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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

That is outrageous. I must also tell the Minister that I am absolutely convinced that within a year or two, boroughs and authorities such as Kensington and Chelsea or Hammersmith, from which families move out to areas such as Barking and Dagenham or Tower Hamlets, will cease to take responsibility for providing all the other local authority services that those families will need. They will then be an additional burden on those local authorities.

Who will foot the bill for social services and support for those families? They are already on the edge, and they are bound to make greater demands as they are uprooted from their inner-London homes and lose their links with the local services on which they depend. Has the Minister properly considered the impact of the proposals to cut housing benefit on the demand for other local authority services? Has he received advice on whether the proposals will increase homelessness and child poverty, as I believe they inevitably will?

The reforms will not achieve what the Government claim, but that is only half the story. The truth is that the Government want to drive low-income families out of inner London and other wealthy areas. London Councils estimates that at least 82,000 London households will find themselves in that position, and that is without taking into account the impact of the measures announced at the party conference last week. People will not have the option to move to a cheaper property in the same area because there will be none, unless they are prepared to downsize and move into overcrowded accommodation. They will have no choice but to move to areas where rents are more affordable. That will be a tragedy for families and communities. It is completely wrong of the Government to implement such a policy, with the full knowledge of the demographic upheaval that it will cause, and to leave local authorities to cope with the consequences.

We will also lose the diverse communities and social mix that have been a part of London's character for generations. Central London will become the home of young professionals and the very well-off who, conveniently, can be relied on to vote Conservative. Those struggling on low incomes will congregate in the outer boroughs, which will become more disadvantaged, overstretched and troubled. The reforms will cause suffering and push more families into poverty by forcing them to contribute more of their income to housing costs. Members of all parties recognise the need to reform housing benefit, but this is not the way to go about it.

The reforms have not been properly thought through. They have the potential to cause hardship of a kind not seen since the creation of the welfare state, and they have been informed by a disgraceful political calculation. How a Liberal Democrat can attempt to defend them is beyond me. What evidence do the Government have to support their claim that the new cap will reduce rents in the private sector? What additional resources will be made available to help local authorities such as Barking and Dagenham cope with any significant increase in inward migration? Finally, how will the Government keep their promise to eradicate child poverty, given the hardship that their policy will inflict on low-income families?