The Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill returns to the Commons this afternoon for committee and remaining stages. As I reported last week, rebel backbench Lib Dems, the Labour front bench team and Green MP Caroline Lucas have tabled a number of amendments to the legislation to change the uprating itself, which may provoke heated exchanges on the floor of the House but little more.
But there is one more amendment for discussion which, even if it doesn’t get accepted this afternoon, could well reappear in the House of Lords. It’s from former Housing Minister John Healey (who was in office when Labour made its last minute and rather half-hearted attempt to cut the housing benefits bill) and calls for a review of the relationship between housing benefit and market rents in each local authority area. Healey’s clause says the annual review should analyse how much housing is affordable for those on housing benefits in each local authority area. If there is a significant divergence between local rents and housing benefit levels, then Healey wants the government to reconsider the way it uprates housing benefits.
Now obviously like the rest of his party, Healey opposes the idea of the 1 per cent cap on benefit rises, and there is still plenty of hay to be made on that. But he is working on the basis that this government has granted similar reviews on other welfare legislation. In 2011, Lord Freud set up a review of the housing benefit cuts in the Welfare Reform Bill as a concession to peers scrutinising the legislation. Healey suspects the same could happen in the Lords, but tells me he wants to ‘get in early’ on this:
‘Previously they have held it back as a concession for the Lords. But I want to get in early on this argument because they are using housing benefit to turn the screw on people who have so little flexibility in their budgets. Ministers have not been open about the effects of this and I want to smoke them out.’
P.S. It will be interesting to see what Sarah Teather does today. She rebelled against the Bill at second reading, but has yet to sign the amendments put forward by her Lib Dem colleague Andrew George.