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Michael Gove arriving in Downing Street for a cabinet meeting. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images)
Michael Gove has admitted he has no idea how many people will take advantage of the government’s bid to help benefits claimants get mortgages.
The levelling up secretary failed to answer seven times when asked for a figure during a car crash interview with Talk TV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer.
At one point he even snapped: “It’s a silly question.”
Boris Johnson will unveil the new policy in a major speech later today.
But probed on how many people are likely to benefit from it, Gove could only say it was “a significant number”.
He said: “It would be impossible to say with precision because we have three moving figures there, but it is undoubtedly the case at the moment that there are people on housing benefit who are paying in rent more than they would to service a mortgage.”
Hartley-Brewer responded: “When you use the word ‘significant’, what do you mean by that number?”
Gove replied:“There are more than 3 million people at the moment who claim housing benefit, and a significant proportion of them are also claiming support for their rent through universal credit.”
“How many of them are in a position to get a mortgage,” the presenter asked.
Gove replied: “As a result of the changes that we are making - more.”
But Hartley-Brewer said: “How many more? You said a significant number. How many?”
In response, Gove admitted: “I don’t know and I can’t know. Nobody can know precisely how many people will individually choose to take advantage of a policy. How many people will be listening to your show tomorrow? Tell me precisely.”
“You’ve introduced a government policy - how many people is it going to affect?” said Hartley-Brewer. “It’s a reasonable question.”
Gove then replied: “No it’s not, it’s a silly question. The nature of the question suggests that there is some secret figure that we’re hiding.”
The Government plans to let the low paid use housing benefits to pay mortgages.
Julia asks Housing Secretary Michael Gove SEVEN times: "How many people will this policy affect?"
Mr Gove: "A significant number...I don't know"
"It's a silly question."@JuliaHB1 | @michaelgovepic.twitter.com/X4SoHAzhKO
— TalkTV (@TalkTV) June 9, 2022
The bizarre exchange came as the government tries to get back on the front foot after yet another bruising week for the prime minister, in which 148 of his own MPs voted to kick him out of Downing Street.
In a revamped version of the flagship Conservative “right to buy” policy, The Times and The Sun reported that Johnson will argue that around £30 billion in housing benefit that currently goes towards rent could be better used to help housing association tenants buy their home.
But the newspaper said the vision to give millions the ability to buy their social properties at discounts of up to 70% is likely to be limited to a series of pilots, without additional government funding – suggesting it may never be rolled-out nationally.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.