Treasury Questions was a little quieter than usual today: George Osborne is away and so Ed Balls left the questions to his colleague Chris Leslie. The Shadow Chancellor didn’t say entirely quiet, though, gradually turning a warm shade of pink as he barracked away while perched on the opposition front bench. Labour landed very few blows today: Rachel Reeves continued the attack on the EU budget, Leslie tried rather ineffectually to talk about borrowing, and backbenchers made a few grumbles. The two really interesting questions came from the coalition benches: and more specifically, from two sacked ministers.
Tim Loughton, who is fast establishing himself post-reshuffle as an effective campaigning backbencher specialising in children’s issues, told Danny Alexander he was worried about a plan floated by David Cameron and George Osborne to scrap housing benefit payments for under-25s. He asked:
‘Anne Marie Carrie, the excellent head of Barnardo’s, recently said that the proposal to remove housing benefit from all under-25s ‘is reckless and unfair as it will leave some of this country’s most vulnerable people stranded’. I am particularly concerned about the impact on care leavers, who do not have a family home or family to fall back on and for whom a safe and stable roof over their heads means they can keep off the streets, out of the NEET statistics, and out of trouble. Will the Chief Secretary guarantee now that he will work with other ministers to make sure that any changes to housing benefit for under-25s do nothing further to disadvantage that already disadvantaged group?’
Alexander, whose party is still mulling the cut for young people along with other ideas for taking a further £10 billion from the welfare bill, replied:
‘My honourable friend makes a very good point about care leavers.