Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Freud: Bedroom tax will ease overcrowding

The coalition government’s bedroom tax will ease overcrowding and help tackle the shortage of social housing, Lord David Freud has said.

Speaking at a Local Government Association conference this morning, the welfare reform minister defended the controversial policy, which will see social housing tenants of working age docked benefit for having a spare room. The policy is estimated to affect 660,000 households, who will lose £14 a week on average.

Lord Freud said: ‘Nearly a third of working-age social housing tenants on housing benefit are living in accommodation which is too big for their needs, in spite of the fact of severe overcrowding.

‘We are stopping the practice of the state paying for rooms beyond claimant needs, and that should go in some way to help tackle the social housing shortage that has been blighting too many lives.’

The policy is controversial as the £430 million of savings expected by the government is based on an assumption of ‘little tenant mobility’ – suggesting the government does not expect people to downsize.

Lord Freud also defended the whole of the government’s welfare reform programme, which include a single universal credit, a total household benefit cap of £26,000 a year and cuts to local housing allowance.

He said: ‘We are trying to lever real social change with these reforms and trying to help people recover their self-reliance and their independence, for many of whom it has been lost by the way the welfare system has effectively trapped them and infantilised them in many cases.’

Crossbench peer Victor Adebowale had earlier criticised the government’s welfare cuts. He acknowledged the measures have public support but said ‘just because something is popular doesn’t mean it is right.’

He said: ‘The thing that worries me about the current position is that we are confusing the reaction of the public, which is always anti-welfare during times of recession, with true, creative, vision-led leadership.’

Later at the conference, Katie Lane, head of welfare policy for Citizens Advice, raised concerns about the government’s plan for universal credit to be ‘digital by default’. This means in most cases claimants will be expected to claim on-line rather than by visiting a benefits office.

Ms Lane said the charity has increased its own on-line services but the demand for face-to-face benefits advice remains strong. ‘You can’t replace face-to-face [advice] in the same way with on-line advice.’

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