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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 15 June 2005

[John Cummings in the Chair]

Affordable Housing (London)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

9.30 am

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): I am grateful to have been afforded the opportunity to debate a matter of crisis proportions in London: the lack of affordable housing and, most markedly, the lack of affordable housing within the rented sector. Such a pan-London problem is borne out by the number of colleagues who are present this morning—despite the intemperate weather—hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Cummings. The problem is further borne out by the amount of unsolicited briefings that I and colleagues received from several organisations at almost the same time as the debate was publicly announced.

I now come to what are sometimes boring statistics, for   which I am grateful, in particular, to Shelter. The key   facts are that, in London at the end of last year, 61,670   statutorily homeless households were trapped in    temporary accommodation. The average wait in temporary accommodation has shifted from the average 91 days that families experienced in 1997 to 391 days. In 2003–04, 31,530 households were accepted as homeless and in priority need, including almost 30,000 children and 3,900 expectant mothers; 279,730 households were registered on council housing waiting lists; 174,200 households, including 261,000 children, were in overcrowded homes.

Those are stark facts, but before I draw attention to more facts, I wish to say that Shelter, the London Housing Federation and the Greater London authority paid unstinting tribute in their briefings to what the Government have done already and are in the process of doing to deal with the serious housing crisis in London. They paid tribute to the additional funding from central Government, to the five-year strategy of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and to the innovative use of land surplus to the needs of the Ministry of Defence and the national health service, which is to be used for building. The organisations paid tribute to the plans that have facilitated key workers in getting on to the housing ladder. However, my argument is not aimed at the situation of those who are desperate to get on to the housing ladder by virtue of being able to buy, but at the thousands of people who will never be able to buy property and who are still excluded from decent housing because of the lack of housing with affordable rents.

I wish to draw attention to what is happening in my borough of Camden, as set out in the briefing forwarded to me by the London Housing Federation. The cost of an average home is more than £388,000. The average gross income for a full-time employee in the borough is just over £34,000. In the private rented sector, an average weekly rent for a one-bedroom property is more
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than £215. The rent for a three-bedroom house is more than £356 and the average net weekly income for someone working in the borough is just over £472. I hope that these statistics kill the canard that still has a certain popularity among the tabloid press that the   only people who live in my constituency are multimillionaires.

Two other issues that were raised in all the briefings that I am sure all right hon. and hon. Members received are the shortage of affordable rented housing and, as Shelter puts it, the Dickensian approach to what constitutes overcrowding. I am sure that we all regularly receive complaints about overcrowding at our advice surgeries. We all welcome what the Government have done in reconsidering what constitutes overcrowding, but it will be of little benefit to any housing authority to be able to award more points for overcrowding in its necessary definition of who has priority need if, as in my borough, it has virtually no three or four-bedroom houses.

I shall not go into the argument about whether the right to buy was right or wrong. That is water under the bridge and there have been changes to the right to buy, which I welcome, but we are failing to build a sufficient number of houses in London. We are not meeting the recommendation on the number of houses in the Barker report—a report that all those who submitted briefings to me welcomed. Even if we do manage to meet the target of 50 per cent. of all properties being affordable, there is still an imbalance with those affordable properties being apportioned to people who can only afford to rent. The ratio should be 70:30. In some instances, the relevant figure is only 6 per cent.

As well as examination of what constitutes overcrowding, there must be a shift to ensure that in the new build coming along, there are more houses that can accommodate larger families. We all read of middle-class families in which parents are still burdened with their grown-up children because they cannot afford to get on the housing ladder. I sometimes find such cases surprising. A case was recounted to me in which the grown-up child works in the City. I did not think that anyone working in the City could not afford to get on the housing ladder, but it just shows that the longer we live, the more we learn.

It is accepted that middle-class families should not have to endure such situations, yet if we move further down the socio-economic scale, society is expected to accept or endure large families having very low mean incomes. That is unacceptable, which is why I am attempting to reinforce my argument to the Government that we must examine the possibility of building more houses for larger families. Pray God we never return to the Dickensian days when there were families of 13, 14 and 15 and child deaths were almost accepted as the norm under the age of three, but we must begin to acknowledge the changes taking place in society and, most markedly and most particularly, in London. Everyone knows that no Government have a bottomless purse, but I am arguing that the Government should re-examine the amount of money that they apportion to new house build in London. I am not a mathematician, financier or accountant, but one possible way of making the case for more funding for London is by asking the Government to consider, using
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accepted accountability criteria, the cost to London and our society of the inadequate housing that is inflicted on families.

The figures on children in temporary accommodation are particularly shocking. One knows from first-hand experience from one's constituency of children who are not in secure accommodation and who may be moved—throughout London in some instances. They may spend 391 days in temporary accommodation, which sounds a long time to me, and that can happen more than once. There will be clearly be an impact on such a child's education and sense of security, and the capacity of the family to create the elements of the secure environment that we are all told are the basic building blocks of a healthy functioning society will be entirely eroded. There are clear implications for the further breakdown of families, which in some ways is one of the constituent factors in the need for further housing in London.

Also, the employment capacity of such families is reduced. If we could equate that to pounds, shillings and pence on the balance sheet, perhaps that would strengthen the argument that London should have more money to build more houses, most markedly houses earmarked for affordable rents. I know that hon. Members who do not represent London seats take umbrage at the argument that London should be a primary cause for concern, but we are told that London is the engine room of the national economy. I see no reason to discount that. For every job created in the City of London, two are created in the hinterland of the United Kingdom. We have to maintain our primacy, not only as one of the great capital cities of the world, but also as one of the great financial centres of the world, and one of the great centres for service industries. We are a benchmark for inward investment in many ways, as far as the wider European Union is concerned. However, although I am happy to put forward that argument, that is not, essentially, the argument that I am advancing today.

I began by pointing out the number of extremely helpful briefings that had been furnished to me, and, I am sure, to all hon. Members. Of course, the most potent and powerful briefings submitted to me come from the direct experience of my constituents. I will give two recent examples.

First, a single-parent family with four children live in a two-bedroom flat, where a 12-year-old brother and a nine-year-old sister have to share the same bedroom and the mother has to share her sleeping accommodation with a three-year-old child and a nine-and-a-half-month-old baby. Do not ask me where dad is. We can all imagine what has happened there. Severe overcrowding—a lack of affordable rented accommodation—can be a constituent part in the breakdown of families, with the implications that no one in this Chamber needs me to detail.

Another situation that came to me only two weeks ago was where an attempted suicide had been occasioned because of overcrowding. These are real, genuine, human tragedies, and we can do something about them. Again, I would argue that that must be a primary concern for our Government. They have done so much to examine how the services that government is justifiably expected to provide to our citizens can be
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delivered in an infinitely more joined-up manner. We are quite rightly pouring so much money into Sure Start, which is attempting to incorporate what local authorities provide—have to provide—in services to children. Yet I find it bizarre that we still have a huge, gaping hole that will negate all that excellent work, simply by impacting upon those children's ability to learn, to make friends and to participate in society, because they are not in permanent, decent, affordable accommodation.

As I said, all the briefings that I have received are mindful of the immensely good work that the Government have already done in this area, but they are equally detailed in pointing out that there is a great deal more that has to be done. From my own constituency I see that the issue has a wider impact than on just the immediate family. I am sure that we all have direct experience of serious neighbourhood disputes and of neighbours from hell, which stem quite simply from severe overcrowding, as in a case that came to me quite recently. A mother finds it virtually impossible to maintain a level of quietude in her overcrowded flat that does not impact upon her elderly neighbour. Her children—some at school, some at pre-school—have no garden in which to play. They live in a tower block where the lift does not always function, and it is virtually impossible to prevent those children from making a noise.

It may seem that much of what I have used for my contribution this morning is critical of local authorities, but I would not wish that interpretation to be made. I have immense admiration for what Camden has done and is doing in attempting to provide affordable housing for its council tax payers. It is innovative, and its housing benefit department has two charter marks for the excellence of its service. It was at the forefront of the local authorities that joined the scheme whereby someone who lives in Camden can be moved to another part of the country if they so wish. Again, I pay tribute to the Government, who are, I understand, examining the scheme so that if a family want to take the opportunity of moving out of London, they can get more detailed information on matters such as the job opportunities and educational facilities that are available to them.

I pay tribute to what my local authority has done, but I must say that my borough is not one in which any land will be available for building. We have serious problems even with repairs and refurbishment. There could be an argument—although I will not take time today on it—for re-examining the possibility of a pan-London scheme for lettings and, most markedly, for renting.

I am on record as saying that any Member who cannot say what they have to say within 10 minutes should not get to their feet. I see that I have broken my own rule, so I draw my remarks to a conclusion by once again saying how grateful I am for the opportunity of raising a problem of truly crisis proportions in London. It has its most marked impact on some of our most vulnerable people, such as children.

9.47 am

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): First, I congratulate you, Mr. Cummings; this is the first meeting that I have attended with you in the Chair. I congratulate the Minister on his appointment. This is my first
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opportunity to do that, and I am pleased to see him in that position, particularly in today's debate, as I know that he will have a lot of relevant experience from his constituency just across the water from my borough. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on her success in securing the debate. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Edmonton (Mr. Love) have been applying for a similar debate, and we are pleased to have this opportunity.

During the last general election the issue of housing was, remarkably, overlooked. There is a great deal that the Government have done and not received enough credit for. For example, delivering on the decent homes initiative, which will improve the quality of life of millions when it is finally completed, was long overdue and is very welcome. The Government have made it clear that they also want to tackle the problem of social and affordable housing, but I believe that one area is being left behind: the affordable rented sector, particularly in council housing.

I am sure that I am no different from any other Member in that every week my surgeries are full of young people with young children who are living at home with their parents. They are looking for the start in family life that their parents were given by their local authority, which provided decent quality housing where they could bring up their family. Young people today are denied that opportunity because of the shortage of affordable rented accommodation. This year, 12,200 people have sought housing from my local authority. More than 4,500 of those are council tenants seeking a move, and just over 7,500 are seeking to become council tenants.

Comparing the figures for 1999 and this year for the number of people applying on the grounds of being homeless tells the story of how we are not addressing the core problem of housing need. This year, 3,332 people applied on the grounds of being homeless. In 1999, that figure was 3,700—a very similar figure. The accepted figures were 1,305 this year and 1,302 in 1999. Yet this year 970 people were still waiting to be housed, whereas in 1999 there were 599. The problem is supply rather than a growth in numbers. There is no dramatic growth in numbers exacerbating the problem. The people whom I see in surgeries cannot afford to buy a property, even through the schemes that the Government have come up with. We need to address that problem in our future housing policy.

Throughout the country, 280,000 people are waiting for affordable housing and 61,000 are in temporary accommodation. Since 1979, 244,000 homes have been sold under the right to buy. Figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on the supply of homes over a similar period tell a sorry tale. For example, in 1979, 16,200 properties were built for tenure by registered social landlords or housing associations, and nearly 75,000 for local authorities. Since 1979, the local authority figure has gradually fallen, and it has tumbled since the mid-1980s. At the time of the election in 1983, local authorities were building nearly 30,000 properties and registered social landlords were building 14,000. That trend has continued up to last year, when only 131 local authority properties were built. However,
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remarkably, the number of registered social landlord or housing association properties was almost exactly the same as in 1979.

There is a serious shortage in the supply of affordable rented accommodation. I have figures supplied by the ODPM for the starts and builds for local authorities and housing associations in London over the past two years. One column of figures shows the number of properties started and the other shows the number completed. With the exception of Hillingdon and Wandsworth, which somehow managed to build six properties each, the columns are filled with noughts—apart from those exceptions, local authorities started to build no new homes.

In the area covered by me and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), Kidbrooke is being regenerated. That is very welcome and will improve the quality of properties in that area enormously. About 2,000 properties are covered by the regeneration, and completion of the regeneration will create 4,400 properties. Of those 2,000 council properties, there are about 200 leaseholders, so there are roughly 1,800 council rented properties. When the scheme is complete there will be 1,900 affordable properties. However, that figure includes part own-part buy, assisted ownership and all forms of affordable housing, including the rented sector. There has been a significant net reduction in the availability of affordable rented accommodation as a part of the regeneration programme. Much as I welcome the regeneration of the area, I think that that is a problem.

There is also the question of the number of bedrooms. What types of property will there be in the rented sector? How large will they be, and will they be targeted at local need? Those issues have not yet been addressed. I do not oppose the regeneration programme—I welcome it very much—but let me stress that future programmes must address the issues of affordability and the availability of rented accommodation. The net reduction must not continue while there is clearly a problem for people who are trying to access affordable rented accommodation.

In our manifesto, we said that we would allow local authorities to build council properties. I do not suggest that we should just say to local authorities, "Build council houses again and that will solve all the problems." We could have another debate about the problems of large council estates. However, we need to think of ways in which we can assist local authorities, possibly in partnership with the private sector or with housing associations, to release their capital assets and to turn them into buildings. For example, a large part of the Kidbrooke regeneration area is local authority land. Some of it has been handed over to English Partnerships as a managing agent. It is not impossible for us to allow a registered social landlord to manage the building element of that regeneration programme, to sell homes to the private sector and take the capital receipts, to sell affordable homes at discounted rates under all the schemes that the Government have promoted, and to use the capital to reinvest in social housing.

At the moment, because of the shortage of resources, when we want to develop a piece of local authority land we sell it to the private sector and then, under section 106, try to negotiate back a proportion of affordable housing. However, the amount of affordable housing for rent is minimal, and we end up with small pockets of
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poorly managed housing association property. Their managers might look after the fabric of the buildings, but there are other issues in the social realm—the area outside the properties. I am sure that we all have such pockets—housing association developments that have been poked in at the end of a development and which are a problem. They are not properly managed or overseen because they are at arm's length from the local authority. That problem has been created by our current housing policy.

We need to think of local authorities as a vehicle for regeneration, and as a means of providing more rented accommodation. We can provide the resources if we are creative in the way in which we use the assets that we already hold in order to make provision for investment. I welcome what the Government are attempting to do in respect of affordable housing, but I fear that we are not getting it right with regard to affordable rented accommodation and social housing. Local authorities can play a major part in addressing that problem.

9.59 am

Meg Hillier (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I will not go over the ground that colleagues have covered, but I should like to set the scene for my constituency, where there are three key issues in respect of housing. One of them is improvements to council housing stock, which have made a great jump since this Government came to power in 1997. May I flag up for the Minister the transfer of the Haggerston West and Kingsland estate, details of which are possibly on his desk at the moment? I shall lobby him about that separately.

There is a shortage of affordable rented accommodation in Hackney, and a great need for intermediate housing. However, today I shall focus on the shortage of rented accommodation, and how that is leading to severe overcrowding.

It is worth emphasising, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), that many people have a stereotypical image of Hackney; it may be the opposite of their view of Hampstead and Highgate. Nestling among the council estates of Hackney are properties worth £1 million that are well out of the reach of people living there. We talk a lot about stock and transfer, and the formulas of the Housing Corporation, but the human side is that many of those who work hard to keep their families together and who contribute to London's economy live in severely overcrowded housing and are unable to move, cannot think of purchasing a house and cannot be transferred to other properties.

Only this week, a woman came to my surgery who had had to wait seven years to be housed in her present property, but who now needs an extra bedroom. That is one of the concerns that I wanted to raise today. Housing associations and registered social landlords are still building properties that are too small. There are too many one and two-bedroom units and not enough three or four-bedroom units.

Hackney is the third most severely overcrowded area in the country. It is important to tackle the problem. As many as 9.1 per cent. of homes in Hackney are
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overcrowded—8,000 households. The vast majority are in social housing, 12.3 per cent. are in registered social landlord properties, and nearly 5 per cent. of that overcrowding is severe.

I shall not rehearse the arguments outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate on the impact of overcrowding on family life. All hon. Members know of it. However, I raise directly with the Minister the matter of the efficiency of Housing Corporation funding, which is based on the cost per home rather than on the number of people living in those homes. I am delighted to see the changes made to the bidding round of 2006–08, but I would like the Minister to look further into the matter, in order to encourage RSLs to build larger family housing. Perversely, under the current rules, they have no incentive to do so, which causes severe problems in my constituency. The London housing strategy must reflect that fact.

We need to increase the supply of large homes with more than three bedrooms. In my constituency, three bedrooms are not always enough. Surveys show a great need for larger houses in London; 40 per cent. of new social housing should have four or more bedrooms, but only 6 per cent. of housing built in the past 10 years has that. I rest my argument there, and I hope that the Minister will respond fully to those points.

John Cummings (in the Chair): Before I call the next speaker, I should tell the House that I intend to start winding up at 10.30 am. If hon. Members bear that in mind, I am sure that all who wish to will get to speak.

10.2 am

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I am conscious of the 10-minute dictum mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson); as she is sitting next to me, Mr. Cummings, I am keen not to fall foul of it. Instead, I shall speak of my experience as a councillor in the London borough of Wandsworth over the past 11 years.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate, I am critical of my local authority. Wandsworth has been a Conservative borough since 1978; it immediately starting flogging the council housing stock, and it has not stopped since. No new council housing has been built since then, and registered social landlords have been given little encouragement to build. At the same time, the council has a specific planning policy of not asking developers to provide affordable housing, and the laissez-faire policy of the planning department has perversely meant that luxury developments are being built in Tooting despite the chronic need for affordable housing.

Two years ago, we fortunately managed to persuade the public inspector to change the council's unitary development plan, so it now includes a requirement to provide 25 per cent. of affordable housing on developments of 15 units and above. The problem is that the units being provided for affordable housing are studio flats, not family homes. Developers have got around the UDP by building studio flats that still meet the definition of 15 per cent. but are not suitable for local housing.
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During my 11 years as a councillor, during the election campaign and in the six weeks since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have come across a number of problems. First there is the problem of three generations of a family living in one household, including teenage brothers and sisters who have to share a bedroom not only with each other but with parents and sometimes grandparents.

Secondly, some nurses at St. George's hospital, Tooting, and some teachers at local schools live many miles away, have to travel long distances to work and query what commitment they can give to their local public services. Historically, nurses lived locally to their hospitals and were committed to them; the same went for teachers and their schools.

Thirdly, waiting lists continue to get longer and longer and they do not reflect the true position. Residents have given up hope of registering with the local council because, as was mentioned, the points system is defective. They are also well aware that even if they were on the waiting list, there would be no realistic prospect of being rehoused in the imminent future.

Fourthly, there are residents in their 20s, 30s and 40s living in private rented accommodation who know that they might move on in six or 12 months' time, at the end of their assured shorthold tenancies. They have no community ties or loyalties to the area. I query what commitment their children can have to their local areas, given that they could be moved from their primary schools in the next six to 12 months.

I have already talked about the luxury developments being built; unfortunately, the Mayor's power to stop those is limited. Recently, I have seen examples of tenants in private rented accommodation being charged astronomical rents. They need housing benefit to pay them; they have no prospect of getting employment with sufficient pay to cover that rent, for homes to which they have been directed by the local authority.

Our sixth concern is the lack of a definition of affordable housing. Local authorities such as Wandsworth, which are not given proper advice about how to provide affordable housing, have a huge amount of wiggle room, which has led to their not meeting the needs of local residents. I agree with the Government's view, set out in the manifesto and elsewhere, that many people have aspirations to be owner-occupiers, but many people in London and elsewhere also need rented property. I genuinely and sincerely believe that the affordable housing crisis is a powder keg ready to explode at any time in the imminent future.

What needs to be done? First, we need a definition of affordable housing with a particular focus on rent, not only owner-occupation. Secondly, we need to ensure that any percentage requirements for new builds in local authorities' unitary development plans include family-sized houses. There also needs to be a review of the private rented sector and its relationship with housing benefit and the so-called benefit trap.

Clearly, even more new housing needs to be built in London. Consideration needs to be given to the hidden homes initiative; the six hidden homes in Wandsworth mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) were, frankly, garages in council estates that had been turned back into accommodation.
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate for raising this matter and am grateful for the time that we have been given to discuss this important London issue.

10.8 am

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I recognise that there is a shortage of time, so I shall be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate and I welcome the Minister to his new post. Even I can use the parlance of new Labour: I invite him to make a step change on housing policy in London.

I recognise that the Government have put enormous amounts of money into improving existing stock in council estates. That is very welcome, and I welcome the new roofs, windows, lifts and other things in estates in my constituency every time I see them. It would be nice if the Liberal Democrat-controlled council in Islington recognised that all that money has come from a Labour Government. It has not come from the sky, which the Liberal Democrats seem to love so much.

In London, however, there is a terrible housing shortage. Whatever aspirations my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has that 70 per cent. of the population should own their homes, that will not happen in London, and cannot unless we continue the policy that simply exports the poor out of London because there is no affordable rented accommodation where they can live. I hope that the Minister will turn his attention towards persuading local authorities to use the very large amounts of money that they receive from central Government to continue the improvements, but also to invest in new buildings for rental by local authorities and to continue putting money into housing associations so that they can increase their number of properties.

The cost of not investing is enormous in a social sense. All London Members present hold regular advice bureaux. We go through the pain with the families of teenage boys and girls who have to share a room. They have nowhere to do their homework, be at home, socialise or invite friends round. They feel like second-class citizens. Their middle-class friends go to each other's houses for weekend sleepovers, parties and all the rest of it. The teenagers in council houses cannot do that because there is no space. It builds up a series of experiences that leads them to feel inferior and they are then forced to spend their time socialising on the street. Someone then suggests that they should not be allowed to wear hoods on the street and so on and so on. We end up with a process of social isolation and social deprivation that we are responsible for, because we are not investing the money necessary to ensure that everyone has somewhere decent to live.

All this costs money, but I invite the Minister to examine carefully the current London figures. The number of people on housing registers in London is 279,729. In my borough, nearly 7,000 people are on the housing waiting list, and it is not easy to get on it. People do not just walk into the office and give their name; they must prove a degree of need in order to be on the list. For the last year for which statistics are available, the number of new properties completed was a tiny proportion of what is needed. The number of new
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lettings across London last year was a small proportion of the total; 51,000 new lettings were achieved but that includes lettings to people who are on the transfer list as well within the local authority. I ask the Government to think seriously about these issues.

The sale of council property was promoted by the Conservatives in the late 1970s when thousands of new council homes were being built each year. My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) and I were both in Haringey at that time. I think that in 1979, Haringey's Labour-controlled council built 1,000 new properties. We could see a real improvement. The argument for the right to buy was strong and politically powerful. The right to buy is now rampant and local authorities cannot keep pace with it. The result of right to buy is not that the houses stay in the local authority's orbit or indeed necessarily in that of people in social housing need, but that they become investment opportunities.

I will give an example of a former local authority flat. I picked up the information from an estate agent last week. It is a three-bedroom, purpose-built local authority second-floor flat that is currently fully let to a housing association. The vendor informs us that he receives £1,380 a calendar month. The property is on sale for £240,000. I suspect that he managed to buy it for much less than half that price and that it is bringing in probably three times the rent level that was achieved by the local authority. Who has benefited from that, other than people who have managed to loan some money, probably at a high rate of interest? We are just creating a management problem on the estates and a greedy atmosphere. We are not solving the housing problem that goes with it.

I want to ensure that as many of my colleagues as possible get a chance to say something but I want to make a final point. I ask the Minister to examine closely the definition of "affordable" as used by local authority planning departments when they approve planning applications. Tomorrow evening there will be a large public meeting in my constituency concerning the proposed housing development on the Arsenal stadium site. Arsenal football club is moving to a new, expensive stadium and its existing stadium will be turned into a housing area. Unfortunately, it will become a gated community and what is now the pitch will not be accessible to the public. The tiny number of social housing units will be deemed affordable—but by whom? I suspect that those who can get fairly well-paid jobs and be defined as key workers might manage to get on to the property ladder by getting a part-purchase of a property, but for those in desperate housing need this will be an entirely closed book. We should get away from a definition of "affordable" that includes part rent and part purchase; instead, we should insist on renting at local authority rent levels from either a local authority or a housing association, and follow the Mayor of London's strategy that 50 per cent. of all new developments should be for those in desperate housing and social need.

We must deal with this problem, London will become a more divided city; the poor will be exported out of London, and social isolation and deprivation will increase.
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10.16 am

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate, and I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) in welcoming the Minister to his new position.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I was disappointed that housing did not play a more prominent role in the general election, but it is important to remember that housing is a much more important issue in the Greater London context than it is nationally; if we do not understand that, we do not understand why this debate is taking place.

I shall make two brief points. First, I welcome the Government's overall objective to halve the number of people in temporary accommodation, and I hope that they succeed. However, I suggest that the priority in achieving that must be an increase in socially rented accommodation that is greater than currently planned.

Other hon. Members have congratulated the Government, so let me join them by applauding the recent announcement of an 18 per cent. reduction in temporary accommodation or homelessness acceptances. That is to be welcomed, but we must not forget that there are still more than 100,000 people in temporary accommodation in our country, and that that figure for London has increased from about 25,000 in 1997 to more than 61,000 last year.

I am pleased, however, that the Government have a strategy to reduce the number of people in temporary accommodation, and several of their measures are achieving some success. There is a need for advice and support to be given to people who are threatened with homelessness, and the provision of that is having an impact. There are also measures to prevent homelessness, such as taking action on rent deposits and helping to ensure that marriage breakdown does not cause homelessness; they are having some success, too. There is also talk of using our existing housing stock more effectively. Although I accept that we can always do better, only limited steps can be taken in that regard to assist in reducing homelessness numbers.

The key issue that we need to confront in relation to the strategy that the Government want to introduce to reduce the numbers in temporary accommodation is achieving a greater volume of socially rented property in London. That is crucial. The strategy suggests a figure of 10,000 units by 2007–08, and that is what the Government are projecting in their current spending review. However, there are several reasons why that figure might not be achieved. Land costs and construction costs in London have gone through the roof, especially in the past couple of years; it is now more expensive to build new accommodation, and we must include that factor in our calculations. There has also been a shift in priorities in the overall mix of accommodation that the Government are currently planning, from socially rented accommodation to low-cost home ownership initiatives. In the Greater London context, it is essential to maintain key workers, but we must be concerned about this matter. In 1997, about 20 per cent. of overall new accommodation was for low-cost home ownership. It is now 40 per cent., which reduces the number of new rented units that will be built.
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My major concern is the difference in the number of units that are coming forward compared to what the Government are planning. For example, the Barker report which was produced last year—commissioned by the Treasury and accepted by it and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister—suggests much higher figures of affordable rented accommodation than are currently planned. The Mayor of London's London plan suggests that 10,500 socially rented units should be built. Yet in 2003–04, only 5,000 units were actually completed. The London Housing Board's proposals for the future suggest that there will be about 7,000, a figure that is well short of the London plan proposals.

To go even further into some of the independent research commissioned by various housing bodies, Shelter is projecting a build of less than half of the real need in Greater London. We need to examine carefully what we are proposing for socially rented accommodation. If we continue to build only the 7,000 or so projected units, it seems difficult to predict that we will halve the numbers of those in temporary accommodation by 2010. We all know the impact that that will have in our constituencies. Almost 50 per cent. of the cases that come before my surgery are housing-related issues—almost all to do with finding affordable accommodation in London. I am sure that is reflected everywhere else.

The other issue that I touch upon before I conclude is that the mix of accommodation is currently entirely wrong. We need much larger accommodation. As has already been said, surveys show that 40 per cent. of housing should have four bedrooms and more. Yet we know that one of the reasons why accommodation has been built with much smaller units is that it is constrained by the overall costs of building larger accommodation. So we have to recognise that if we do move to a mix with a larger number of four and five-bedroom units, there will be a cost implication associated with that. It is necessary, however, because the failure to be able to move larger families is silting the local authority and housing association lettings programme. Unless we can move people, we will not be able to provide housing solutions to those in need.

The plea that I make to the Minister is to recognise the importance of housing in a London context. It is a critical issue. I welcome the objective of halving the numbers of those in temporary accommodation by 2010, but the only way that we will be able to do that—even taking into account all the other measures that have been suggested in the strategy—is to build more units, and a better mix of units, for socially rented, affordable accommodation.

10.24 am

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate, and welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his role and wish him every success for what I know will be a challenging and successful period.

The provision of affordable housing in London is crucial to the future health and well-being of the capital. Putting it in the economic context, we know that some of the problems that have been described in this debate are the products of the success of London in recent
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years, showing the dynamism and growth which have very much been its hallmark in the past, after a period of setbacks and decline in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some of these problems—rising house prices and increasing demand for accommodation—are the consequences of economic success, and we obviously have to respond to that. Equally, we must recognise that some of the problems are to do with past mistakes, such as unsatisfactory housing, which the Government inherited in 1997.

My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) highlighted the huge investment that has rightly gone into the backlog of substandard council housing, with which there has been good progress. The figures show that about 145,000 local authority homes in London that did not meet the decent homes standard have been brought up to that standard in the past eight years—an achievement of which the Government should be proud.

In my constituency, the Ferrier estate—the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) just abuts that area—is in the early stages of a comprehensive regeneration scheme, designed to create a high-quality, mixed environment in place of the grim and stigmatised environment that was inherited, which was not a decent environment for people to live in. Similarly, with the challenge to provide more new homes, there are encouraging signs of progress. In 2004–05 in London, about 24,000 new homes were started and the same number completed. About 6,000 of those new starts and completions were provided by registered social landlords. Those figures are the highest recorded for many years, for new starts and completions and for the affordable housing component. In 1997–98, only 14,000 new homes were completed, of which about 4,000 only were affordable. So, as a result of the increased investment and more energetic policies pursued by the Government, we are seeing increases of between 50 and 70 per cent. in the output of new homes compared with the situation that we inherited from the Conservatives. The Opposition should take heed and remember just how poor their record was when they were in government.

The task is not only to provide more homes for general and affordable housing needs. We have learned from experience that playing the numbers game is unwise. Too many housing estates built in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and later—sadly, in some parts of the country, even some of the housing built in the 1990s—is having to be demolished or substantially remodelled because it failed to provide a decent environment for people to live in.

The challenge is to ensure that new homes are provided in a sustainable way, and that they create attractive communities with options to buy and to rent without the corrosive tenure divisions that scarred much 20th century housing. There are many good examples of that: the Greenwich Millennium village and the regeneration of the Woolwich Arsenal in my constituency are both exemplars of high-quality environments with options to buy and to rent, and for shared ownership; there is real interest in ensuring that they remain vibrant and attractive places in which to live for many years to come.
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We must also continue to drive up environmental standards by improving energy efficiency and avoiding the profligate use of land. Again, the Government have a good record on that, with two successive increases in the standards required by part L of the building regulations, some splendid exemplars in the highly efficient and attractive housing of the Peabody Trust BedZED development in Sutton, which has high environmental standards, and with a move to higher density development to maximise the use of brownfield sites. Before anyone suggests that that move may compromise quality, I remind right hon. and hon. Members that new homes are being built at densities less than those of the Georgian terraces of mid-18th century London, which are still seen as highly attractive and desirable places in which to live two and a half centuries after they were built. Let us not hear the argument that high density is incompatible with good quality.

One of the most important messages that needs to come out of this debate is the importance of providing housing for a range of needs. Most people, particularly young people, aspire to own their own home, so it is vital that we provide low-cost home ownership options, including options for key workers, on whom London's economy and social well-being is dependent. It is not sensible simply to try to replicate tenure patterns of 30 or 40 years ago. We need to continue to explore innovative schemes that allow people to acquire an equity share and which make it possible for them to increase their equity as circumstances permit. That would respond to aspirations and help to generate mixed-tenure communities rather than mono-tenure estates.

I welcome the Government's initiatives to further those objectives, including the £60,000 homes concept and the social homebuy concept. Equally, there is a need for more good-quality rented housing for those with no immediate prospect of home ownership. Decent-quality rented housing provided by councils or registered housing associations can make a world of difference to the lives and prospects of people who would otherwise have no opportunity of obtaining secure and decent homes.

I shall briefly address the issue of homelessness, which has rightly been raised. It is important to put it into context. The figure so often cited as evidence of the problem—30,000 homeless households accepted by local authorities last year—is in fact evidence of a positive response to the problem. Those households have not been left without anywhere to live but have been accepted by local authorities, and accommodation has been provided. That is partly the product of decisions taken by this Government, like the Labour Government of the 1970s, who legislated to extend the responsibilities of local authorities towards the homeless. Those decisions have led to an increase in the figures.

There is also the issue of temporary accommodation. Again, to put the subject in context, although 67,000 households are in temporary accommodation, almost 11,000 of them live in local authority and housing association homes, and 34,000 are accommodated in private sector lettings, generally by housing associations. That accommodation is usually much
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better than bed and breakfasts, and we should welcome the fact that the Government have moved to reduce dependence on bed and breakfasts and improve alternatives for homeless people. That is not to say that there is not a great deal more to be done, but the Government have a good record. I congratulate the Minister on what has been achieved and I hope that he will be committed to doing more over the coming years.

10.32 am

Sarah Teather (Brent, East) (LD): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on securing this debate on an issue of enormous importance and interest to all London Members. I also welcome the Minister to his new post. It is with some trepidation that I speak after the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), whose knowledge of local government was widely respected and a little feared in his previous post. I will seek to emulate him rather more slowly in the post that I have moved to in recent weeks.

The difficulty in obtaining affordable housing dominates all surgeries for London MPs and affects people at all levels, from middle to low incomes. On my way home late last night, I spoke to a young teacher who was married to another teacher and has two young children. He told me that he would have to move out of    Brent because of the difficulty of affording accommodation for his family as it grows. I meet many   young people living in poor-quality rented accommodation. Brent has among the highest levels of houses in multiple occupation anywhere in the country.

The poorest are affected most acutely by the problems of obtaining housing, and it is to them that I now turn. As the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate said at the outset, although it is important to address people's housing aspirations and their need to own a home, that must not be at the expense of addressing housing need, because inability to get any house is a driver for social exclusion.

Brent is typical of most inner-London areas. About 20,000 households are on the housing list waiting to be transferred. One in 10 people living in my constituency live in overcrowded conditions—that figure includes the private sector and owner-occupied accommodation, but the number is one in six for local authority or registered social landlord properties. As other Members have said, the situation is just as bleak across London with some 280,000 households on the housing list, and 174,000 in overcrowded conditions, including a staggering 261,000 children.

As the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate said, about 62,000 households are stuck in temporary accommodation. The average wait to move from temporary to more permanent accommodation in London is just over a year, but that masks a huge variation. In Brent, the wait can often be two to three years, and I suspect that that is similar for other inner-London constituencies.

As the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, we hear incredibly distressing stories week after week. Mum is depressed; dad is angry. The children do not thrive at school and often suffer from asthma because they live in overcrowded accommodation that is also damp because too many people are in too small a
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house. I see many households in which one member of the family had TB, but because the house was overcrowded and damp, the whole family contracted it. They may be in temporary accommodation—perhaps moving from one hostel to another—and so have lost touch with their GP and drugs regime, meaning that the whole family has resistant TB.

Lack of housing breaks up families, destroys lives and ruins people's potential. The sacrifice that such families make is enormous and cannot be overestimated.

Shelter has examined the impact on families of being in temporary accommodation for lengthy periods. Around half said that their health suffered. Many children missed about a quarter of their schooling, and three quarters of families found that nobody was working, often because of the poverty trap to which the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) and others referred. I was interested to hear about the pilot scheme run with the East Thames housing group, in which a top-slicing of housing benefit is given as a grant to registered social landlords. That brings down the housing benefit required by each tenant in an effort to release people from the poverty trap, because there is no way that people can return to work and afford high rents. I will be interested to see the results of that pilot scheme, and if it is useful, I hope that the Government will consider pushing it further.

As all hon. Members have said, the real problem with overcrowding is not just the lack of social housing being built but the fact that much of the build is one or two-bedroom units or even smaller. It is estimated that some 40 per cent. of social housing is required to have four bedrooms or more, but only 6 per cent. in the past 10 years has done so. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) eloquently said, we must encourage RSLs and local authorities to build large properties.

The resulting stress on councils is enormous. We have heard in the past week about the possible impact of councils acting as gatekeepers and preventing people from applying to be homeless and get access to housing. I have experienced that on an anecdotal level in Brent, and I have raised those concerns with the local housing department. I doubt that such action is directed from the top. Instead, I think that it is poor practice and the result of the extreme exasperation and stress that housing officers have to cope with, knowing that there are limited resources and struggling to prioritise. However, it is an extremely worrying trend.

Against that backdrop, the Government have introduced a number of schemes to make it easier for people to buy their own home. Until we tackle the problem of supply, all that we will do, if we are not careful, is inflate the market for everybody. In particular, we will fail to tackle the problem for those people who so desperately need social rented accommodation and who will never afford their own home. I am particularly concerned to hear that Ministers interfered with recommendations by the London Housing Board on the mix of affordable housing to buy and social housing to be built. I hope that that pattern will not be repeated.

If we are going to tackle supply, one of the first things that the Government must do is to honour their pledge to introduce the secondary legislation required to tackle
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empty homes. There are around 100,000 empty homes across London. When we have more than 60,000 people in temporary accommodation, introducing that legislation would go some way to tackle the crisis. We also need to tackle the inequity in VAT. I have heard from talking to engineers and architects that it is often cheaper to knock down a property than to renovate it. That is a ridiculous situation both environmentally and because it prevents many empty properties in a poor state of repair from being brought back into use.

We need to release far more land for building. There have been some welcome announcements from the Government, but the benefit is only trickling down. Rather than just looking at surplus and brownfield land, why do we not consider how appropriate the land's current use is? I know of an example in my constituency in which a primary care trust is holding a property to store medical equipment in one of the most expensive areas in the borough. That is nonsense: such land should be used for rebuilding. It is no good for Government Departments to hold on to land and speculate on its price. As other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), have said, we must allow local authorities more freedom to borrow in order to build.

Finally, if we are going to look at the costs of construction, we must put more investment into training construction workers. In most of west London, the further education sector is under extreme strain and cannot meet the demand for people who want and need that training. We must address that.

I thank the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate for securing the debate. It has been very useful, and I hope that the Minister will respond to the issues that have been raised.

10.40 am

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham) (Con): I add my congratulations to those of others to the Minister on his new post. I do not know whether this is his maiden speech as a Minister, but I think that we have had a couple of other maiden speeches today, and I congratulate those Members. I hope that they have enjoyed the time that they have spent so far in the House of Commons. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) on having set out the problem so clearly. Perhaps it will surprise her when I say that her analysis chimes with mine, and with that of everybody here. It is spot-on. There is a problem.

We will probably differ on the prescription for the answer. I was interested that the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), having had a good go at the Conservative Government, ignored the fact that when I became the Member of Parliament for Beckenham, the Groves estate—part of the Broomleigh housing association, which he advised when it became one of the earliest housing associations—was being renovated with money provided by the Conservative Government. Perhaps a touch of humility might be helpful if this debate is to remain as friendly as it might be. However, we have to address the problem; there is no argument about that.

Every hon. Member who has spoken this morning has used statistics. We agree with them, unlike many statistics—they are hard facts. The Shelter briefing was
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first class, and it made clear the amount of hidden homelessness. Many speakers—I think that they all      represent inner-London constituencies—have mentioned that in terms of overcrowding. That is another problem that I share with every right hon. and hon. Member. I speak for an outer London borough, but between a third and a half of my constituency cases are also about housing. They are to do with issues such as overcrowding and lack of larger homes, so I share the problems of other hon. Members, and I feel for my constituents who are suffering in exactly the way indicated by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather). We all see problems such as the prevalence of asthma in children, and the distress, stress and break-ups that families suffer.

What was most interesting was that, although the analysis of the problems in London was clear, further consideration was needed if there is to be a broader understanding of the need for flexibility in the whole of the housing sector. For instance, there were passing references to people coming in to London, as opposed to the poor having to move out. One of the problems with the Government's analysis is that it is assumed that there will be a net influx into London. It was ever thus. There is another Scottish accent here as well as mine, which is that of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love). We represent the influx from, dare I say, a few decades ago.

Mr. Love : Not too many.

Mrs. Lait : No, just a few. However, we accept that there is potentially a net increase. That prompts the question, which is why there is not a more dynamic regional policy to encourage highly-paid, high-quality jobs in the areas in which the Government are planning to knock down viable Victorian terraces in cities in the north? Interestingly, nobody has mentioned the Thames gateway. That development could have a significant impact on London housing in that it might release the pressure on many of our constituents. We have to ensure that it is a real development.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Edmonton comes from Glasgow, but I am sure that he has heard of Easterhouse. Those of us who are old enough to remember the building of Easterhouse, among whom I put myself, will know that that monumental estate was built on the outskirts of Glasgow for all the right reasons, but that no infrastructure was built with it. There were no churches, there were no pubs and there were no shops.There was the bus in and the bus out. We are still dealing with the social problems from that building half a century ago. There have been wonderful charitable efforts to create communities. Subsequently, money was poured in to build community halls and to try to create a community, but the society had already fractured.

What worries me about developments like the Thames gateway is that, however mixed the housing pattern might be, the social infrastructure might not be included. One of the concerns that we are picking up is that the Government are not planning to ensure that there will be the GP services, the health services and the schools—that there will be the social infrastructure to create the community. What we cannot afford to have
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on the outskirts of London is a new potential Easterhouse. If the Minister can assure us that that infrastructure will be part of the development, which the Government are planning to pay for, then I think we will be reassured. I am sure that all our constituents will also feel the pressure coming off as that development proceeds.

On the pan-London letting system, asking my constituents who find themselves homeless or in bed and breakfast or overcrowded accommodation where in the borough of Bromley they want to go, nine times out of 10 they want to stay in the same street in which they are living. They will not even readily move to other parts of the borough of Bromley. I do not think that we can assume that a pan-London letting scheme would be the panacea for all ills.

Returning to some of the more practical and immediate problems, I agree with those who want to see more three and four-bedroom houses being built. To do that, we need to free up the housing association sector, in order to access more private money, not necessarily so that the associations can sell houses—even on a shared equity or any other basis—but so that they can have access to the capital that they need. Then they can build more readily than when just relying on the Housing Corporation.

We need to extend the key worker purchasing scheme, not just to key workers, but to anyone who wishes to buy. As the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, people aspire to own their own homes and we must not put barriers in the way of their doing so. By limiting people's ability to get on a shared equity scheme, we are setting a barrier. While I accept the analysis that has so readily come out and that we all share, we have to ensure that the Government do not put barriers in the way of people.

We should be looking at more brownfield site development, as the hon. Member for Brent, East said. So often the pressure in the outer London boroughs is coming on greenfield sites. Green belt is significantly under threat. We must work with the tenor of the housing market and not impose on it. We have seen and suffered from the problem where the Government have dictated to rather than worked with the housing market. I hope to hear from the Minister that that is the reform that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will be bringing forward, to ensure that we have a flexible market that will allow those people who wish to buy to buy, and those people who wish to rent to rent, either privately or in the social rented sector. However, at present, as we can all see, there is a crisis in the social rented market. I look forward to hearing how the Minister plans to solve it.

10.49 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Jim Fitzpatrick) : I welcome you to the Chair this morning, Mr. Cummings. I also thank colleagues for their contributions to this important debate.

I shall try to answer some of the questions asked and to respond to points raised by hon. Members. If I do not cover matters adequately, naturally I will write. I will try to fit some closing remarks into the brief time that is left, if there is any.
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I will begin by expressing gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) for securing this debate on such an important issue. The Government attach considerable importance to increasing the supply of affordable housing, particularly in the capital. I therefore welcome the opportunity to listen to the views of right hon. and hon. Members and to respond. I am especially pleased as this is my first 90-minute Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall as the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I suspect that it will not be my last. I therefore express my appreciation for their generous words of welcome.

I will express our collective appreciation and acknowledgement of all of those working in the capital to improve housing in London: Mayor Livingstone, the London boroughs, the Association of London Government, the Government office for London and the London Housing Board. I also welcome the non-governmental organisations in the field: Shelter, which was mentioned several times, Crisis, and others.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate made comments about the Dickensian approach to overcrowding, to which we obviously do not want to return. That was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). I recognise that we have an outstanding commitment to publish a consultation paper on the statutory overcrowding standards. We fully intend to do so in the near future, and that will address the question. I further appreciate the need for larger units for overcrowded households as well as the need to provide a balance of smaller units for single people, the homeless, and other families. More than a quarter of the social rented units in the Housing Corporation's approved development programme for 2004 to 2006 are homes with three bedrooms or more. I believe that the London Housing Board is examining the need for larger units. We are waiting to see how that will be reflected in its funding recommendations for 2006–08.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate also raised the need for pan-London lettings. I hope that she knows that the Government set targets for all local authorities to introduce choice-based lettings by 2010. We are keen on the development of sub-regional and regional choice-based letting schemes. I am pleased to say that London is ahead of the rest of the country in introducing choice-based lettings and that 21 London boroughs already operate such schemes. Three boroughs have plans to introduce them this year and seven others are actively considering introducing them. I understand that the London housing strategy, which is due to be published shortly, contains ambitious proposals for a pan-London choice-based letting scheme.

My hon. Friend also referred to children in temporary accommodation. The number of people living in such accommodation is too high; the figure stands at 101,000. Our strategy "Sustainable Communities: settled homes; changing lives" will, we hope, halve the number living in insecure temporary accommodation over the next five years. However, most people already in temporary accommodation live in self-contained flats or houses; indeed, 90 per cent. of families have their own front doors, which is a great improvement. We have ended the scandal of homeless families with children living for too
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long in poor-quality bed and breakfasts. We recognise that there have been improvements and that much has been done. I will comment further on that later.

My hon. Friend also raised the fact that there is not enough private rented housing. There are a number of initiatives in that area. I will discuss them shortly, and if she will allow me, I will write to her elaborating on them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) raised the similar problem of the need for more social rented housing. While we recognise that we provide a range of affordable housing options, we acknowledge the need for that important sector to receive the attention that it deserves in due course. The funding provided in the 2004 spending review will, along with efficiency improvements, produce 75,000 social rented homes across England by 2008. That represents a 50 per cent. increase by that year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) raised the issue of the role of local authorities in regenerating local housing estates. He will know that in 1997 we inherited a backlog of repairs for social housing that was estimated at costing £19 billion and involving 2 million non-decent homes. We have already refurbished and improved 1 million to decent standard and we are on target to ensure that we refurbish the others. "Sustainable Communities: Homes for All", the five-year housing strategy of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, includes proposals for estate renewal schemes that involve the large-scale refurbishment and development of local authority or registered social landlord housing stock that can support the establishment of more mixed and sustainable communities. I am sure that my hon. Friend will closely follow that.

One of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) was the exploitation of the right to buy. The Government have addressed that in a number of ways: by cutting the discounts available to local authority areas; by extending the qualification period before purchase is available; by extending the discounts repayment period from three to five years; by changing repayment calculations; and by exempting dwellings scheduled for demolition. I can provide further examples, and I will write to my hon. Friend on this matter, if he wishes me to do so.

I welcome the hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) to her post. She made the accusation that Ministers were interfering with the recommendations of the London Housing Board. In response to it, I say to her that the regional housing board recommendations and allocations for 2004–06 were largely accepted in full, although some changes to the balance of funding for different types of affordable housing were made for London and the south-east in order to meet the 2002 spending review commitment to spend £1 billion on key worker housing in the three years to 2005–06 and to help recruit and retain front-line essential workers for the delivery of key services. The hon. Lady also mentioned the East Thames housing group's housing benefit block grant initiative, which is under way; I am watching that carefully, and I will write to her about it.
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The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) raised questions about the Thames gateway social infrastructure. Having attended a meeting only yesterday with the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, I can assure the hon. Lady that those issues are being addressed, and also that the Government will make their contribution to the building of sustainable communities in east London.

The target for the supply of housing to begin to meet London's housing needs is set out in the Mayor's London plan. The target is for at least 23,000 homes per year from all sources, and the aim is to get that figure up towards 30,000. The London plan has set the strategic target that 50 per cent. of new homes in London should be affordable. The Government are committed to increasing the supply of housing, including affordable housing, which is why, since 1997, we have doubled the funding available for affordable housing to £2 billion in 2007–08. That is a considerable increase, and it should be compared with the capital fund reduction between 1993 and 1997—it was halved.

With the funding provided in the spending review of 2004, along with efficiency improvements, we will produce 75,000 social rented homes by 2008. We are also providing an extra £500 million in 2006–08 for housing private finance initiative schemes, on top of the existing £360 million per annum housing PFI programme, and will also deliver £160 million in efficiencies on new social housing procurement in the period to 2007–08.

In London, we are investing almost £1.5 billion to provide 21,000 affordable homes. That includes 10,000 homes for rent for homeless and poorly housed households, and 4,000 units for low-cost home ownership schemes. It will also provide 7,000 homes
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under the key worker living programme for key workers in front-line public services who are an essential part of our efforts to improve standards in hospitals and schools, and to win the fight against crime in London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) raised the homelessness problem. The latest statistics were published on Monday, and they are encouraging. There has been a 20 per cent. reduction in the number of people becoming homeless. The figures show homeless acceptances falling by nearly 7,000 compared with the same period last year, and the number of people becoming homeless has continued to decrease nationally for over a year.

What has that meant for London? Encouragingly, London is in line with the national trend, and acceptances have dropped by 18 per cent. The figures are down from 7,400 to 6,060; that is very welcome. New homelessness strategies, and about £20 million of homelessness grant investment this year, has led to boroughs in the capital city making a real difference; they are preventing homelessness through initiatives such as rent deposit schemes and mediation schemes, sanctuary schemes for the victims of domestic violence, and by ensuring better access to the private sector.

With regard to the Barker review and the longer term, we have accepted Kate Barker's central recommendation that there should be a step change. That phrase was used by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North; after eight years of a Labour Government he is clearly getting into the swing of things with the Administration. That step change will have a significant effect on housing supply.

We are also taking action to speed up the delivery of housing by transforming the planning system to make it faster, more responsive and more effective, and we shall make £600 million of planning delivery grant available over the next five years.
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