Penny Mordaunt is the Conservative MP for Portsmouth North
In Government there are real life stories beneath the big numbers.
One big number is the quarter of a million families that live in overcrowded social housing. That can mean two, sometimes three, teenagers of different sexes sharing the same room. It means people sleeping in their living rooms because they don’t have a bedroom.
This problem grew under Labour. During the thirteen years of Labour government, the number of people on waiting lists for social housing doubled.
For those living in crowded, cramped accommodation more befitting of the USSR than the UK this is a tragedy.
All the more so, because it doesn’t need to be this way.
The UK has a surplus of rooms. There may be a quarter of a million houses that are too small for the families that live in them, but there are even more council homes, 389,000, that are bigger than people need.
At the same time, the cost of the housing benefit bill had almost doubled to £20 billion a year.
This meant that while an increasing number of people were living in overcrowded accommodation, the taxpayer was paying an increasing amount for other people to have a spare room.
The solution is obvious; if social housing could be allocated fairly the problem would disappear.
But instead we have been paying for people to live in houses that are too big for their needs, at the expense of those who do not get the minimum they require.
This is why the Government has taken the decision to remove the spare room subsidy.
It will help fix the welfare system by restoring fairness. It will also make sure we make the best use of our social housing – helping people who are stuck in over-crowded accommodation or on social housing waiting lists get into accommodation that suits their needs.
It is not just a matter of fairness between council tenants. Many hardworking low and middle income taxpayers are unable to afford a spare room themselves, yet for years have been paying for others to have one. This is not fair and should not continue.
Moreover, the policy is working. In Portsmouth, where I am an MP, the number of people in overcrowded council homes has fallen by 23 per cent since the abolition of the Spare Room Subsidy. For those in severely overcrowded accommodation, defined as lacking two bedrooms, it has fallen by 47 per cent.
Of course there will be some difficult cases. But the vulnerable are being protected. There are many exceptions which include the elderly, foster carers, carers for the disabled, severely disabled children, armed forces personnel and bereaved families.
On top of that, councils are being provided with £305 million over two years to support other vulnerable claimants who may fall outside these exceptions.
It’s the right thing to do, and we’re doing it in the right way.
However, after one of the most sustained trade union lobbying campaigns of recent times, Labour have announced that they would reinstate the spare room subsidy.
They announced it late on a Friday so as few people as possible would notice. That’s because they know that reinstating the subsidy is not just a terrible idea; it’s an expensive terrible idea.
In office Labour started to recognise the unfairness of some subsidising the spare rooms of others by removing the bonus for those in the private rental sector.
But under Red Ed Miliband they have returned to their Red roots. One of the first things a Labour government would do is increase welfare spending by £464 million a year by restoring an unneeded subsidy for some at the expense of hardworking people.
In Opposition they have opposed £83bn worth of welfare savings, money that has come off the deficit and helped put our economy back on track.
This is the same old Labour Party, unworkable plans that just lead to more spending, more borrowing and more debt.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve built a credible economic plan which is beginning to show success – we’ve got to make sure it demonstrates fairness as well. Making sure that the most vulnerable in society get the housing they need is a vital part of that.