Housing Need (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:19 am on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 11:19 am, 29th June 2010

I fear that there are many inconsistencies going back not only over the past six or seven weeks but, I suspect, over the past six or seven decades. One inconsistency is that we had a Labour Mayor of London for eight of the past 10 years, and housing development was almost at its lowest. In many ways, having overly stringent rules prevented many developers from deciding to develop; they sat on their hands and waited for property prices to increase. The situation has made unemployment a logical option for many people living in London, because it has been forced on them, due to the huge poverty trap. That has meant that unemployment in the capital, even in the boom years, was the highest of any region in the UK.

The announcement in the emergency Budget of a cap to limit the cost of a four-bedroom property to £400 per week has caused incredible concern among my constituents. I suspect much of that concern is caused by the uncertainty of how such a cap will be applied in individual cases, and I want to highlight a couple of typical cases that have come to light in the past week or so. Most of the concerns raised with me so far have come from elderly or disabled constituents, many of whom have been unable to get on to Westminster city council's list for a council property, so instead they live in the private rented sector and have their rent paid by housing benefit. One such constituent is Mr Roger Aves, a disabled resident who requires a live-in carer. He wrote to me:

"You cannot get a broom cupboard in central London for the amount being proposed yet central London is my home and has been since 2001. My medical input is large and being close to my health providers and social care was paramount to my choice of living here."

Another constituent, William Richards, is an 80-year-old pensioner from Pimlico. He said:

"'I agree with a cap on total amounts although it may well affect me in the future. What is a bit mystifying is reference to 'percentile'- referred to earlier-

"which appears to be another way of reducing the benefit but is not made clear at the moment. I have lived in the same private rented accommodation for 25 years. My rent is increased by 10% per annum. How will my flat be evaluated compared to the rent of a social housing flat? Will it be based on the market rent of a privately rented flat in Pimlico or on a council flat?"

As many of us know, some of the most illustrious and sought-after areas in central and outer London are often cheek by jowl with council estates. Mr Richards says:

"The two do not bear comparison. Even now my pension does not cover my rent and I have been living on my savings for many years now in order to pay for the basic necessities. I may well be forced to leave my home."

It is vital that the likely impact of any changes is made clear to people such as Mr Aves and Mr Richards, and we need certainty at the earliest opportunity.

My local authority, Westminster city council, supports the cap and lobbied for some time on reform of housing benefit, as it is essential to reducing the welfare bill, particularly with rates of £2,000 per week claimed for larger properties in Westminster-rare, but none the less real cases.