Restrictions on Rating and Precepting

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:15 pm on 26th January 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Stuart Holland Mr Stuart Holland , Vauxhall 11:15 pm, 26th January 1987

I support this group of amendments and 1 draw particular attention to amendment No. 136 in schedule 2, page 12, line 45, at end insert— '(6A) "X" is the variable amount for each authority (which shall be not less than zero) which the Secretary of State shall determine for that authority having regard to its individual circumstances'. I also wish to echo the views of my hon. Friends and to draw attention to the problems and deprivations in Lambeth. In a key range of indicators only one other authority in the country, Hackney, has a higher incidence of deprivation than Lambeth. In five of the eight indicators used by the Department of Environment Lambeth comes in the top dozen authorities. With regard to the indicators that directly relate to housing deprivation, Lambeth ranks ninth in the indicator on overcrowded households and eleventh in the indicator of households that lack the exclusive use of amenities. It ranks second highest for the proportion of one-parent families and is sixth in the indicator relating to the proportion of the ethnic population in local authorities.

The widespread nature of urban deprivation in Lambeth causes great concern. The council needs to adopt a wider base of programmes and policies even to begin to alleviate its problems. The ending of the strategic housing role of the Greater London council has meant slamming the door on inner boroughs such as Lambeth. Families cannot now be moved out of the borough. Thus it is increasingly difficult for the council to deal with the housing crisis.

There has been much criticism about housing benefit from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) made certain allegations about the difficulties that Lambeth has in collecting rents, earlier in the debate but has now decided to quit the Chamber.

It is extremely difficult for a borough such as Lambeth to collect rents from certain categories of people who are on the margins of survival. For example a recent survey carried out in Lambeth in 1986 showed that over 40 per cent. of the residents have an income of less than £5,200 a year and two thirds of those people were in council housing. When such families face delays in payments in security benefits—there is a backlog of some 13,000 unrelated claims in at last two social security offices in my constituency—they are literally faced with having to decide whether to feed their children or pay their rent.

The Government have failed to put resources into social services and they have also cut the housing investment programme for Lambeth in the manner that I illustrated earlier today. When 40 per cent. of council tenants are in receipt of housing benefit and therefore supplementary benefit it represents a major problem for the borough. It is compounded by the fact—I do not believe that it has been stressed in the debate so far—that 36 statutory instruments have been introduced by the Government that affect the payment of housing benefit. There were nine in 1982, eight in 1983, 10 in 1984, six in 1985 and three in 1986.

It is virtually impossible for any local authority to undertake computerisation or other programmes to ensure an effective payment of housing benefit when there are so many changes in regulations introduced by the Government. Housing benefit has been thrown on to councils. Previously rent rebates were paid by the social security offices. But with the soaring rate of unemployment, now averaging 25 per cent. In my constituency, the Government have shifted the responsibility for those payments from the DHSS to the local boroughs. They cannot cope with the complexities.

I have one further reservation. The X formula is excellent in principle, but I am not sure how it will be applied in practice under the Government. I suspect that they will think of a number, divide it by two, subtract X and still impose cuts on Labour boroughs. But we could make X an effective calculation I therefore support the amendments.