My urgent question—this concern is shared by Members on both sides of the House—was: what assessment has been done of the impact of the cuts on homelessness? With respect to the Minister, she has made a statement but she could have given a one-word answer, which is “none”. No impact assessment was published with the regulations on Friday. Why not? How many young people will now be denied all help with housing benefit? There are 1,741 18 to 21-year-olds in the Minister’s county of Hampshire claiming housing benefit. How many of them will still get help next month, and how many will get nothing?
The Minister may not have done an assessment, but the charities that work day in, day out to help the homeless in all our constituencies have done so. Centrepoint says that 9,000 young people will be put at risk of homelessness. Shelter says that
“there is no way this isn’t going to lead to an increase in rough sleeping.”
Crisis, which drafted the very important Homelessness Reduction Bill promoted by Bob Blackman, says that the policy “runs entirely counter” to the aims of that Bill, and that it
“could spell disaster for the many vulnerable young people rightly entitled to help.”
Surely the Minister does not think that those charities are wrong. If she knows they are right, surely the Government are not going to go ahead with these cruel and counterproductive cuts.
Members on both sides of the House have deeply held concerns about the rapidly rising level of homelessness in our country. Will the Minister accept that none of the arguments that she has made today or previously really stack up? She says that this is about levelling the playing field, but these young people, who are old enough to marry, work, pay taxes and fight for our country, will now be denied the same right as other British adults to basic help with housing costs.
Ministers have said that the exemptions will protect the vulnerable, but the National Landlords Association declares:
“Never mind the nuances, all landlords will hear is that 18-21 year olds are no longer entitled to housing benefit…they just won’t consider them as a tenant.”
Ministers have said that this will save money, but once the knock-on costs to other services are taken into account the saving will fall to only £3.3 million.
The Minister talked about the manifesto; it contained a commitment to remove the “automatic” entitlement. Claimants already have to pass multiple checks and tests, so there really is nothing automatic about young people getting housing benefit. Will the Minister recognise that the Government have the opportunity in tomorrow’s Budget to reverse this counterproductive policy? Will she leave the House this afternoon and tell the Chancellor that if he does so, he will have the fullest support not just from Opposition Members but, I suspect, from Members across the House?