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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Coalition Minister needs to reconsider his rash statement

It is bad enough having to introduce changes to housing benefit so as to make it more affordable, without Ministers putting their big feet in it so as to rub in the impact of their policies on some of the poorest members of our society.

Today's Western Mail reports that Lord Freud, who serves as an unpaid minister at the Department for Work & Pensions, suggested to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee that separated parents could either pay the additional rent for an extra bedroom or make use of a sofa bed when children were staying.

The paper characterises it as Families hit by bedroom tax 'can go out to work or use a sofa bed' which puts the comment on a similar level to Norman Tebbit's off-paraphrased statement that the unemployed should get on their bikes and look for work.

The Minister went on to explain his position in less confrontational terms by saying: “The issue is dual-provision of those bedrooms is expensive; basically giving a child a bedroom in two places is a very expensive thing for the state to do and currently we can’t afford that.”  However, I am afraid that the damage was already done.

As if to compound the error the Chair of the Committee, Monmouthshire MP, David Davies dug even deeper. He said: “Do you not think it is entirely wrong that up until now many local authorities have apparently had a policy of just handing out large houses to people who don’t even have families or at least one child on the basis that one day they may well have one. I mean, surely we should be expecting everyone, whether they are on benefits or in work, to live by the same disciplines that those of us who are in work live by...

“Surely it is rather discriminatory to expect people on benefits to live in some kind of different world without those constraints.”

It is not the case of course that local councils have handed out large houses to people who would under-occupy them. All social housing providers have allocation policies that fit the property to need. The reason why people under-occupy homes is complex but essentially it is down to changes of circumstances such as divorce or death.   Perhaps both Lord Freud and David Davies need to get out more.
Global statements like this are nearly always wrong:

"All social housing providers have allocation policies that fit the property to need."

Well, I am aware of several instances of council houses going to people who have no dependents living with them.

Looking back I remember my own parents doing a council house exchange with a 'family' on Llansbury Park in Caerphilly - I remember my mum and dad saying they had no children, that they were an older couple (i.e., beyond child bearing years)...

I also remember my own parents finally getting their first council house, a three-bedroom council house in Llanishen - we had a spare bedroom - there was just me and my brother and we shared the same room; we were though in pretty desperate circumstances sleeping in one room and suffering ill health. I remember nearby families (on Llanishen council estate) with just one child at home. Older couples with no children at home. I guess they had two spare bedrooms and a front room that was underutilized.

There might be policies - but they are often not followed... cw
I meant in this century, Chris
No, I am saying allocation policies have been tightened up in the last 20 years. I will try and get an IP question in anyway.
Good on you Peter!

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