Yardley MP Jess Phillips spoke in the Opposition Day debate on Supported Housing.
Earlier in the day, the Government announced they had dropped plans to cap housing benefit for social housing and supported accommodation, which had been blamed for an 85% decline in new homes being built for vulnerable people.
In the debate, Jess Phillips MP said:
"I also welcome the announcements. I think I have asked for the local housing allowance rate to be removed in the mind of policy makers from supported housing every single time I have spoken in this House, so I am pretty chuffed that that was finally heard.
The hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) is a passionate speaker, and it is nice to hear somebody in the House who sounds a bit like me, but I do not share much of his optimism, because when I have walked around the streets of Birmingham during the past seven years I now step over the bodies of people who have nowhere to live, and that was not the case before. In Birmingham, a man was found dead in the streets because he was cold and homeless. With the greatest respect, therefore, although the support of services like YMCA in Birmingham is brilliant, 33 beds for a population of 1 million is a woeful figure.
I have lived there all my life and have worked in homelessness services for most of my adult life, and I can absolutely guarantee that right now it is worse than I have ever known it. For me to say otherwise and be positive about the situation would be to tell a lie, and I am not willing to do that.
Given my own experiences, it will be no surprise that I am going to stick up for refuge accommodation. I take issue with the Minister’s assertions that no one is turned away, because currently in this country one in four women are turned away; that is 78 women every day and 78 children every single day who find that there is nowhere for them to live. That is what is happening now. So the future assertions about refuge are very welcome, but, as was stressed in the brilliant report by Members, which has been mentioned already and is worthy of praise, women’s refuge needs a specific and different model taken off-stream, and it needs sustainability. I want to talk a little bit about why sustainability matters.
After the most recent general election—there have been more than there should have been in the time I have been here—I recall the Prime Minister commiserating with her colleagues who had lost their seats. How difficult that must have been for her, having caused the demise of their jobs. However, where I worked, I had to put every single member of staff on notice every January. Everyone was given a notice warning that their job might not be there in March because we lived hand to mouth on year-on-year funding. That is not the way I would operate my household income, and it is not the way to operate an organisation. It is not what the Government should want for the most vulnerable people in society, but that is what is happening in every supported housing charity in the country at the moment. Every single year, we had to put people on notice, and sometimes we would find out only on 30 March what funding we were going to have for the next year. There needs to be a sustainable funding pot.
I want to pick up on another thing the Minister said in his opening speech. He said he knew that demand was going to get higher. It is utterly shameful for him to stand at the Dispatch Box in this building and say, “We know it’s going to get worse. We know that more people are going to need supported accommodation.” There is one reason why the Government will need more supported accommodation for the people I have been dealing with: universal credit.
At the moment, if a woman is receiving benefits through tax credits, the money goes to her. There are lots of women across the country saving up money and putting it away, so that they can escape and will not need a refuge bed. However, under the new universal credit system, every single penny going into that household will be paid to one person. It does not take a genius to work out who usually gets the money in a household, so that money will now be going to the man. The woman, whose financial constraints are already so severe, will be limited even further by the Government’s proposals, which will not allow women to break free when they need to.
I have asked the Department for Work and Pensions whether it is monitoring who is getting the money in split payments, why people are asking for split payments and whether anyone has even asked for split payments. I have asked what data it is collecting about split payments and, funnily enough, the answer is always, “I’m sorry, we don’t collect that data.” The Government are not collecting data, and they are turning a blind eye to a group of people who are so vulnerable that they will be turning up on our doorsteps, at our surgeries and at our refuges, where they will be turned away because there is nowhere for them to go. On Tuesday, I want to see a sustainable plan that lasts for a term that is longer than five years. We have just been given another five-year term here, so how about we give that to them? We need a specific funding model for refuge services because, without it, people die."