Supported Housing: Benefit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 20th July 2016.

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Photo of John Healey John Healey Labour, Wentworth and Dearne 3:30 pm, 20th July 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Julian Knight. He claims that the Government’s approach is rooted in a deep appreciation of the help that supported housing gives to many of the most vulnerable. That certainly was not a characteristic of the Chancellor’s decision in November, but we look forward to it being a characteristic of the decisions taken by the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the new Chancellor this autumn. I applaud my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) for joining forces in this debate—just as I did with our hon. Friend Owen Smith in January in a similar debate on a motion in similar terms to try to defend supported housing from some crude, across-the-board cuts that put its very future in jeopardy.

Those cuts were announced by the previous Chancellor in last November’s autumn statement. The Government Front-Bench team keep on saying that they do not want to rush the decision, but that was the decision that was taken. It was wrong and was taken with no consultation, no evidence, no impact assessment and no warning. The previous Chancellor said that

“housing benefit in the social sector will be capped at the relevant local housing allowance.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2015;
Vol. 602, c. 1360.]

With one short sweeping sentence, he put at risk almost all specialist housing for the frail elderly, the homeless, young children and people leaving care, people with dementia, people with mental illness or learning disabilities, people fleeing domestic violence and some of our veterans. The Secretary of State’s predecessor, Mr Duncan Smith, either did not spot it or did not stop it, but either way the Chancellor completely ignored him last year. One of the tests for the new Secretary of State will be whether he can get the Chancellor to reverse the decision and to make a different one.

The purpose of my publicly exposing the problems with the housing benefit cut in December, calling the debate in this House in January, visiting many of the most vulnerable at-risk schemes across the country throughout February, and making a Budget submission to the Chancellor in March remains the same as it was back then: to give voice to the hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people whose homes have been put at risk by the decision taken in the autumn statement and to highlight the warnings and the evidence of organisations that have the facts and will have to deal with the consequences. They are providers that the public respects and trusts, such as Women’s Aid, Mencap, Age UK and the Salvation Army.

I also want to press the case, as the motion does, for a full exemption of all supported and sheltered housing from these crude, across-the-board cuts. The Secretary of State’s words and tone were welcome today, but the test will be whether he can deliver a change of decision come the autumn. He said that the issues are important, sensitive and hugely difficult. He said that he was prepared to listen carefully to the sector, which we welcome. He also acknowledged that this sector transforms lives. In Rotherham, Target Housing does just that with people coming out of prison and the penal system, and Rush House does just that with vulnerable young people, often needing somewhere safe and a roof over their head and then the chance to be able to live independently. Together, those two organisations look after over 100 vulnerable people, but they say that they will be losing out by £8,000 a week and will have to close their doors and their schemes, leaving the people with nowhere else to go.

So I say to the Secretary of State that the review in the early autumn is fine, but that was started in 2014. We were told that it would report by the end of March, but it did not. It was nine months too late then, and by early autumn it will be 12 months too late for the decision that has already been taken. The test now is: can he produce this review in time for the next autumn statement, because he missed the last autumn statement? The real test will not be whether he can publish this evidence review, but whether he can get the change of decision that hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable people in this country desperately want to hear from this Government.