Posted by: Tom Lloyd23/05/2012
The biggest round of applause at this morning’s welfare conference was reserved for a peer, but it wasn’t Lord Freud.
Instead Baroness Patricia Hollis, Labour peer and chair of Broadland Housing, got the audience on her side with her eloquent summary of the impact the welfare reform minister’s bedroom tax would have on struggling tenants.
She wasn’t the first audience member during the National Housing Federation conference question and answer session to try to impress on the minister the impact his policy changes will have on the ground.
Another delegate highlighted the case of a 56-year-old woman, currently surviving on £71 a week, who faces a £15 cut in council tax support, and a further £11 cut as a result of the bedroom tax. How could this woman survive on £45 a week, with £20 of fuel payments, the minister was asked. And how could she afford the removal costs, in the unlikely event that a one bedroom bungalow for her could be found?
His answer was that the government is making funding available through discretionary housing payments, and that it is up to housing associations to handle particular cases. He talked about the benefits of using housing stock as efficiently as possible, ‘don’t forget we are chronically short of housing in this country’ he remarked at one point, somewhat unnecessarily.
Then he talked some more. ‘He’s mumbling now, he doesn’t have an answer,’ muttered my neighbour. Others were more vocal: ‘Cut the crap and own up’, a voice from the back of the room demanded.
The minister continued to try to defend the under-occupation penalty on the grounds that it would encourage better use of stock, an argument even chair NHF chief executive David Orr dismissed as a ‘ruse’ to divert attention from the true money saving aim.
Whether Lord Freud believes his own spin or not didn’t become clear. What was obvious was that if he was in any doubt about the view of the housing sector about the bedroom tax before the conference, he wouldn’t have been so afterwards.
Protestors outside the building delivered the message before he even got through the door, and Mr Orr noted: ‘I would imagine there are some people here who would have some sympathy with the people waving leaflets outside.’ The openly hostile reaction from the audience should have confirmed what Lord Freud already knew.
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