Under-occupancy (Disabled People)

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury) 2:30 pm, 11th March 2013

What recent assessment he has made of the likely effects of the under-occupancy penalty on households that include a disabled person.

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Let us be clear. The spare room subsidiary is not a penalty and it is not a tax. It is the result of, and a solution to, the inequality of treatment between those in the private rented and the social rented sector. The fact that housing benefit doubled in the past 10 years and the sheer imbalance in the system that we inherited resulted in 1.8 million people on waiting lists, 250,000 in overcrowded houses, and 1 million spare rooms in the system, when 180,000 claimants who are claiming disability living allowance, or whose partners are doing so, have spare rooms.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for that answer, although I do not think it addresses the question. Disabled people in my constituency are coming to see me terrified about the implications of having to find additional money every week, so what can the Minister say about the disabled people who are contacting the local authority in my area to be told that they may not get a discretionary payment and that, even if they do, it may not last for the full year? Does she have any words of comfort for them?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady, like all of us, has a duty to allay those fears, and it is something that we can all do. We know that so many specific instances could not be regulated clearly in law, hence we have trebled the discretionary payment to take into account all these factors. We know that pensioners are exempt and that we are helping, obviously, severely disabled children, and we have made clear all those who are being assisted. It is our duty to make sure that facts are clearly spelled out, and those who are most in need will be supported.

Photo of Duncan Hames Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat, Chippenham

I know from my own constituency case load that Wiltshire council is often persuaded that families with disabled children can require an additional room in order to meet their needs. Will the Minister clarify the earlier answer to the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway)? Is it the Government’s position that these families will be reliant on discretionary payments, or is it indeed the case that they will not see their housing benefit cut?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If the disabled child cannot share and there is impact on another child, if they need that room, that room will be provided for, as the Secretary of State has said and in accordance with the local authorities.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for their answers today. This policy will affect all parts of the United Kingdom irrespective of the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland. On the assessment and the figures that have been presented today, is the Minister able to say something about how many people will be affected in Northern Ireland, given that there is a complete lack of single bedroom homes, both in the private and public sector, in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I will be very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the exact numbers for Northern Ireland. I can say, from the money that has been made available through the discretionary payments, that we will be supporting those most in need, as we have said so clearly throughout today.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Given that the Prime Minister continues to state that families with disabled children or with family members as carers will somehow be exempt from the bedroom tax—and before the Minister reaches for her brief and tells me once more about the discretionary fund, she needs to realise that it is time limited and there is not enough in the fund—will the Minister advise the House whether the Prime Minister is pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, or has she abrogated her responsibilities as the Minister with responsibility for disabled people and not told them the exact impact of his Government’s policies?

Photo of Esther McVey Esther McVey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

In line with the judgment, the Prime Minister was correct. We have clarified today that they will have the room and they will not need to move.