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[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — Housing Benefit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th October 2010.

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Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Chair, Public Accounts Committee 9:30 am, 13th October 2010

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. In my view, the process is much more about political engineering than it is about achieving sensible reductions in public expenditure. I shall talk about the impact that the proposals will have in my constituency and the borough of Barking and Dagenham. In doing so, I hope to expose the flaws in the Government's argument and what I think is the shameful agenda that they are, in fact, pursuing.

The Minister claims that the policy objective of the cap on local housing allowance-setting that cap at 33% of average local rents-linking housing benefit to the lower consumer price index rather than the retail price index and capping the total benefits that workless households receive, is to drive down rents. Let me tell him that he will not achieve his objective. His policies will not drive down rents. What they will do is drive out families-drive them in their droves out of the inner-London constituencies where they live to constituencies such as my own in the London suburbs.

Let us consider the facts-these are the facts from the Department for Work and Pensions, not my facts. In Brent, 9,650 families will lose from £18 a week to £160 a week and the families who will lose the most are those with the most children. In Hackney, 16,440 families will lose from £13 a week to £125 a week, and again the families who will lose the most are those with the most children. We can also take the example of Camden, where 2,940 families will lose from £20 a week to £262 a week, and yet again the families losing most are those with the most children.

It is simply nonsense to believe that the rents in Brent, Hackney or Camden will go down. A survey by London Councils found that 60% of landlords who are renting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit would not be prepared to reduce their rent by even a small amount if their tenants could no longer afford to pay the existing rate because of the reduction in local housing allowances. More than 90% of landlords said that they would try to evict a tenant or refuse to renew their contract if the tenant fell into arrears, if the shortfall in rent was more than £20 a week. Those landlords know that their properties will not lie empty. We all know that there is a massive shortage of housing in the capital and we know that, with the drying up of the mortgage market, more people are being forced into the private rented sector, which in turn increases demand in that sector. We know that the buy-to-let market is booming, because investors can get a good return on their properties. Landlords will not lower their rents, but poor people will be forced out of their houses.

Do not just listen to me on this subject-listen to Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London, when he says in the briefing that he prepared for today's debate that the Government's proposals will lead to

"the loss of the private rented sector as a major safety net for London boroughs".

He continues:

"We expect landlords to leave the housing benefit market due to the perceived instability of housing benefit in the short and medium term".

Those are Boris Johnson's words, not mine.