Housing Benefit

Part of Opposition Day — [5th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 9th November 2010.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:40 pm, 9th November 2010

I beg to move,

That this House
believes that, whilst housing benefit is in need of reform, the Government's proposals will mean significant losses for hundreds of thousands of working families and pensioners and risk spending an additional £120 million on the cost of providing temporary accommodation;
and calls on the Government to bring forward revised proposals for the reform of housing benefit which do not penalise those who have been unable to secure employment within 12 months, and which ensure that any proposals are implemented on a revised timetable which allows councils, tenants and landlords to adjust, allows the impact on rents to be observed and understood, and avoids additional spending on temporary accommodation.

It is common ground across the House that the deficit needs to be cut and that, as the motion states, housing benefit needs to be reformed. The shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, will speak later and I am sure she will reflect the views of many in this House in recognising that the issue of housing benefit cannot, and should not, be detached from broader issues of housing provision. However, it is important to start the debate by setting out some of the facts that explain the real and rising concerns that have been expressed from both sides of the House about the impact of the Government's proposed housing benefit changes. I will address first the reach of the changes, then the reason for them, and finally their potential impact.

If we were to believe everything we read in the newspapers, we would have thought in recent weeks that housing benefit reform is solely a London issue and that it matters only to people who have large houses and should be, but are not, working. Broadcasts and newspapers have suggested that the key issues are workshy families in Mayfair mansions, so let us start with some truths, however inconvenient they are for the Opposition Front Bench. Some 4.7 million people in the United Kingdom currently receive housing benefit, 2 million of whom are pensioners on pension credit guarantee of just about £132 a week, while 500,000 are people on jobseeker's allowance and 700,000 are people in work in low-paying jobs. From just one measure of the Government's proposed changes alone-the cut in local housing allowance from the 50th to the 30th percentile-700,000 of these, many of the poorest people in our country in and out of work, stand to lose on average £9 per week.