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[Mr James Gray in the Chair] — Housing Benefit

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:27 am on 13th October 2010.

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Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East 10:27 am, 13th October 2010

That worsens the position.

In Edinburgh, if people with homes in the private rented sector, whether they are in work or not, can no longer afford such homes because they do not receive housing benefit, they will come to the council for help with housing. The council has already entered into lease agreements with landlords for around 1,500 to 1,700 properties to provide accommodation for people who have presented as being homeless. They are outside the local housing authority, and the rent levels are extremely high, which is a serious problem. That was intended to be a temporary expedient, but it has been temporary for five years, and the council has recently entered into another contract because it has little choice. The LHA cap will not apply, but if more people go into such accommodation and the council must take on more private leases to cover the situation, the real bill for housing benefit-we are always being told about the huge total of housing benefit-will be squeezed from one end and will push up at the other end. There will be unintended consequences.

Labour Members recognise that some of the changes and reforms, sometimes well intentioned, have had unintended consequences, and that should be taken into account before the changes go ahead. At the end of the day, the total housing benefit bill may not fall, despite the changes that will badly affect individuals, households and families. It is not good enough to say, "You didn't do enough about building housing, so we must do this." If the solution is to build more houses, build more houses. We did that, although they may not all have been council houses, as the Scottish National party said. It came to power saying that it was dreadful that we had not built any council houses, and that it would do so, but the total number built was exactly the same because it gave a little money to councils to build council houses but it took it away from housing associations that were building houses; the global figure did not change.

The answer is not to punish people for the failure of a policy. That is perverse. If there were even a suggestion that some of the money saved would go towards building houses, at least there would be some purpose in the argument, but I do not believe that that will happen. We have had no such assurances. From a perspective much further north than London, I agree with my hon. Friends that the reform is bad and will affect my constituents. I urge the Government, even at this late stage, to reconsider.