It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I, too, thank Mr Sharma for securing this important debate, and colleagues from across the House for sharing compelling accounts.
I have been in post for only three months. It will come as no surprise to Members that both housing and, in particular, tackling homelessness and rough sleeping are passions of mine, as I have co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness. I will start by saying that I get it, and I share Members’ passion for fixing it and getting it right. I work very closely with stakeholders in the field, including Crisis, St Mungo’s, Shelter and many others. Even in just the past three months, I have met with most of them and have been on several visits to see and experience the lived experience of some of those they support.
I recognise the issue, which, although I accept it is largely now nationwide, is particularly acute in certain parts of the country where there is very high demand and limited supply. I am also aware that too many people have to top up their housing from their benefits, which are designed for the cost of living. We have to put that right. I am determined to address it, and I am working very closely with the Secretary of State, who has been hugely supportive of the moves that I have made in this area.
Currently, there are no plans to extend or maintain the benefits freeze after March 2020, but specific decisions on how to uprate local housing allowance from April 2020 will form part of the discussions in support of fiscal events later this year. I will address as many points raised as possible, but I am conscious that we have a relatively limited amount of time, and that a number of them are more appropriate for a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government colleague. I will certainly raise those points with my counterparts, subject to my still being in post tomorrow or the day after.
Reform to housing support was a central part of the Government’s plan to create a welfare system that supports the most vulnerable and is fair to taxpayers. To help to ensure a balance between those two elements, LHA rates are not intended to meet rents in all areas. The intention behind the welfare reform programme is that the same considerations and choices faced by people not in receipt of benefits should also be faced by those claiming benefits. The LHA policy is designed to achieve that.