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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:11 pm on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:11 pm, 22nd March 2016

I want to focus my comments on homelessness and the effects on it caused by the Budget and the changes over the past six years, specifically because I attended an event this weekend organised by Rucksack, a charity that gives advice and clothing to homeless people in Grimsby and the surrounding area. It directs rough-sleepers to hostels with spare beds and other organisations that can offer help, such as the YMCA, Salvation Army and Harbour Place, which is a well-known local organisation. They all do fantastic work but, due to the recent surge in homelessness, some local hostels have extensive waiting lists of 15 people who cannot get beds. Rucksack tells me that each of those organisations is substantially overstretched in offering their provision to local people in dire straits. Homelessness is not caused by fluctuations in the economy; it is about people’s support structures.

In my area—I am sure the situation is replicated across the country—there is a critical shortage of appropriate properties for people suffering varying degrees of disability, and their partners, children or people they care for, because of the funding available for adaptations in social housing and private housing for people with disabilities. It is becoming more difficult not only because the funding is decreasing significantly, but because the thresholds that people face to qualify for it are so high.

It is a test for our society. I heard colleagues say eloquently yesterday that the debate is about whether we are compassionate enough to ensure that help is there for people in their most difficult time. We have failed that test in recent years. The Treasury briefed The Sun before the Budget that the Chancellor was drawing up plans to eradicate homelessness. How typical was that of the Chancellor? There was a great pre-Budget story for the papers, complete with a celebrity endorsement from Richard Gere to catch attention. On the day itself, that grand scheme turned out to be nothing more than a sticking plaster. I defy any Government Minister to stand up and say, with a straight face, that the scheme will get us anywhere near to eradicating homelessness. As the chief executive of Crisis said, the measures do little to tackle the underlying problems.

I am no spreadsheet geek, by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had a look at tables 2.1 and 2.2 in the Red Book, which deal with measures in this Budget and those in previous Budgets and autumn statements that are due to come into effect this year. They relate to housing benefit changes, the temporary accommodation funding mechanism and reductions in social housing rents, which have impacts on the ability of housing associations to invest in existing properties or to build new ones. All those things have a significant impact on homelessness and the likely increases in it. The £115 million proposed is therefore a case of giving with one hand and taking significantly away with the other. I know that organisations such as Rucksack and other small charities in my constituency, such as Harbour Place, will say that they are not clear where that £115 million is going to go. It really needs to go to those who need it the most and the organisations that provide direct care and help. Under their welfare reforms, the Government made those under the age of 25 ineligible for housing benefit. That is another cut within this Budget, but I will end there.