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Welfare Reform and Work Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:02 pm on 20th July 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 6:02 pm, 20th July 2015

Child poverty fell dramatically under the previous Government; now it has plateaued. I fear that because of measures announced in the Budget, it is going to rocket, and we are determined to stop that happening if we can.

Another reform in the Bill that we support in principle is the provision to turn support for mortgage interest into a repayable loan. That is a sensible step, in principle, given that the benefit enables homeowners to retain an asset and potentially gain substantially from rising house prices. However, it must not make affordability problems worse for people struggling to stay in their homes. Repayments must not tip people into repossession and homelessness. The Secretary of State did not tell us what arrangements are proposed for repaying these loans. We will argue that those who access that support should be able to defer repayment until they sell the property without pressure from the Government to do so. The Budget announced an increase in the waiting period for support for mortgage interest from 13 weeks to 39 weeks. That is too long. As it is a loan scheme, why make people wait, particularly as that could force them into the hands of loan sharks? With support for mortgage interest becoming, in effect, a form of low-risk consumer credit, it should be readily available without nine months of delay to those struggling to make repayments.

We welcome the plans to reduce social rents, which will save 1.2 million households £700 a year, but we have grave concerns about the impact on housing associations and local authorities. They will face a huge reduction in rent revenue, drastically undermining their capacity to borrow and to build. The Office for Budget Responsibility says that many fewer homes will be built; the National Housing Federation puts the figure at 27,000. We will table amendments to address that.