Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Tory 'bedroom tax' defeat divides Coalition

Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs joined forces last Friday to stymie the Conservatives in a Commons vote to partly overturn changes to housing benefit. The Lib-Lab alliance voted Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George's Affordable Homes Bill through its second reading by 306 to 231.

The private member's bill seeks to introduce exemptions to the bedroom tax for disabled people who need spare bedrooms, or who have adapted homes, as well as for people who cannot be found smaller homes.

Historically, very few private members' bills make it through Parliament, but there is an outside chance that this one will buck the trend.

The BBC Parliamentary correspondent, Mark D'Arcy explains that, normally private members bills run out of parliamentary time as its opponents table amendments to slow it down. But in this case, the government needs debate to progress swiftly to allow it sufficient time in October to debate the electorally important EU Referendum Bill. D'Arcy says:

'... my bet is that the Affordable Housing Bill will now clear the Commons, to the sound of grinding Tory teeth - and while it might be vulnerable to death by a thousand amendments in the Lords, Labour and Lib Dem peers, plus sympathetic Crossbenchers may see it through to the Statute Book.'

The government's opponents have been quick to make political capital out of the Tories' Common's defeat. Labour leader, Ed Miliband said:

"He [David Cameron] is losing his MPs, he is losing votes in the House of Commons and it is Labour which is setting the agenda for fairness."

It is too early to say whether all this heralds the Coalition's death knell, but it's clearly significant that, during the crucial stages of the vote 70 Conservative MPs ignored a three line whip and stayed away from Parliament.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Information on the removal of the spare room subsidy

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published an online toolkit, 'for local authorities, housing providers and support organisations in the social rented sector, providing information on the removal [under certain circumstances] of the spare room subsidy.' Better known to many commentators as 'the bedroom tax'.

New rules for housing benefit - introduced in the Welfare Reform Act 2012 - have applied to working age people who live in social housing since April 2013, and the toolkit includes a range of material which can be used to explain these changes to tenants.

The toolkit includes videos, factsheets and adverts. It also incorporates the Chartered Institute of Housing's (CIH) 'Housing Mobility Survey', designed to help CIH 'understand how organisations support existing social housing tenants to move.' The deadline for responses is Friday 12 September.

Coalition practices what it preaches and saves money

In answer to a question from Labour MP Tom Watson, Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins revealed that the Department for Communities and Local Government has been applying the advice it gives to local councils.

In the 2012 publication “50 ways to save” the DCLG said that councils could save money by conducting audits of potential duplicate payments and reforming accounts payable processes.

Hopkins revealed that his department had recovered over £100,000 from duplicate payments made between 2006 and March this year.

Another value for money question came from shadow Justice minister Andy Slaughter, who seem to have scored an own goal with his detailed question on DCLG spending on gymnasium and leisure facilities, cafeteria and interior decoration. According to Hopkins, his department has spent nothing on these items in 2013 or the current year. However the question allowed the minister to point out that the last Labour Government spent £134,503 in 2009-10 on luxury sofas by Parisian designers and a further £83,506 on a ‘serene green’ tranquillity room.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Public support new wave of social housing

The majority of the public would back a new wave of social housing construction to help tackle the UK’s housing crisis.

This is the finding of a new report, Silent majority: how the public will support a new wave of social housing, launched at the House of Commons yesterday by Home Group and the Fabian Society.

An often-cited explanation for the lack of social housing construction is that there is not widespread public support, however the report's national survey and focus groups found only 15 per cent of the population are opposed to more of it being built in the UK.

Other findings show that an overwhelming 93 per cent of the population feels that the UK housing system is not functioning correctly and most respondents were critical of the private rented sector, with 84 per cent refusing to say that it is working.

The report concludes that:
  1. The public know there are problems with housing in the UK and could be ready to accept a new wave of social housing.
  2. People don't clearly connect social house building with affordability across the housing market.
  3. Private renting could be the platform on which more support for new social housing is won.
  4. There must be a new focus on addressing stigma, not on placating Nimbys.
  5. Government should reduce the physical differences between tenure types.
Home Group Executive Director Brian Ham says politicians have nothing to fear from backing social housing::
"The findings of this report confirm what Home Group has experienced in practice at some of our developments and it’s fitting the authors of the report have used the phrase Silent Majority in the title."

"The small number of residents who oppose development are very good at shouting very loudly and can give the impression of a local community being opposed. The reality can be very different."
The report's findings were based on a Yougov survey of 2,149 adults and four focus groups of six or seven people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Troubled families programme extended to younger children

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has today announced details of an expansion of the government’s Troubled Families programme.

Work will begin this year in 51 of the best performing areas, which will be funded to work with 40,000 extra families. This expansion was included in the Budget in March 2014, but today’s announcement reveals the areas to benefit, and the extension of the programme from working with school-age children to include those under five.

The Understanding Troubled Families report published last month showed that families within the current Troubled Families programme have an average of nine serious problems such as truancy, crime, anti-social behaviour, worklessness and domestic violence. And new data published today highlights the poor health issues in troubled families, with 71% having a physical health problem and 46% a mental health concern.

In response, the criteria for inclusion in the expanded programme have been widened to include health and domestic abuse problems. Now a family will have to be referred by specialist agencies and have two of the following six problems:
  • parents and children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour
  • children who have not been attending school regularly
  • children who need help
  • adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion and young people at risk of worklessness
  • families affected by domestic violence and abuse
  • parents and children with a range of health problems.
The number of Troubled Families Employment Advisers will also double to 300, and their remit will include working with young people at risk of becoming unemployed.

In addition to today’s statement, it was announced in last year’s Spending Round that the Troubled Families programme would be expanded to work with 400,000 more families from 2015 to 2020, with £200 million funding for 2015 to 2016.