so until we find a solution.
We require a solution that is flexible enough to meet the needs of service users and providers while remaining affordable for the taxpayer and delivering value for money. We have been working with and listening not just to providers of supported housing and umbrella bodies—the NHF and the Local Government Association—but to individual local authorities and other local commissioners, as well as to those who represent the vulnerable groups who live in supported housing. We have of course also consulted the Welsh and Scottish Governments about the implications for them. That extensive dialogue has been crucial in shaping our thinking on this important issue. I want to continue that exchange of information and ideas.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post. As part of the solution he mentions, will he look at the perceived barrier preventing people who benefit from this kind of accommodation from getting back into work? People I have met in these kinds of facilities locally feel that they cannot earn enough to be able to pay back the effective £250 a week cost of the accommodation.
My hon. Friend makes a profound point, not just about this specific issue but about, in essence, a huge amount of the work of my Department. Enabling people who are not in work to get back to work in some form is not only the best thing for the public purse but—absolutely and most importantly—almost always the best thing for them as well. For many of the people in the vulnerable groups we are talking about it will be especially valuable. Making sure that we come to a solution that contributes to that is absolutely vital.
I add my voice to the chorus of welcome to the right hon. Gentleman. He mentioned consultation with Cardiff and Edinburgh. Northern Ireland tends to get forgotten from time to time. Does this proposal have any relevance for Northern Ireland, and if so what consultation is taking place? I can speak slowly if he wishes to consult his colleague.
My understanding is that the matter is completely devolved to Northern Ireland, but if I have misled the House and so the hon. Gentleman I will write to him to correct myself. It is also conceivable that when the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), winds up the debate she may be wiser and better informed than me on that issue. It has been known for junior Ministers at the end of debates to be much better informed than their Secretary of State was at the start—we have all been there.
As has been said, my Department has commissioned an evidence review to look at the shape, scale and cost of the sector. Reform of the funding model was already being considered as worth doing in its own right, on its own merits, long before the LHA cap policy was announced in the last autumn statement. The point has been well made by several hon. Members that this is the first full review of the provision for 20 years, so getting it right is quite important. As I have said, the review is in its final stages, and has already provided some valuable insights that I look forward to sharing with the House once the findings have been confirmed and tested.
The evidence review, discussions with the sector and the policy review undertaken by Government have all made it clear to me that, to fulfil our obligations to those people who rely on such accommodation and support, we must ensure four things. First, there must be appropriate funding to continue to support vulnerable people and sustain this vital sector. Secondly, the accommodation must deliver value for money for both the taxpayer and the individual being supported. Thirdly, those living in supported housing must receive high-quality outcomes and focused care and support. Fourthly, costs must be controlled. We cannot let the welfare bill get out of control. It is important that only those individuals who truly require the provision are able to access it, and that that provision matches genuine local need.
It is clear from the work undertaken so far that although the sector is delivering exemplary services and support in many places, the current system does not deliver on all those objectives. There are genuine problems that need to be addressed. The reformed model that we will produce later this year needs to do more to ensure that value for money is sought by service commissioners and demonstrated by providers. Vitally, I want more focus on the quality of provision and individual outcomes for those who obtain the provision. That is an important next step for the sector.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would like to rephrase what he has just said. In my experience, the voluntary sector has been producing outcomes data better than any Department for the past 10 years. If local government, or even national Government, were ever expected to get either the quantitative or qualitative data I used to have to get when I worked in refuge, you would fall apart immediately.
Order. I would not fall apart, and nor would the Chair. I am quite sure the hon. Lady knew where she was really directing her remarks.
I am happy to be reassured on that; in no circumstances that I can envisage would you ever fall apart, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Lady actually made a profound point. The voluntary sector often provides services better than the state, at either local or national level. One central purpose of many of this Government’s policies is to harness the energy, ability and innovation of the voluntary sector precisely to provide services that might otherwise be provided less well by the state. My point was that, on the evidence I have seen so far, although it is true that some provision is absolutely excellent, it is also true that some falls well short, so it is sensible for Government to try to establish whether the way in which the sector is supported contributes to that situation. We want to build on existing examples to ensure more consistency in quality and value for money across the country. Nothing in that would cause any division in the House.
I understand the urgency of this matter. I have committed to making an announcement early in the autumn setting out the Government’s views on what the future funding solution should look like. That announcement will also set out plans for working with the sector and other key stakeholders to ensure a safe transition to the new model.
Does my right hon. Friend consider that he might also want to look at the cost of utility bills when it comes to supporting people who live in supported housing? That issue is part of the whole benefits story.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. That will certainly be fed into the review of the evidence that is now coming to an end. Between now and then I will continue to work with colleagues across Whitehall and with the sector to make sure we get right the detail underpinning the objectives I have just set out. Doing so will ensure reforms that are effective and proportionate. I believe that by working constructively with the sector we will come to a solution that is workable and deliverable, and that, most importantly, provides the best support possible to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
I welcome this debate. It is perfectly reasonable and sensible for the Opposition to have called it, and I am keen to hear views from across the House and from those in the sector who I know will have urged Members on both sides of the House to raise their concerns today. The sector is very diverse and its needs very broad, so the more input and thought that go into developing a solution, the better the outcomes will be for all. We need to get this right. I am determined to do so, and we will. I invite the House to reject the motion before it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. It will be obvious to the House that a great many people wish to contribute to the debate and only limited time is available. After the spokesman for the Scottish National party has spoken, there will be a limit of five minutes on Back-Bench speeches.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his place. The SNP will continue to give him a hard time as much as we can.
I am glad to respond to this debate on behalf of the SNP and supported housing providers and clients in Scotland, who are deeply worried about what the future holds. Supported housing projects provide a range of people with vital support, which saves the Government money in hospital beds, prisons, and resolving homelessness. As the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) made clear in an Adjournment debate last Tuesday, a wide range of service provision is under threat due to continued uncertainty over this policy.
I am appalled that the people supported by this sector are being put at risk by the lackadaisical, “speak now, figure it out later” attitude that this Government take to social security. Supported housing covers a range of different housing types, including group homes, hostels, refuges, supported living complexes, and sheltered housing. Those schemes are designed to meet the needs of particular client groups, such as people with mental health issues, learning or physical disabilities, addiction issues, victims and women at risk of domestic violence, ex-service veterans, teenage parents, ex-offenders, or older people.
On Monday 13 June, the Communities and Local Government Committee heard evidence from Peter Searle, director of working age benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions, who told the Committee categorically that
“the intention is to publish the evidence review and policy conclusions before the summer recess.”
More than a month has now passed, but we are no clearer on that. The Secretary of State says that it will happen in the autumn, but I remind him that the Government’s autumn statement last year ended up appearing in November, so I would like more clarity on when those conclusions will be published. I appreciate that the work is complex, but the Government have had a long time to figure it out. I am certain that many housing providers in the sector will have told the Government in a matter of days what they require, and the review has already taken far too long. I hope that the Government will not sneak out a statement on the matter on Thursday when MPs will have limited time to digest it before the House rises for the recess, and I seek confirmation on that.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations told me that the
“proposals for the capping of housing benefit for social housing including supported housing to local Housing Allowance (LHA) maxima will, as they stand, have a catastrophic effect on provision”.
The SFHA is not mincing its words, and it warns that should the cap proceed, most provision of supported housing will be shut down or reduced in scope, future development will be cancelled or mothballed, and—most worryingly of all—tenants of supported housing and their families and carers will find it difficult to plan for the future. If those services go, there are very few options for people who depend on the support they offer.
In Scotland we are limited as to what we can do about the LHA cap. We have already spent in the region of £100 million mitigating the bedroom tax, until we are able to abolish it. The welfare powers that the Scottish Parliament is receiving do not extend to changing the rules on local housing allowance. As one would expect, the Scottish Government have also condemned that delay and uncertainty, with the then Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners Rights, Alex Neil MSP, calling back in February for an end to the “unacceptable state of uncertainty”. That was five months ago, yet today we are no further forward.
Let me provide some illustrations of the types of services currently at risk. The Blue Triangle project in Glasgow city centre provides supported accommodation for young people who are at risk of homelessness. The young people I met just before Christmas told me that they hugely valued the support and advice that they were given by staff on that project. One young man told me that his family situation had deteriorated, and he had found himself on the street. He fell in with a crowd who he thought were his friends, but he woke up in the street having been assaulted and robbed. He felt incredibly vulnerable, and had it not been for the service provided by Blue Triangle, he feared that he would not have survived that experience. Such a service does not come cheap, and the young people that it deals with need to be built up—they need help, and tailored support to develop their skills and get their lives back on track. The flats are based in the city centre, which is important in making the service easy to access, but that accommodation costs Blue Triangle significantly more in rent. The building must also be kept safe and secure. Flats need to be refurbished regularly due to the turnover of tenants, and the quality of those flats is important to give tenants a sense of dignity and self-worth. All that is put at risk by continued uncertainty.
The current LHA shared accommodation rate in Glasgow for those under 35 is £68.28, but rent for Blue Triangle’s accommodation is £341.44 per week—a £273.16 shortfall. For the service over a year, that results in a gap of £355,108. For young people who have nowhere else to go, that service is vital. The limit that the Government want to put on housing benefit for young people would leave them unable to afford accommodation of their own.
The ARCH resettlement service in Bridgeton is a vital service in my constituency. It provides support to men coming out of prison, and those who are homeless or in a range of other circumstances. When I visited recently, I met Donald, who had been affected by a stroke and needed help and support to get back to health. He has lived at the ARCH for around 10 months, and he was excited about taking on a supported tenancy in a nearby scatter flat that is owned by the ARCH Move On service. That seamless service allows people to move on when they feel able and ready to continue with some support. I do not know where Donald would have gone if not for the ARCH, but his pride in what he had overcome, with the help of the staff, and in what he had achieved through the help and support of that service, shone from his face. Donald and others like him need to know what the future holds for that kind of supported accommodation. Importantly, Donald was allowed to stay in that accommodation until he felt ready to move on. If we move people on before they are ready, in order to meet some kind of tick-box target, most people will fail and end up back in some other system, which costs us all more money.
Women fleeing domestic violence need to know that life-saving refuge services provided by women’s aid organisations across the UK will continue—I hope that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will speak about that later from her expertise. Those services do not often shout about what they do, as understandably a lot of secrecy and privacy is needed to protect the women and children they support. However, if such services did not exist, women and children would be in situations of grave danger.
In a letter to Lord Freud, Minister of State for Welfare Reform, Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid indicated that the limit on housing benefit will have a “devastating impact”. That organisation has provided some examples of the impact that the LHA cap will have, and stated:
“In one rural area, introducing a cap linked to the LHA rate would result in an annual loss of £5,800 for a 2 bedroom refuge flat. In another urban area the annual loss for a 1 bedroom refuge flat is £7,100. In another semi-urban area the loss on a 3 bedroom refuge is £11,600 per year. In each case this financial cost will be multiplied by the number of refuge spaces provided.”
It is clear that such losses will make the service unsustainable, and they will close.
The letter from Scottish Women’s Aid to Lord Freud also mentioned the shared accommodation rate for those under 35:
“The proposed introduction of the under 35s shared accommodation rate to social rented housing also places women under the age of 35 at much greater risk of further abuse. If women under the age of 35 are unable to access refuge accommodation or move into their own tenancy because of a restriction on their entitlement to housing benefit, this effectively prevents them from leaving an abusive partner. In 2014-15, the 26-30 years old age group had the highest incident rate of domestic abuse recorded by the Police in Scotland. Women in this age group clearly have a significant need for domestic abuse support services—including refuge accommodation.”
It seems clear that the Government have little understanding of the impact of their policies on women, and particularly on women suffering from domestic violence and coercive control. Those policies are in addition to the two-child policy and the rape clause in tax credits, and the single household payment in universal credit. Such measures limit women’s options and put them at risk. The statement that the Secretary of State referred to gives me no reassurance that those aspects regarding the vulnerability of women in the welfare system have been addressed, and I seek further clarity and detail from Ministers on that.
In Scotland, refuges are sublet to women’s aid organisations from local authorities and housing associations, and funded by local and national Government. They are a crucial part of Scotland’s leading “Equally Safe” strategy to protect women and girls. The UK Government are undermining that significant work. We now have a female Prime Minister who claims to be a feminist. She needs to take note, as does her utterly gormless and heartless Welfare Reform Minister, who is unaccountable to this House.
I know that the hon. Lady does a huge amount of important work in this area, but the Government have trebled the funding for women’s refuges. The discretionary housing payment now stands at £870 million in this Parliament, and it is delivered with flexibility—working with the police, social services and medical professionals to provide the best support for the people being highlighted.
The Government giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other. That is not good enough. It has also been made absolutely clear by women’s organisations, and a range of other organisations in the sector, that the discretionary housing payments are not enough to guarantee the certainty and future of these services. They are discretionary. That means that they are not part of the funding package; they are at the discretion of those providing that payment. That is not good enough. There needs to be greater certainty.
The Government need to make sure that the infrastructure to protect women and children is not dismantled under this supposedly feminist new Prime Minister. On her watch, these services must be guaranteed with a sound and solid future, because women’s lives depend on it.
I am still not reassured by the language of the Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) at the Dispatch Box last Tuesday night. He said:
“we must also ensure that funding for supported housing is efficient, workable, transparent and sustainable, so that it delivers a secure, quality service that provides for those who need it and makes the best use of the money available”
“Services must be outcomes-focused, accountable, planned and responsive to individual and local needs.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 272.]
That suggests to me an element of a box-ticking exercise for these services. I caution that there are very varied support needs among those accessing supported accommodation. That must be reflected whatever the outcome of the review. A woman with children fleeing from a life of abuse and coercive control does not have the same needs as an elderly man moving into sheltered accommodation or a young person recovering from a stroke. We must be mindful of the needs of each person. When we talk about outcomes, it cannot just be that they move on after six months. As I mentioned earlier with the case of Donald, we are dealing with people who have very complex needs. They must be allowed to stay in that accommodation until such time as they are able to move on. If they are unable to move on and we push them out of that accommodation before time, they will end up on the streets or in prison. They will be very, very vulnerable.
I urge the Government to take the widest possible interpretation of value for money as regards these services. I am deeply concerned by the proposed changes. I have only scratched the surface of the impact of the LHA cap. I am sure that other speakers this afternoon will elaborate on that. Those who depend on accommodation for the elderly, services for those with learning or physical impairments, services for ex-service personnel, or any other type of supported accommodation and the support it provides, will be exceptionally vulnerable without them. Attending to their needs outwith specialist supported accommodation could mean hospital stays that cost about £530 per night or prison, which costs about £194,000 per year, not to mention the huge societal cost we all bear from the loss of those people’s potential. They can live life with a great degree of independence when they receive the right support and this type of accommodation. We need to think long term and invest in these services, and invest in preventive spend. Supported accommodation can save lives and it can turn lives around. The Government must recognise that and ensure the future of supported accommodation.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate, which follows on from the Adjournment debate I led last Tuesday. This debate provides an opportunity to re-emphasise, this time to the new team at the Department for Work and Pensions, the vital importance of putting the funding of supported housing on a sustainable long-term footing as soon as possible. It is absolutely essential that we do this, so as to not to let down a very vulnerable group of people, whether they are elderly, young, have a physical disability, have suffered domestic violence or face mental health challenges.
Credit is due to the Government for carrying out the first evidence-based review of the sector for 20 years and for consulting far and wide. I welcome the fact that they have accepted the need for a long-term sustainable solution and not just a short-term sticking plaster, and that they will work with and listen to stakeholders to develop a viable and sustainable funding regime. My intention is to be helpful and not hostile, but I have to say that the feedback I am receiving is that those involved in supported housing are very worried about the future. The whole sector is at present in limbo and there is a policy vacuum that must be filled.
The one-year exemption for supported housing, from the 1% rent reduction for social housing landlords and the one-year delay in applying local housing allowance caps to residents in supported housing, provides some breathing space, but the clock is ticking down to April 2017 when this one-year grace period expires. It is important to have new policies in place well before then, so as to remove worries about the viability of existing schemes and to act as a catalyst for attracting much-needed new investment into the sector. In the past three months, I have received representations, had meetings and visited a wide variety of organisations, national and local. They are all very concerned about the sector’s future. The depth and breadth of this worry emphasises the importance of putting in place a sustainable framework as soon as possible.
The prospect of the local housing allowance cap being applied to residents in supported housing after the one-year delay is causing considerable unease and concern. The cap undermines several pieces of legislation introduced in recent years including specified accommodation and the transforming care programme. In framing their proposals, it is absolutely vital that the Government have in mind the needs of those charities, housing associations and social investors, which are already active and doing great work in the sector, and those looking to get involved. There is an enormous amount of goodwill and capital waiting in the wings for a framework to be put in place, which will enable these social entrepreneurs to step up to the plate and carry out projects that will bring great benefits to many.
I shall be voting with the Government this afternoon, as I believe that it is fair to give the new team a chance to come up with a just and sustainable long-term strategy. I sense from what the Secretary of State has said that there is a real determination and desire to do that. There is a lot of work for them to do, but a lot of good ideas have been put forward, including by the National Housing Federation. It has made proposals, as has the Home Group. The latter has correctly identified the need for a new funding mechanism to be designed in such a way that it can be run by devolved Administrations.
I urge the Government to consider these proposals very, very carefully. I look forward to hearing from the Secretary of State when he returns to the Dispatch Box in the autumn with his recommendations for the Chamber to consider and debate. It is vital that we get this right. We owe it to a very vulnerable group of people.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous). He came to my Westminster Hall debate on this subject way back in March when the Government report was imminent, and he held his own Adjournment debate on this topic, which I attended, on the Floor of the House last week. It is not for want of raising the issue that we remain where we are today.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) to his new responsibilities and thank him for the way in which he has set out the Labour party’s case in what is Labour party debating time.
I welcome, too, the new Secretary of State to his new responsibilities. I think the worst thing I can say about him is that I actually do have confidence in him. I welcome the way he responded to the questions raised by my hon. Friend. In particular, I thank him for recognising firmly, from the Government Dispatch Box, the knock-on effects in this policy area. The introduction of the cap—I accept that the Government have postponed it for a year to provide a pause for further reflection— would have a profound impact on the Ministry of Justice, which he knows well, the Home Office, the police service, the ambulance service and the national health service.
Just about every point that could be made in this debate has been made in the last few months, but this point, in particular, has profound consequences, given the interventions that flow when the police pick up somebody who is incapable of looking after themselves or who is lonely, bewildered and without a supported home. They might be picked up by the health service, but the health service can offer no long-term solution to what is really a social care problem.
It seems to me that the Secretary of State is at the head of a difficult demarcation dispute over who should pay for the care element implicit in social housing—housing benefit certainly covers the housing element but also covers a care element. I understand his point about public funds and ensuring value for the public purse—I have no quarrel with that; the Government should always have a care for the quality of public spend—but in all the debates I have attended, not a single Conservative, Scottish National or Labour Member has raised an example of professional tax eating or anything close to it.
The projects that we have visited deal with elderly people who need a care element; individuals who have drug and alcohol problems but are not managing on their difficult path towards rehabilitation; children and young people who have care needs and should not be abandoned to the outside world, red in tooth and claw; people with physical and, even more, mental disabilities who can get by in the world with a bit of care, help and direction; people with learning disabilities; people who are estranged and having difficulty resettling into modern life; and homeless people who need assistance taking up and finding their way through the education and training schemes funded by the Department as well as the employment opportunities it works so hard to get people into.
Members from across the House have also raised the plight of women fleeing violence, terrified and in need of accommodation where they feel physically safe. Sure, housing benefit can provide the housing element, but, in all humanity, there is a need for care and support and for somebody to say to someone fleeing violence, “We’re on your side and we’re here to help you.” I hope that the Secretary of State will respond to that case over the next few months.
I pay tribute to the fantastic new team who will be responding to this debate and to the shadow Minister, whom I met in a former role and who demonstrated a real concern in this area. He was proactive in putting forward a powerful case, and one that I hope the Government will continue to listen to.
I welcome the tone of the new Secretary of State’s response. This is an incredibly complex area. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in society, and instinctively we want certainty. Clearly, that is a very powerful argument. If we could provide certainty, there would be much rejoicing, but sometimes we can be just too quick. This is such a complicated issue. I have visited many different organisations, charities and providers that do a wonderful job, but each and every one is unique in how it tackles the challenges around providing the right level of support and opportunities.
We cannot rush this; we have to get it right, because, otherwise, through unintended consequences, some of the most vulnerable people in society will pay the price of our rushing for the sake of an easy headline. I am encouraged that the team will do that and will engage with stakeholders, many of which have huge experience and very talented policy teams who come and helpfully spell out the best ways to proceed. By not rushing the decision, we can enable them genuinely to shape and influence what the Government do. It is not unreasonable for us to wait till the autumn for further details.
The Government have a proud record in this area. We currently spend about £50 billion supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions—an increase of £3 billion. Two hundred people a week are getting into work and coming off housing benefit. They are benefiting from the growing economy and rising wages. Our changes to housing benefit rules are saving approximately £2 billion, and let us not forget that more than 1 million social sector tenants will benefit from the 1% reduction in rents—they cannot be forgotten in this discussion.
People are typically spending seven months less in temporary housing accommodation. Our changes to the spare room subsidy have seen the waiting list go from 1.7 million to 1.2 million. I remember the anger in the Chamber during the urgent question that I faced and in many similar debates, but all too often families in inappropriate accommodation and on the housing waiting list are left looking enviously at people whose children have grown up and left home. It is right that we never forget them.
The increase in funding for the discretionary housing payment of £870 million over the Parliament will allow the flexibility to work with agencies such as the police, social services and medical professionals; and all that will be underlined by the public sector equality duty. We need also to recognise the importance of devolution and how in different towns and communities there are different challenges and opportunities. We have committed £400 million for the delivery of 8,000 specialist homes specifically for vulnerable and elderly people and those with disabilities. There has been a 79% increase in the disability facilities grant, meaning that the funding has gone from £220 million to £394 million, which will help an additional 40,000 people; and £500 million has been set aside to tackle homelessness during this Parliament.
The key is that we recognise in the review the further opportunities for joined-up working. We set the ball rolling with the joint work and health unit, using the brightest people in the DWP and the Department of Health and looking at what opportunities are available. I have seen those at first hand. I have visited Foxes Academy, a former hotel in Bridgwater, which, for the first two years, supports young adults with learning disabilities progressively to improve their independent living opportunities. It also works with local employers to create real, tangible job outcomes. In this country, if someone has a learning disability, they typically have a 6% chance of a meaningful career, yet through its supported housing and independent living and training provision, 80% of its students find a career. That should not be best practice or simply happening in isolation; it should be an absolute given. It is right, therefore, that we take the time to talk to the huge range of experts out there. In my own constituency, I saw Voyage Care, and in Cheltenham the Leonard Cheshire homes, where there is a focus on quality of life, providing entertainment and supporting people in any way possible to give them the things that we take for granted.
I finish with a plea. The welcome introduction of the national living wage impacts on a huge number of staff providing this vital care. We need to make sure that the funding is in place so that we continue to get the best staff into these jobs.
Before we continue with the debate, I have to announce the results of today’s two deferred Divisions. In respect of the motion relating to atomic energy and radioactive substances, the Ayes were 312 and the Noes were 56, so the Question was agreed to. In respect of the motion relating to climate change, the Ayes were 310 and the Noes were 206, so the Question was agreed to.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
I will keep my remarks to a minimum, because I did not intend to speak in the debate. It was only when I looked at the list of people potentially impacted by these decisions that I felt I had to come along and speak. I came into this place, like many others on both sides of the House, to protect the most vulnerable in our society. It is a key role of Government to ensure that, as we move forward together, nobody gets left behind. That is why it is so important that we address the issue of supported housing and the people who live in it.
I accept entirely that there needs to be a review, but this has gone on too long. It is 19 months now. We keep getting told that the Government will make a decision—in the spring, in the autumn—and in the meantime future provision is not being built, because of the uncertainty, while that uncertainty also makes existing provision a little less sustainable. We need to think about the people who are going to be affected—often older people. I have had a look at how some of these provisions work in my constituency. My father was very ill; unfortunately, he died and we did not need the provision. When I looked at it, though, it was really good provision, enabling people to close their own doors in their flats when they needed to—as do we all on occasions—but they and their families knew that they were safe and they were not lonely. That is really important to older people.
This sort of housing includes homelessness hostels. Quite honestly, there are enough people sleeping on our streets, so surely we would never want to make it even harder for people to get access to those hostels. Specialist provision for people with mental illnesses and learning difficulties is also relevant, and I have seen some examples in my own constituency. For example, I encountered a young man of 40 who was quadriplegic and had cerebral palsy. He had to go into respite because his father had been diagnosed with incurable cancer. He took the decision to remain there. He told me that he loved his mum and dad, but that this was the first time in his life that he had been the adult and not the child. I saw what a difference this made to that young man’s friendships, to his family and to his perspective on life.
Supported accommodation is provided for former members of the armed forces— people who have served this country and given everything for our security. I cannot believe that we are even contemplating making it that much harder for them to access the specialist housing support that some of them need. Even the thought of such a proposal shames me, and I think it would shame this entire House if we were to proceed down that route.
There is also specialist accommodation and refuges for victims of domestic violence. I worked in a London local authority as head of education, and we established a crisis team to help primary schools and primary children in crisis. We met every week and had at least 10 child cases every week. In 100% of those cases over two years, domestic violence was a feature. I think it is shameful; it is the hidden scourge of this country. We should talk about it more. The very idea of making it a little harder for those sorts of people to have a bit of security and a place of safety pays no credit to any of us. All those people have one thing in common: life happened to them; they did not do this themselves. We are all going to get older; we have all got older parents; we are all going to need this sort of thing in the future.
A number of principles have emerged from today’s debate. Clearly, it is going to be a huge expense if these provisions become unsustainable. It is going to cost the health service; it will cost the legal service; it will cost our prison service. It will be picked up by the public purse. It will cost a hell of a lot more, but it will be nowhere near as good as the provision we have now. We all recognise that Ministers need to look at the position quickly and make a decision. These provisions need to be sustained; they should be there for the people who need them. Frankly, these are the most vulnerable people in our society, whom all of us came to this place to support. Let us not be part of the problem for these people; let us be part of the solution.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and it is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass).
Let me start by saying how disappointed I am by the wording of the Opposition motion. Supported housing is such an important issue that prejudging the outcome of the review, with words that are inaccurate at best and aimed at scaring vulnerable people at worst, is just plain wrong. It is wrong to say
“that the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people in specialist housing”,
when what is happening in reality is that a review of supported housing is taking place, and that while that review is taking place, supported housing is exempt from housing benefit changes and exempt from rent reduction changes that are coming in for general needs housing.
Opposition Members do not have a monopoly of being supporters of supported housing. I have seen at first hand the difference that such housing can make to people’s lives. As a board member of BHT Sussex, I saw teams on the ground that were supporting people who were going through rehab for alcohol and drug addiction. The supported housing they were provided with not only turned their lives around, but gave them their independence and gave their families their lives back too. Having that supported housing with the input of specialist staff helping to get them clean makes such a difference. It is indeed life changing.
I have seen from my time as a local council cabinet member for housing how sheltered housing with specialist help allowed older people to live independent, healthier lives, which is a view shared by the much proclaimed National Housing Federation as well as the Homes and Communities Agency. In fact, the HCA found that supported housing provision has a net positive benefit of £640 million for UK taxpayers because it reduces hospital admissions, speeds up discharges and improves health outcomes.
Supported housing can transform the lives of young people, too. In my constituency, the Newhaven Foyer is there for young people who have probably had the worst start in life that could be imagined. These are young people whose families have either put them in care or are no longer around to support them. They live in very challenging times, and many have been excluded from school. Being in supported housing means that they not only have a roof over their heads, but that for the first time many of them feel that they have some stability. They have someone there who will make sure that they get up in the morning and go to college or to work, someone who will teach them how to cook and how to maintain a tenancy, and someone who helps them to budget so that when they leave the foyer, they can start an independent life.
I attended one of the Saturday coffee mornings at the Newhaven Foyer and met a young person who told me that if it were not for the foyer, she would actively go out and commit crime to get into prison so that she could have a roof over her head and a hot meal every day. That is the difference that supported housing can make; it transforms lives.
I welcome this review, but the fear—real or unreal—of potential housing allowance caps being applied to residents in supported housing or of the application of the 1% rent reduction is causing unease in the sector. If these were to happen, it would create doubt in the sector about building new provision. As a country, we cannot afford not to provide the extra support that goes with keeping an elderly person living in sheltered housing or a young care leaver or a person going through rehab as a recovering alcoholic or ex-drug addict.
I am optimistic that we will find a solution. I believe that the reply to the Adjournment debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) by the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), was excellent. He said he saw
“a very positive future where high quality supported housing is there to provide the right support at the right time”.—[Official Report, 12 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 272WH.]
I urge Ministers to ensure not only that funding is secured for supported housing, but that we reach a timely conclusion when the results of the review are revealed.
This has been a wasted opportunity. If this debate had been about supported housing and the available options to be fed into the review, I might have been able to support the motion. It has, however, provided an opportunity for scaremongering, so I shall vote against it.
I am pleased to speak in this debate, and pleased that this has been selected as a topic by the Opposition Front-Bench team.
The planned local housing allowance cap is a real concern for many of my constituents, and I have been contacted by Nottingham City Homes, by Nottingham Community Housing Association and by Framework on behalf of their tenants. Supported housing provides essential accommodation for people who need it. It is already more cost-effective than the alternatives of nursing homes, care homes or hospital beds, and it is far better than people trying to live independently without the support that makes it possible.
The Government’s plans will force the closure of tens of thousands of supported homes for vulnerable and older people. In Nottingham, there are 3,491 supported living bed spaces, with 2,393 spaces for older people. Nick Murphy, chief executive of Nottingham City Homes, told me:
“We are worried about some of our older residents whose combined rent and service charges takes them above the Local Housing Allowance threshold. The limits take no account whatsoever of the cost of housing management services that we provide to keep our tenants living independently.”
City Homes has estimated that tenants will be capped in 20% of its supported living schemes, totalling 380 properties. The weekly shortfalls in housing benefit will be between £5 and £21, and 102 of the tenants in those schemes to be capped are over 80 years old.
The Government tell us that the driver behind much of the so-called welfare reform programme is to get people into work, but these are not people who can easily go out and get a job. Providers tell me that poverty or rent arrears are more likely outcomes, and that for some there is a risk that they will move into more expensive care homes, which will actually place a greater burden on already overstretched public sector budgets. Sheltered housing for older people is not just good value for money; it allows people to live independently and with dignity. Demographic projections point in only one direction, but the uncertainty surrounding the future funding of such accommodation is now preventing much needed new developments from going ahead.
In May, I went to see the work that Nottingham Community housing association does for some of my most vulnerable constituents. Stephanie Lodge offers accommodation to adults who need a short period of intensive support after a stay in a psychiatric ward. It is a unique and innovative service. Not only does it enable people to rebuild their lives in the community, but it is financially sustainable. Residents pay a weekly rent of £185; support costs vary, but the average is £396 per person per week. Rethink Mental Illness estimates that it costs £350 per day to support someone in a psychiatric in-patient bed. Stephanie Lodge is not only cost-effective, but gives vulnerable people an opportunity to live in the community with the right support, in some cases for the first time in their lives.
Framework housing association has also contacted me expressing concern about the Government’s proposals. It is dedicated to helping homeless people, preventing homelessness, and promoting opportunities for vulnerable and excluded people. Andrew Redfern, its chief executive, told me:
“In a nutshell, it means that most—if not all—of existing supported housing will cease to be viable from April 2018.”
At a time when single homelessness and rough sleeping are rising fast, that is very serious. We must contemplate a situation in which thousands of people at risk of homelessness, some of whom have multiple and complex needs, will simply have nowhere to go. There will also be a negative impact on rates of hospital discharge and prison resettlement, on care leavers, on survivors of domestic abuse, and on the transforming care programme. Framework is especially concerned about the fact that we have already lost services following the demise of the Supporting People programme, but that is nothing to what will happen in April 2018 if these proposals go ahead.
Of the 1,200 supported housing units currently provided by Framework for people with mental health, alcohol and substance-related problems in Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire, fewer than 150 will remain, and that will have an impact on people with real needs. I heard from a service user who said that she had been in genuine crisis and had even nearly lost her life, but that, thanks to Framework, she had managed to turn her life around.
I ask the Minister to listen. If she would like to join me in visiting any of the excellent services in my constituency, I should be delighted to take her to see the invaluable work that they do. The Government must rethink their proposals, rather than seeking to target those who are least able to bear the burden.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) has already pointed out, we should not be having a debate on this subject today. It is only right and proper for the review that the debate is all about to be allowed to run its course and to be conducted properly, even if that takes some time. I know that Opposition Members do not like the concept, but in my opinion it is the best approach for long-term stability in the sector.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I want to make some progress.
Too often, we view one cost in isolation, and we often view one policy in isolation as well. Two Departments are working together on this policy, which I think is definitely the right approach, but we need to do even more of that joined-up policy making. Yesterday, NHS England published its implementation plan for the mental health five year forward view. The costs of mental ill health—to the individuals concerned, their families or carers, the NHS, and society more widely—are huge. It is not uncommon for mental health problems to result in homelessness, and a subsequent need for supported housing to put people back on track.
A great example of supported housing working well is the Canaan Trust, based in my constituency. It is a Christian charity which provides safe, secure and healthy supported accommodation for homeless males aged between 16 and 54, often giving them the fresh start in life that they never expected to have. It provides 24/7 support, with staff permanently on site. I have seen for myself how person-centred its support is, with a tailored approach for each individual. The team at the Canaan Trust makes everyone feel special, and that is probably a feeling that they have not experienced for a very long time.
Yesterday I chatted to the key man at the Canaan Trust, Kevin Curtis. His enthusiasm is infectious. Indeed, he managed to persuade quite a few of us—including me and the leader of the council—to sleep out in February and March to raise money for the charity, and I can tell the House that at two o’clock in the morning the pavements in Long Eaton get really hard and cold!
Kevin told me what happens when supported housing is not available. It is a revolving door. Vulnerable people, many of whom have addiction problems, are housed in sub-standard accommodation in communities where the temptation of drink and drugs is around every corner. Inevitably, eight out of 10 find themselves back on the streets within three to six months—and all because there is no one there to watch their backs, and to provide the extra guidance and support that makes all the difference. We fail as a society if we do not stop those people falling through the net, and I urge the new Minister to make that one of her top priorities.
The hon. Lady’s constituency is near mine: we are both in the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire area. As she knows, providers such as Framework, which does fantastic work on supported housing, have made real efforts to provide help for the most vulnerable. Should this not be a cross-party issue? Should not those in all corners of the House press the Government to change their position and do the right thing?
I entirely agree. That is why the review is so important. We need to reach out to organisations to find out what is needed and will be sustainable for the future.
The extra support that is provided by such organisations, including charities like the Canaan Trust, means that for their clients the outcome is a very different story from the revolving door that sends eight out of 10 back on to the streets. Just 2% of their clients go through that revolving door, which is a huge reduction. That, along with other evidence of good outcomes, shows just how important it is for supported housing to be available to the most vulnerable people. It should also be borne in mind that this is not just about the costs associated with the type of provision found at the Canaan Trust; it is also about the savings made for the NHS, the police and other support agencies.
Let me end by reminding Opposition Members that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) mentioned earlier, it was this Conservative Government who, in the 2015 autumn statement, committed £40 million to services for victims of domestic abuse, three times as much as had been provided in the previous four years. I am proud of that.
At the beginning of her speech, the hon. Lady said that the review should run its course. People running domestic violence refuges in my constituency are desperately worried that those refuges will not be there by the time the review has run its course. What advice would the hon. Lady give them, and the desperate women and children who need their help?
I think it is important that the Government have already put more money into support for domestic abuse victims.
Should it not also be recognised that we will reach a decision in the early autumn?
I completely agree. As I said earlier, we need to come up with the right decisions and produce sustainable outcomes. There is no point in a review that does not get to the bottom of the issue.
I am also proud that this Government have actively helped people with disabilities—and those are the people we are talking about: people with disabilities, and people who are particularly vulnerable—to play their part in our communities. In the last two years alone, 365,000 disabled people have moved into employment, and I am definitely proud of that.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker. You never fall apart, in any circumstances.
I welcome all interventions from Members who know more about this issue than I do. My feelings about it are no secret. The Minister has stood on many platforms with me, and it is a delight to see her on the Front Bench. I will talk mainly about refuge accommodation for victims of domestic and sexual violence. However, I am also talking about all sorts of supported accommodation.
I have spoken in every debate on this issue, and I have asked the Prime Minister, every single time I have had an opportunity, to do something about it. So far I am still waiting. However, that Prime Minister is yesterday’s man, and now I look to the words of today’s woman, and I am pleased to say that I do not have to look very far to find affirmation that the new Prime Minister in fact agrees with me. In the “Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016-2020” published by her Home Office, she stated that we must
“ensure all victims get the right support at the right time”.
Let me be clear today: unless the Government exempt refuges from local housing allowance caps to housing benefit, victims of domestic violence, rape and abuse will have no chance of getting what the Prime Minister describes as the
“right support at the right time”.
In the same strategy document, the right hon. Lady heralds the money that everybody keeps going on about—I have heard many Members singing its praises today—but it is a tiny fraction of the picture. Government money allocated for refuge funding is always short-term. Despite all the talk of sustainability, it is never there; it never has been there and it is never built in. I know that because I have helped to write all the bids for all the money that everybody in the Chamber is talking about, and in every single bid for refuge services in this country, the sustainability plan was based on housing benefit. Many refuges rely entirely on housing benefit.
Is the hon. Lady aware that Devon and Cornwall police has been doing an enormous amount of work on refuges and abuse through an initiative called Operation Encompass? If she is not aware of it, would she like to come down to Plymouth? I would love to help her to make that visit.
As we enter the summer recess, I would love a little trip to Cornwall. I hasten to add that police forces across the country are doing really quite good work, as are police and crime commissioners, but I am afraid to say that I have never seen an example of their funding supported accommodation.
It would be dishonest now for Ministers to undermine their own work—Ministers of this Government signed it off when they allocated the money; they are all happy to stand up and sing its praises—because every single plan had housing benefit within it.
It is complicated and difficult for people to understand what running a refuge actually looks like. The grants the Government give are what we use to pay for staff. They are used to pay for family support workers, who enable a child to re-engage with a mother who has lost all control over her children because a perpetrator has taken it from her. They allow key staff to give counselling and support to women who have been brutally raped, beaten, kept locked away and controlled to a degree that no one in this Chamber could ever imagine. That is what the grants from the Government pay for. What pays for the nuts and bolts, the beds, the buildings, the places where people live, their homes and their security is housing benefit.
My hon. Friend is making a compelling case. May I take her back to the letter I received from New Charter housing that I referred to in an intervention on our Front-Bench spokesman? It says to me:
“It is probable that the result of this reduction will be either; additional cost to the public purse where there individuals take up, for example, valuable and costly hospital space; or these individuals find themselves living in totally inappropriate accommodation that does not support their needs and puts them at high risk.”
Is that not exactly the case we are making today?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and that is exactly the case. As has been outlined, the reduction will result in people being left in the accommodation of unscrupulous housing providers where we do not want people to end up, and I am sure every single Member knows about these providers.
Housing benefit currently pays for things such as CCTV, security support and all the extra stuff that we perhaps take for granted because we do not have it in our homes— but then we have not been repeatedly raped for the past six months of our life. That is what housing benefit pays for. I cannot say this with any more dramatic effect: half of the bed spaces in the refuges where I worked would not be there without housing benefit. Already, 115 women and their children are turned away from refuges every single day in this country. Already this year, 50 women are dead.
There are also very real concerns about the mooted housing benefit changes for those aged 18 to 21. Perhaps the Minister could update the House on that, and the bearing it will have on a place like Birmingham, where 25% of the women living in refuges last year came from this age group. Ministers will be shutting off the route to safety for these women if the changes in housing benefit come in, and I am at a loss as to what is going on—whether that is part of this review or was just something floated around.
If the DWP does not want to play its part and the Treasury values its bottom line so much, the Government must look at a different approach to funding refuges and other supported accommodation. This review is not about sustainability; it is about cutting costs.
The decimation of local authority Supporting People budgets has already led to the closure of more than 30 refuges in the UK. I am not just shouting or shroud-waving or scaremongering against cuts; I am willing to engage with Ministers across Government to talk about other sustainability models for refuges. I have just a few suggestions for today. We could ring-fence national budgets, and make providing accommodation for victims a local authority statutory duty. At the moment local authorities have that duty only for adult services, children’s services and bins. I think providing a safe place for children who have been raped to live is more important than the bins.
The model of commissioning that the Home Office has used for accommodating victims of modern slavery completely eliminates the need for housing benefit, and I have set up refuges for victims of trafficking with this model. No housing benefit changes hands. We could only do that because this Government—the Government in front of me—recognise the importance of a national funding framework.
I am happy to work with the Government on any of those solutions, but to pull the rug from underneath refuges, homeless hostels and older people’s care services without first putting in place a system that will work and is sustainable and offers a future for these victims is both stupid and cruel.
So let me go back to the words of the Prime Minister. She said that “awareness of” and “response to” violence against women and girls was “everyone’s business”. Will the Minister promise to make it hers?
There is a clear need to get the cost of housing benefits under control, but it is also vital that the needs of the most vulnerable are met. These costs have continued to rise, even at times when the number of people receiving housing benefits has reduced. Unless the spiralling cost can be controlled, the system would soon become unviable, severely limiting our ability to support many of the people who need our help the most.
All parts of the housing market that receive public funding must bear a share of the need for greater efficiency, and supported housing is no different. However, we must also recognise that providing supported housing involves additional costs. Many of those additional costs might in the past have been covered through social services, rather than through housing benefits, but if changes to housing benefits are not implemented in the right way, many of the existing supported housing facilities would be seriously threatened.
I would like to thank the former Housing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), for the positive and constructive way in which he responded to concerns raised by me and other Members. The Government’s review of supported housing is a welcome opportunity to review this crucial issue, and I welcome this opportunity to give voice again to some of the issues that I hope the review will consider.
I would like to talk about one of my constituents, a Black Country Housing Group tenant who has had her life transformed thanks to first-class supported housing. DW was diagnosed with a learning disability and schizophrenia at the age of seven. She is also partially sighted due to cataracts in both eyes. At the age of 14 her mother died, but DW continued to live at home until her father also died. DW became a hoarder and was suffering from self-neglect; she was very isolated, did not socialise and became very aggressive. In March 2013, DW became very ill and was taken to hospital, where she stayed for one month. After a stay in a re-enablement centre, DW moved into Chapel Street, Black Country Housing Group’s supported living service. Here, she was provided with excellent support, with personal care, social interaction and peer support from other residents, as well as from a team of skilled, experienced support workers.
Through a working knowledge of DW and of her anxieties and needs, the staff worked with health professionals to deliver a support plan and to ensure that she got appropriate ongoing treatment for her eyes. I am pleased to say that she is now much happier, her mental health has improved dramatically and she is able to get involved in her community. She maintains her home and her tenancy, she undertakes household duties in the home and she is no longer at risk of self-neglect or homelessness. As a result of supported housing, DW has become much more independent, aware and involved.
DW’s case is just one of any number that I could have picked, but it clearly illustrates all the work and additional costs that come with providing that level of care, and that must be recognised through the social care and welfare systems. It does not really matter whether the higher costs intrinsic to effective supported housing continue to be funded from the housing budget or whether they are funded through social services. What matters is that those costs are very real and very necessary and that they must be met. I wholeheartedly support the review of supported housing and the commitment to a permanent funding solution for supported housing. We must continue to do what we can to reduce the spiralling costs of housing benefit bills, but we must make sure that the vital services provided to vulnerable people such as DW in my constituency can continue, and that means finding a way to pay for them.
I am pleased that there is consensus across the House on the importance of supported housing to people in all our communities. We must all show our appreciation of the hard work and dedication of the staff of the charities and housing associations involved. We need to give them the respect they deserve. They do a difficult job, dealing with people with many challenges, and they do it in a positive way.
There has been a cloud over supported housing for some time, with shrinking budgets and uncertainty in welfare policy. These problems have come to a head with the Government’s proposed local housing allowance cap. Although the Government have already had the good sense to delay the implementation of that measure for supported housing, we know that housing associations have already had to factor the proposed changes into their budgets, and that they are now set to be introduced in April 2018. According to the respected National Housing Federation, this means that a staggering 41% of existing supported housing and sheltered accommodation places will be shut. Where will those people go?
I was recently invited to visit Bramwell House, a shelter for the homeless in Blackburn managed by the Salvation Army, a well respected organisation. It helps and supports homeless people by providing accommodation and floating support to those who need it most. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who is no longer in his place, spoke earlier about scaremongering. I have to tell the House that the Salvation Army is not scaremongering; it is scared that it will no longer be able to provide the services that we know are desperately needed.
Bramwell House provides a safe and warm place to stay for people who would otherwise be sleeping rough. The services that it offers give some of the most vulnerable in Blackburn a life chance and an opportunity to change their outlook for the better. The main group of people who look to Bramwell House for support are single homeless people with support needs. Over the past 12 months, 413 residents have been supported there, and 83% of its residents have moved into other more suitable accommodation, which is a truly exceptional record. However, the benefits are so much more than simply offering a place to stay. Bramwell House helps to reduce rough sleeping, involvement in crime, reliance on the health system and demand for other social services in our community, and I find it regrettable that such places find themselves in peril because of short-termism in Tory housing policies.
Some may ask why supported housing should be exempt from the cap. In my opinion, it should be exempt because of the extra costs that are essential to providing the service. Many shelters need to provide staff 24/7, in order to offer real support to deal with the challenges facing these vulnerable people—something that I hope no one in this House will ever have to face. It is essential that the Government do all they can to ensure a future for Bramwell House and similar projects across the country. Homeless people’s futures should not be decided according to the whim of a Department for Work and Pensions that is dead set on cutting the housing benefit bill at all costs. So I hope that the new Secretary of State will look at this with fresh eyes and support the Prime Minister’s statement that this Tory Government are going to have a social conscience. I look forward to seeing the benefits of that.
I look forward to seeing fairness, and to seeing the Secretary of State introducing a long-term funding package so that supported housing schemes do not have to exist month to month or year to year. If the Government take steps to support supported housing, the providers will be able to focus on their great work of providing somewhere warm and safe to sleep, helping the vulnerable to live independently and, crucially, giving homeless people a chance to turn their lives around for the better.
Supported housing provides a hugely valuable service to many of our most vulnerable citizens: elderly people in need of care; vulnerable young people who need support and supervision; those fleeing domestic abuse or recovering from addiction; and more besides. The different types of supported accommodation are as varied as those who need them, ranging from hostels and refuges to more specialised residential units built around the specific needs of their residents. What they have in common is that they provide people with not only a safe place to live but a platform from which to embark on a more empowered, independent life than their circumstances might otherwise allow.
I iterate these points in order to make it absolutely clear that the Government’s approach to the supported housing sector is rooted in a deep appreciation of the help that it provides for the vulnerable and an understanding of the challenges that it faces. The Solihull Care Centre, an organisation in my constituency that assists and represents carers, told me recently that some of its members were worried by the uncertainty created by the current one-year delay in the implementation of some of the coalition’s planned reforms to funding. I note that there are no Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber taking part in the debate today.
The entire reason for the delay in implementing the proposals outlined in the coalition paper is to allow proper time to examine the concerns expressed by other parts of the sector about their impact. It would be wrong to proceed without paying careful attention to those on the frontline. The Government must weigh the arguments of any lobby against the wider needs of the nation and the public purse. We cannot abandon the reform effort. I feel that the wisest course of action was to delay the changes while the sector’s concerns are explored and examined in detail. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State commit today to reach a final decision in the early autumn. I will be writing to the Solihull Carers Centre on my return to the office to let it know that timeline.
Complications are part of what makes reform so daunting, and sticking with an unsustainable status quo is always tempting. It is too often easier to patch and mend, to avoid the hassle and to pass the problem on to the next generation of politicians. I am proud to be part of a reforming Government that have led a decisive break with the buck-passing of the past. Government Members recognise that only by adapting to changing circumstances do we make sure that such important institutions are maintained for the future.
Bringing down the welfare bill is essential if we are not to pass on an unsustainable debt to our children. Let us not forget that it was under Labour that housing benefit ballooned into one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our welfare system. At the start of this year, the annual cost stood at a staggering £25 billion—more than we spend on roads, the police, and equipping the military put together and equivalent to about 8p on income tax. Our reforms recognise that the old system had become overly complicated to administer and contained blind spots as a result of how it classified landlords, for example. It would also have become increasingly incompatible with the changing landscape of welfare provision as other reforms, such as universal credit and individual budgets, come into force.
I am confident, particularly after listening to the Secretary of State today, that the Government will move forward after the current review with proposals that will provide security to tenants, certainty for providers, value for money to taxpayers, and a sense of fairness to renters in the unsupported housing sector.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight). He claims that the Government’s approach is rooted in a deep appreciation of the help that supported housing gives to many of the most vulnerable. That certainly was not a characteristic of the Chancellor’s decision in November, but we look forward to it being a characteristic of the decisions taken by the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the new Chancellor this autumn. I applaud my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for joining forces in this debate—just as I did with our hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith) in January in a similar debate on a motion in similar terms to try to defend supported housing from some crude, across-the-board cuts that put its very future in jeopardy.
Those cuts were announced by the previous Chancellor in last November’s autumn statement. The Government Front-Bench team keep on saying that they do not want to rush the decision, but that was the decision that was taken. It was wrong and was taken with no consultation, no evidence, no impact assessment and no warning. The previous Chancellor said that
“housing benefit in the social sector will be capped at the relevant local housing allowance.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015; Vol. 602, c. 1360.]
With one short sweeping sentence, he put at risk almost all specialist housing for the frail elderly, the homeless, young children and people leaving care, people with dementia, people with mental illness or learning disabilities, people fleeing domestic violence and some of our veterans. The Secretary of State’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), either did not spot it or did not stop it, but either way the Chancellor completely ignored him last year. One of the tests for the new Secretary of State will be whether he can get the Chancellor to reverse the decision and to make a different one.
The purpose of my publicly exposing the problems with the housing benefit cut in December, calling the debate in this House in January, visiting many of the most vulnerable at-risk schemes across the country throughout February, and making a Budget submission to the Chancellor in March remains the same as it was back then: to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people whose homes have been put at risk by the decision taken in the autumn statement and to highlight the warnings and the evidence of organisations that have the facts and will have to deal with the consequences. They are providers that the public respects and trusts, such as Women’s Aid, Mencap, Age UK and the Salvation Army.
I also want to press the case, as the motion does, for a full exemption of all supported and sheltered housing from these crude, across-the-board cuts. The Secretary of State’s words and tone were welcome today, but the test will be whether he can deliver a change of decision come the autumn. He said that the issues are important, sensitive and hugely difficult. He said that he was prepared to listen carefully to the sector, which we welcome. He also acknowledged that this sector transforms lives. In Rotherham, Target Housing does just that with people coming out of prison and the penal system, and Rush House does just that with vulnerable young people, often needing somewhere safe and a roof over their head and then the chance to be able to live independently. Together, those two organisations look after over 100 vulnerable people, but they say that they will be losing out by £8,000 a week and will have to close their doors and their schemes, leaving the people with nowhere else to go.
So I say to the Secretary of State that the review in the early autumn is fine, but that was started in 2014. We were told that it would report by the end of March, but it did not. It was nine months too late then, and by early autumn it will be 12 months too late for the decision that has already been taken. The test now is: can he produce this review in time for the next autumn statement, because he missed the last autumn statement? The real test will not be whether he can publish this evidence review, but whether he can get the change of decision that hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in this country desperately want to hear from this Government.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), who has much experience in these matters. It is clear from all the remarks made this afternoon that everyone in this House supports supported housing. One of the most inspirational parts of our job is visiting organisations such as Ryedale YMCA in Malton, Yorkshire Housing, North Yorkshire County Council and its facilities, and Arc Light in York, which are all helping vulnerable people to get back on their feet.
Interestingly, at Ryedale YMCA about £83 a week is allocated for accommodation for the young people it supports but we are talking about £111 for the support costs. If this local housing allowance cap did apply to this sector, that facility, like many others, would have to close. I know the Government accept this position; I have written many letters to them and they absolutely understand the need. I do, however, support their policy review in this area. Housing benefit in the social sector has reached £13.2 billion, which represents a 25% rise over the past 10 years. It is right to review spending, not only to make sure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely, but to look for sustainable solutions in a way that protects the most vulnerable.
I accept parts of the motion; yes, supported housing should be exempt from the cap on LHA. I do not, however, accept the motion where it says that
“the Government intends to cut housing benefit for vulnerable people”.
That is clearly not the case—or Opposition Members do not know that is the case, as this is subject to a review. They are causing distress to their own constituents.
But we do know this. If the hon. Gentleman looks in the Red Book, he will see, scored by the then Chancellor, savings for three years from 2018-19 for this measure on housing benefit of £990 million. We know this. That is the problem, that is the decision and that is what needs to be reversed.
But does the right hon. Gentleman accept the number of times it has been said by Ministers that this is subject to a policy review, which is due out in the autumn? Therefore, to say that this is going to happen is absolutely wrong.
I do accept that uncertainty is being caused by this policy decision, and we should think through a policy before we announce it. This does disincentivise investment. The National Housing Federation has said that 1,200 new units are on hold because of this policy—this potential policy. It is vital that we deliver these units to meet the overall need to build more homes. We are building many more homes—the figures are almost double those from 2009. We built 166,000 in the most recent year, whereas 90,000 were built in 2009. We need to get to 250,000 homes a year, but we will do that only by allowing either national Government or local government to build more affordable rented homes. The last time we built 250,000 homes in a year was in 1977, when local authorities built 108,000 homes. We absolutely feel that affordable homes to rent must be part of the solution.
Does my hon. Friend recognise that the Labour party has nothing to lecture us about on building social housing, as it built next to no social housing in its 13 years in government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
As others want to speak, I will move on to one other point, which is the disincentive for the young people in these facilities, which do a fantastic job. Recently, on a visit to Arc Light in York, I met two young men in their 20s: one was a brickie and the other a joiner. They were perfectly capable of working, but were totally deterred from working, because they felt that if they were in work, they would have to pay the full costs of that accommodation—£250 a week—which is a huge disincentive. That may not be quite true. Lord Freud wrote to the Communities and Local Government Committee for clarification, but the Chair of the Select Committee was not quite clear on the point.
From my experience, that is a problem with the current system of housing benefit. It is much harder for people who are in employment to stay in supported accommodation, because they do not qualify for housing benefit at a higher rate. That is something that absolutely must be sorted out in any system. We are not saying that it is perfect, but that is definitely one of the problems.
I am very glad that we agree on that point. The other impression that I got from these young people was that they did not seem to feel any particular urgency to get back into work. We should consider whether we are providing the right incentives and encouragement for these young people, who are perfectly capable of working, to get into work.
In conclusion, I do accept some of the points in the motion, but certainly not all of them, and for that reason, I will be voting against it in the Lobby this evening.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) with whom I serve on the Communities and Local Government Committee.
My constituency benefits from a wide and diverse range of supported housing schemes, which play a fundamentally valuable role in enabling people, who would not otherwise be able to do so, to live independently —whether it is for a period of time following a particular trauma such as domestic abuse or for the long term. Supported housing gives people dignity and community. It contributes to the kind of society that we want to be, advances equality and saves the state money.
Among the excellent supported housing in my constituency, we have women’s refuges; housing for blind and partially sighted residents run by Action for Blind People; a foyer run by Centrepoint, which is also very concerned about the withdrawal of housing benefit from 18 to 21-year-olds; an Emmaus community supporting homeless people back into work and permanent accommodation; housing for residents with learning disabilities run by L’Arche and others; extra care housing for older residents, the need for which is growing exponentially; and many others. Each provider has been thrown into turmoil by the proposal to cap housing benefit to the level of the local housing allowance.
Earlier this year, I met a number of housing associations and voluntary sector organisations that provide supported housing in my constituency. Without exception, they expressed their concern about the proposed cap. Housing associations, without exception, said that they would be able to provide less supported housing if the cap is introduced; that they will not invest in new schemes; and that some of them will seek to dispose of existing supported housing schemes. Several said that supported housing was already subsidised by other parts of their business, and others that, while at the moment that covers their own costs, the finances were already very precarious.
The announcement of the review was welcomed, but since then the lack of further clarity and the delay in making a decision has also caused problems. Such is the uncertainty caused by the review that Emmaus, which runs housing for people who were formerly homeless, told me that it is postponing investment decisions and is unsure about whether to continue some of the schemes that it runs. These are homes that people rely on now. The fact that their futures are now in jeopardy underlines the urgency of the situation.
The challenge presented by the introduction of the housing benefit cut to the level of the LHA is further compounded by other changes that have been introduced. The national living wage, while welcome, is not supported by any increase in the funding for providers that will have to implement it, and that is squeezing their finances. Cuts to local authority funding are reducing the extent to which support services are there for those who need them, placing further emphasis on the support directly provided by the providers of supported housing.
The impact of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, not least on the starter homes obligation on local authorities, will reduce the extent to which providers across the social housing sector are able to provide supported housing. Brexit creates further uncertainty for the construction sector, and potentially threatens the ability of housing associations to borrow from the European Investment Bank and other sources at preferential rates, which further damages the ability of the sector to deliver supported housing.
At the time of a Communities and Local Government Committee meeting a few weeks ago, the Minister, Lord Freud, was stuck on a plane, I believe, but his official, Peter Searle, was there to answer questions from the Committee. I asked about the timescale for announcing the outcome of the review on the LHA cap. Peter Searle said that it would be announced before the recess. Will the Minister please explain why this commitment is not being met, and why we are heading into the recess with further uncertainty and turmoil for the supported housing sector?
With the timescale for this review, the Government are treating with contempt a sector which makes nothing but a positive contribution to supporting some of our most vulnerable residents. I hope that, when summing up, the Minister will clarify the timescale for a decision on the review, confirm that the cap will not be implemented as planned, and set out an approach to supporting and investing in supported housing to enable a strong sector to meet current as well as future needs for some of our most vulnerable residents.
Over the past few days I have been pondering whether Government reshuffles are frustrating or whether they are an opportunity. Listening to the tone set by the new Secretary of State today, I have settled on opportunity. The topic of this debate offers a huge opportunity to our new Secretary of State and his team. I know that this Government share my appreciation of the role of supported housing, and I also know that they are aware that caps on housing benefit could adversely impact on its provision. I want to press on the Secretary of State today the urgency with which a conclusion must be reached.
When the Government are rightly checking how taxpayers’ money is spent, they must also consider the impact of change on those potentially affected. I believe the British people trust this Government to be financially prudent, but at the same time they want to see the most vulnerable people in our society protected. In my constituency, I have supported housing schemes looking after the elderly. I recently visited one of those providers, Moorlands Court in Melbourn. I have rarely seen such high standards of care—supported housing at its most dignified, with medical care and attention provided in a carefully thought-out setting. I am very proud to represent such services.
Cambridge Housing Society knows what it is doing. It also provides housing for vulnerable teenagers and people with learning difficulties. It is not in the sector to make a profit for shareholders. It is fulfilling the needs in my constituency that keep me awake at night. But while the Government undertake their review of the sector and no definitive alternative funding proposals have been outlined, the sector is in a state of paralysis. The cap on housing benefit would mean a loss of £537,000 to CHS alone, and would immediately put four of its schemes into an operating loss. In this vacuum of uncertainty, the sector, which badly needs to grow to fill the demand that we all know exists, stalls. Schemes are not brought forward, investment plans are shelved, places are not offered to the most vulnerable citizens and they suffer.
Delaying the implementation of the housing benefit cap on the sector is welcome, but excessive delay in outlining a new model is damaging. Given that the sector was expecting to hear, I believe, in mid-July I urge the Secretary of State to tell us when in early autumn we will have a decision. If the review can also identify areas of abuse in the system, of course that is welcome, but that should be dealt with separately. The rest of the sector has a job to do and its future plans must not be jeopardised because of the behaviour of a few.
I cannot support the motion today as it is worded, because it asks the Government to exempt supported housing from the housing benefit cap altogether, though I do share some sympathy for that view, and I am pleased that we are having this debate. It seems obvious to me that the Government are seeking an entirely new model to ensure that the sector is well funded for the future, and that may indeed be better, but we must hear it soon. Damage is done to this Government’s reputation when we propose cuts without simultaneously communicating an alternative. Cuts to employment and support allowance for the work-related activity group are a prime example. That was a mistake, but one that it is not too late to fix either.
Whether through a White or Green Paper on disability, or these proposals, we must focus the minds of our Secretary of State and Ministers on communication. Precise deadlines for decisions are important. I urge the Secretary of State to join me in seeing this as an urgent opportunity, not a damaging frustration.
Just seven days ago, the new Prime Minister spoke in her inaugural speech about social justice, yet here Opposition Members are, yet again, having to speak out against yet another socially unjust policy proposal from this Government. Cutting housing benefit for the most vulnerable in our society will result in the closure of thousands of supported accommodation units. This is about people’s homes and people’s safety.
When I was a local councillor, two sheltered accommodation complexes for the elderly were earmarked for closure. For a year, I worked with elderly residents to save their homes, and I will never, ever forget the worry and fear etched on their faces, and the many concerns they had. All they could think about was where they would live, how they would afford to move and who they would have for company. When we know that Age UK is reporting that 300,000 elderly people suffer from chronic loneliness, which leads to early death, we see that the social angle this accommodation provides is beyond vital, and I remember the sheer joy and relief when we managed to stop those shelters closing.
Today I am mindful of the fact that we are talking about not just one or two shelters for the elderly closing, but hundreds and potentially thousands. I would like the Minister to tell us where on earth these people will move to if their shelter shuts. Many in constituencies such as mine will not be able to afford private accommodation. Many will have no family to go to. Thanks to this Government, there is a massive shortage of council housing, forcing these people into residential or care homes or into the health service, which is not fit for their needs or appropriate for them, particularly in the long term. That leaves only one option: homelessness. Yet this policy will see the closure of homeless hostels too, which can mean only one other choice: to go on to the streets. Surely the Government can see that if they push ahead with this change, there will be no charities and services they can push this problem on to, because cutting this money is cutting those very services.
Earlier this year, I had the huge privilege of spending time with Terry Waite CBE. Many may not know this, but this towering, kind, humble man, known for the horrific captivity he endured in Lebanon, is president of Emmaus UK, which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). Emmaus provides homes and work for people who have experienced homelessness, and it is due to open a site in my constituency. It provides a tried and tested, lasting route out of homelessness. It also generates £6 million per year in savings to the state, through reductions in offending and the improved use of health services. However, it has told me that if housing benefit for supported accommodation is capped nationally at LHA rates, it would lose over £3 million per year, threatening most of its communities with closure.
I, too, have visited an Emmaus community. Does the hon. Lady agree that Emmaus does great work? For every £1 the state puts in, Emmaus produces a social return of £11. Does she agree that it is vital that the new system we come up with acts as a catalyst for that type of inward investment?
What is vital is that this proposal is scrapped, so that the Emmaus community in my constituency can be built, and all the people living in the other communities are not faced with being pushed back on the streets because their community has closed down.
Those who have experienced the horror and degradation of being homeless and on the streets could find themselves right back there if this policy goes through. This is just poor economics, and it is beyond contemptible. I am completely aghast as to why any Government would want to introduce a policy that would see our elderly, our care leavers, those with mental health and learning difficulties, our veterans and victims of domestic violence on the streets, and that would keep those who are already homeless there too. If this policy is introduced, people will be destitute.
Earlier the Secretary of State said that, despite people being in enduring limbo, it will be autumn before we have an announcement. I hope that that means the Government are slowly beginning to understand at last that regressive policies such as this, punitive benefits sanctions and the bedroom tax only create more problems for our society and will cost the Government a hell of a lot more in the long run.
The Government’s proposals to cap housing benefit at the level of local housing allowance will severely damage supported housing across the country, including in my constituency. We have 605 units of supported housing for vulnerable people who are suffering from mental ill health and learning disabilities and who are victims of abuse and addiction. There are also 2,070 units of housing for older people. Those high numbers were set to become even higher, but the plan to build a further 500 units was stopped. The day after a debate in January in which I raised the issue in this Chamber, and a DCLG official made contact to see what help could be given to prevent the plan from being stopped.
Behind every one of those high numbers is a person or family with their own individual story. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the residents of two supported housing schemes in St Helens. Salisbury House is run by the Salvation Army and provides accommodation for 48 single, homeless men, including veterans. Some have served time in prison, some suffer from addiction and some have experienced family breakdown and ended up on the streets. As well as being given a place to stay, residents are offered support and advice in a range of areas to help them to break the cycle of homelessness. That includes advice on housing, benefits, education, life skills, work experience, money management and accessing other agencies, including rehabilitation services, and help to make and build a home for themselves. In other words, these men receive help to get their lives back on track and to resume their place as full and functioning members of society.
That sort of holistic approach is the proven route to defeating homelessness, as it gives people the power to take control of their own lives and to make the necessary changes for them to get back on track, keeping them off the streets and away from crime. The project will cease to exist if housing benefit is capped at the level of local housing allowance. The cost will transfer to the national health service, the criminal justice system and social services, because people need support.
Parr Mount Court is a residential home for 97 elderly people, 33 of whom are supported by Making Space, which is registered with the Care Quality Commission. Most of the residents that I met were elderly people. St Helens is different, in that its elderly population is set to rise by a massive 14.5% by 2020. Some years ago, we did a survey of elderly people, asking them what they wanted. They said that they did not want to go into residential accommodation and that they wanted to stay at home, but they could not do so because they did not have the support. We set out to build villages of extra care housing, both sheltered and supported, but every one of them will cease if the Government’s proposals go ahead.
The St Helens benefits team tells me that £4.96 million a year will be scrapped and will not come to St Helens if the proposals go ahead. That money provides the care we need to keep people in their own independent homes, rather than them having to go into residential homes or even ending up in the NHS.
I want to talk about a young man with mental health issues. His family could not support him and he was being supported at one of the 19 units of supported housing that we have for such situations. He needed national healthcare, but the only place that could be offered was in Germany. I raised the issue with a former Minister—since last week, he is no longer in post. He did his best, but could not come up with any other place. If the proposals go ahead, the young man will not even have sheltered support. We know that we do not have NHS mental health provision, and we are taking away the only provision available. The situation really needs to be looked at carefully.
There are many care leavers in St Helens and we provide them with a home and support because they do not have mums and dads or a family network to support them and help them to build a home.
I ask the Government to speed up the process, but to also consider carefully the damage that is going to be done to society and where the cost is going to be picked up. There are no beds available in our hospitals in the north-west, and there is no money available for social services. I ask the Government to be speedy, to do it carefully and to consider the people affected.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) and my constituency neighbour the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen). I am sure the hon. Lady agrees with me when I say that housing in Cambridge is now fearsomely expensive. The price of a terraced house in Cambridge is almost £500,000, and the average rent is twice that in the rest of England. The Office for National Statistics tells us that house prices in Cambridge have risen faster than anywhere else in the country since the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats formed their unholy alliance.
People are increasingly locked out of the housing market and the private rented sector, and it is against that backdrop that the brave people trying to provide sheltered housing in an expensive city such as Cambridge have to operate. They do not pull their punches when asked about the current situation. I went to see one of the excellent Metropolitan’s housing schemes a few weeks ago, and it was inspiring. It was exactly the kind of scheme that every Member of the House would be proud our country is promoting. What did it tell me? It told me it could not do it now—it could not do something similar again—because of the uncertainty it faces.
The hon. Lady has already mentioned the excellent Cambridge Housing Society Group. It has a scheme just up the road from where I live in Cambridge, and I was there at the weekend to celebrate 25 years of its excellent nursery scheme. It runs supported housing schemes as well, and its brilliant chief executive, Nigel Howlett—he will have had the same conversation with the hon. Lady as he has had with me—is absolutely clear about the impact: schemes it wanted to implement are on hold. As has been said, the potential loss to the Cambridge Housing Society is over £500,000, with four schemes absolutely at risk.
I was very impressed by the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood), who is no longer in her seat, and I suspect the local authority of every Member in the House has the same set of examples. Cambridge City Council manages more than 100 units of accommodation for homeless households, including three hostels, 22 units of move-on accommodation for adults recovering from mental health conditions, and 13 sheltered housing schemes for older people, with more than 460 tenancies. The council tells me that all those rely on this income. In a high-cost city like Cambridge, the inevitable consequence of the changes is that it will have to make more cuts. As has been said, that means fewer wardens, less support and less preventive work to stop people going to the national health service, which is of course tremendously overburdened.
As we have heard from Members on both sides of the House, there is a problem, and I urge the Government to think hard about it. We have a new Prime Minister, who has made her point about social justice, and she has a very early opportunity to turn those warm words into action. It really does not have to be that difficult. Please just do it.
I am pleased to take part in today’s debate, which follows a Westminster Hall debate on refuges in May, when we discussed similar matters. I want to concentrate on the threat that the proposed capping of housing benefit to the local housing allowance rate in the social sector poses to people fleeing violent relationships.
It is clear that this cut will have a devastating impact on the continuing provision of Scottish refuge accommodation. At the moment, with no clarity about when or if the changes will be introduced, these extremely vulnerable people face the threat of literally being left out in the cold. I am aware, from having spoken to several survivors of domestic violence, that the point at which someone decides to leave a violent relationship is one of the most critical points in their lives and those of their children. It is absolutely vital that adequate support is available to anyone at the moment they decide to leave such a relationship. The availability of such support is often a deciding factor for the abused in choosing to leave the abuser.
Let us give the Government the benefit of the doubt. I do not believe—I certainly hope—that this policy announcement was made with a complete and full understanding of the consequences of capping for refuges. However, this has now gone on for far too long, and we need a resolution. These absolutely vital services must be protected. The new Government have a chance to change the record and show they are different from their predecessors, whose ideological austerity drive proved time and again that they knew the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Analysis carried out by Angus Women’s Aid has found that refuge costs are significantly higher than the local housing allowance rate. The examples provided show that annual losses caused by the introduction of the cap will vary from £5,800 to £11,600 a year. The former Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, Alex Neil, said categorically in a letter to the UK Government last February that without the current levels of housing benefit to cover the additional costs, refuges would be forced to close.
Despite the cautious welcome that I and others have given to the Government’s new violence against women and girls strategy that was announced in March, which offered some reassurance about ongoing funding for front-line services, we should not allow ourselves to ignore the challenges that such services face. Women’s Aid has highlighted the funding pressure that the services are under and warned that lives will be lost unless a more secure and long-term funding settlement is in place.
According to Women’s Aid, between 2010 and 2014 there was a 17% reduction in the number of refuges run by dedicated domestic abuse service providers and, shamefully, a third of refuge referrals are turned away due to lack of capacity. The Government must ensure that capacity is built back up, not diminished, to ensure that no one who is abused is turned away from the support that they seek.
Dr Marsha Scott from Scottish Women’s Aid has said that the policy of capping housing benefit may create an environment where women are unable to escape a violent relationship. We must not be put in a position where a person is unable to flee a violent relationship because they cannot afford the accommodation costs in a refuge. It is unacceptable that we face the risk that people will be locked in violent relationships because they cannot afford to seek help.
The risk is especially high for people aged under 35, who under the proposals will be restricted to the shared accommodation rate. According to Scottish Women’s Aid:
“In 2014-15, the 26-30 years old age group had the highest incident rate of domestic abuse recorded by the Police in Scotland. Women in this age group clearly have a significant need for domestic abuse support services—including refuge accommodation.”
Even Lord Freud has admitted that this policy has had “unintended consequences” for the public purse. He gave a commitment to Scottish Women’s Aid that he would protect refuge accommodation from any unintended consequences resulting from welfare reform. I call on him to honour that promise and find a solution as soon as possible.
The UK Government have left tenants in uncertainty over their future housing situation. Using discretionary housing payments to top up the gap between LHA and the actual costs of supported accommodation is simply not secure enough. Angus Women’s Aid has stated that that will create additional barriers and risks for women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse and seeking refuge. They will be subject to a postcode lottery because local authorities will decide whose support needs can be met—or not. DHPs should be used to ensure that people are protected, not to mitigate bad and ill-thought-out Tory policies.
To conclude, I strongly urge the Government to reconsider their approach and offer full protection for women and children by ensuring that supported accommodation, including refuges, is exempt from the housing benefit cap. Simply delaying the changes is not good enough; these devastating changes must be stopped, and stopped now.
This has been a thorough and important Opposition debate, with 21 contributions.
I welcome the new Work and Pensions team and the conciliatory tone that the new Secretary of State took in his opening speech. I gently chide him, however, for saying that the Government have an exemplary record, because during the passage of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill last year, which the Minister for Employment will remember well, they refused an Opposition amendment that would have exempted supported housing from the 1% cut to housing benefit. Although I recognise that it is early days, I hope that we can move forward in a constructive way.
I pay tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) for his excellent speech, but to a number of other hon. Members who have spoken. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) rightly identified the issues with the local housing allowance cap and gave some practical examples of how it would affect her constituents. Similarly, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) spoke of the threat to refuges. Obviously, with the Scotland Act 2016 coming into force, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Administration will have the opportunity to take their own course of action in relation to any future cap if the Government choose not to act.
I commend the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) not only for his remarks today but for his Adjournment debate last week. It is positive that we are able to work across the House on this very important issue. So many Members from across the House recognise the issues that very vulnerable people face.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) rightly identified the knock-on effects of the proposals on other Departments, especially in terms of costs. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) made a very powerful speech on the impact of cuts to supported housing provision for people with mental health issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) highlighted the impact on her constituents.
I take some exception to the remarks of the former Minister for Disabled People, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). I am sure that he did not intend to misrepresent the figures in what he said about the funding provided to disabled people, but spending as a percentage of GDP has gone down. A total of £30 billion of support to 3.7 million disabled people has been cut—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I am sorry—there have been so many opportunities for that. I am sure you will go straight to Hansard, Madam Deputy Speaker, to see exactly what those remarks were.
I will move on to my substantive remarks. Many people have defined what supported housing provides, in terms of both accommodation schemes and support to very vulnerable people. It includes preventive services, services to older people in sheltered housing and extra care. It may consist of supported housing for people who have suffered domestic abuse, people with drug, alcohol or mental health issues, people who have learning disabilities or difficulties, people who are homeless, former offenders or young people leaving care. As we have heard very powerfully, it supports people who have been in the armed forces. Services may be temporary or longer term—for example, services for older people or people with learning disabilities.
Although types of supported housing services range widely, they all share the common purpose of providing a safe, secure home and support for vulnerable people to live independent, healthy and fulfilling lives—something we all want. As has already been mentioned, supported housing has the added benefit of preventing acute admissions to our already much-stretched health and care services, offsetting financial pressures in the Departments responsible for those services and many other Departments to the tune of £640 million a year. Rents for supported housing tend to be higher than those for general needs housing because of the nature of the schemes and the services they provide, but it is estimated that investing in such accommodation delivers a net saving to taxpayers of around £940 per person, per year across all client groups.
Last year, the estimated number of supported housing units needed for the working age population was 125,196, but the number available was 109,556, a shortfall of 15,640. It is estimated that, if current trends continue, that shortfall will double by 2019-20. I am sure that the Minister has examples of homelessness from her own constituency casework. I have to say that my caseload on that has absolutely hit the roof in recent weeks and months. I am talking not just about sofa surfers but about people who are living rough, including one young man who was living in a tent by the side of a reservoir. There were no hostel places or other specialist accommodation available for those people. That highlights the importance of the shortfall in supply.
Over the past year, there has been considerable anxiety across supported housing providers that not only are there already too few places to cope with current levels of need, but that collectively, the Government’s 1% cut to housing benefit in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016—which also affects supported housing—and the cap on local housing allowance announced in the autumn statement will make thousands of supported housing schemes unviable, affecting hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people.
The National Housing Federation has estimated that the LHA cap alone will mean that 156,000 specialist homes will be forced to close, and that in addition to stopping 2,400 new homes being completed, a further 9,270 homes planned for construction have been cancelled. In my area of Greater Manchester, it has been estimated that the loss of revenue to providers could be more than £50 million a year.
Although we welcome the Government’s suspension of the 1% cut to housing and the LHA cap, we are concerned—many Members have stressed this—about the delay in the review into providing a long-term, evidence-based sustainable solution, and the effect that that is having on investors regarding new developments, as well as on unfreezing those that have been put on hold because of the uncertainty. I am disappointed that the Secretary of State seems to have kicked that issue into the long grass—I am sure his mobile phone will provide the answers for him. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) said, we were expecting—as were housing providers—a statement by the recess, but we are now a day away from that. We are six months into the 12-month period, and 19 months since the start of the review period. When can we expect to see that review?
What contingency arrangements are in place to enable housing providers to plan? Will the Minister confirm that discretionary housing payments, with their inherent uncertainty and variable application, are not the Government’s only solution to plugging the gap in rent? Will she confirm that no one with support needs will go homeless or end up in unsuitable accommodation as a result of those delays, and that the housing and support costs of delivering a quality service will be met, and be flexible enough to meet challenging levels of demand? Will she ensure that evidence of the quality and value for money of supported and sheltered housing is published and promoted to the public? Finally, will she ensure that new funding arrangements for housing costs assure long-term funding certainty for providers, enabling them to continue investment in homes and services that meet the needs of vulnerable tenants, by funding rents and service charges through the social security system? Support costs should be funded through central Government on a cross-departmental basis, reflecting the outcomes that they would like to achieve.
The Prime Minister has given her pledge for a one-nation Britain, and she said that when she makes the “big calls” or “passes new laws” she will think of ordinary working-class families. As one of her first tasks, I ask her Government to start to right the wrongs that have been done to the most vulnerable in our society, and to ensure that they have the homes and support they need. We need deeds, not words.
I thank the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for her welcome, and many right hon. and hon. Members for the passion, enthusiasm and interest that they have shown in this debate. I am delighted to have been appointed to my role at the Department for Work and Pensions, which does vital work for millions of people across the country.
It is clear that Members across the House take a keen interest in the funding of supported housing, and rightly so given the valuable support that that sector provides to some of the most vulnerable citizens in society. Through the welfare reforms that my Department has been driving over the past six years, we have sought to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to realise their ambitions and potential, and we can see that working. Today’s labour market statistics show that employment continues to rise, and remains at a record high.
Alongside that ambition, however, we know the importance of protecting the most vulnerable in our society. We heard from 19 Back Benchers, constituency MPs representing the length and breadth of the country. Many of us have come across wonderful work of many supported housing providers in our own local communities. I apologise if I do not manage to mention everybody—I will do my best—but I would like to highlight some of the excellent contributions we have heard.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) mentioned the Blue Triangle project for young people in Glasgow city centre and the ARCH resettlement centre for homeless people. I emphasise to her that 200 individuals were involved in the review that has been undertaken. She spoke forcefully about refuge. Like me, she will have heard my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in today’s Prime Minister’s questions mention the importance of doing everything we can for those who are victims of domestic violence.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), who I thank for his very kind words and his immense amount of hard work in the Department, talked about Voyage Care. He is incredibly knowledgeable and I welcome the support he has given in this debate today. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) referred to Newhaven Foyer in her constituency and BHT Sussex for people with dependencies.
The hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) referred to Nottingham City Homes, Nottingham Community Housing Association and Framework. She was very kind and invited me to visit her constituency. I note I did not get the same invitation to go to Plymouth in the summer months.
Those of us in Plymouth would be delighted to see my hon. Friend there. I will be in touch with her regarding her diary.
I thank my hon. Friend for that invitation. It did not take much of a nudge, did it?
My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) gave a number of examples from her constituency, including the Canaan Trust with which she spent a night sleeping rough. When I was newly elected, I remember spending a night sleeping on Southampton Common. I was very fortunate: the Society of St James gave me the easy option of sleeping rough in August.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) spoke movingly about the support provided for his constituents by the Black Country Housing Group. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) spoke about the importance of Bramwell House, run by the Salvation Army, for homeless people in her constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) spoke about Solihull Carers, and the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) spoke about Rush House and recognised the importance of Departments across Government working together to find a solution that works for a very diverse sector. I assure him we are doing exactly that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said that visiting supported housing providers was one of the most moving and important things he had done as part of his job. He referred to a number of very important providers in his constituency.
The hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) talked about housing provided by Emmaus, Action for Blind People, housing for older people, women’s refuges and many others. I think that that provides us with some perspective on the great amount of variety in this incredibly diverse sector.
The right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) spoke about the savings for the public purse that could be found through supported accommodation. He is, of course, right. By investing in supported housing as a preventive service, potential pressures on other public services, such as the NHS and the criminal justice system, can be eased. I want to reassure hon. Members that we do appreciate this very important point. We are mindful that we need to look at the costs and benefits of supported housing in the round.
Mention was made of Brexit, which I guess is inevitable. It is still too early to tell what the impact will be, but we are keeping markets under close review and are actively engaged with housebuilders. Ministers from the Department for Communities and Local Government are meeting industry leaders to listen to their views in light of the EU referendum result.
I would like to pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). I thank her for welcoming me to my position. She has an incredible track record. She is immensely knowledgeable, and I value her experience and expertise. As she mentioned, we have shared platforms together. I hope we will continue to do so. It was a great sadness for me that I had to resign as vice-chair of the all-party group she chairs. I hope I will continue to work alongside her. I want to make it really clear that my door is always open to her. She made the incredibly important point that we need consensus and commitment on this issue and I am determined to find that.
From experience, I know of the excellent work of organisations such as the Enham Trust in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and Care after Combat. Enham provides a wide range of housing options for around 7,500 people across the country, with a particular focus on disabled people. Some of my constituents have benefited from its supported living venues, where residents receive the care and support they require in fully accessible homes.
Care after Combat has recently opened Simon Weston House in Southampton, which specialises in accommodation, rehabilitation and life skills for former armed forces personnel who find themselves in the prison system, and I look forward to visiting it shortly. I was pleased to hear the hon. Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris), for North West Durham (Pat Glass) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) all mention the military covenant and the importance of what we do for former service personnel.
The hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who unfortunately is no longer in his place, intervened with an important point about the YMCA, alongside which, in its capacity as a supported housing provider, I have been pleased to work. He also mentioned Northern Ireland, where, of course, these matters are devolved.
For hundreds of thousands of people across the country, from those with mental health conditions to ex-offenders and those escaping domestic violence, the importance of supported housing cannot be overestimated. We have heard the concerns of the supported housing sector about the application of the local housing allowance rates to all social sector rents. Before coming to this role, I met representatives from Women’s Aid, both locally in Southampton and nationally, and I have arranged to meet stakeholders about this issue. I know there has been a strong dialogue with the sector already; that will continue.
I assure the House that I understand its concerns, and as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out at the start of the debate, we are committed to providing a solution. It is a hugely diverse sector and we need a funding solution that can fit the whole of it. We are committed to making an announcement early in the autumn that will set out the Government’s views on what that solution should look like.
The shadow Secretary of State made a number of points, and it is critical that in response I reiterate that this is a complex sector but that we are determined to get it right. It is far more important that we get it right than that we rush something through. I reassure the House that this issue r