This month I’ve been working really hard to support constituents affected by the withdrawal of a key benefit.
On April 6, the benefit that thousands of people relied on to help them pay their mortgage was replaced by a loan, meaning they’re now being faced with taking on more debt.
Support for mortgage interest, which around 11,000 people received in the South East, was originally brought in after the Second World War, to help people struggling with mortgage costs and to prevent them from losing their home. Many of the people who now need this support are pensioners, and people with long-term disabilities.
We in the Labour Party are worried because we are talking about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, who with very little notice are being faced with losing all help or taking out a government loan, when they are already struggling to make ends meet.
Just like the change to state pension age for women born in the 1950s, those affected have not been given enough time to prepare. In February, I asked the Government minister how many people had been informed about the changes, and his answer revealed that tens of thousands had yet to be informed. As of last month, the Department for Work and Pensions had still failed to make any contact with 5,000 recipients.
The take-up of the loan has also been worryingly low – current figures show that just 14 per cent have now agreed to a loan. Alarmingly, the charity Age UK are warning that people might try to manage by cutting back on essentials like heating instead of taking out the loan.
I’ve written to the Secretary of State about individual constituents who’ve been affected in Hove and Portslade, and I have called on ministers to give vulnerable groups an immediate exemption from this change, such as those living in adapted homes for a long term disability.
The Government wants to save money, but they’re not thinking about the impact on home ownership this will have, particularly on pensioners and vulnerable disabled people. By pushing ahead with this change, the Government is failing to support home ownership and undermining the principles on which our social security system is based. Labour wants to see this change scrapped completely, and even at this late stage, we are calling on the Government to see sense and think again.
Peter Kyle is the Labour MP for Hove.