Minister attacks benefit cut critics
The government has denied that homelessness will rise as a result of cuts to housing benefit.
Welfare reform minister Lord Freud told a committee of MPs today that he had seen no evidence that the cuts would cause a rise in the number of people presenting as homeless. He said figures from charities including Shelter were ‘arbitrary’ and were frightening people unnecessarily.
Speaking at the work and pensions committee’s inquiry into the cuts announced in the emergency Budget, Lord Freud said housing benefit costs had risen by 25 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2007, while rents in the private sector had only risen by 15 per cent in that period.
He said: ‘We are expecting a large number of people who receive less housing benefit to be able to negotiate their rents downwards.’
He accused private landlords of raising their rents to the maximum threshold of local housing allowance, and also disputed claims made at the committee’s previous meeting that councils were block-booking temporary accommodation to cope with the cuts.
A row broke out over the minister’s comments with landlords accusing him of a ‘campaign to slur’ those who let their properties to housing benefit recipients. The British Property Federation and the Residential Landlords Association have demanded that he retract his statement blaming landlords for the spiralling cost of the £21 billion housing benefit bill.
The two organisations say figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show the rising bill was due to increasing unemployment and a shortage of social housing.
The majority of the changes will be brought in using secondary legislation at the end of this month, Lord Freud told the committee. He admitted this might mean that many of the cuts would not be debated in Parliament.