Opposition Day — [17th Allotted Day] — Housing Benefit and Supported Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:27 pm on 27th January 2016.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Labour, Bootle 3:27 pm, 27th January 2016

It is becoming increasingly apparent that this Government are one of the most pusillanimous in living memory when it comes to tackling the powerful and vested interests in this country. This pusillanimous approach extends to the interests of the media, the utilities and any companies that replenish the coffers of the Tory party. In fact, it also extends to the international community as well. The obsequious kowtowing to foreign Governments, such as those of China and Saudi Arabia, is cringe-worthy, embarrassing and not worthy of a British Government. It comes to something when the Italian Government have managed to get more taxes out of big corporations than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is saying something.

It does not matter whether a person is young, old, disabled—either physically or mentally—distressed, unemployed, on low pay, or on temporary or zero-hours contracts, they are fair game for this Government. This is a Government who challenge the weak, the vulnerable and the needy and dress it up as a virtue or something that is character building. The trend now is for the Government to discredit anyone who gets in their way, or who they think is getting in their way. The Government could teach the mafia a thing or two about extortion, but without the charm.

The House of Lords, the bastion of the Tory party for decades, challenges the Government, so the Government are now giving thought to how to clip its wings. It is strange that they have managed to do that only now when they no longer have a built-in majority in the Lords.

Let me turn now to the banks and the bankers. Today, we are seeing the continued fall-out from their reckless decisions that led to the crisis, with the Royal Bank of Scotland having to put aside a further £2 billion to cover its incompetence. Ministers sound like a stuck record, as they once again blame the previous Labour Government. Yet those are the people who, in the form of the shadow Cabinet in 2007, wanted to deregulate the banking and financial services sector lock stock and barrel through their “Freeing Britain to Compete” document. Following the banking crisis, which was caused by their friends in the City, they quietly buried that document much to the chagrin of John Redwood who co-ordinated it. Although that document is as rare as rocking horse dung, I do suggest, none the less, that Government Members try acquaint themselves with it—that is if they can find a copy of it.

I noticed the Prime Minister patting himself on the back today when he talked about the Government’s record on tax collection. If that is the best this Government can do, it is no wonder they are having to penalise those who can least afford it. If they cannot get the money off the corporations, they will get it off the dispossessed.

Yet again we are hearing about another policy that has not been thought through. The fact that the Minister has announced some delay in the proposed cuts to supported housing is evidence of that. The long-term impact on the finances of local government and of the health service are potentially catastrophic. It is significantly cheaper to have elderly people living in supported accommodation than it is to have them in residential care. There is a danger that these proposals will bring forward that cost with the transfer to residential care. Not content with penalising older people for being old, the Government are now on a roll, as they tackle homeless people, those escaping domestic violence and people with disabilities. Around 440,000 homes are potentially affected. Discretionary support will not make up the difference. Charlotte Norman of Place Shapers and St Vincent’s Housing Association says that the proposals look like having a more detrimental effect than any other recent housing or welfare announcement. In my own constituency, Anchor Housing will struggle. The average rent in sheltered housing schemes is £123 a week, which will leave a shortfall of £32. There will be a significant detrimental effect on those organisations that support the most vulnerable.

When we talk about the most vulnerable, the Government accuse us of shroud waving. We are not shroud waving; we are telling the facts as they are, or possibly as they could be. Those on the Government Benches can wring their hands and accuse my right hon. Friend John Healey of being a scaremonger, but they are putting their heads in the sand. It is the responsibility of the Ministers on the Front Bench and this House to get a grip of the situation and get the Chancellor to change his mind for the umpteenth time.