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[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — Housing Benefit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:21 am on 13th October 2010.

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Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn 10:21 am, 13th October 2010

I said "usual", not "old". [Laughter.] These hon. Members know, from first-hand experience in their own constituencies, precisely the depth of damage that will be inflicted on our constituents if these proposals go through without any reconsideration or re-evaluation of what is actually, practically, going to happen. If the Government are not going to listen to what the loyal Opposition are presenting to them in this respect, perhaps they will give consideration to organisations such as Citizens Advice, Crisis, Gingerbread and the Chartered Institute of Housing, all of which are saying that the housing benefit proposals will increase the amount of homelessness and that it is unlikely that they will save any money at all.

The amount of social disturbance that will take place is scandalous. Crisis predicts, as I have had occasion to say in this Chamber, that if the proposals go through there will be a vast increase in homelessness. However, there will still be a statutory responsibility for local authorities to house children, so we will go back to the bad old days of bed and breakfast. As Crisis says, it is the norm for bed and breakfast charges to be £60 a day for a room. How much will that save the country? Children will not only lose their homes, but lose their schools, friends and community support and will more than likely lose an immediate and direct medical service, so their parents will have to take them, should they be ill, to the local accident and emergency unit. How will that affect those boroughs to which these thousands and thousands of families are expected to move to reduce the rent they pay and to stay in some kind of reasonably permanent housing?

Citizens Advice has said that there is only a short time left for someone who will have to move out of their present accommodation if the changes are brought in. A family may be forced to change their accommodation twice in as short a space of time as three months. Citizens Advice quotes cases where this has already happened.

It is incomprehensible that the party that purported to be on the side of the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable in our society has signed up totally to the proposals on housing benefit. In one way I am surprised, but in another I am not. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, who has become the Marshal Pétain of his generation, had the audacity to speak at the United Nations on the failure of countries infinitely poorer than ours to meet their millennium development goals on tackling infant mortality and reducing deaths in childbirth, but one of the first policies that he has endorsed will make women and children in this country homeless. He has also urged his colleagues, supporters and followers to enjoy their power. Will the Minister do that today? Will he enjoy the power that has been vested in him and use it to destroy families and communities?

My hon. Friends have already said that central London will become a no-go area for basic, usually very low-paid jobs, on which the whole of central London depends. I will be interested to see what happens in the Palace of Westminster if this measure goes through. It is highly likely that there will be a marked reduction in people keeping our offices clean, providing us with food and giving us the services on which we in the Palace of Westminster depend. If that situation is expanded across the whole of central London, what will we see? There will be fewer bus drivers and, certainly, fewer teachers. Teachers are already telling me that they cannot afford to buy and are finding it virtually impossible to rent. The Government argue that we have to attract foreign investment to give yet another kick-start to bring this country out of recession-although they have provided a gentle nudge more than a kick-but if this proposal goes ahead the very services on which this city depends simply will not be there.

It is utterly absurd to think that the outer London boroughs will be able easily to take up the thousands of people who will have to move out of central London-this is not an exaggeration, as the Minister must know-and meet their housing, educational, social and medical needs. Does he really wish to turn this city back to what it was under Thatcherite mark 1-he is signed up to Thatcherite mark 2-when people were living in doorways and slept for the night on gratings? Lincoln's Inn Fields, for example, was taken over by a tented community. That will be the result of this disastrous policy if the Government do not begin seriously to rethink what they are proposing. If they do not listen to Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, perhaps they will listen to organisations whose sole purpose in life has to do with helping provide people with decent housing. Then perhaps they will, for heaven's sake, rethink this disastrous policy.