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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:16 am on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Liam Byrne Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy) 10:16 am, 24th July 2019

We do not know, because obviously there is not a safeguarding adult review for everyone who dies. There should be a safeguarding adult review for everyone who dies, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall made a sensible but crucial point: that local housing allowance is absolutely part of this crisis. He is absolutely right. The average LHA in Birmingham, which is £132 a week, covers only two thirds of the cost of a median home in our city. However, it would be delusional to pretend, as our current Mayor has tried to do, that local housing allowance is somehow the nub of the changes we need to make.

The truth is that to fund tax cuts for the lucky, this Government have reduced social insurance for the unlucky to a clutch of shreds and patches. This Government have now cut back so hard that social insurance in this country is now in systems failure. I know the Minister will say that it was a hard choice, but the truth is that it was the wrong choice. The tax cuts that have been handed out to British corporates now total £110 billion. Overwhelmingly, that money has either gone back to shareholders or is lodged in those corporates’ bank accounts. It was the wrong choice, because rather than strengthen the hand that helps, this Government chose to feather the nests of those who already had plenty.

I will illustrate the systems failure that we now face. From all my interviews with homeless citizens in Birmingham through the long nights, what has become clear is that three systems are needed: a benefits system, a health system and a housing system. All three are now in crisis. Mental health caseloads in our region are now rising four times faster than funding. Addiction services in our region have been cut back by between 12% and 20%. The University of Birmingham has concluded that the health services provided to homeless people are now so bad that those people are actually being denied access to basic health services. Housing benefit hands cash to the landlords of houses in multiple occupation in a way that is completely unregulated, with no obligation on them to provide much-needed counselling or support. There is no regulation of private landlords worthy of its name, and as my hon. Friend Ms Buck said, the conditions that we now contend with are absolutely disgraceful.

We are building affordable homes in our region so slowly that it will take us until the 2050s to clear the council waiting lists across the region, which now number well over 50,000. Just to add insult to injury, although the Government promised £211 million to build new homes, according to parliamentary questions they have handed out only £2 million. That means that £209 million is left in the Treasury when we have people dying on the streets of our city.