Barry Gardiner

Working Hard for Brent North

Welfare Reform

On 20th July 2015 Members of Parliament debated the Welfare Reform Bill in the House of Commons. Mr Gardiner had intended to speak out in this debate and prepared a speech, however, after more than 5 hours in the chamber, he did not get the chance to do so due to the huge number of Labour MPs who wished to. For your interest, Mr Gardiner has set out what he had intended to say below. It highlights a number of issues relating directly to Brent:

 

 

Each week I receive around 10 phone calls from families in Brent who are about to become street homeless. By the end of this year because of the changes introduced in this Bill a further 700 families are predicted to become homeless in my borough. 

In Brent those whom the council has a statutory duty to house under The 1948 Children’s Act or who are in absolute priority housing need are being forced to relocate sometimes to Luton sometimes to the West Midlands. Great places in themselves, but a process which means their children’s schooling is disrupted and the vital support network of relatives and friends is cut off.

This Bill has been touted by the government as a Work Bill. Let me gently explain to ministers. Some of my constituents will indeed struggle to maintain the part time work they have in London, but the costs of commuting from such a distance and the increased need for childcare without the support of immediate friends and family close by, make it less likely, not more likely, that these people will stay in work.

And it is not just in Brent that this is happening -- all of London is being socially cleansed now. Property values in London recorded a 19% year-on-year jump last September, taking the average property price in London to £514,000.

How do you afford to live in London when even an income of £40,000 a year ensures that you are laughed out of any building society or bank manager’s office should you be so brazen as to ask for a mortgage. Four and a half times £40,000 means you need to find a home for £180,000 or be told by the mortgage advisor that you cannot afford to become a home owner. The irony for many young working couples is that they are already paying more on their current rent than they would be on the mortgage that they are told they can’t afford.

For those in receipt of Housing benefit, the evidence from the current benefits cap is that In Brent alone 14,000 parents with dependent children and 1,400 people with full time caring responsibilities have been hit. People are forced to move home as their rent is no longer affordable. The truth is it is not the person nominally in receipt of benefit who is gaining here. It is the landlord to whom the housing benefit is often paid directly. They receive this money for accommodation that is substandard and at rental costs that are frankly obscene. The imbalance of supply and demand in London needs addressed by proper regulation of landlords and controls on rental property. Without this the poor will continue to be purged from our capital city and the rich will continue to benefit from housing subsidy that goes straight into landlord’s pockets.

Transitional relief for people was supposed to be provided through the Discretionary Housing Payments. But Brent’s budget for these has been reduced by 39% and now the government propose to tighten the Overall Cap by a further £3,000 a year. That is £57.70 a week that my constituents simply do not have.

There are three and half thousand families in temporary accommodation in Brent. There are 245 households in Bed and Breakfast. The law says that no such family should be in B&B for longer than 6 weeks. In Brent we have 60 families over that 6 week limit who have presented as homeless. None of the changes in this bill bring relief to those 60 families.

For every 5 families who were living in temporary accommodation in 2010 when the Conservatives came into government we now have not 5 but 6. That 20% increase has seen the spending on temporary accommodation rise to £3bn over the last Parliament. It is not fair and it is not efficient.

By effectively ripping up the Child Poverty Act and removing the duty to meet UK Child Poverty Targets the government has conveniently abolished the collection of the very evidence that would reveal the effect of its proposal to restrict the payment of the child element of both Universal Credit and Child Tax Credit to just two children.

Mr Speaker, both the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions have referred to the measures in this Bill as “hugely popular”.

The truth is that this issue is complex. It cannot easily be found in opinion polls. What is happening here is we have two competing views about what constitutes fairness: I know that there are some of my constituents who would dearly love to start a family or have another child. But they do not. They believe that if they bring a child into this world then it is their duty to provide and care for it. They say to themselves that they cannot afford a larger family and to go ahead would be irresponsible. These parents see others who are no better off financially than themselves, but who decide to go ahead and have another child trusting that society will support them through tax credits and other benefits. The first parents may look at the second and think it is unfair that they should end up paying in tax for what they regard as the irresponsibility of the second family. This is the way the government is encouraging people to understand fairness. Benefit as a perverse subsidy. Benefit as encouraging irresponsibility.

There is another way of looking at fairness. It looks not at the parents but at the children. It asks the question ‘why should a child be disadvantaged because of its parents’ decision to bring it into the world?’

It must always be right to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. But however irresponsible those actions might be, it can never be right to make someone else pay the price - in this case a child – who our government will make suffer for the actions of their parents.

It recognises that parents’ circumstances change. People lose their jobs, they become ill and can no longer work. Every reasonable expectation of being able to support your child can be turned around by misfortune. There are two mistakes then in the government’s view of fairness:

  • It treats misfortune as sin
  • It considers it fair that someone else should pay the price for what it regards as your mistake.

We need to be fair as between all our children. That means that the additional costs of supporting the child should be distinguished from other ways of encouraging parents to take responsibility through work and through contributing to society.

I will decline to give this Bill a second reading because it is a bad bill. It entrenches poverty and poverty is an evil. It is an evil that I came into the Labour Movement to stand against. In the Old Testament it was said “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  But I live in the New Testament and the gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew are all very clear. They say: “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not”.

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published this page in What I Stand for 2015-10-20 17:10:57 +0100

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