MP hits out at plans to cut housing benefit

MP John Healey has attacked the Government over plans to cut housing benefit support for thousands of elderly and vulnerable people across the country.

The shadow housing minister called a vote to block the move and demanded

George Osborne exempt supported housing from his housing benefit cuts and to consult with charities, councils and housing associations to safeguard supported housing.

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But the Labour motion was voted down by Conservative and UKIP MPs.

Mr Healey said this accommodation provided specialist care for groups including the elderly, the homeless, disabled people, veterans, people with mental health problems, young people leaving care and women fleeing domestic violence.

There are 1,264 such homes in Rotherham.

Mr Healey said experts had concluded that across the country 156,000 supported homes were at risk of closure due to the Chancellor's cuts.

The Wentworth and Dearne MP said: “George Osborne’s crude cuts to housing benefit could force the closure of thousands of specialist homes for vulnerable people across the country.

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“This would be a catastrophe for those who can least afford it.

“There is no way these people or the organisations who support them could make up the yawning shortfall these cuts are set to open up.

“Labour is calling on the Chancellor to urgently exempt supported housing from his housing benefit cuts and consult fully with the organisations that provide this vital accommodation.”

The Government said in response that they would suspend plans to cut supported housing rents for a year, and look again at the impact of housing benefit cuts.

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Housing minister Brandon Lewis said welfare reform was at the heart of the Government’s agenda, adding: “We need to balance the books and introduce a welfare system that is fair to taxpayers, where work pays and where having a job is always preferable to a life on benefits.”

He said: The right honourable Member for Wentworth and Dearne (Mr Healey) speaks as though we are debating in a vacuum.

“Let us remember that in 2010 we inherited a welfare system that failed to reward work, hurt taxpayers, and was a millstone around the neck of the British economy.

“The result was a benefits system in disarray, which was costing taxpayers an extra £3,000 a year.”

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He added: “We want to ensure that we get a deal that protects the most vulnerable in society, helps them out and gives them an aspirational opportunity to move forward in their lives while getting a right and proper deal for the hard-working taxpayer.”

Mr Healey said Labour had forced some recognition of the devastating effect of the cuts, but the Government’s response was “totally inadequate”.

He said: “Ministers have offered nothing but warm words.

“They don't seem to understand that decisions are being made now to halt or scrap development of new supported housing, and preparations to wind up existing accommodation could start within weeks.”