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I am delighted that the hon. Lady has given me the opportunity to talk about the difficulty of downsizing and the ludicrous nature of the word “choice”. I would like to take Government Members to my constituent’s mansion, which has two bedrooms, although one is quite small. She has lived in it for 18 years. She has put effort into her house, as did her husband when he was alive, but he is sadly no longer with her. He died, so she is on her own. People have suggested that she get a lodger to fill the spare room, but as her kitchen comes off her living room that would mean sharing her life with a stranger.
Two weeks ago I checked the availability of one-bedroom social rented houses in my city: 24 houses were advertised—that is all the social landlords in the city. Five of them were sheltered housing for people over 60 or 65. My constituent would not have qualified for those houses even if she wanted sheltered housing, which is usually reserved for the most frail, not for somebody who has not quite turned 60. There were 19 houses left that she could have applied for. The highest number of applications for one of those properties was 950, and the lowest number was 52. They were ordinary council properties—not bad, but not fantastically good. The property with 950 applications was admittedly on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, where there are still some council properties, although not many; they come up once in a blue moon and are always in high demand. Even a property in my constituency, which I would describe as a pretty average council property—not particularly wonderful, but not in a very bad area—attracted 850 applications. A multi-story flat in what I would describe as a difficult block, which has a lot of problems and a lot of people with social problems—a lot of my constituents would say, “Oh, I wouldn’t go there”—attracted 170 applications. To suggest to people that it is easy for them to downsize is insulting and unreasonable.
One of the amendments suggested by the House of Lords is that if the Government want to introduce the bedroom tax, although it is not a particularly good idea, they could say that if somebody refused a reasonable offer of a downsized property, the bedroom tax would come into play. But that is not what is happening. My constituent might have to wait for two years, two and a half years, or three years, and even then she might not succeed. In my city—perhaps this is not happening in some constituencies—between 3,000 and 3,500 people every year present as homeless and they have to be housed as well. There is that group as well as the group trying to downsize, so it might not be two or three years; it might be five years. That is not choice.
Other people have been housed in two-bedroom houses by their landlord specifically not by choice, but just because their family is growing up. If we want people to downsize and not to be subsidised, we should at the very least be saying, “Come back when you refuse a reasonable offer, and we will think about it.”