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I want to make a couple of remarks about the impact of the fall in provision of social housing on community cohesion, a subject that is dear to my heart. There is no doubt that many cities—London in particular—are experiencing an exacerbation of community tensions as a consequence of the competition for the scarce resource of housing. We must also recognise that the impact of homelessness and overcrowding falls disproportionately on black and minority ethnic communities. The figures show that 12 per cent. of white households live in overcrowded accommodation, while 35 per cent. of black and minority ethnic
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households do so. The figure for Bangladeshi families is 62 per cent. The impact is disproportionate. Not only do our minority communities—particularly our Muslim communities—bear the brunt of housing need, but the settled migrant communities and white households in parts of London that are experiencing changes in their communities as a result of population movement are themselves deeply anxious about those changes and resentful of the fact that their sons and daughters are unable to obtain properties either to buy or to rent.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Has my hon. Friend read “The New East End”, published earlier this year? While it confirms that that is one of the reasons for the hostility felt by white working-class east Londoners towards east Londoners of Bengali origin, it also makes the noteworthy observation that the hostility is directed at the system rather than the players. It is worth thinking again about the 1968 legislation whereby need trumps entitlement.

Ms Buck: I have indeed read the book, which provides an excellent analysis and should be required reading. Although, sadly, individuals sometimes bear the brunt of the grievances of those whose needs are not met, the failings of the system are to blame.

I am concerned about recent evidence of the difficulty of obtaining temporary accommodation to meet the needs of homeless families in my borough. Placements in such accommodation are often responsible for the community tensions that I have described. As I have already mentioned briefly to my hon. Friend the Minister, I have seen an increasing number of families in temporary accommodation lose homes—either temporary settled homes or private rented accommodation—in my borough. They are then moved, sometimes after 12 or 15 years’ residence, to temporary accommodation in Dagenham, Barking or other parts of east London because my borough has been unable to find them the temporary accommodation that they need.

What is particularly galling is that on a number of estates in my area up to half the council accommodation has been sold through the right to buy, and is now in the hands of individuals and property companies buying to let. That engenders endless frustration. We frequently find ourselves re-renting flats that were available for social accommodation as temporary accommodation at £400, £430 and £450 per week, while next to them stand former council flats that could have been rented for £90 a week. The housing problem is not the only consequence: housing benefit expenditure on temporary accommodation has risen from £82 million a year in 1997 to £1.2 billion today.

We are pouring public money into temporary accommodation, often via the right-to-buy sector, in order to keep people in accommodation much of which is still sub-standard. My recent experience confirms that those families are not settled in long-term temporary accommodation, but are being moved from pillar to post. They are being moved from a borough that has been their settled home. We are pulling their children out of school, and taking them to the boroughs where community tension is strongest. That makes no sense as housing policy or as social policy, and it makes no financial sense. We must do something radical to stop it.

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Mr. Hands: As the hon. Lady may know, earlier this week the Chairman of the Select Committee and I visited her arm’s length management organisation, CityWest Homes. On 31 December, Westminster city council will become the first council in Britain to meet the decent homes standard. Will that not go some way towards improving the conditions she has described?

Ms Buck: If the council has met the requirements of the decent homes initiative, that is entirely due to the Government. The Government devised the initiative and provided the money for it. I celebrate the fact that tens of thousands of tenants in my constituency and my borough have been given new kitchens and bathrooms and had their homes upgraded thanks to the generosity of a Labour Government, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to say so.

Mr. Slaughter: Is not the Conservative party’s attitude to the decent homes programme summed up rather more clearly by a comment from a Tory cabinet member of Hammersmith and Fulham council? When asked about the programme, he said “It saddled us with £192 million of debt”, thus demonstrating not just a complete misunderstanding of the basis of its funding, but the fact that the council did not want it in the first place.

Ms Buck: My hon. Friend has seen a very deleterious change in housing provision and policy in his borough since the Conservatives took control in May, and, sadly, tenants and others in housing need will bear the brunt of that change.

My hon. Friend the Minister has been enormously sympathetic and of great practical assistance in responding to the problem of overcrowding. Westminster is one of the boroughs with the highest levels of overcrowding in the country, and the words “Shirley Porter” are not entirely out of context in that regard. Unfortunately, despite my hon. Friend’s support, the situation is not only bad but deteriorating.

In the last fortnight, I have been visited by people from three new households. Families of six are sharing one-bedroom flats. Can Members imagine the pressures that that causes? Children risk growing up in surroundings in which they cannot study, in which they have no privacy and in which any illness will spread like wildfire. Overcrowding has been known to cause tuberculosis to spread among family members. Mothers tell me that their teenage sons have left home and are on the streets because they cannot bear to return to a household where they cannot retreat to a bedroom of their own—in which they may have to share a bedroom with a 12-year-old sister. Indeed, there may be four or five family members sleeping in a single bedroom. That is intolerable.

My hon. Friend has announced investment in loft extensions and deconversions. I welcome that, and the planning changes that will help us to deal with overcrowding. We should, however, bear in mind that the Housing Corporation’s programme for 2006-08—new housing supply is, of course, entirely driven by the Housing Corporation—contains provision for 3,300 homes with three or more bedrooms. That represents a 1 per cent. increase in the supply of property in that
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band. There are 13,867 households waiting now, even before the inevitable pressures gain momentum. We are still in the foothills when it comes to meeting that crying need.

As my hon. Friend knows, some housing need in London is met through sub-regional housing partnerships, because not all boroughs can meet their own needs. That is, I think, a strong argument against allowing entirely local determination for planning provision. Some of the boroughs in our sub-regional partnership are playing deeply deceitful games. All the anecdotal evidence shows that outer London boroughs are designating almost all their new housing developments “disabled housing” in order to deny the legitimate expectations of central London boroughs to draw on that stock. I hope that my hon. Friend will pursue the boroughs that engage in such practices. If we cannot rely on the meeting of demand in the round rather than simply in our own boroughs, and if local authorities are implicitly encouraged to take part in those games, we shall not be able to meet our housing needs.

It is entirely right for us to try to fulfil the legitimate wish of young families to buy their homes, but I have a few caveats. The first relates to the way in which home ownership has squeezed out the investment that is required to meet the needs of homeless families, those in overcrowded accommodation and those in social housing generally.

Secondly, there are real risks in promoting home ownership to categories of people who cannot afford to sustain it. The Minister knows that I had a recent Adjournment debate on the impact of major works and service charges on council leaseholders, some of whom are in serious need. A steady flow of households have bought into temporary accommodation and then found that they could not maintain their homes because of service charges or major works bills or, for instance, a young family who were overcrowded in a one-bedroomed shared ownership property have been unable to stay. Some families have lost their shared ownership property and have had to present themselves as homeless as a consequence. It is therefore important that we do not see such ownership as a panacea.

It is often not recognised that shared and affordable home ownership involves subsidy. There is a slight political tendency to see those in social housing as feckless poor who get handouts from the state, as opposed to entrepreneurial home owners. In fact, however, we are subsidising shared ownership by £50,000 per unit in London. That may or may not be the right choice, but it is important to understand that all forms of affordable housing investment have financial consequences.

The Mayor’s housing strategy for London, which I very much welcome, also strongly emphasises the targeting of investment in home ownership towards intermediate housing to meet the needs of families. He estimates that there are 91,000 tenants in London who could buy their own homes but need family-sized homes. Shared ownership is too heavily skewed towards small units such as studios and one-bedroom flats, which do not allow families to grow and stay in central London.

The Government’s children strategy is based on the concept that every child matters. Demonstrably, and sadly, every child does not matter at the moment. Children
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in homeless families and in grossly overcrowded accommodation do not matter in the sense of receiving the kind of support and investment that would get them out of a crisis situation. Next year’s comprehensive spending review is our last and best opportunity to put an end to the worst crisis in public policy.

2.12 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I am a member of the Select Committee that produced the report, although I was not a member of the Committee for the duration of the inquiry. I, for one, do not agree with all the report’s findings, but I hope that it has been a helpful contribution to what is becoming a more extensive and pressing debate. I am also vice-chairman of the all-party arm’s length management organisations group, and I represent a constituency in which about a third of housing stock is social housing, which is well above the national average but round about the London average.

My position is to support in general more house building. It seems that some of that building will inevitably have to be on greenfield land, which I support somewhat reluctantly, although it is not the same as supporting construction on green belt land, about which I have severe reservations, as I do about the Government’s approach announced earlier this week.

My constituency suffers badly from the phenomenon of lack of affordability of private housing. The Evening Standard on 4 December included an article entitled, “Has it ever been harder to buy a house in London?” The picture that accompanied the article is of Wingate road in Hammersmith W6. According to the caption, a four-bedroomed house with garden, with an asking price of £750,000, was sold for £866,000 within a week. Affordability is a very large issue in my constituency. In central London, the average home price, as distinct from house price, is about to break through the £500,000 barrier.

I also want to reflect on another phenomenon that is getting coverage and interest at the moment: flight from London. That is a growing problem, and a report in the Evening Standard today says that about 250,000 people per annum are leaving London. My constituency has one of the highest population turnover rates in Britain of 20 to 25 per cent. each year. It is also now the second largest constituency in Britain in terms of population, after the Isle of Wight. Therefore, a lot of people are moving out, but even more are moving in.

My constituency is also the second youngest in Britain after Battersea, and is among the top 10 for the location of young professionals. I want to address many of my comments to the problems that face young professionals and young families in getting on the housing ladder, including the private rented sector, in London and the south-east.

Mr. Slaughter: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is off to Chelsea, so one hears, and that Wingate road and similar roads might be my problem rather than his after the next election, but does he acknowledge at all the need for social housing in his constituency, or like his colleagues who have newly taken over Hammersmith and Fulham council, does he consider only young professionals and the need for housing for sale, which is clearly substantial?

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Mr. Hands: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He and I had numerous such conversations over many years at Hammersmith and Fulham council. May I say that his adoption as the Labour party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith has cross-party support, and I wish him all the best in his attempts to represent roads such as Wingate road. I am certainly not addressing other issues to the exclusion of social housing. I merely wanted to emphasise some private sector housing issues in London. I am fairly sure that he will speak later about many of the issues facing the social housing sector, which I will certainly not ignore.

We need more social housing for rent, but that cannot be the only solution. The Government have a terrible record, especially in London, on social housing completions and lettings. Affordable housing completions are down from 45,000 in 2000-01 to 32,000 last year. Since 1997, new social lettings in London have almost halved under Labour. The problem is very serious. The Labour party, however, is pretty much proposing that social housing for rent is the only solution to this country’s housing affordability crisis. In that regard, I must diverge from the opinions expressed by Labour Members.

Mr. Khan: Is the hon. Gentleman not being a bit disingenuous? His hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) referred earlier to the Public Accounts Committee, which this week examined a report that confirmed that £500 million has been spent each year, over the past few years, on low-cost home ownership. Could he be more generous in his praise for this Government’s ability to help people to get a foot on the home ownership ladder?

Mr. Hands: That expenditure is certainly welcome but, unfortunately, it is simply not making enough impact. The impact in constituencies such as mine is very small. I shall refer later to some of the low-cost home ownership initiatives, including shared ownership, in my constituency, in a development that is not too far from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not unwittingly mislead the House through a rather selective use of statistics on housing completions in London. He will know that in the year that he chose as a baseline, the housing market was in a state of total collapse, and as a result the Government of the day invested in what was known as the housing market programme to try to rescue it. That resulted in a spike in social housing output in London in that year. If he looks at the statistics, he will see that the figure of 6,000 social housing homes completed last year in London is the highest for more than a decade. Will he give the Government credit for that?

Mr. Hands: It is certainly helpful to have more social housing completions in London, but the Government do not really have a good record on the issue. It is interesting to take an intervention from the right hon. Gentleman, who, I think, was one of my predecessors as the MP for Fulham. If I am not mistaken, his slogan at the time was, “Nick Raynsford lives here”. He moved out soon afterwards, and he would have great difficulty affording to move back into the constituency owing to some of the problems that I have outlined.

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Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is saying that there is not enough social housing; presumably his party would spend more money. If so, could he explain how he squares that with the third fiscal rule to which his party is also committed?

Mr. Hands: I am talking about a general desirability that there should be more social housing and more low cost home ownership in London and places such as my constituency.

The disparity between average social rents and average private sector rents is enormous. The national disparity is about 70 per cent. In London, the figure falls to about 48 per cent; the average social rent is about 48 per cent of the average private sector rent. One of the consequences is that those in lower paid jobs simply cannot afford the private sector rent, but because they are in work they, almost by definition, have very little chance of accessing the social rented sector in constituencies such as mine.

I want to talk about a specific development in my constituency, which to a large extent—

Emily Thornberry: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, I would be interested to hear his ideas as to how people on low incomes can live in London in anything other than social housing. The average income of people living in council estates in Islington is £6,290, according to the housing needs survey. Where could they live apart from council housing?

Mr. Hands: The hon. Lady misunderstands my point. I am referring to people who are not currently in social housing and are generally in lower paid jobs and who simply cannot afford private sector rents. There is a big gap between those with access to social housing in London and those who are able to afford private sector housing for rent. I wanted to address those people specifically.

Imperial Wharf in my constituency has been cited as a model by many who are promoting the idea of imposing a blanket rule of 50 per cent. social housing for rent across London and the rest of the country. Imperial Wharf is the largest residential housing development in west London in the past 10 years or so, with 2,200 to 2,300 homes. It was the first large development, as far as I am aware, that had a 50 per cent. requirement imposed on it by the council through the developer, St. George. It was approved in 1999 and is now nearing completion. It is a good time to review the nature of the Imperial Wharf development. I think that the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has been to visit it, as have various Government Ministers.

Imperial Wharf has been a terrible example of what can go wrong as a result of imposing an arbitrary 50 per cent rule. The prices of the 50 per cent. of houses in the private sector are incredibly high. It has been marketed as London’s biggest affordable housing development, but private sector homes have been on the market for between £500,000 and £1.25 million. That part of the development fails in terms of affordability.

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