Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 6:51 pm, 25th March 2013

As time is short and lots of hon. Members still want to speak, I will concentrate my remarks on two matters: something I was disappointed not to find in the Budget and something I was completely surprised to find in it.

The thing I was disappointed not to find was any change in the Government’s attitude to what has become known as the bedroom tax. I was not naive enough to think that they would make a complete volte face having realised it is such an insidious and wrong-headed policy, but I did think there might be some movement on the kinds of people in households who should be completely exempt. I am thinking of households with a profoundly disabled child or where a house has been specially adapted for someone with a disability. The Government say that people who have had their house adapted can apply for a discretionary housing payment, but it should not at the discretion of the local authority to decide whether it is affordable to pay the rent on a house that has been specially adapted for an individual.

As someone who has had to adapt a number of houses, I know how difficult it is, how expensive it can be, and how upsetting it can be for the individual. I also know that very often the adaptations are made specifically for the individual, so if the family has to move out of their home as a result of not getting their housing benefit paid in full, the house will not necessarily be any good for any other disabled person. This is wrong-headed—it should never be discretionary. I hope that it is not too late for the Government to make sure that that group of people is exempt from the bedroom tax.

The thing I was surprised to see in the Budget was the change in the date for the introduction of the new single-tier pension. I recognise that this might be a bit academic for hon. Members in the Chamber today, but my Select Committee, the Work and Pensions Committee, was asked to carry out the pre-legislative scrutiny of the changes to the state pension. The Bill that was published had a start date of April 2017, and we had taken all our evidence on that basis. We had asked the industry whether it could be ready by April 2017 and asked the various user groups whether that was a reasonable time scale.

Having taken all that evidence and done the scrutiny work that the Government had asked us to do, it came as a complete surprise when we found in the Budget that the date was to be brought forward by a whole year and the measure will now be implemented from April 2016. It makes a mockery of the pre-legislative scrutiny process that we were not able to do our job properly and ask the right questions. Just a week before, the Minister responsible had said that there would be no slippage in the timetable and that April 2017 would be the implementation date.

One might think that perhaps, because the Budget was covered by all the usual purdah arrangements, the Government were unable to tell us that the measure was going to come in a year earlier, but the information was leaked and was all over the papers the Sunday before. Clearly, the Government knew they were going to change the date. This was obviously very tempting for the Chancellor given that some £5.9 billion is generated by bringing in the change to contracting out, because no one will be contracted out under the new single-tier pension. I am very angry, as you can tell, Mr Deputy Speaker, that this was landed on my Committee at the very last moment.