Supported Housing: Benefit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 20th July 2016.

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Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon 2:42 pm, 20th July 2016

I pay tribute to the fantastic new team who will be responding to this debate and to the shadow Minister, whom I met in a former role and who demonstrated a real concern in this area. He was proactive in putting forward a powerful case, and one that I hope the Government will continue to listen to.

I welcome the tone of the new Secretary of State’s response. This is an incredibly complex area. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in society, and instinctively we want certainty. Clearly, that is a very powerful argument. If we could provide certainty, there would be much rejoicing, but sometimes we can be just too quick. This is such a complicated issue. I have visited many different organisations, charities and providers that do a wonderful job, but each and every one is unique in how it tackles the challenges around providing the right level of support and opportunities.

We cannot rush this; we have to get it right, because, otherwise, through unintended consequences, some of the most vulnerable people in society will pay the price of our rushing for the sake of an easy headline. I am encouraged that the team will do that and will engage with stakeholders, many of which have huge experience and very talented policy teams who come and helpfully spell out the best ways to proceed. By not rushing the decision, we can enable them genuinely to shape and influence what the Government do. It is not unreasonable for us to wait till the autumn for further details.

The Government have a proud record in this area. We currently spend about £50 billion supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions—an increase of £3 billion. Two hundred people a week are getting into work and coming off housing benefit. They are benefiting from the growing economy and rising wages. Our changes to housing benefit rules are saving approximately £2 billion, and let us not forget that more than 1 million social sector tenants will benefit from the 1% reduction in rents—they cannot be forgotten in this discussion.

People are typically spending seven months less in temporary housing accommodation. Our changes to the spare room subsidy have seen the waiting list go from 1.7 million to 1.2 million. I remember the anger in the Chamber during the urgent question that I faced and in many similar debates, but all too often families in inappropriate accommodation and on the housing waiting list are left looking enviously at people whose children have grown up and left home. It is right that we never forget them.

The increase in funding for the discretionary housing payment of £870 million over the Parliament will allow the flexibility to work with agencies such as the police, social services and medical professionals; and all that will be underlined by the public sector equality duty. We need also to recognise the importance of devolution and how in different towns and communities there are different challenges and opportunities. We have committed £400 million for the delivery of 8,000 specialist homes specifically for vulnerable and elderly people and those with disabilities. There has been a 79% increase in the disability facilities grant, meaning that the funding has gone from £220 million to £394 million, which will help an additional 40,000 people; and £500 million has been set aside to tackle homelessness during this Parliament.

The key is that we recognise in the review the further opportunities for joined-up working. We set the ball rolling with the joint work and health unit, using the brightest people in the DWP and the Department of Health and looking at what opportunities are available. I have seen those at first hand. I have visited Foxes Academy, a former hotel in Bridgwater, which, for the first two years, supports young adults with learning disabilities progressively to improve their independent living opportunities. It also works with local employers to create real, tangible job outcomes. In this country, if someone has a learning disability, they typically have a 6% chance of a meaningful career, yet through its supported housing and independent living and training provision, 80% of its students find a career. That should not be best practice or simply happening in isolation; it should be an absolute given. It is right, therefore, that we take the time to talk to the huge range of experts out there. In my own constituency, I saw Voyage Care, and in Cheltenham the Leonard Cheshire homes, where there is a focus on quality of life, providing entertainment and supporting people in any way possible to give them the things that we take for granted.

I finish with a plea. The welcome introduction of the national living wage impacts on a huge number of staff providing this vital care. We need to make sure that the funding is in place so that we continue to get the best staff into these jobs.