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 remains a key priority for the ministerial teams at the DWP and the Department for Communities and Local Government. Indeed, Ministers across Whitehall and in the devolved Administrations have an important stake in the outcome of our review.
I would like to place on the record my thanks to the organisations across the sector, local authorities, providers and indeed residents of supported housing who have engaged so willingly in our evidence and policy reviews. I want to ensure that we continue to work closely together as we move towards a consultation on the long-term options for reform in the autumn.
At the start of the debate, the hon. Member for Easington described Ministers as “old hands at making policy in an evidence-free zone”. I am not sure how badly to take the comment about “old hands” but let me reassure him that this is absolutely not an evidence-free zone. I look forward to updating the House on our proposals and to continuing to listen to hon. Members’ views on how best to ensure that the supported housing sector that we all value so much can continue to thrive. We have heard from the Secretary of State that the review will be published in the early autumn. I therefore urge hon. Members to oppose the motion.
20 July 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:
Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2016.