On 12th January 2016 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Welfare Reform and Work Bill in its fifth and final day of Committee.
The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Revd James Langstaff, co-sponsored an amendment to clause 22 of the Bill, concerned with exceptions. The amendment, which was withdrawn after the debate, sought to exclude supported housing from the proposed 12% cuts in social housing rents.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, when I added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Best, I did so in the naive belief that we might be pushing at an open door. I still maintain that belief because I hope that the Minister will reassure us on some of these matters. I, too, cannot believe it was intentional that we would be threatening to undermine the housing provision for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The two noble Lords who have just spoken have made many of the points which I would have made, and others have been made earlier this evening.
I underline our commitment as a society to these very vulnerable groups, which includes the frail elderly and the other groups who have already been mentioned.
In many ways, we have a moral responsibility as a society to provide for these people. In addition, there is a much more self-interested argument. The investment we make in this kind of housing, as has already been hinted at by one or two other contributors to our debate, prevents other costs which are far harder to control and which would roll out in the future if this kind of provision was placed in jeopardy.
Mention has been made of housing providers having surpluses and so forth. But in this particular part of the supported-housing world, very often we are dependent on small providers—charitable providers—which do not have that kind of background or those resources on which to call. I have grave concerns about some of the small charitable providers that are part of this bit of the sector and whose financial viability could be called into question and made very difficult. These organisations work with people with very complex and high support needs where margins are already very tight.
As has already been indicated, this policy change would come in at the same time as the LHA changes. Montgomery Court in my town of Rochester provides an extra care scheme for frail elderly people. We estimate that with the LHA cap, it would lose £65 a week per unit. These kinds of schemes are often very dependent on high staffing levels in relation to the support provided. It is precisely the sector where very good policies around minimum wage and living wage are likely to increase costs for providers in a way that might not be the case in other sectors. We find these providers potentially being hit from a number of different sides at the same time. At the very least, we need clear estimates of the impact, not just of one policy but of a range of policies which could come to bear on these organisations within a short space of time.
Mention has been made also about undermining the confidence of providers in investing in new provision. Again referring to extra care places for frail elderly people, in Kent where I live we have fewer than 500 such places. The estimate is that we need 10 times that amount by the end of this decade. That is a significant increase and those specialist providers will need to have serious confidence if they are to make that kind of investment.
As has already been indicated, these two amendments draw upon a definition which has already been established. It seems to me that there is a logic and consistency in building on that. At the end of the day, although we have been talking about the viability of organisations, this is about the provision for people and for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Therefore, I, with others, hope to hear encouraging words from the Minister in her response.