Caroline Flint MP – On The Frontline of housing benefit reform

November 12th 2010 – Caroline Flint MP – On The Frontline of housing benefit reform

Caroline Flint MP for Don Valley, is Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in Ed Miliband’s Shadow Cabinet. New rules meant MPs had to choose at least six female MPs but ended up giving them eight of the 19 elected places.

Caroline in now on the front-line attacking coalition plans to reform housing benefit, even though she thinks some reform is needed and is leading the charge for a programme of building new affordable homes. She also told Boni Sones OBE, Executive Producer of she was no longer a token woman in a Labour cabinet line-up but was now a “first among equals”.
Caroline tells Boni:

Housing benefit reform:
• “I think we have always been in favour of reform, I was a former employment and welfare reform minister, and we have looked at ways of adjusting housing benefit and allowances and allowing people going into work to keep more of their benefits, but housing benefit can be a very complicated issue. One of my concerns now as Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is that there is not enough affordable housing for people to move into and that is why local authorities turn to the private rented sector to house families. We are not hearing enough from this government about supply.”

• “The housing cap, that gets most press coverage, does affect some people, but the biggest changes that will affect 700,000 people across the country are the changes to the sort of properties that you can seek to live in and get help with your rent with. This is being tightened and reduced and that affects pensioners and working families too.”

• “There will be displacement here, we don’t know how much, and that is why we have asked the government to do a housing impact assessment on all the cumulative impact of these various policies and get a better idea what is happening. They say rents in the private sector will go down but the National Landlords’ Association say their members will stop providing housing to those on benefit. We need to make sure we don’t end up with a mess and disastrous consequences for people many of whom are in work and trying to do their best.”

How the housing benefit changes will impact on women:

• “A lot of women on their own, single parents, those in relationships that have broken down need bigger accommodation because they have children and they may face some very difficult circumstances where they could end up in bed and breakfast accommodation.”

• “Labour did a lot for housing in terms of improving the stock and building homes as well, but we have suffered from 30 years of “Right to Buy”. We did get our house building up to a record since 1981, which means the homes being completed now, are because of our investment and not because of what this government is doing, but there are still not enough social houses.”

• “If you are having a cap or if you are reducing the cost of housing benefit you have to do it in a much more staged way to make sure people don’t fall over a cliff edge. It has to be staged and managed with some support and flexibility for some really tough cases to make sure people don’t end up in bed and breakfast. We have to get back to building more social homes to rent, I take responsibility for this too, but I have to say it is a thirty year result of not replenishing the stock. Supply is key and will also bring the cost of renting down.”

On women in the Shadow Cabinet:

• “The difference now is that I am delighted to have been elected by my peers both men and women in the Labour party, that was a good boost. I am now in the Cabinet as a first amongst equals not just attending when my policy area comes up or attending not with the same status as other Cabinet members. That was my criticism before that under Gordon many of us weren’t first amongst equals, and now I am delighted to see what has happened.”

• “The General Election raised the consciousness of the lack of women in the Cabinet and created a debate, and I have to say quite a lot of my male colleagues wanted to address it more. When the shadow cabinet elections came we all got there regardless of having a quota and that is really good and I think it will make a difference.”

• “There is a generational issue and we now have more women than the other parties put together but I still want to see more women councillors too, Pakistan has more; across the parties it is a bit of a sorry tale. It has to be root and branch reform in encouraging more women to get involved in their communities. If you don’t have women at the top of the party with responsibility and power you cannot make a step change. Too often the routes to the top are male dominated and we have to break down some of that political elitism.”

The Big Society in conversation – Lynne Berry CEO of WRVS.

In another new podcast broadcast Lynne Berry, the CEO of the WRVS, has told that the voluntary sector can fill gaps in services but it is not a free option. The “Big Society” builds on the tradition of people getting involved in their communities but, she says, it is not a replacement for public services.

The WRVS has over 45,000 volunteers offering practical help to older people, and has celebrated its 70th anniversary. Lynne told our reporter Linda Fairbrother that if the services of the third-sector are to expand to create the “Big Society” then more funding will be needed to professionally develop and back up volunteers with training and support. The corporate sector is already responding to the rallying cry!

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