Brooks Newmark backs the Government’s efforts to tackle overcrowding and long waiting lists in the social housing sector and supports the spare room subsidy which is a fair way to address the mismatch between overcrowded housing and those living in houses with empty bedrooms in taxpayer-subsidised housing.
Mr Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I was not expecting such generosity so early on, Mr Speaker, and I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate; unfortunately, I had a ministerial meeting. I have been listening to much of the debate, however, and, notwithstanding some of the emotional hyperbole from Opposition Members, at its core the Opposition motion is in effect saying that the Government spare room subsidy is somehow not fair. Well, what is not fair is that 2 million households are on the social housing waiting list. What is not fair is that 250,000 tenants are living in overcrowded conditions. What is not fair is that every family in this country is somehow paying £900 a year to subsidise the benefits bill of £23 billion. That is what is not fair.
What is fair, however, is that if a taxpayer-subsidised council house has a spare room, the occupier of that house should pay an extra £14 per week or, effectively, the equivalent of three hours’ work. That is not a big ask. That is not beyond the reach of most tenants. What is fair is that we exempt disabled tenants and partners in need of overnight carers. What is fair is that we exempt those in supported “exempt” accommodation. What is fair is that we exempt disabled children who are unable to share a bedroom. What is fair is that we exempt approved foster carers. What is fair is that we exempt armed forces personnel who are living with parents. All this the Government do because that is, indeed, fair.
Further, the Government are doing all they can to address a number of the issues raised by Opposition Members, including providing discretionary housing payment to give a safety net to help to support vulnerable residents, as well as making the welfare reform changes that have been introduced. In particular, in the 2013 Budget the Government announced that £35 million extra a year would be allocated to help councils provide support for vulnerable tenants, especially those living in isolated rural areas.
The Government have a responsibility to deliver both fairness and value for money for taxpayers. The spare room subsidy does just that by addressing the mismatch between overcrowded housing and those living in houses with empty bedrooms, subject to the exemptions I outlined. Therefore, I support the Government’s amendment.