Labour is to put down an urgent question in Parliament this morning, after it emerged that Prime Minister Cameron was warned six months ago that a planned housing benefit cap will put 40,000 families onto the streets.
Commenting on a leaked letter written in January from Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles’ parliamentary private secretary, shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said yesterday: ‘It is simply not good enough when 40,000 families have their houses at risk.’
Byrne said the letter appeared to contradict claims ministers had made to Parliament that they could not calculate the number of families likely to be affected by the changes.
He added that, ‘there are some very serious questions’ about whether the government ‘has been straight with the country over the impact of their welfare changes.’
Labour has said it would, in principle, support a cap on total benefit payouts.
Housing charity Shelter said it was ‘naive’ for the government to think it could cut housing benefit without people being uprooted.
Shelter spokeswoman Kay Boycott said: ‘Even if we manage to catch people, they will still be moving from their homes and communities. If they end up homeless, it will cost more than it will save.’
The letter from Pickles’ private secretary Nico Heslop to Cameron’s private secretary Matthew Style said, ‘The specific implementation of the Overall Benefits Cap could cause some very serious practical issues for DCLG priorities.’
It added: ‘Firstly we are concerned that the savings from this measure, currently estimated at £270m savings p.a from 2014-2015 does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact, we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost.’
The letter warned that ‘our modelling indicates that we could see an additional 20,000 homelessness acceptances as a result of the total benefit cap.
‘This on top of the 20,000 additional acceptances already anticipated as a result of other changes to Housing Benefit.’
It warned that the changes will ‘disproportionately impact on families and children’.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband has called for talks with the Tories and Lib Dems to find a solution to the ‘problem’ of caring for the elderly.
Miliband said the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission, due to be published today, should form the basis of ‘once-in-a-generation’ talks on reform (cuts) in elderly care.
Economist Andrew Dilnot is expected to recommend a cap on payments for personal care of between £30,000 and £50,000, with the state picking up the bill for any costs incurred beyond this point.
Miliband has written to Cameron and his deputy Clegg offering to put aside Labour’s proposals for a levy on the estates of the deceased to pay for care, castigated as a ‘death tax’ by Tories, in order to seek cross-party consensus.
Miliband said he had written to the Tory and Lib Dem leaders to offer talks ‘in good faith’, with no preconditions.