Supported housing provides a hugely valuable service to many of our most vulnerable citizens: elderly people in need of care; vulnerable young people who need support and supervision; those fleeing domestic abuse or recovering from addiction; and more besides. The different types of supported accommodation are as varied as those who need them, ranging from hostels and refuges to more specialised residential units built around the specific needs of their residents. What they have in common is that they provide people with not only a safe place to live but a platform from which to embark on a more empowered, independent life than their circumstances might otherwise allow.
I iterate these points in order to make it absolutely clear that the Government’s approach to the supported housing sector is rooted in a deep appreciation of the help that it provides for the vulnerable and an understanding of the challenges that it faces. The Solihull Care Centre, an organisation in my constituency that assists and represents carers, told me recently that some of its members were worried by the uncertainty created by the current one-year delay in the implementation of some of the coalition’s planned reforms to funding. I note that there are no Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber taking part in the debate today.
The entire reason for the delay in implementing the proposals outlined in the coalition paper is to allow proper time to examine the concerns expressed by other parts of the sector about their impact. It would be wrong to proceed without paying careful attention to those on the frontline. The Government must weigh the arguments of any lobby against the wider needs of the nation and the public purse. We cannot abandon the reform effort. I feel that the wisest course of action was to delay the changes while the sector’s concerns are explored and examined in detail. I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State commit today to reach a final decision in the early autumn. I will be writing to the Solihull Carers Centre on my return to the office to let it know that timeline.
Complications are part of what makes reform so daunting, and sticking with an unsustainable status quo is always tempting. It is too often easier to patch and mend, to avoid the hassle and to pass the problem on to the next generation of politicians. I am proud to be part of a reforming Government that have led a decisive break with the buck-passing of the past. Government Members recognise that only by adapting to changing circumstances do we make sure that such important institutions are maintained for the future.
Bringing down the welfare bill is essential if we are not to pass on an unsustainable debt to our children. Let us not forget that it was under Labour that housing benefit ballooned into one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our welfare system. At the start of this year, the annual cost stood at a staggering £25 billion—more than we spend on roads, the police, and equipping the military put together and equivalent to about 8p on income tax. Our reforms recognise that the old system had become overly complicated to administer and contained blind spots as a result of how it classified landlords, for example. It would also have become increasingly incompatible with the changing landscape of welfare provision as other reforms, such as universal credit and individual budgets, come into force.
I am confident, particularly after listening to the Secretary of State today, that the Government will move forward after the current review with proposals that will provide security to tenants, certainty for providers, value for money to taxpayers, and a sense of fairness to renters in the unsupported housing sector.