The Welfare Reform Bill finally broke its parliamentary impasse this week, as peers failed to wrestle additional concessions out of the Government to protect tenants in social housing. Of all bills this parliamentary session, only those to enact fixed term parliaments and radically re-shape constituencies have caused more dispute; proof of both parliament’s love of introspection and the extent of opposition created by the bill.
The bill is one of the Government’s flagship pieces of legislation and the public – allegedly – love it too. So why has Shelter chosen to get involved in this debate?
Well, because the bill makes radical changes to the safety net that many of us rely on if we lose our jobs.
- It will fundamentally change the way that housing support is calculated by breaking the link to actual housing costs;
- social tenants will for the first time be subject to confusing and intrusive restrictions around the amount of housing benefit they can claim;
- and those unfortunate enough to live in expensive areas will find that they are unable to access the full safety net available to those in other parts of the country, running the risk that families will be forced to up-sticks and move away from their support networks at the point they need them most.
The government also originally wanted to cut housing benefit for those unable to find a job after a year, but were forced into an early u-turn.
It’s not all bad news. The bill also paves the way for the introduction of Universal Credit, which will replace most benefits, including housing benefit, with a single payment that will be gradually reduced as households take up work and increase their earnings. Hopefully this will address many of the problems currently faced by housing benefit claimants moving into work, between jobs or increasing their hours. But – and it’s a massive but – it is all dependent on a separate government IT project that hasn’t even launched yet. Watch this space…
I’ll be blogging on each of these areas over the coming days, explaining – hopefully in plain English – what the bill does and what this will mean for affected families.