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My hon. Friend spoke about overcrowding. She has campaigned on this issue over many years and has been responsible for raising it up the political agenda and ensuring that it is addressed. The standards have not changed for 70 years and they need to be updated. We have consulted on a new approach but, as she will be aware, it is not enough simply to change the standards; we need a programme to address overcrowding. That is why we are looking not simply at standards, but at how to combine that with the appropriate work to prevent overcrowding through building larger family homes
and better management of our stock to ensure that we can better address the needs of large families.
My hon. Friend asked about homelessness. It is important that housing authorities have a sensitive approach to the particular needs of families who are becoming homeless. It may be that all kinds of measures can be taken to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place and to support them. Councils should take into account the vulnerability of different families and their particular needs. They should carry out proper assessments to ensure that people get the right kind of support.
My hon. Friend raised issues concerning families with disabilities and children with behavioural difficulties. There is a wider issue here around children in poor housing that we need to look at further, particularly around children with disabilities and the links between housing and child poverty. It is interesting that the Fabian Societys recent report on life chances, which looked into the issue of life chances and child poverty, did not consider housing very much. There is a tendency for people to think about child poverty simply in terms of the income that a family receives, but the quality of the housing that people live in, and that children grow up in, can be critical to their future.
The decent homes programme has already lifted 1.4 million children out of bad housing since 1997. We have made substantial progress in improving the quality of housing for many children across the country, but there are issues, particularly to do with overcrowding, that my hon. Friend is right to highlight, and we need to do more on some families special needs. She raised a series of other questions, too. She pointed to the fact that many of the issues are matters
for the local council. We need to do more in a series of areas at national level if we are to continue the progress that we have made, both through the decent homes programme, and through the recent increases in the amount of social housing built. However, there are clearly responsibilities at local level, too.
We recognise that Northampton borough councils housing service has considerable room for improvement, and the Audit Commissions progress report, published earlier this year, indicated that its housing service was poor. Programmes of work are under way to try to improve the service in different areas, but we want those improvements to be sustained. There is considerably more work to do in a series of areas, and Northampton borough council needs to do more to improve its housing services in the interests of local tenants and local people across the board. We have asked officials at the Government office for the east midlands to work closely with Northampton borough council to improve its housing services before the next Audit Commission inspection, which is planned for this autumn. I will raise the concerns that my hon. Friend has mentioned this afternoon with officials, so that they are included in that improvement process. May I again thank my hon. Friend for raising such important issues, and wish her and the House a happy Easter?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Before we rise, perhaps I might in turn wish right hon. and hon. Membersthose who are here, and those who are not hereand members of staff across the House, who support us so well, a happy Easter.