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29 Jun 2010 : Column 185WHcontinued
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I assure him that I understand his point perfectly, but he must be aware, having spoken in many such debates in the past 13 years, that housing in
London is in short supply. The previous Government did not manage to resolve the problem, but I hope that the coalition Government will do so.
I want to refer to some of proposals in the coalition programme that will address the issue.
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): As someone who also represents an outer-London borough, I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the migration of people from central to outer London-a number of my constituents, who are struggling to find housing in the private sector because of the changes, are already concerned. He hopes that the Government will make some changes to prevent such migration from happening, but what sort of changes would he like the Government to make?
Tom Brake: I am afraid that I shall again have to defer to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I am sure will pick up that point when he responds to the debate. I want to put on record some of the proposals that the coalition Government have listed in their programme-measures, or sentiments, that can address the situation. When the Minister responds, I hope that he can put some flesh on the bones of such sentiments, as well as give an indication of where the Government are going with housing, so that we have greater clarity about how housing provision and needs will be addressed.
We will promote a radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. We will abolish local spatial strategies and return decision making on housing and planning to local councils. We will radically reform the planning system, to give neighbourhoods far greater ability to determine the shape of places in which their inhabitants live. We are exploring a range of measures to bring empty homes back into use, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) made clear in an intervention earlier. We are also looking at new trusts and perhaps ways of providing cheaper homes that people can buy-cheaper because community trusts hold the land separately.
Emily Thornberry: Is the hon. Gentleman aware that David Orr from the National Housing Federation has said that changes to the planning system, such as the end of regional targets and the cut in investment, mean that the amount of affordable housing built in England this year could fall by 65%?
Tom Brake: I am aware of those concerns. However, a bottom-up approach to housing is required. Again, when the Minister responds to the debate, I hope that he will explain how the proposals in the coalition programme will help to increase the supply.
I want to mention the promotion of shared-ownership schemes. Registered social landlords, such as London and Quadrant led by David Montague, are proposing imaginative schemes, such as the "up to you" programme, to make homes available for people who might not be able to pay a deposit for a property.
The situation is challenging, but we have some solutions or partial solutions to the problem of housing need in London and beyond. I should like to ask the Minister a specific question-just to get some clarity-on the decent homes programme. Although the issue is a local one, it
might affect other hon. Members. The London borough of Sutton was awarded partial funding for its decent homes programme shortly before the general election. I seek confirmation that that funding remains available, and I ask about the future of the programme, which was due to last for a number of years. Tenants and the Sutton Housing Partnership are interested in what will happen to the decent homes funding.
To conclude, we are clearly in a challenging situation as far as housing need in London is concerned. It is not something that has emerged in the past couple of months but has been a long-standing problem in London, with a shortage of supply of affordable homes and, indeed, homes for sale. I hope that the coalition Government can take on that situation and can address it in the next five years.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has a long history of bringing to this place for discussion matters on which Opposition Members work as a team. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck)-I hope that she catches your eye, Mr Howarth-also has a long history of bringing such matters to this place.
As London MPs, we are not here to suggest that we have cracked housing issues in London. We all have a long track record of campaigning on them, and understanding them, largely because we know from our constituency surgeries that London is a tale of two cities-the two cities that my father found when he arrived here in 1956. He shared a one-bedroom flat with a small paraffin heater in Finsbury Park with five others. He is not with us today, but I know he is pleased that I now have a big house in Finsbury Park. That is the progress of immigration.
All of us in the Chamber have large homes, and all of us have employment, but we are here because either we are moving incrementally forward on housing or moving backwards. The Budget and its housing benefit issues will move us backwards. I predict that the result of the exodus from inner London to outer London will be equivalent to what happened in the Parisian suburbs and there will be social unrest in three or four years. It is right to put that on the record. That will be the consequence of the social cleansing of inner London. It is patently clear to all Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies that the face of homelessness, particularly in London, is a black and ethnic minority one. Those are the people who will be cast out of Westminster, Islington, Camden and Hackney to find their way and their homes as they will, against a backdrop of existing acute housing need in London.
We have a Mayor who is not committed to building the necessary affordable homes in the city. Looking at the list of Conservative local authorities, I find it pathetic that only 200 affordable homes were built in Westminster in the last year for which we have figures; just 100 were built in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea and, even worse, in Richmond only 127 were built. Those authorities have the space
and the opportunity, but over that period their attitude to building affordable homes was poor. That is the backdrop against which people will suffer.
Last Friday, an event was organised by the charity, TreeHouse, which supports families with young children on the autistic spectrum. I spent the afternoon on the Broadwater Farm estate with the Uddin family. I collected their son, Adil, from Broadwater Farm primary school, to be close to the family as they deal with their five-year-old's serious autistic needs. There are eight of them and they live in a two-bedroom flat, which is typical of housing need in my constituency. My message to that poor family with six children is that their disability living allowance will probably be cut by the present Administration, so despite having a three-week-old child, they can forget any possibility of receiving the baby or toddler element of the child tax credit, because that will go too. Mr Uddin makes representations to me about housing need, but against a backdrop of 3,471 people on the temporary accommodation list in the London borough of Haringey and, as we speak, 818 in emergency accommodation, it is very unlikely that the family will be able to move from their two-bedroom flat, despite the fact that eight of them live there. Even worse, the new Government, because of their attitude to economic matters, has deemed that the housing pressure in our London borough is set to become even worse.
Opposition Members believe passionately that despite the tough economic times, the way through is to invest and to determine growth. This is an opportunity for a new deal arrangement for our country, and Liberal Democrat Members should remember the opportunities that Lloyd George put in place with his people's Budget. It is a disgrace that hon. Members who represent areas such as Hornsey and Wood Green, and Bermondsey, where there are poor and needy constituents, support a Budget that will result in an exodus and social unrest. It is a disgrace.
Tom Brake: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr Lammy: No, I will not give way. We have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman and, frankly, it was pretty poor.
One in eight people on housing benefit is unemployed, but many are workers-cleaners, shop workers, hospital porters and so on. The pressure that the Budget will put on them is unacceptable. It is a disgrace, and will lead to the sort of social unrest that I and my constituents saw in 1985 when unemployment was 20% in the constituency, and probably 40% among black people. We will see that again with the cutting of the future jobs fund alongside the ridiculous, nasty policy that underpins the Government.
Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab):
We have heard some excellent speeches from Opposition Members this morning, and I hope that we will hear more. I will
try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on giving us that opportunity.
London has always been a city of mixed communities. In constituencies such as that of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field), mine and those of other hon. Members, we see the historical product of that mixture. Properties were built by Peabody and Octavia Hill, and the 19th century housing associations. They recognised that there were slum conditions in London and that the poor have always lived in different parts of London. We are in danger of engineering a set of solutions that fly in the face of the centuries-old history of London by making London, particularly central London, safe for millionaires to live in.
We had a mixed stock of housing in our cities, and that stock has changed, but the supply of properties has not changed. The buildings are still there, but the people who live in them are different. For example, Westminster has 14% less social housing than in the 1980s. In Sutton, there has been a 7% fall in the number of social housing properties, and in Wandsworth, remarkably, there has been a 22% fall in the proportion of social housing properties. Some of the people living in ex-social housing properties bought their properties, and rightly so. Good luck to them. Understandably, they took the opportunity, and then sold and moved, so those properties are now in the private rented sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), who has left the Chamber, said that some people living in ex-local authority homes are paying rent of £400, £500 or £600 a week when their neighbours are paying only £100 a week.
We have heard about the employment trap being almost a justification for such policies, but let us not forget that rents cause the employment trap. Those who are living in private rented accommodation and facing a rent of £400, £500 or £600 a week obviously find it difficult to work, although despite that many do. If they had the benefit of a social rented unit, as many of them used to have, they would not face the employment trap and the disincentive to work. Indeed, all the records show that unemployment and worklessness in social housing was far lower 30 years ago than nowadays because all sorts of social housing-housing association and local authority property-is residualised due to the reduction in stock.
We now blame tenants and those who live in those homes but, in many cases, they would have been social tenants if the available capacity were the same as 20 or 30 years ago. We retreat to the policy that was actively encouraged during the 1980s of shifting large numbers of people not just to outer London, but in some cases to bed and breakfasts in Margate or to social housing in Birmingham, regardless of all the local and community connections people might have had. What a desperate legacy we are still dealing with for families who were, by definition, going through the homelessness gateway and therefore vulnerable. They had children, disabilities or caring responsibilities, and we are still dealing with some of the consequences of cramming people into bed-and-breakfast accommodation and shattering their local connections in order to implement a harsh homelessness policy.
This policy is absolutely insane. Although I have been critical in the Chamber about the Labour Government's failure to build enough social houses, they did-rightly-
look at ways of reducing homelessness. The number of households accepted as homeless has fallen steadily over the past 15 years. Over the past year, a duty of homelessness was accepted for 36,000 households-9,000 over the last quarter. That number is down.
Looking at homelessness prevention we see that last year, 123,000 households were diverted from making a homelessness application. Fine. We all agree that keeping people in their homes and providing them with an alternative would be a sensible thing to do. However, where were those 123,000 households diverted? More than 60% were diverted to the private rented sector. We have achieved a reduction in homelessness by placing people in the private rented sector. Now we are saying to those people that we can no longer put them in the private rented sector in most places, so what will happen? They will be homeless. They will make an application and, under present law, there is a duty to accept them as homeless, so what is the answer?
Earlier, the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster came up with an answer: the coalition Government will change the law. I predict that they will change the law so that local authorities no longer have a duty to house homeless applicants; Westminster council has made it clear that it supports that position, as has Hammersmith council. Local authorities could not house those people because if they did, the entire policy on housing benefit reduction would be shattered. Therefore, the Government will change the law to allow all homeless households to be housed only in the private rented sector. They will remove all forms of local connection. But what will be required? How will the Minister answer that? Will households be required to find alternative accommodation anywhere in England, or will it just be anywhere in London? That question goes to the heart of the implications of the policy.
The Government propose to cleanse lower-income people, many of whom work, from large parts of London. That is the core purpose of the policy; it has no other purpose. Those households will have to live somewhere-unless they do not have somewhere to live. In 1997, one of my first cases as an MP was helping a family whose children were living in a bus. I predict that one consequence of this policy will be that families will sleep in their cars, on waste ground or on the streets. We probably will have disorder; there will be catastrophic overcrowding and we will see people living in the streets. Of course, we will also see people shipped away to the north of England.
What is the sense in a policy in which, on the one hand, the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions says, "Let the workless come to London to find jobs," but on the other hand, the workless are driven out of London to where the housing is? Such a policy is intellectually incoherent and, above all, morally indefensible.
Mr Mike Hancock (in the Chair): If the last two speakers want to speak they will have to be generous to each other as we have less than 10 minutes.
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has an outstanding record on this issue. As he says, "Here we go again." The fact that 11 Labour
Back Benchers are present shows the strength of feeling and the importance of this issue. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) also regularly attends debates on this subject, although I note that he and his new Liberal Democrat friends have not so far been in a position to defend the changes to housing benefit. We wait with interest to hear what the Minister says.
I sponsored a debate on the issue about two months ago in which I kept to my usual two themes: first, to urge the then Government to build more social housing in London, which they were beginning to do, and secondly to draw attention to the social cleansing that has been going on for some years in my borough of Hammersmith. I will not talk about that today, but it is a template for what could happen elsewhere. There are many clubs in the armoury, from demolition to sales or the refusal to build any new social housing, and in many ways that has set the agenda.
Even that picture, however, looks rosy compared with what we see now. Not only have there been changes in the Budget, which I will come to in a moment, but we have had clear statements of intention from the Minister responsible for housing. I referred to them earlier, although the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) declined to comment, as he declined to comment on anything else. I know that he is a decent individual, so perhaps it was from embarrassment at what his Government are doing.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) asked the housing Minister on 10 June whether he would confirm that
"new tenants-people in housing need coming off the housing waiting list, as he described-will enjoy the security enjoyed by existing tenants",
the reply was that Government policy
"may include looking at tenure for the future."-[Official Report, 10 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 451.]
As we know from the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North, there are about 45,000 new tenancies in London a year, which represents 6% or 7% of tenancies over the term of a Parliament. The policy could mean that a quarter of social tenancies in London disappear. It effectively means that social housing, whether assured or secure tenancies, will become a bin-end, a type of housing that is being phased out. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North said-she has an exemplary record in raising these issues-the product of the past 20 or 30 years has been increasingly to use the private sector for housing.
Emily Thornberry: I wonder if my hon. Friend has had the same experience as me-I expect he has. A woman with three children came to see me in my surgery. They had nowhere to live, and I told her that there was no social housing and that she had to go into the private sector. She replied, "But it's so expensive, Emily, what can I do?" I said, "Don't worry. You can get housing benefit." She said, "What about when I go to work?", and I said, "Don't worry; you'll still get housing benefit to top up your salary when your children go to school." I now feel as if I have betrayed her by pushing her into the private sector when housing benefit is about to be taken away.
Mr Slaughter: I suspect that my hon. Friend is more compassionate than I am. Tenants come to me who have three or four kids and they are living in a one-bedroom flat. They say that the council is blackmailing them and telling them that they will never be rehoused unless they give up their secure tenancy and take an assured shorthold tenancy in the private sector with what are, as has been pointed out, inflated rents. I say, "Stick it out because once you're there, they can do whatever they like with you. At least you have a permanent tenancy at the moment." That is a hard thing to tell people who are living in extreme housing need.
The system of direct lettings gets people off the housing waiting list by placing them in highly insalubrious private accommodation, and getting them into undesirable relationships with the private landlords who are found in local authorities such as Hammersmith. Schemes to avoid homelessness by keeping people in private sector tenancies, the use of private sector letting-a relief after the old bed-and-breakfast system-and, as my hon. Friend has just said, the removal of rights to permanent housing, have forced people into insecure housing in the private sector and meant that a time bomb has built up.
The response of the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives has been to reduce the sum of money available. Let us forget figures of £100,000; no one is in favour of that or of £2,000 a week. We are talking about £400 or £250 a week. I have been told that so far my borough has identified 750 families who will have to move, I think, out of the borough. There are very few suitable properties, although I think that yesterday we heard the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions say-I shall check Hansard for the exact quote-that he wanted people to find the right level of housing, the right level of housing for people who live in London. So people move outside the M25 or live in a slum. Many of my constituents already live in a slum, because of the pressure on housing in the private sector, and that will increase. To pillory people and to say that they are unemployed, feckless and so on is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) said, absolutely wrong.
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