Tuesday 29 January 2013

Bedroom Tax: No Answers

Some lowlights from yesterday's DWP session in the Commons. Dignifying Ministers' replies with the appellation 'answers' is to duff up the English language. I've focused on the landlords' subsidy and the bedroom tax for this sorry selection from Hansard. Studious straight-answer avoidance and whataboutery rules the roost. They treat it like a game because, for the government, it is. I guess you can expect this from a snake oil merchant like IDS but Steve Webb (pictured), the LibDem minister for pensions, is supposed to be some kind of "lefty". Oh really? Then I'm a hatstand.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Last week in Westminster Hall Ministers made great play of the savings that the Government might expect from the bedroom tax. In Wales there is a chronic shortage of smaller houses, so why will the Secretary of State not admit that those who are hit by this cruel policy in Wales will have to go into the insecure private sector where rents will be higher and local housing allowance rates will cost more?

Mr Duncan Smith: What the hon. Lady and her party presided over when they were in power was a complete mess in housing—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Opposition Members to shout like a bunch of discombobulated monkeys bouncing up and down on the Benches; the reality is that their housing benefit record left many thousands of families unable to find housing because they were in a queue, while others occupied housing that had far too many rooms. We have to put that right, and that is what we are doing. The Labour party never did that when it was in government.

Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the potential effect on low-income families of planned changes to housing benefit eligibility in respect of under-occupancy in the social rented sector. [139395]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): Our impact assessment shows that of the 3.4 million social sector tenants receiving housing benefit, up to 660,000 could potentially be affected by this measure.

Mr Hepburn: Do this Government ever get fed up of hammering the poor of this country? Punishing the poor seems to be the mandate that is running this Government. In my constituency, 2,000 households will lose anything up to 25% because of this bedroom tax. Will the Minister change this callous measure now, or will he wait until it becomes this Government’s poll tax and comes back to haunt them?

Steve Webb: If we leave aside the issue of people in his constituency who are living in over-crowded accommodation, who would very much like the opportunity to live in one of these houses, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that for many years under Labour people who rented in the private rented sector were not allowed a spare bedroom. Why is it fair not to allow private renters a spare bedroom, but to allow social tenants a spare bedroom?

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): The bedroom tax will have an impact on thousands of people in Telford. Many might want to move to smaller accommodation, but it is not available and the Government know it is not available. The policy is designed to penalise people—it is nothing to do with the housing market.

Steve Webb: There is a danger that this is viewed in a very static way. Many of the best housing associations are looking at groups of constituents, some of whom are over-occupying and are overcrowded, and are moving people around to create space. In the longer term, we need a housing stock that better meets the needs of people on the waiting list, and it is time that successive Governments addressed that.

Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): Because of the shameful under-investment in social housing by the previous Government, there are simply not enough properties for people to downsize to. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the number of families who will end up moving to smaller, more expensive accommodation and end up receiving more in housing benefit?

Steve Webb: My hon. Friend is right: successive Governments have failed to build enough affordable housing. It is worth stressing that moving is one option, but only one option, for those in work. Just two or three extra hours on the minimum wage would cover this deduction. There are a range of options—going into work, taking in a lodger or sub-letting—and good housing associations are working with their tenants to achieve best outcomes.


Phil Edwards said...

I see my local MP taking the unfashionable role of "Lib Dem talking a bit of sense"; I'm pleasantly surprised. I'm still voting Labour next time, though.

Phil said...

Talking sense? Well, as you are voting Labour there may be hope for you ;)