HC Deb 24 November 1987 vol 123 cc127-8
5. Mr. Battle

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services how many claimants of housing benefit will receive lower benefit in April 1988.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. (Mr. Michael Portillo)

Most housing benefit recipients also get at least one other social security benefit. Our tables show that, taking the income-related benefits together, some 3.65 million people will receive less benefit than if the old schemes had continued. In cash terms the number of losers is less than 1 million.

Mr. Battle

What will the Minister be telling pensioners whose Christmas bonus, pensions and savings will be eroded by an increase in rents in April? Will he spell out that it is his Department that is reducing housing benefit, rather than live in the hope that local authorities will take the blame for the cut?

Mr. Portillo

I shall be telling pensioners that most of them will see a cash increase in housing benefit next April and that 70 per cent, of housing benefit losses will be under £2 a week.

Mr. Brazier

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the reasons why the Government were elected was to end the "Why work?" syndrome and that the present arrangements for housing benefit are grossly unfair for the working poor?

Mr. Portillo

The present arrangements have necessitated the very complicated housing benefit supplement, and that is lifted in the reforms. Altogether, the reforms will mean that more people will gain or experience no change than will lose.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Minister accept that many people will experience tremendous hardship in Northern Ireland? Will he acknowledge that while £2 a week would not be a great loss to hon. Members, it will certainly be a loss to people at the lower end of the income scale?

Mr. Portillo

The point that I want to make to the hon. Gentleman, and this applies as much to Northern Ireland as to Great Britain, is that as much money is going back into income-related benefits as is coming out of housing benefit. The figures balance each other out.

Mr. Dickens

Will my hon. Friend accept that when we talk about Government money we are talking about taxpayers' money? Is it not right that a responsible Government should target help where it is most needed? That is what we are doing with the reform of the state welfare system.

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem is to tell poor taxpayers with no savings that they should be making contributions to pay the housing benefit for people with more than £6,000 in the bank.

Mr. Robin Cook

Will the Minister admit that his changes in housing benefit will remove all entitlement to housing benefit from 1 million current claimants and that most of the remainder will lose some, if not most, of their benefit? What kind of targeting leaves behind 6.5 million caualties from 7 million claimants?

Mr. Portillo

I accept only the hon. Gentleman's point that 1 million people will lose housing benefit altogether. At the end of the reforms there will still be more people receiving housing benefit than there were under the previous Labour Government.

Mr. John Townend:

What proportion of households will receive housing benefit after April 1988? Does my hon. Friend believe that that proportion will be too high?

Mr. Portillo

The proportion today is one third. That is made up of 7 million households, of which 1 million will lose eligibility to housing benefit, and therefore the future proportion will be somewhat under one third.