Local Housing Allowance and Homelessness — [Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:09 am on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:09 am, 24th July 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate. I thank Mr Sharma for setting the scene so well, and all hon. Members for their substantial contributions. As always, I will give a Northern Ireland perspective on the matter and give an idea of what is happening there.

It is good to see the Minister in his place. He has not been in post long, but hopefully he will continue in it long after today. I know that he has a deep interest in this subject, and we look forward to hearing his response to the genuine questions that we have, because I know that he will do his best.

Despite targeted affordability funding, less than 10% of the local housing allowance rates now cover the rent of the cheapest 30% of private homes. That is a chasm of difference, which is very hard to equate, as other Members have said. Many people who cannot get on the social housing ladder and who have no family to take them in realistically have to resort to sleeping on the streets. It is not by choice; it is almost by design that they are unable to find accommodation.

I have had a number of such cases in my constituency. Entering the private housing system is not an option for many benefit claimants, given how high the cost of rental is in the private housing sector. People without a partner who are benefit claimants cannot realistically get a one-bedroom flat through social housing and cannot afford to get one through private rental under the current allowances, because the two figures just do not equate, as I have said.

Ms Buck mentioned a mother with two children who are visually handicapped, who has to use the money that should be purposely set aside for their disability to pay the rent, so that they have accommodation and the children can get to school. That is a supreme example of the problems that people have, and I am sure that the Minister will respond to it specifically if he can.

Given the issues, why should we expect people to try and get suitable accommodation? I know the difficulties in my area. My staff and I were working with a young man who was literally sleeping in a garage. He was 40, so not entitled to homeless points, despite our efforts on his behalf. We all tried to get him into accommodation in the area, but he could not get a one-bedroom flat in his price range. His elderly mother—very often, family members step in—ended up paying the difference, but when she passes away, hopefully not for a long, long time, I do not know where this troubled young man will be. He will certainly not be in a private rental.

Nobody should have to sleep on the streets in this day and age, as I think all of us—the Minister, the shadow Minister, Alex Cunningham, and all right hon. and hon. Members here today—realise. I believe that we must try to bring more people into employment, so that they do not have to rely on benefits to provide them with a stable home. I will make some comments and ask some questions about that shortly, because this issue is not just the Minister’s responsibility; other Departments have a role to play as well.

The local housing allowance should be a safety net for people, so that they can find a job to provide them with a bit more stability. Yes, some people may undoubtedly seek to take advantage of the benefits system as an excuse not to find a job, but I have to say that, from my evidential basis, I do not see that. I am not saying that it does not happen, but I do not see it in my constituency.

There is a genuine lack of housing at these prices, and private rental landlords are sometimes loth to take universal credit or housing benefit tenants, and especially not at a discounted rate. There is a very difficult balance to strike between a rental that is correct and a housing benefit or universal credit system that helps people to stay in the accommodation they are in.