A member of that family will say, “But Jeremy, housing benefit will have to pay this huge rent, and that means I can’t get a job, otherwise I will lose the housing benefit.” They are moving into the most awful bind. Quite often they are placed in flats in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton—no reflection on him; quite the opposite—and they then come and tell me what the flat is like: slum landlord, inefficient heating, badly maintained, possibly vermin infested. They can get no redress from the landlord because the landlord knows for certain that there will be no problem in renting it again through an agency. We report the matter to the local authority but this can go on for years. They move from one private rented property to another until, perhaps five or 10 years down the line,

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they achieve the gold medal of a council flat. That is a lifetime for a child. They will move primary schools several times, lose their friends and social contacts, their youth club and their networks. That is what is happening to dozens and dozens of children and families all over the city at this time.

I ask the Government: please think through what is happening. Think of the desire for somewhere safe and secure to live. Think of the housing benefit that is being wasted in excessive rents to private landlords, and allow local authorities to do what the old London county council, the Greater London council, and lots of London boroughs of all political parties did, which was to invest in good-quality bricks and mortar of secure housing for people to live in, which they could call their own home and know is their own home. That is what brings about stability in communities. The alternative leads to underachievement, homelessness, crime and the misery of unsustainable communities.

I do not call such building a waste. I listen with interest when building workers tell me that they are being laid off because there is nothing for them to do. There is a housing crisis out there that can be solved by the building of new properties that can put those people to good work and solve the social problems at the same time. London is crying out for a socially responsible approach to housing. Let us not leave it all to the market; The market is what created the problem in the first place.

12.40 pm

Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) for securing this debate. As he clearly articulated, there are serious issues in London. Social housing has been one of the most intractable problems facing central and local government. The scale of the problem is staggering, but the Government have robust plans to deliver more homes in London and elsewhere.

Many of the problems that I come across in my weekly surgeries are to do with housing. The hon. Gentleman articulated many of the issues that people come to talk about. Perhaps they need a bigger house because they now have a bigger family. There may be overcrowding. Repairs may be necessary in flats and houses; some of the photographs that I see are absolutely disgraceful. People can be on the council house list for years. They cannot afford a deposit for private rental, and private landlords often do not give accommodation to those on housing benefit. People struggle to get into private rented accommodation.

In the bigger picture, 1.8 million households are on social housing waiting lists across the country and many of the 8 million people currently living in social housing are in properties that do not match their needs. Properties are often under-utilised—when children leave home, for example—but others are overcrowded. Some people are prevented from moving because of the lack of mobility in the system as a whole.

In London, as in many other major cities around the world, the problem is particularly acute. Housing waiting lists have nearly doubled in the past 10 years and about 54,000 households—three quarters of which include children—are living in temporary accommodation there. At the same time, buying a home in the capital is becoming increasingly difficult, as we have already discussed.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr Field) talked about the squeezed middle. Whether we are talking about central London or my constituency of Brentford and Isleworth, which stretches out towards Hounslow, it is still difficult to buy a home in London.

About 9,500 households are on the housing register in my borough of Hounslow. Last year, only 919 properties were available for rent.

Mr Mark Field: My hon. Friend is coming to the point about the huge scarcity of social housing. I would argue that that resource needs to be much more properly and comprehensively assessed. Does she agree that far too many people in social housing are sub-letting illegally and that there needs to be a national campaign—although probably worked out at local government level—to make sure that those in social housing are properly entitled to it? That would help correct some of the terrible shortfalls and disadvantages experienced by many of her constituents.

Mary Macleod: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I agree that that is happening across London and we need to do something constructive to deal with it.

Hounslow council’s website advises that

“Most people waiting for housing will never be offered a property because the number of people registered is much higher than the number of properties we have available to let each year.”

We need a new housing model that provides a range of opportunities for people’s housing needs and that continues to protect the most vulnerable and those with the greatest need.

There is no doubt that there is a need for far-reaching reform of our social housing to meet current and future needs and to modernise the system while protecting provision for the most vulnerable. How can we deliver this better system? There is significant potential for innovation in the social housing sector overall. First, I shall focus on building new homes and bringing empty homes back into use. Secondly, I want to explore the use of new models in the private rented market. Thirdly, I will address the issue of encouraging increased mobility within the social housing sector.

On the first issue, clearly, there is a desperate need to increase the number of new homes being built and of empty homes being brought back into use. The national affordable housing programme and the new homes bonus, put in place by the Government, will both help to support that goal. The Government are investing £6.5 billion in housing, which includes £2 billion to make existing social homes decent and a £4.5 billion investment in new affordable housing to deliver 150,000 more affordable homes.

Housing associations play a critical role in the provision of affordable homes and the national affordable housing programme will provide them with a new model for the building of new homes. They will be allowed to set affordable rents on their new build homes, and some re-lets at up to 80% of the market value, to provide additional capital to reinvest in new property development.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I recognise that the Government are giving housing associations the flexibility to charge up

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to 80% of the market rent. How does the hon. Lady respond to the point, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), that for many people that is a poverty trap that keeps them out of employment? Many of them—especially those in constituencies such as mine—will not be able to afford 80% of the market rent.

Mary Macleod: The hon. Gentleman states one of the problems in London. There is a range of models from which people can choose, but it is important for us to come up with constructive ideas about how we can make a difference to such issues and find a way that does not allow people to get stuck in that trap. That is to a large extent why we are doing a lot of work on welfare reform, so that we get people into work and make sure that they get the support that they need.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): Before the hon. Lady moves on, I want to come back to the national affordable housing programme. She referred to the £4.5 billion that the Government are investing in new build. Will she tell me what percentage reduction that, in effect, represents from the money spent in the previous comprehensive spending review periods between 2008 and 2011?

Mary Macleod: All I know is that there is an incredible shortage of housing in London, so the last Government did not do nearly enough to solve the problem. Look at what Ken Livingstone did not achieve as Mayor; the current Mayor of London is trying to address the issue massively in creating new affordable homes.

The new homes bonus announced by the Minister for Housing and Local Government last month also provides powerful incentives to transform house building by encouraging local communities to support development rather than resist it. Under the scheme, the Government match the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years, and communities themselves can decide how to spend the extra funding—for example, to provide local facilities such as libraries, swimming pools or leisure centres. The scheme will also encourage councils to bring empty properties back into use, as they will receive the cash bonus for that.

Mr Love: Will the hon. Lady confirm that the new homes bonus will not include any new money? It is all being redistributed from existing sources of funding.

Mary Macleod: That question is best directed at the Minister, who will, I think, disagree. I am sure that he will respond to it at the end of the debate.

The new homes bonus shows the concept of localism in practice, with local communities, local government, business and the third sector coming together to make decisions that will bring real benefit to the local area. The Mayor of London has made a commitment to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes by 2011, of which 30,000 will be social rented homes; the remainder will be for low-cost ownership. He is on target to deliver his manifesto by the end of his mayoral term, despite the biggest downturn in the market for many years. By the end of the financial year 2010-11, 40,000 homes will have been completed, with a higher proportion of social rented homes being family sized than in any previous

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mayoral term. The Mayor has also fulfilled his manifesto commitment to invest £60 million in bringing 3,142 empty homes back into use.

Secondly, let us consider the increased use of the private rented sector. We have been used to an “Englishman’s home is his castle” approach to housing, but it is clear that we need to move more towards a European model, whereby long-term renting is much more the norm. Private companies can play a role in that, and several are now developing models that provide grant-free housing for economically active families who find that they are unable to get social housing or who have no realistic prospect of getting on the housing ladder—the so-called sandwich class. Those companies work in urban areas to develop brownfield sites and provide good-sized family accommodation for under the £340 a week housing benefit threshold.

For example, the London Rental Housing Company intends to build 2,000 private rented units in the next five years, and it is currently searching for 10 sites across London that can accommodate at least 150 three-bedroom apartments. It also intends to build larger units for families and sharers. That is part of a new, emerging build-to-let sector, which is entering the market to build purpose-built mass housing. Perhaps one of the greatest indictments of the Labour years is the previous Government’s rigid adherence to political dogma and their ignorance of the private sector’s potential to help solve some of the problems.

The Mayor of London believes that, by attracting institutional investment, there is significant scope for the private rented sector to play a bigger role. He is also committed to ensuring value for money in the private rental market and introducing the London rents map, which enables prospective tenants to see the going rental rates for any given postcode area in the capital.

Thirdly, let me deal with increased mobility. The majority of tenancy agreements are currently made on a lifetime basis, with no regard for future needs. Indeed, tenants can leave properties to family members after their death, with no regard to their housing needs. Although I understand that it would be difficult to change the arrangements for existing tenants, and I appreciate why the Government have decided not to do that, the suggested changes for the future represent a much more realistic model for moving forward.

Mr Slaughter: I am listening carefully, and I have heard about no under-occupation for social tenants, so long-standing families will be forced to move out of their homes. I have heard, “Let’s rely on the private rented sector”, of which, as a west London Member of Parliament, given our heritage from Rachmanism, the hon. Lady should be ashamed. I am now hearing that lack of security is a benefit. I hope that she tells her constituents what she believes about housing policy in London, because, given the size of her majority, I would like to see how they vote next time.

Mary Macleod: I take every single person who comes to my surgery with housing problems extremely seriously, and I deal with them, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does, too. That is what a Member of Parliament should do.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I like the hon. Lady, who often comes out with some good stuff. However, today, she is not on the best of wickets. How will she

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deal with constituents who come to her when they are about to be evicted because they somehow fall short of the bedroom standard? How does she think that that standard will be applied? Does she think that neighbours will tell on each other? Will there be a percentage figure for how often the bedroom is used as an indication of whether someone should be evicted? She talks about realistic policies, but she does not seem to have realistically engaged with that policy.

Mary Macleod: When any constituent comes to me in dire need, I work with the council to find a solution. I work to ensure some solution is found for that person. Rather than hon. Members talking purely about all the problems, which we know are vast and need to be tackled, I would like to hear some really good solutions from the Opposition.

As I said, the majority of tenancy agreements are currently made on a lifetime basis, and the Government have decided that the most reasonable approach is to ensure that a two-year minimum tenancy should be available for landlords to offer. However, longer-term tenancies would be expected to be provided to vulnerable households or those with children. All tenants will also have access to a mechanism that will enable them to move if their circumstances change—for example, if they secure work in another part of London or need to move to be closer to other family members.

Earlier, it was asked what the Mayor of London has been doing. I have already mentioned the 50,000 affordable homes that he will deliver by the end of his mayoral term. However, he also made several other promises to help London: to halve severe overcrowding in social housing by delivering larger, better-designed homes and more family-sized homes; to provide major regeneration; and to end rough sleeping. He has taken a range of measures such as providing a record number of affordable starts—a 35% increase in 2009-10 on 2007-08, the last year of Ken Livingstone’s administration.

More family-sized, affordable homes have been provided under the current mayoral administration than in the previous 10 years, with around 40% social rented homes with three or more bedrooms to help deliver the goal. Some of the red tape has been removed in the draft replacement for the London plan, including the 50% affordable homes target—that was never going to be achieved in the good times, and it would stifle development in the downturn. There has also been a major programme to unlock stalled regeneration schemes, leading to £200 million investment in more than 10 schemes across London. There is also London’s biggest programme to bring empty homes back into use, trebling investment to £60 million, and 1,700 empty homes have been brought back into use so far. Progress has been made. That is not to say that no problems remain, but I stress that some progress has been achieved.

In summary, there is no doubt that the current system of social housing is broken and it was critical for the Government to find ways to improve it. However, there is also room for more innovation. We need to be aware that any provision that simply seeks to allocate supply on a more efficient or compassionate basis will fail unless it is linked to demand-side reforms. Of course, that takes us into the wider issues of transport and infrastructure planning and regional economic policy.

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There is scope for innovation, and I believe that the extended freedoms provided to local authorities in the Localism Bill will help encourage that. In London, the Mayor will play a critical role in outlining the strategy and in driving forward his commitments.

We all agree that an effective housing model is important to London, where more than 8 million people live. I congratulate the Government and the Mayor on their aim to raise aspirations and promote opportunities; improve homes and neighbourhoods; maximise the delivery of new homes and end rough sleeping; strengthen localism and reduce dependency; create a more flexible system; try to find a better use of resources; and make the system fairer.

We are discussing improving people’s lives, especially those of the most vulnerable, throughout the city. This is an example of politics making a real difference to people and creating stronger communities.

12.58 pm

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing the debate, his fine speech and his long-term campaign on housing. I apologise for the fact that I have to leave early because I have a long-standing constituency engagement this afternoon, not related to an election.

Having a decent, secure and affordable home should be a fundamental human right, but sadly, it is not. For most of our history in this country, people have been expected to provide for themselves, and the majority have lived in insecure, cold, damp and often insanitary and overcrowded conditions, until, for a relatively short time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North pointed out, slum clearances and mass house building by councils produced safer, spacious, secure and affordable homes.

Then, however, with living standards and aspirations rising, more and more ordinary families moved out of their council homes—they did not have the right to buy at that time—and became home owners, and this nation became divided between home owners and non-home owners. Mrs Thatcher, of course, knew whose side she was on. Council house building was curtailed, and as the years passed, housing stock was sold off or fell into disrepair—nowhere was that more acute than in London and inner-city boroughs such as mine—yet no one seemed to understand that the housing market and private ownership would never offer a solution for all, given that profits had to be made and household incomes varied so widely. The Thatcher Government was a disaster for housing in London, and London has never recovered.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North also suggested, Labour too bears some responsibility. When we entered government in 1997, our priorities were education and health—that was absolutely right—and we succeeded extraordinarily well. However, we failed to connect education and health with housing—although of course, where there is inadequate housing, education and health are severely affected.

Jim Fitzpatrick: My right hon. Friend is making a strong start to what clearly will be an important contribution to this debate. I entirely accept what she and my hon.

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Friend the Member for North (Jeremy Corbyn) said about the invisibility of house building to the Administrations of whom we were a part. However, the Labour Government inherited 2 million homes below the decency threshold. Does she not give them credit for recognising that that was an absolute priority and for the good work done in that aspect of housing, which was very important, particularly for thousands of homes in Tower Hamlets?

Joan Ruddock: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He anticipated what I was about to say—[Interruption.] There is no need for an apology, because he is so right, and I am glad to have my point reinforced in advance.

I was about to say that when we turned our minds to the housing crisis in the capital, we made progress. In my constituency a raft of Government policies, including the decent homes programme, led to huge improvements in conditions. Many large council estates were completely demolished and rebuilt, removing the tower blocks and providing modern energy-efficient homes in low-rise blocks and, in some cases, terraces with gardens. No longer did constituents come to me begging to be got off an estate or crying because the cold was so intense—because of crumbling windows, poor insulation and lack of central heating—that they could not endure the winters.

Overcrowding continued, however, and new starts did not keep up with the demand, particularly for the larger family-sized units. Making up for the lack of investment under a decade of Tory policy became impossible, because property and land prices rose by an unprecedented degree. However, the effort continued, and the Labour Government concluded their period in office having made available £5 billion of investment for housing in London between 2008 and 2011. As a consequence of the Labour Administration, new starts in affordable house building peaked in 2009-10 at almost 16,000 units. That Labour programme is nearing its completion, however, and hereafter numbers look certain to collapse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) suggested in an intervention might happen.

In addition, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has abandoned Labour’s target of having 50% of all new build as affordable homes. In my borough the number of homeless households in temporary accommodation at the end of March was 924, and at the end of February there were 16,000 on the housing register. Once again we have a growing housing crisis in London.

Jeremy Corbyn: Of the 16,000 on the Lewisham housing register, how many are in a position actively to bid or apply for properties as they become vacant?

Joan Ruddock: Some 50% of those on the list are deemed to have a choice and a need. None the less, the other 50%, who are in the lowest band and so stand no chance of being offered anything, have a housing need too. I can testify to that, having seen hundreds—probably thousands by now—of them in my surgeries. They are on the register because they cannot find an alternative, or because what they have is absolutely unacceptable. They do not, however, have a bedroom deficiency.

I believe that the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) genuinely accepts the need in London and seeks to do the best for her constituents,

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but in all the schemes that the Government have put in place, or plan to put in place, there is nothing that meets my constituents’ need for affordable new units. There is a complete deficiency of supply, and I see no way of it being made up. There is also to be no security for tenants of social housing, and there are to be draconian cuts and changes to housing benefit that will result in thousands, including those at work and renting from private landlords, being thrown out of their homes because rents have become impossible. Those who currently enjoy security and pay substantial housing association rents will find themselves in rent arrears as rents are forced to rise to 80% of the private sector average.

Is no one—Lib Dem or Tory—in this Administration aware of incomes levels in London? How much does the army of workers serving the private sector—business and enterprise—in the capital city earn? In my constituency, people earn as little as £10,000 a year to support a whole family, and the average median wage is £26,500, yet the gross annual income required to afford housing association rents at 80% of market levels ranges from £35,500 for one bedroom to £83,770 for four bedrooms. At 60%, the range is £26,500 to £83,500, and so on. Analysis by Hometrack published in Inside Housing suggests that in London a household income of £44,500 per annum would be required to cover the higher rents.

The difficulties with house purchase are obvious. We all know that the price of property in London, even for a one-bedroom flat, let alone family-sized accommodation, is so many times the annual average income that it is impossible for the average worker in London, on whom all our prosperity and welfare depend, to become a home purchaser. It is a cruel deception to suggest that people should just rely on council housing in difficult periods and be able to move on. It just cannot happen, and we will quickly find ourselves with a revolving door to homelessness.

A divorced woman who was caring for her two children, was in work and had not been able to sustain a mortgage, recently came to see me. She had given up and gone into the private sector—she was not deemed eligible for council or social housing—and was paying an enormous amount of her wages to secure the housing, but the landlord had, as he was entitled to do, increased the rent. She came to me in total despair. She said, “What am I to do? I can’t pay this, I can’t get more housing benefit. Do I have to give up my job? Do I have to take my children into a hostel, after the family breakdown and everything they’ve gone through?” What could I say? There are no council or social housing units available to that family at this moment, and no prospects of one.

I saw another family—one of the most desperate I have seen—where the man, a bus driver, was supporting his non-working wife, who had two very young children, and his mother and mother-in-law, all living together. The two mothers were in wheelchairs. They lived in a maisonette and one had to stay upstairs, never leaving, while the other had to stay downstairs, but for the housing shortage, and for no other reason. Who could not deem that family to be in desperate need of specialised family accommodation? There was no alternative for that family. From lifting the mothers in their wheelchairs and so on, the husband now had a major back problem and faced the prospect of possibly not being able to continue in his job.

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Whether they give a description or not, I know that every Member who speaks in this debate will have had harrowing cases of housing need where families are suffering immensely. It is, of course, the children who suffer. Sometimes there are three children in a bedroom, perhaps with asthma or in unhygienic conditions, or perhaps the oldest child is studying for exams in secondary school, but cannot get any peace and quiet because the whole family is living in two rooms.

In the past year in Lewisham there has been a 30% drop in re-lets being made available for social housing offers. The lettings outcome at the end of the year was reasonably positive, but only because of a high out-turn of new builds. However, the local authority, in giving me some information for this debate, said, “There’s a real concern that if re-lets continue to drop—and everything suggests that they will—along with new build decreasing as a result of reduced grant, the available supply to meet need will be dramatically reduced.”

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth said that the Opposition had to offer some solutions. One solution, of course, would be for Londoners to elect a Labour Mayor next year. The Labour candidate, Ken Livingstone, has made a whole raft of suggestions. He has suggested, for example, using the Mayor’s planning powers to negotiate the maximum reasonable amount of affordable housing in private development schemes and making better use of publicly owned land to provide affordable homes in mixed developments, including through an expanding council house building programme.

Mary Macleod: Does the right hon. Lady accept that Ken Livingstone previously set a target of 50% for affordable homes, yet he only ever achieved 36%?

Joan Ruddock: I do accept that, but the fact is that before Ken Livingstone there was no such requirement—no aim, no goal—so there was no provision. The hon. Lady might want to acknowledge that any politician who aims for 50% and achieves 36% is actually doing rather well. Having had that experience, Ken Livingstone is now clear that a 50% target could and should be achieved. That is why he wants it to be a target once more. He suggests changes to allow public bodies such as the GLA Group and London boroughs to borrow against their assets on the bond markets in order to invest in the development of new affordable housing. He also suggests raising money on the bond markets to build affordable homes, including for rent, to break the back of the housing shortage and create work, and, as I have said, restoring the target that 50% of new housing provision in London should be affordable.

Mr Slaughter: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it ill behoves the Tories to be smug about the achievements of Labour Mayors in London? Any failure to achieve was almost inevitably due to the failure of individual boroughs—particularly boroughs such as Wandsworth and Westminster, which have had a disgraceful record on this over many years—to build any affordable housing, even in single figures. The former Mayor’s achievements over that time working with Labour boroughs were actually extremely significant, which is of course why the targets were abolished.

Joan Ruddock: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, I pay tribute to the Labour administration in Lewisham for working so hard with the Mayor of

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London and social housing landlords in the borough to achieve considerable levels of new build, an effort that was defeated at times only by the price of land, which was often difficult to acquire.

Let me conclude. My greatest fear is that by the time I leave this House, we might have come full circle. We might be back to the kind of housing conditions that I saw and experienced through my constituents when I entered this House in the 1980s. At that time, Londoners and visitors to London were used to seeing those cardboard boxes under the arches on the south bank. There are some people here who will not have those memories, but they are so powerful for those of us who lived in London at the time. I have a terrible fear that instead of getting people into work and making London a better and more prosperous place, where people are properly housed, all the Government’s changes, along with the cuts and everything that goes with them, will return us to those terrible times.

Jeremy Corbyn: Every borough has a duty to deal with homelessness, but is my right hon. Friend aware that although there are usually charities that deal with people who are sleeping rough, the number of rough sleepers and people sleeping in parks or on park benches in London is increasing dramatically? I fear that we are looking again at the misery of the 1980s, when there were all those cardboard boxes.

Joan Ruddock: I agree with my hon. Friend. He uses the term “rough sleepers”, but we should bear in mind that those are often people with a multiplicity of problems in addition to their housing need. They need special programmes, special treatment and special care—provision that the Labour Government made available, reducing the number of people on the streets with additional problems so dramatically.

My greatest fear is not just that those numbers will increase, but that ordinary families and single people who do not have additional problems will be affected. Their only problem will be that they have become homeless because of Government policies, and that there will ultimately be no means for local authorities to cope with the strains and stresses of trying to house homeless people. What will happen is that the acceptance criteria will become more stringent, and many people who do not meet them will end up on the street.

However, I also have some hope that the people of London will not allow that to happen, but will apply sufficient pressure—through their local authorities and representatives, including Members of this House—to persuade this Government that however they thought up these policies, they must meet the test of practical experience, and that test shows that the market will not provide for the people of London. That is not to the shame of the people of London. It is not that they cannot earn their own living and pay their way—they can do all that—but they must have sufficient social housing provision in which to conduct their lives.

1.20 pm

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I must also start by apologising for having to leave before the end of the debate; I have a pressing engagement with an AV referendum in my constituency.

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I should like to congratulate all the speakers who have taken part in the debate so far. They have made some heartfelt contributions. I particularly want to congratulate the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who has an admiral record of consistency in campaigning on this issue. Come rain or shine, come Labour or coalition Government, he is there, trenchant in his criticism and committed to his solution. I do not want to simplify his solution, but I would describe it as a heritage Labour solution involving more public spending on building social housing.

I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), who has not yet had time to build up an admirable record of consistency on these issues, but is clearly making a very good start in defending her constituents. I am sure that, in the years to come, she will build up a record similar to that of the hon. Member for Islington North.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) set out the problems in her constituency. I would like to point out, in regard to those problems and those in my own area—there are about 4,000 households on the housing waiting list in the London borough of Sutton—that many of those families have been there for many years. The problems have not arisen in the past 12 months; they have been a long-standing challenge that successive Governments have failed to address. The right hon. Lady put forward certain solutions—I think that they were actually Ken Livingstone’s solutions—including one involving bonds. Those solutions could have been implemented by the previous Government, and it is regrettable that that did not happen when her party had the opportunity, because there were some good ideas there.

I want to thank Centrepoint, which I am sure has sent briefings for the debate to other Members as well. I want to thank it in particular because, a couple of weeks ago, it took me round a couple of its schemes in the London borough of Sutton that focus on supporting young people. The first scheme that I visited comprised a number of bed-sits in a large house. There was a small Centrepoint office in the same residential property, so that the residents—typically 16 and 17-year-olds—can get help and advice on a range of issues from managing their bills to employment issues, whenever they need it.

I met a young man of 17 there who was just beginning to come to terms with living by himself. He was looking for employment and was hoping to start work with a firm of scaffolders when he turned 18. I thank him for explaining to me how the scheme was helping him to build up his confidence. We then went on to another scheme close by, which was made up of independent houses and flats for young people starting out in their own first full property by themselves. The Centrepoint schemes in my constituency and elsewhere are clearly making a significant contribution to supporting young people.

In return for Centrepoint helping me by showing me its local schemes, I should like to mention some of the points that it has raised in the briefing that it sent out to Members for today’s debate. I recognise that the coalition Government are, of necessity, having to take steps to address the budgetary problems that we face. I am afraid that Labour Members still do not recognise that, while the coalition Government are talking about saving £16 billion in the coming year, Labour had plans to save £14 billion. The ratio is, therefore, that for every £8 that

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we plan to save, Labour intended to save £7. There has to be some recognition of the need to tackle the financial deficit, but there has not been much evidence of that from Labour Members’ contributions today. When the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) responds on behalf of the Opposition, perhaps she will not only set out Labour’s genuine concerns about the state of social housing in the UK—and particularly in London—but outline to us her solutions, so that we can assess their effectiveness or otherwise.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): One of the issues that I will set out later is the absurdity of cutting—indeed, slashing—spending on social housing construction and consequentially driving up the housing benefit bill by pushing more people either into the private rented sector or into properties whose rent is set at 80% of the market rent. Would the hon. Gentleman like to comment on the logic of trying to reduce the deficit by increasing it?

Tom Brake: I understand the point that the hon. Lady is making, but that does not really address the budgetary situation that we face. Unfortunately, I will not be able to listen to her speech later, but I will read carefully the full range of solutions that she sets out to see whether her party is now in a position to deploy effective solutions. I think that the hon. Member for Islington North would accept that Labour did not tackle the housing crisis very successfully when it was in government.

Mr Love: One of the arguments that has been deployed in the Finance Bill debates this week—which will be continued upstairs—was the need for a bank bonus tax. One of the benefits of such a tax would be to create the opportunity to build 25,000 additional units of accommodation over the next few years.

Tom Brake: That might well be among the solutions that the hon. Member for Westminster North will list later. I should point out, however, that over the course of this Parliament, we will raise at least an extra £10 billion from the banks through the taxation measures that we have already introduced, and that there might be a limit to how much one can draw on that source of funding.

I want to move on to the specific points that Centrepoint raised in its briefing. I am sure that the coalition Government will want to monitor those issues, and to assess whether our proposals have had any unintended consequences. If that is the case, there might be a need to show flexibility further down the line. On social housing tenancies, there are clearly different views in different organisations on the idea of minimum fixed terms. I know that some Conservative and Liberal Democrat local authorities are reluctant to introduce them. Centrepoint says that, while it does not oppose them, it is crucial to have a degree of flexibility in the system, in particular for young people who might need more stability as they start out, and that tenancies should reflect people’s individual circumstances rather than acting as a straitjacket that constrains everyone in the same way.

Centrepoint also raised concerns, as have Members in previous debates, about the shared room rate, particularly the risk that as this applies to people up to 35, even

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more pressure might be put on properties currently going to younger people. There might be a tendency to give priority to the older person seeking a shared room, perhaps because they are more settled, which might have a displacement effect on younger people seeking shared accommodation. I hope the Minister will respond to that particular point.

Mr Slaughter: Moving on from the Centrepoint briefing, does the hon. Gentleman support the removal of security of tenure for social tenants or only for some types of social tenants? If so, what types—older people or families, for example? He mentions young people, who might have insecure lifestyles, but what advantages does the hon. Gentleman see in taking away the security that social tenants have been used to for the past 50 years?

Tom Brake: I am happy to give local authorities and others the powers to change the terms of tenure and I hope the hon. Gentleman would agree with me that there is an issue with some people having security of tenure who, from a financial point of view, could afford to live in their own accommodation or in the private sector. Perhaps Bob Crow springs to mind as one such example. By continuing to occupy council or social housing, those people are not making that accommodation available to others in greater need. The hon. Gentleman might not want to draw the line in the same place as me, but I hope he will acknowledge that it could be argued with considerable justification that people at the extremes should not have security of tenure in premises that could be more appropriately given to people in far greater need.

A further point raised in the Centrepoint briefing was the issue of the uprating of the local housing allowance and the move towards basing it on the consumer prices index. It is argued that using the CPI figure could cost the Government money if there has been a drop in the rental markets locally. The Minister might want to look at that from a Government spending point of view.

The final point in the briefing is the issue of direct payments. I fully support the concept that people should take more responsibility for their expenditure, so I have some reservations about paying money directly to landlords. Centrepoint’s view is that there are circumstances—this might be particularly true for young people—where people might prefer to have the money paid directly to their landlord because they do not feel they are ready to take on that financial responsibility. Some flexibility there might help.

My final point is not one that Centrepoint raised; it is about arm’s length management organisations and I would like the Minister to update us on his view of them. Other Members in their places may well, like me, be members of the all-party ALMOs group. Members will recall that when tenants were given an option to transfer to an ALMO, a consultation process had to be gone through. The concern of the all-party group is that the travel nowadays is in the opposite direction and that some local authorities are seeking, perhaps precipitately, to bring ALMOs or social housing back under their control without going through the anticipated process of consultation. I hope that when the Minister responds—or, if necessary, in writing—he will pick up on that point and let us know whether he has heard those concerns and raised them with local authorities, as it is

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important to ensure that tenants are given a fair outline of their options and are fully consulted about the process. They can then make a decision with the full facts in hand on whether they want the responsibility for the management of their properties brought back in house or to retain the ALMO.

This is an important debate. I have been a Member for 14 years and I have spoken in about 25 debates on this subject during that time. It is a particularly critical issue in London. I do not believe that there is much difference between us about the need to tackle the problem, although there are big differences in approach. I hope that in the months and years to come, my Government will demonstrate by the measures we are introducing that we are tackling the problem, growing the amount of social housing available and starting to address what has proved to be a real dilemma for Londoners for the last 30 or 40 years.

1.36 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I also want to apologise for having to leave the Chamber for a period—not because of an appointment with the referendum, but because I have a debate in Westminster Hall, which might be more important. I congratulate my hon. and good Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who I think has become the conscience of the House on this issue over recent decades. He continually reminds us of the plight of many of our constituents. I also thank him for raising this matter because it provides us with an opportunity to get some of the issues associated with it off our chests.

My constituency faces the worst housing crisis since the second world war—perhaps even worse, given the level of demand. To be frank, I cannot cope much longer with my constituency advice surgeries, which I find so distressing. I have mentioned this before, but I find it difficult when I see how my staff are having to cope with it. We have even talked about whether we should be trying to get some counselling for the people concerned. So far as the role of being a local MP is concerned, I find the surgeries to be just about the most distressing experience of my life. I cannot cope with any more families coming in with their children at their ankles, in tears and desperate for a roof over their heads. I simply cannot understand why the sixth wealthiest country in the world cannot solve the problem.

I was born in Liverpool. My dad was a docker and my mum a cleaner. We lived off Scotland road. I have read from sociological studies that it was one of the worst slums in Europe, but we just called it home. I remember the day when we moved out into a council house prefab and I also remember the day when we moved from the prefab into a brick-built council house of Parker Morris standards, with a garden and all the rest of it. We celebrated as a family. I can remember us celebrating getting a decent roof over our heads in a decent environment. When people come to my surgery nowadays, however, I cannot offer them anything. I cannot even offer them a crumb of comfort; it is so distressing.

We are all going to quote our constituency figures. I now have 900 families homeless and 7,600 on the waiting lists. On average, it takes seven to 10 years before they

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have any real prospect of getting a council house or social housing. In my constituency, people have to be earning £51,320 a year just to afford any prospect of living in an average house—and that is well beyond the means of most of my constituents. The reasons have already been stated. The bulk of council housing in my area was sold off after the Thatcher policies and there has been no replacement. The money was not reinvested; often for political reasons under certain administrations, it was used for other purposes such as reducing the rates in order to get re-elected.

I am equally critical of the last Administration. It must be admitted that one of the most significant failures of the last 14 years under new Labour was the failure to provide adequate housing, although we did many good things, such as refurbishment. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock), that has had consequences for health, education, social well-being, and community life in general.

We had three referendums on the establishment of an ALMO in my area. In two of them, the tenants voted against it. They were invited to a number of parties and receptions. I have never seen so much glossy information material as that with which they were provided. Eventually they succumbed and voted for the ALMO, and they were then transferred to Hillingdon Homes. There was a wonderful new logo and most of the chief officers received salary increases, but the arrangement was a failure, and the housing was returned to council control. There was virtually no new build, although the decent homes programme went ahead and there was some refurbishment, which I welcomed.

In my area, the ALMO was not particularly well managed. Rip-off companies made extremely high profits in return for very poor delivery. Some months ago I raised the matter in an Adjournment debate. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), met tenants and me, and we are still calling for a public inquiry. The poor management in my area let down many people who were expecting their properties to be refurbished.

We also have a so-called “choice” bidding scheme called Locator. Desperate families bid every week for properties to which they have no hope of ever gaining access. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North that the problem is not simply the fact that local people with local jobs cannot afford a roof over their heads; I have known firefighters at Hayes fire station to commute from Cornwall and Devon, sleeping at the station and returning home after their shifts. There is also the problem of family breakdown, when people’s kids cannot live in their local area and have to move miles away. The whole family network breaks down, as does the social caring network. The system is completely counter-productive and it is not cost-effective, because the burden of care must fall on the state rather than on local families.

Of course housing associations play a key role in providing social housing in my constituency, but they are not as they used to be. I was involved in the development of the early housing associations, which were small and more like co-operatives. They had specialist roles, particularly in relation to the elderly and people with disabilities. No one ever envisaged their becoming

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the large corporations that they are now. There has been merger after merger, and takeover after takeover. Many of the tenants cannot distinguish them from private landlords. Some of the management is extremely poor. There is a slow response to requests for repairs. Within four years new buildings provided through housing associations in my area have developed damp and other construction problems because of poor standards and poor management of the construction process.

I must also put on record, because I am so angry about it, the consistently poor management by a number of housing associations in my area, and their failure to deal with antisocial behaviour. There are some extreme examples which I have raised with Ministers in the past. That problem continues, and has not been remedied.

Jeremy Corbyn: I would be grateful if my hon. Friend commented on the lack of democracy in the running of housing associations and the problems that that has created. When they were small, semi-co-operative organisations, there was a clear line of responsibility and accountability, but I do not perceive any accountability in the majority of housing associations now.

John McDonnell: Some of the smaller ones in the Irish community with which I have been involved, such as Innisfree and Casra, have done a very good job. They have remained relatively small, and have therefore managed to engage their tenants. In that sense, they are manageable. As I have said, however, most of the housing associations with which I deal now are mega-corporations. There is only tokenistic tenant involvement, with no element of real tenant control. When I, along with tenants, attend meetings with housing associations, we become supplicants, as if we were dealing with any private corporation or landlord.

Frank Dobson: I had a hand in the setting up of Community Housing in Camden. At one point, it announced that in future it would not allow tenants to vote to choose their representatives on the board; the board would do that. In a leaflet that it put out, it made clear that anyone who had ever taken it to the housing ombudsman or to court need not bother to apply. It took me a long time to persuade the Housing Corporation and the ombudsman to make it withdraw at least that small element of its anti-democratic approach.

John McDonnell: I was head of the Camden council’s policy unit during the 1980s. I remember with pride the engagement and investment in developing tenants’ associations. They gave us a hard time—they were in your face—but they played an important democratic role in the raising of standards. In the case of the larger housing associations, that whole ethos has completely gone.

Mr Slaughter: My hon. Friend has hit a rich seam, which I shall develop when I have an opportunity to speak in the debate. Not all housing associations are bad, even in terms of tenant involvement. The tenant chair of the Shepherd’s Bush housing association in my west London constituency does a good job. However, I am afraid that most of them, particularly the large ones—the Notting Hills of this world—are, as my hon. Friend says, corporations in all but name. The trouble is that, while they would like to think that they are out

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there wheeling and dealing in the business world, they are very poorly run and are doing a very poor job for our tenants. It is a disgrace. They are worse than the Tory councils in many respects, because their actions are not politically motivated. These are people whose only job is to provide affordable housing for people, and they simply are not doing it. That is a scandal which should be exposed.

John McDonnell: I entirely agree.

I want to be able to attend my other debate so that I can say wonderful things about the British Airports Authority, so I shall move on to the subject of the second source of housing supply in my constituency. There have been a number of new private developments there in recent years. Thanks to Ken Livingstone’s policy of trying to create a social mix, we have gained a combination of private and social housing on individual sites. The problem is that the area is infested with a number of developers who are seeking to impose the highest possible housing density. In reality, they are building the slums of the future. I will name one company, Inland Homes, which is developing properties that not only fail to meet existing need but undermine the quality of housing in the area.

Let me give two examples. One is West Drayton in Porters Way. The Government have a role in that development, because it is a former Government site. It was the air traffic control centre for Heathrow and an RAF camp before it was handed over to the private sector for development. High-density, barrack-like accommodation was constructed, with inadequate parking facilities so that the parking spills on to the rest of the estate. It consists of flats which do not blend in with the houses with gardens on the rest of the estate. There is inadequate provision of social facilities— there are none at all for young people—and the local schools and medical facilities have become overloaded. The amount of traffic has increased, and even the drainage system cannot cope with the new development. The section 106 planning agreements have failed to deal with the costs and burdens placed on the local infrastructure.

The other development is on the old railway estate in Hayes, which was built for employers of British Rail and was sold off after its privatisation. The Glenister hall site—the former site of Hayes working men’s club—was sold to Inland Homes. Glenister hall was a community hall with playing fields and a football pitch on which the local team played, as did local kids, but the site has now been allowed to deteriorate. Inland Homes has made two planning applications for an intensive development. It lost the first, but Hillingdon council has approved the second. No alternative place has yet been provided for the kids to play football on. The company has offered to improve one site, which is already a football pitch, but it is literally a mile away, across busy roads. So we are now to have another intensive development. The local residents campaigned against it but were overridden by the council, and we are now hoping that the Secretary of State will call this in. One leaflet was put out anonymously by a local resident and the company is threatening legal action against the chair of the residents association, Peter Robinson, an elderly gentleman who is not in good health. He is being threatened with libel action, even

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though he did not put out the leaflet. This sort of ruthless developer is taking over entire sites in my area to build the slums of the future.

Under the previous Government—I hope it will not happen under this Government, but I think it will go on—the buy-to-let landlordism in my area grew massively. Individuals—this mainly involved individuals, rather than companies—bought up small property empires. They offer these places at high rents, often to families on housing benefit. Some of the properties have been developed into illegal houses in multiple occupation—they are not registered. These places are not maintained and people are living in appalling slum conditions. We are talking about Rachmanite landlords who threaten and abuse tenants whenever they make any complaint, and then evict them illegally. In many cases, these landlords fail to abide by even basic housing legislation, in respect of providing rent books and so on. People are evicted when they complain and if they seek to take legal action, they have neither the resources, nor the ability to do so—now that there are restrictions on legal aid, they will have even less ability to do so.

Hillingdon council uses local estate agents to push people into the private sector. We have discovered that the estate agents it has been using have often used these buy-to-let slum landlords. There is a belief that in Hillingdon an informal agreement exists whereby the estate agent will seek properties in the south of the borough, in my constituency—the working-class, multicultural area—and not look for them in the rich north of the borough. So an apartheid regime is developing with regard to housing homeless people in the borough—of course it is not that the north of the borough is represented by Conservatives who are protecting their own patches. This has resulted in families living in appalling conditions and overcrowding on a scale not seen in my area since the second world war. Some families are living in almost developing world conditions because some of the properties are so poor.

The housing shortage has also resulted almost in a planning free-for-all. There has almost been a breakdown in local planning controls, enforcement and monitoring in my area: extensions are put on properties; new units are put up in gardens; and new buildings are created with no control whatever. The council fails even to acknowledge a number of the developments and does not seem to be aware of the developments that have gone on. When these things are reported, the council gives retrospective planning permission.

A resident in my constituency, Brian Duffy, has led a campaign on the issue, working with Councillor Jaz Dhillon and others. They have looked on Google Earth to see what properties have been developed. We have seen a new phenomenon in my area: leisure rooms. These are, in effect, sheds built in gardens. They are given retrospective planning permission and are supposed to be used for leisure purposes, but on inspection— like many of my colleagues, I carry out walkabout inspections—we find that curtains have gone up, bathrooms and toilets have been installed and whole families are living in these “leisure rooms”. I understand that a large family might be desperate and might feel that this is the only way in which they can put a roof over their heads, but that is not what is happening in most cases. What is happening is that landlords are constructing these leisure

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rooms and getting families to live in what are, in effect, garages. In some instances we have discovered these places only when the family have turned up to register for council tax and we have found out that they are living in a shed or a garage as a result of these illegal developments.

There has also been an increase in people sleeping rough in my area. A large number of people sleep rough by the Grand Union canal and I tell the police that I do not want them moved on, because I do not know where else they could go. If they are seeking warmth and security under the bridge by the canal and that is the only place they can find, I cannot see what other option there is, because my area has no rough sleeping provision. The only option would be to send them to central London but there is barely any provision for them there either.

An element of squatting is breaking out in London again. That is understandable, because people have nowhere else to go. I am anxious about the Government’s proposals to introduce tighter legislation on squatting—I would certainly be anxious if they are cutting back on housing investment alongside that. I believe that their policies will make things dramatically worse. I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments I have put forward so far, but the benefit cuts, the increase in social housing rents and the cuts in the capital programme spell absolute housing disaster for my area. There will be an increase in problems such as homelessness, housing need and overcrowding. The tragedy of all this is that homeless people and the people living in these conditions have no political clout; they are largely voiceless. Therefore, it is our responsibility to use every platform we can to speak up for them, which is why I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North.

What is needed in this area? It is blindingly obvious that we need an emergency housing programme on a scale not seen since the second world war. We have to treat this situation as a crisis and put all the resources into it, and that means an emergency housing purchase programme. I want councils to be given the powers and the resources to buy vacant properties in my area that are on the open market and use them to house families—that is how critical the situation is. They must buy the properties and manage them directly. We can then develop for those properties schemes of small co-operatives, perhaps see a return of the housing association movement and break up the overly large, bureaucratic corporations. Perhaps we could see a return of that movement to its origins, but in the meantime we need an emergency housing purchase programme.

On new builds, I would like councils, particularly those in my area, to be given the opportunity of compulsory purchase and be allowed almost to commandeer sites for building. We should of course protect the green belt and the open spaces—I am worried about the Government’s threats to allotments—but to establish a new building programme we need to give the councils the powers to sequestrate sites to bring them into use, particularly industrial and commercial units, and the empty shops and properties above shops in town centres. Of course we can use creative design and creative construction techniques but, above all else, we just need to start building council homes again.

I also want an emergency programme of refurbishment. I want the decent homes programme to be not only maintained, but extended and intensified. I want higher

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standards and I want to ensure that these are green homes. I want them to be insulated and warm. I want renewable energy to be used and I want us to minimise the waste. In that way, we can find the funding—we could also end the tax breaks to the buy-to-let landlords, which they have used so extensively to profiteer over the past 14 years.

I was the Greater London council’s chair of finance and we had a capital pool. We had the most efficient borrowing scheme in local government in this country and possibly in western Europe. It had cross-party support and I believe it was started by a Tory administration and then maintained through a cross-party agreement throughout the life of the GLC. It enabled us not only to build, but to give mortgages.

I would like to see local authority mortgages brought back again. The London county council started them and because of the scale of London and of our resources, and therefore of our capacity to borrow and lend cheaply, the LCC and GLC mortgage was often the first mortgage that people took. It was an affordable mortgage that enabled people to get on the first rung of the housing ladder. People may recall that we developed, at that stage, our own part buy, part rent schemes, but they were affordable. Some hon. Members may also recall that we freed up properties through the seaside homes programme, whereby we bought and built properties in seaside resorts outside London where people wanted to retire to. Those people gave up their council properties and we were able to put families back into them.

We should be looking at creative incentive schemes such as those, rather than penalising people or limiting their ability to maintain their council house based on their wage or a particular time period. I agree that part of that proposal concerns the self-build projects that we launched and they should be built on. We need to use all those inventive and creative ways to tackle the housing crisis.

The most important thing to recognise—for everybody, but for this Government in particular—is that there is a crisis that cannot be ignored. In past debates and under past Governments, the whole point of housing policy has been not merely to paternalistically hand down housing from Government to people in need, but to be one of the most effective stimuli to the economy to get us out of recession. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington North mentioned unemployed workers in the construction industry and that industry is one of the sectors of our economy that are faring worst at the moment. Whenever we have seen any lift or recent growth in the economy, the construction sector has held us back. If we could launch an emergency house-building programme on some scale, it would put people back to work, and a housing purchase programme would lift asset values. In that way, an emergency housing programme could help this country to tackle the recession. We could be lifted out of the recession on the basis of investment for social need rather than investment for greed and profit.

2.1 pm

Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): Today’s debate is very valuable and I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing it. I do not always agree with everything he says, but on this

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point there is a lot of common ground between his party, mine and that of my colleagues in the coalition Government.

Labour Members speak about housing as though it is an issue that affects only them and their constituents. We are demonstrating today that there is a housing problem across London that is experienced by all Members, particularly in their surgeries and postbags. People regularly come to see me about this in my surgery and I feel a fraud in many ways because they are concerned and upset about their housing or lack of housing and I know that we will not be able to do anything to help. I feel greatly sorry for them and we recommend that they go to the private sector in the knowledge that we have nothing in the public or social rented sectors.

I want to cover a few points that the Government are addressing as well as to speak about my experience. Some people seem to think that all London is completely the same, but it is not. We have diverse areas and different experiences, which is exemplified in the housing crisis across the city. It is a crisis; we have a problem. Many people are not only unable to afford their own homes but have a problem housing themselves in the type of quality accommodation we would expect all our families to live in.

That is why it is vital that the Government and local authorities continue to promote the development of attractive mixed-tenure communities in our local areas instead of the monolithic estates about which many of us have been concerned. We have seen not a rush but an agenda to knock those estates down, and they are crime-ridden in many parts of London. Promoting such a development is the only way we will help people into home ownership. At the very least we should change their tenancies so they are better suited to individual needs. That is how we will stop people being trapped in that vicious dependency cycle.

I shall not reel off a lot of statistics, but one thing that I am very keen on—I spoke about it in my maiden speech—is social aspiration. I do not believe that people who go into the social rented sector lack social aspiration, but I do think that they have it hammered out of them. In 2008-09, only 49% of tenants of working age in the social rented sector were in work, down from 71% in 1981. I have heard the comments about cardboard boxes under Blackfriars bridge, but they do not stack up with the statistics. In comparison, in that same year, 89% of home owners, and 75% of private renters, of working age were in work. About 60% of social rented households report that they are in receipt of housing benefit compared with just 20% in the private rented sector. I would not say that people in the social rented sector were failures, but I believe that they certainly end up feeling that they are at a disadvantage in comparison with other people who are perhaps attracted to, or able to afford, the private rented sector.

Mr Slaughter: I am just glancing through a report from Family Mosaic, a large housing association that is very good, on the whole. It states that

“setting rents at 80% of market rent would increase our clients’ requirement for housing benefit by 151%”.

What does the hon. Gentleman think of that policy?

Mr Offord: We should allow the social rented sector to help the people who really need that help. The hon. Gentleman asked the hon. Member for Carshalton and

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Wallington (Tom Brake) who should be thrown out of their homes, and it is quite clear that no demographic section of the community should be thrown out, whether that is the elderly or people with children. It should be done on a financial basis to people such as Lee Jasper and Bob Crow, whom I read about in the paper today and who earns £145,000. If we removed people such as him, we would open up the social rented market to the people who really need it. That is what I think of that policy.

The point I want to make, which helpfully illustrates that answer, is that social landlords are required by inflexible and centrally determined rules to grant lifetime tenancies in the vast majority of cases, and I presume that someone like Mr Crow would have that sort of tenancy. There is no account of how their individual and household circumstances have changed and they cannot be removed. I spoke to my office today and I have received a telephone call from a lady in my constituency who said that she urgently needs to move house as her husband has become disabled, but she is unable to do so because of the rigid rules and structures that I have just described. In shocking contrast, other people’s tenancies can be inherited by family members who might no longer be in need of the housing that they have been allocated. That is clearly not a system that helps to serve the people we represent.

Labour Members have spoken about the development proposals in their local areas and how they feel that the local authority alone should be allowed to develop. That has not been the experience in my constituency.

Mr Slaughter rose

Mr Offord: I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once, so I am going to continue with my speech.

My experience has been very good. Large elements of the constituency certainly need development—I am thinking of the West Hendon estate and Perryfields, as well as areas of Burnt Oak and, significantly, the Grahame Park estate, of which some hon. Members might be aware. It was the site of the old RAF Hendon base and it is a location that has now changed to allow development from the private sector. That has been a great success and many of my friends live in that area, which is proving to be a real boon to the local economy.

I was pleased a couple of weeks ago to attend the first phase of Choices for Grahame Park, which is a separate phase of development in Colindale, with the mayor of Barnet, Councillor Anthony Finn. When that is completed, it will form a central part of the Colindale area action plan and will create a new community in my constituency, providing greater transport links on the tube, greater community health facilities and a radical rebuilding programme that will transform the estate, which has been a blight for many years. This will happen in the next 15 years and we expect to see about 3,000 new homes as part of this new heart of my constituency.

The regeneration of the area will also provide retail facilities and 25% of the existing homes are built in a traditional layout, instead of like the cardboard boxes and rabbit hutches that some hon. Members have described. In total, we will demolish 1,314 outdated and overused

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homes and replace them with 2,977 brand-new, purpose-built family homes that will revolutionise life in the Grahame Park area and in my constituency as a whole.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that too often the special circumstances in London seem to get missed out in policy making? For example, I think we all want to see more family-sized homes built in the affordable sector rather than the small boxes that typified the affordable houses built under the previous Mayor, Ken Livingstone. Many people got very agitated about that because London wants family-sized homes. Here is the problem: a couple of London housing associations came to me and said that they would like to build more family-sized homes but in order to be able to afford to do that under the current circumstances they will have to charge 80% of market value, which many of their tenants will find difficult to afford. Is it not very important that—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. All afternoon, we have been drifting into longer and longer interventions. Interventions are supposed to be short, not an excuse for a speech, and the hon. Lady has now finished.

Mr Offord: I was enjoying my colleague’s contribution. She certainly has some relevant experience in her constituency, but I want to continue by talking about the current system’s inflexibility in providing social tenants with heavily subsidised rents for the duration of their time in the sector regardless of their changing needs and ability to pay. Perhaps, again, Mr Crow is one of those people.

Inflexible lifetime tenancies contribute to significant imbalances between the size of the households and the property that they live in. A one-size-fits-all model for rents and tenancies is not the best answer to the wide-ranging needs and circumstances of those who access the social rented sector.

I understand—I hope to hear from the Minister about this later—that the Government believe that we must make far better use of existing social housing, by ensuring that we target our support where it is needed most. Given the huge pressures on the public finances, we must ensure that we get more for the money that we invest in new social homes. My colleague’s point about investing in family homes is a serious and important one, particularly for people in my constituency.

I hope and believe that the Government will create a more flexible system of social housing—a system that recognises that everyone’s needs are not the same, that offers stability when needed, that helps people to move when they start to work, for example, and that protects the most vulnerable people in society.

Ms Buck: The hon. Gentleman makes quite a lot of an anecdote about Mr Crow—we could all make policy by anecdote—but does he recognise that the average income of social tenants is dramatically lower than that of private owners and tenants and therefore that Mr Crow’s house and those of a handful of others like him will not house the 1 million people who are on social housing waiting lists?

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Mr Offord: I thank the shadow Minister for making that interesting point, but a principle could be set that someone such as Mr Crow should not espouse certain values on the one hand and live in a different fashion on the other. She also makes the important point—I am sure that she is very keen to hear this—that the Government’s plan to make work pay for people will be a valuable incentive to encourage people towards home ownership rather than the culture of dependency that I spoke about earlier.

Currently, the rules to allocate social homes are unfair. Despite the previous Government spending £17 billion on social housing in the past 13 years, more than twice as many people were left on the waiting lists. Again, I welcome the Government’s recent consultation, and I notice that the local authorities that responded welcome the plans to give them extra freedoms to manage their waiting lists in particular and that two thirds of social landlords said that they plan to use the new flexibility to offer fixed tenancies—something that will reinvigorate the market. Indeed, the Localism Bill, which is currently before Parliament, will give landlords the option to offer flexible tenancies and give councils greater control over allocating their social homes. The valuable resource that we all have in our constituencies will be available to all those who need it, when they need it.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My local authority has foolishly considered the possibility of fixed tenancies, but its objective is to provide housing for people in employment. Does the hon. Gentleman think that it would house Bob Crow?

Mr Offord: Bob Crow earns enough—if we can call it earning—to house himself, so I do not think that he will need such assistance from any local authority.

I hope that the Minister mentions some of the reforms that the Government are promoting. I am certainly aware of flexible tenures, which I have mentioned, and fair allocations, but I should like the Government also to focus on greater social mobility. Again, I return to making work pay and to fixed tenancies that allow people to consider their housing needs and, as they change, to change where they live.

I want the Government to consider fairer provision for homeless people. I should like local authorities to have greater flexibility to make decisions on how best to stop people becoming at risk of homelessness. Currently, some homeless families turn down the decent private rented accommodation that they have been offered as settled homes and demand to be provided with more expensive temporary accommodation at greater cost to the taxpayer until a social home becomes available. Surely—I hope the Minister agrees—that cannot be right for the taxpayer, and it cannot be right for those individuals.

I shall leave my comments there, but as I said, I certainly welcome the debate. It is important; we have heard some good contributions; and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

2.15 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) referred to 1.8 million people being on the housing waiting list.

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That is a staggering figure. I recollect that a petition on the No. 10 website against speed cameras once attracted 1.2 million signatories and received headlines in newspapers throughout the country. So speed cameras generate comments in the national newspapers, but the fact that 1.8 million people are on the list does not. I wonder when those people will get angry. We all marched against cuts a few weeks ago—500,000 people marched through London. When will people start to get angry about this issue?

We could all write the Minister’s speech. He will go on about the fact that Margaret Thatcher built more council houses than Labour did in the last 13 years. He will say that Ken Livingstone was a failure because he had a 50% target but only achieved 36%. We have heard all that before, and quite frankly, it is just not good enough. For the past 30 years, Government Members—Labour and Conservative—have, quite frankly, failed on the issue.

Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Efford: Hang on a minute; I have hardly started.

We can make excuses—they are good ones—about the amount of money that we invested in social housing over the last 13 years. We should be proud of that investment. Many of my constituents live in far better quality housing as a result of the commitment and money that we invested in social housing, but we lost sight of a growing crisis in the provision of affordable rented accommodation for our constituents right across the capital and the country.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing the debate. He referred to articles about how unattractive social housing is, how the failed experiment of building huge monolithic estates of rented accommodation became microcosms of all social ills, and how people with social problems became concentrated in those communities, which were unattractive and difficult for people to leave, but that is not my recollection of growing up in communities full of rented council and housing association accommodation. Back in those days, the Church Commissioners provided social rented accommodation where I lived.

Jane Ellison: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Clive Efford: I will in a moment. Calm down. [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members will notice that I was more restrained in my comment.

Those people did not lack aspiration or exhibit all the problems that people have given as reasons for not investing in building social rented accommodation. We have lost sight of the issue. It has been suggested that such people lack aspiration and that such areas become concentrations of high unemployment, low educational attainment and high levels of crime, particularly antisocial behaviour among young people. Such circumstances become self-fulfilling prophecies as a result of people having to be housed according to priority need.

Over the years, the housing supply has been constantly reducing. Because of the right to buy, the amount of social housing for rent went down consistently, in spite of the new building that was taking place, until only a couple of years before the previous Labour Government

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left office. The only time there was an increase was from about 2008 onwards as a result of the investment of the previous Labour Government. Just as we got to the end of our last term in office, we actually got it and finally started to invest in building again, and so the building of council housing began again. There were projects in my constituency and my local authority was successful in bidding for money to start to build council housing again. That is what we have to get back to. It will be no good the Minister’s coming to the Dispatch Box and saying that it has all been bad under both Tory and Labour Governments. We have to get this right for future generations.

We have heard about the flexibility of having 80% of market rents. To give them credit, many registered social landlords and housing associations are saying that going for 80% of market rents would fundamentally change their ethos. It would mean that they were no longer providers of social housing and they believe that they would be wrong to go down that route. To accept rents of 80% of market rents would be to accept the principle that people who live in social housing should subsidise the future development of social housing—that they should pay for it rather than the general taxpayer or anyone else. For many years, people buying private housing got enormous subsidies. A myth has built up that there are huge subsidies for council housing, but the housing revenue account has paid its own way for decades. Even my local authority, in its response to the consultation on social housing rents, made the mistake of believing that there was a cost to the taxpayer of providing social housing.

It cannot be right, at a time when the Government have stated that they want to cut the housing benefit budget, to introduce a policy of moving social housing rents towards market levels. That has to be counter-intuitive. The people who cannot afford to find rented housing in the private sector or to buy will, by the very nature of the problems they are facing in their lives at times of crisis when they search for social housing, be likely to get priority and be on lower incomes, so that policy is likely to have an impact on housing benefit if rents of 80% of market rents are encouraged. At the same time, the changes in housing allowances and the new 30th percentile rate will increase the amount that people will have to contribute to their rent if they are in the private rented sector. That will force many people who live in central London to move to areas such as mine where rents are lower, relatively. That is bound to increase the demand for housing there, which could have an impact on the private rented sector and, again, have a negative impact on rent levels if demand goes up. If the private rented sector refuses to rent to people on housing benefit, what will happen to those people and what will be the consequences for local social housing and the level of demand? How will the council deal with that?

What the Government propose in their social housing strategy does not add up or make sense and will have very contradictory outcomes in many areas. The fundamental problem behind what we are dealing with is supply. Some hon. Members have argued that we should have flexible rents that change as people move through social housing and that people should move into the private sector as they gain employment and

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increase their income. I do not agree that people should be in social housing only at times when they have a low income and that they should be encouraged to move through the system. Such arguments about the management of social housing are to do with the fact that we are managing a limited supply of housing. That is the fundamental problem and we have to increase that supply.

One issue with which we have faced problems in the past—successive Governments have been at fault in this regard as well—is the supply of land. We have put too many obstacles in the way of local authorities’ supplying land to build social housing. In fact, we have often put incentives in their way to dispose of it. We end up in the curious situation whereby local authority land is sold to a private developer for it to build a housing estate, so that we can try to get a residual amount of properties through that development for social housing under planning gain—usually through a housing association whose rents are higher than the local authority’s target rents. That is certainly the case in my area. That approach has failed to deliver the number of properties that we needed over the past two decades, and is a major contributory factor to the huge shortage of social housing in London.

I do not blame private developers. They do what private developers do. They swim in the sea of regulations that we create for them. The profits that they can make from private developments—buying the land, developing it and selling it on—are absolutely huge. We have failed to tap into those profits to recycle resources and invest in future social housing. As a consequence of that policy, until only a few years ago we saw, effectively, a year-on-year reduction in the units of social housing available for rent. So we need to ensure that the land is made available, and that local authorities are encouraged and given incentives to make that land available for future developments.

Where there have been developments they have often been of the wrong type, in which the properties are not available to local communities. Shelter did a study of eight local authority areas. One was Tower Hamlets, and although that is not my local authority the report makes very interesting reading. Between 2006 and 2010, 10,430 properties were built in Tower Hamlets. Barclays bank, whose headquarters is in Canary Wharf in Tower Hamlets, has just paid out over £1 billion in bonuses to its staff. I wonder what that £1 billion could have done for the 21,000 local people on the housing waiting list in Tower Hamlets if it had been invested in local housing.

Of the houses that were built in the four years between 2006 and 2010, 8,500 were in the private sector and just under 2,000 were built by housing associations. None were local authority builds. Fifty-four per cent. of the properties in Tower Hamlets have been built since 1966, and yet there are 21,000 on the waiting list. There is a very high vacancy rate in the new-build properties in private ownership. So we have been building houses at a heck of a rate in Tower Hamlets, but we have not been building them to meet the housing crisis there. I am not attacking the local authority; I am not attacking anyone. As I have said, it simply highlights the fact that the policy is completely and utterly wrong.

I have a development in my constituency, the Kidbrooke Regeneration. I visited some of the brand-new properties that had been built as the first phase of that development—

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beautiful properties. The price is £300,000 for a two-bedroom property overlooking one of my local parks. I asked who the target market was for those properties—who was expected to buy them. Was it local people living in big three or four-bedroom houses who were nearing retirement, whose children had moved on and who wanted to downsize to a comfortable flat? I was told “There may be one or two of those, but mainly we’re advertising abroad.” In that regeneration we have knocked down 1,900 local council properties. About 30% or 35% of the 4,400 properties will be social housing, provided through a housing association. Most of the private properties will be targeted at people who are not local.

I am not attacking the developer; it works in the market that is out there, and is trying to maximise its profits, as any company would. However, clearly we need to look at how we encourage development, and who we encourage it for, if we are ever to deal with the lack of supply that is at the root of all the problems that we are debating today.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): I do not intend to intervene very much. The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point, but how does he reconcile his proposition with the commitment of the previous Government, the current Government and the Mayor of Newham to the desirability of encouraging mixed communities, so that there is a range of tenures, occupations and populations in an area, which benefits the economy of the area?

Clive Efford: I am grateful to the Minister for that point, but I am slightly confused because I saw him nodding encouragingly to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) when he said that Bob Crow should be evicted. I thought Bob Crow was doing his part to create mixed communities.

Robert Neill: Not on a public subsidy.

Clive Efford: I would like to know what public subsidy the Minister is referring to; perhaps he will elaborate when he makes his speech. One of the myths frequently peddled about social housing is that it is publicly subsidised.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): The Joseph Rowntree Foundation produced a report on the desirability of mixed tenure back in 1990. We have had that argument, and we have moved on a bit. With regard to my hon. Friend’s point about the development in Kidbrooke, does he agree that one of the real problems, referred to earlier, is the people who buy to let? Does he agree that it might not be too fanciful to suggest returning to the days when a person could have only one mortgage, rather than having 10, 15 or 20, in a way that rips the heart out of any housing development?

Clive Efford: I agree. Buy to let has not been the success that some thought it would be in providing rented accommodation and encouraging people to enter the private rented market; that idea has been consigned to the history books. I hope that we do not go back down that route again.

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We need to deal with the problem of the supply of social rented accommodation. I point out to the Minister, before he attacks the previous Mayor of London’s record, that thanks to the last Government’s subsidy, the number of affordable house-building starts in 2009-10 was 16,000. Last year that was down to just over 2,000. This year, 2011-12, the figure is 2,000. From 2012-13 it is zero. I do not know how the Minister will explain at the Dispatch Box how the Mayor of London will hit his 50,000 homes target without building a single home in 2012-13 or 2013-14—unless, that is, the Mayor moves a whole host of Bob Crows. [Interruption.] The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), is waving an informative graph at me; coincidentally, I happen to have a copy. It is from the Homes and Communities Agency, and she will no doubt refer to it in her speech. It officially confirms the figures that I gave; they come not from a Labour party press release, but from the Homes and Communities Agency. Boris has clearly failed in his objective and his promise to provide affordable housing for people in London.

Another policy that we must confront is the one that Boris described as “Kosovo-style social cleansing” when it was announced. I have never agreed with him more—but unfortunately, the following week he went on to say:

“My consistent position has been that the government is absolutely right to reform the housing benefit system which has become completely unsustainable. I do not agree with the wild accusations from defenders of the current system that reform will lead to social cleansing.”

Boris says one thing in front of a microphone when the policy is first announced, but he secretly makes those comments at a later date. When the matter is in the media and it is discussed on the 6 o’clock news he appears to stand up to the Government, but after he has been sat on by the Minister and everyone else, he sneaks out a press release a week later saying that he absolutely agrees with their policy—a policy that will result in people on low incomes being moved from large areas of inner London to places outside London where private sector rents are lower.

There have been huge clearances of estates, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) will doubtless refer, as perfectly good council housing, in which millions of pounds has been invested under the decent homes programme, will be knocked down to make way for private luxury developments. The Conservatives just do not get it when it comes to housing. Surprisingly, the Liberal Democrats do not get it either. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) made a point about how essential it is that people on low incomes should be able to live in mixed communities across the capital. During the earlier spell of cold weather, my local authority kept the roads clear so that people could get to work. I am sure that that was true, too, of Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea and other areas.

There is affordable housing in those areas for people who do all sorts of jobs in the local economy, from driving refuse lorries to sweeping the roads and pushing trolleys in local hospitals or even cleaning floors in posh houses in the leafier parts of central London, but those people will have nowhere to live in those communities if

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the Government continue to pursue their policies. Those people will not be there to do jobs such as stacking shelves in supermarkets. They are an essential part of our local economy, but they will disappear from many of our communities. The biggest effect on the Tories will perhaps be that their cleaning costs will go up, because of the shortage of cleaners, pushing up the hourly rate.

During the crisis in the freezing cold weather, many of us could get to work only because fairly low-paid people in local authorities across the capital got into work early in the morning, driving gritting lorries, clearing roads and so on, so that buses could run and other people could keep the economy moving. Those people are an essential part of our economy. I suspect that they will not qualify, even if they can afford it, for key worker schemes, to buy properties in those areas. They will be forced out by higher rents and the lack of housing benefit designed to support part-time workers who provide essential jobs such as child minding and caring and other roles. Under the policy, they just will not be there.

Social housing is not just a benefit that is means-tested and provided by a welfare cheque. It is an essential part of our communities and economy. To get rid of it in large parts of the capital is a hugely retrograde step that we will all come to regret. Social housing is also essential not just for people on low incomes, but for those who aspire to buy their own homes. We know now that the house lending market has changed—probably for ever, but certainly for a long time. It will no longer be possible to gamble on the future value of a house to borrow 100% of its cost on the understanding that we know that it will be worth more in the future; 100% mortgages are a thing of the past. Any bank or building society will make it clear that no one is lending 100% mortgages any more, and they do not foresee that happening. That means that people will have to be savers for a long time before they can become home buyers. Even people in social housing who aspire to buy their own home will have to save for a long time.

In a study published in October 2010, the Home Builders Federation came to the conclusion that

“In London, first time buyers aged between 22 and 29 cannot pay their rent and save for a deposit—this would cost 10% more than their net monthly income.”

It goes on to state:

“The average deposit across the UK is 230% that of average salaries—almost 300% in London.”

Even if people wanted to become home owners, if they are forced into the private rented sector they can never save enough money to do so. That tells us that affordable rented accommodation is not just about people on benefits or on low incomes, people who lack aspiration or are in a crisis in their lives, but is essential to the future of the housing market, particularly in London where deposits will be high. If we do not provide affordable housing at levels at which people who may aspire to become future home owners can reasonably be expected to save at a decent rate, we are undermining the future of our own housing market. To have a home construction industry in the future, we will be relying on developers of schemes, such as mine in Kidbrooke, where they sell to people not from the local community,

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not even from the UK, but to business people from abroad. That cannot be right. That is not right for the future of our city, and we should not encourage it.

My final point concerns the social management of council rents and registered social landlord rents in order to create mixed communities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, we have debated that for many years and it has never worked. When I grew up in rented accommodation in Southwark, surrounded by friends who all lived in rented accommodation, we had mixed communities. In those days, under a Labour Government, unemployment was not prevalent. Under the most recent Labour Government we increased employment enormously, and that is the policy that we need to return to, rather than the huge cuts that we see from this coalition Government.

The idea that we cannot create mixed communities because we have social rented properties is something that we should put behind us and never return to. It is not a matter of the tenure, but the people who live there. If we provide employment, we provide mixed communities, whether Bob Crow lives there, the local GP or shop owner, or someone experiencing a temporary period of unemployment. We need a Government who are prepared to stand by people and help to create jobs in those communities and invest in them in order to ensure that we do have mixed communities. They will not be created by flexible rents and social engineering.

Mr Slaughter: My hon. Friend has made an important point. I do not believe that the Government now believe their own rhetoric on mixed communities. The estates that Conservative councils are demolishing are mixed communities; mixed communities are made up of rented, owned, freehold and leasehold properties, with mixed income levels. Those estates are being replaced not with mixed communities, but with exactly what my hon. Friend described—ghettoes of the rich. They are properties that are advertised abroad or go for prices far above what ordinary families can afford. That is the future for housing in London. “Mixed communities”—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Briefly.

Mr Slaughter: “Mixed communities” is now a euphemism for building the poor out of London.

Clive Efford: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend.

It is a fool’s paradise to suggest that we can continue with the policies of the last 20 years or more and just build social housing as a fag end of private sector development. We need to make local authority land available for development, build social housing and create mixed communities by encouraging employment within communities, without messing around with flexible, temporary or probationary tenancies.

That is the way forward for housing in London; it is essential for future generations, whether they aspire to be homeowners or not. Affordable rented accommodation, even in communities where property values are extremely high, are absolutely essential if we are to have a thriving economy and thriving communities in those areas. We need to return to that situation, and I hope that the Government will reconsider their policies on the cuts in housing investment under the Mayor and the cuts to

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support to new council housing building programmes. I hope that we can start to build the houses that future generations need.

2.46 pm

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having rightly been chastised by you for allowing my intervention to run a little long, I thought that I would expand it into a very brief contribution in the form of a speech.

I want to reiterate the point that I was trying to raise with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr Offord). In a number of areas, London has a particular set of circumstances that are not shared by the rest of the country. I sometimes feel that London does not get fully considered in the general policy making of Governments of all persuasions. That is why it is so important that we London MPs should sometimes get together and have an opportunity to raise some of the specific issues affecting our constituencies. What we are debating is a particularly important example.

I want to draw the Minister’s attention to something brought to my attention by representatives of a couple of London housing associations, who came to see me to express concerns. They are very keen to build more family-sized houses, which is what we all want. As I said before, it is fine to have large numbers of the sort of very small affordable flats that the previous Mayor of London was famous for building, but there are not the family-sized homes that we all want.

The issue is that the housing associations would very much like to build family-sized homes, but to be able to—in London, particularly—they will probably have to go to the 80% of market value to generate the kind of funds that will make such building possible. There is concern that they may find it difficult to charge that rate to a number of their tenants, but without that 80% they will find it difficult to deliver the kind of homes that we all want so badly. A bit of a problem has been thrown up through the particular circumstances that pertain in London.

I hope that the Government, particularly the Homes and Communities Agency, will bear those circumstances in mind when making the assessments. I am delighted that the HCA is going to be taken into City Hall, because that will make it a great deal more sensitive to the needs of Londoners. It is important that the gap should be considered properly to ensure that there are family-sized homes in the affordable sector. They need to be built, because they are such an important part of building our communities.

Stephen Pound: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, my neighbour, for giving way. She says that family-sized homes are the homes that “we all want”. May I urge her to accept the fact that not everybody wants to live in a family home? A great many people with disabilities, or widows, widowers or people on their own quite enjoy the small properties that she rather put down and implied were some creation of Ken Livingstone that nobody wanted to live in. Actually, a great many people do.

Angie Bray: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important contribution. Of course it is true that not everybody wants to live in family-sized homes, but the

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problem in the past was that small properties were the only affordable housing on offer. A large number of families in our communities need affordable houses, and one or two-bedroom, even three-bedroom, flats simply do not accommodate them properly. It would also be nice to think that families might have a bit of green space outside and not always be housed in large blocks of flats.

Of course there has to be a balance, but in the past family-sized houses were neglected; it was too easy to tick boxes, as the previous Mayor did, to say, “I’ve delivered X affordable homes,” but they were flats rather than the family-sized houses that many of us think of when we hear the word “homes”. My request to the Minister is that he ensures the Government are fully aware that London’s special circumstances make it important to recognise the particular problems of housing associations when they are providing housing in areas where market rents are high.

2.51 pm

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): Research by the school of medicine at University College in my constituency suggests that apart from smoking, the principal sources of avoidable illness and premature death are overcrowding, homelessness, a poor standard of housing and insecurity of housing. We need to bear that in mind when discussing anything to do with housing.

The previous Government achieved quite a lot in improving the existing stock, but were carried away by the fashionable idea that the first step on the housing ladder is the cheapest place that people can buy. It seems to me that the first step on the housing ladder is somewhere decent to live that meets the needs of the people concerned, whatever the form of tenure. There is no excuse for the state of housing and the massive pressure for further social housing in London, including my area of Holborn and St Pancras, and Camden in general, because we should have a big drive to start building more houses.

It is very simple. We do not need a degree in some fantastical form of economics to conclude that if there are not enough houses, one of the things we do is build more of them. It has been done in the past—admittedly when I was leader of Camden council. I do not say that vaingloriously, but because it demonstrates that things can be done and problems addressed. During the 1970s, Camden council built no fewer than 500 new homes a year, and sometimes started as many as 1,000 a year. We were much mocked when we bought between 5,000 and 6,000 flats from the private sector, largely at the behest of the people living in them, sometimes in real slums but sometimes in mansion flats overlooking Parliament Hill Fields. Those people wanted to become council tenants because they wanted security of tenure and to get away from Rachmanite private landlords. The arrangement had the benefit of giving them security but it also meant that when anywhere fell vacant the council could let the property to people on the housing waiting list.

One of the consequences, which strikes me almost violently, is the difference between what happens at my advice surgeries now and what happened when I was first elected in 1979, at the end of the period of building

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and of the municipalisation of housing in Camden. When I was first a Member of Parliament, if people came to me and said, “We need somewhere decent for our family”, I would write to the council, which would write back. I used to tell people, “If you haven’t got a new flat in six or nine months, come back and see me.” Hardly any of them had to do that because they were rehoused. If I said that now, they would all be back because hardly anybody is rehoused any more. The problem has been that all those who form the leadership in our politics have not given sufficiently high priority to building and providing social housing for people who cannot afford to purchase a home.

Instead of buying and building property, there has been a lot of selling. Some councils, including Camden under the Lib Dem-Tory coalition—we had some experience of that between 2006 and 2010—sold off valuable street properties to the private sector. The housing associations in Camden, two of which were established as niche organisations to help solve problems, started selling off properties. Circle 33, which was founded in Primrose Hill in the 1970s, grew and grew, became Circle Anglia and started selling off much-needed property in my constituency so that it could use the funds to build social housing in Cambridge. That was not its purpose, in my opinion and that of most of the people I try to represent.

Even under Mrs Thatcher—I must give her credit for this—when public land became surplus, be it from the railways or the hospitals, the local authority was given first choice of whether it wanted to buy it for socially useful purposes. That prevailed for a long time when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. Subsequently, doubtless at the Treasury’s behest, things were sold to the highest bidder. It is about time we went back to giving first go to using surplus public land for public social purposes.

In my area, it is as if someone has declared war on the prospect of providing more social housing. There is a proposal, which I support, for the biggest laboratory and research centre in the country to be located behind the British Library in Somers Town in my constituency. It is a combined effort by the Medical Research Council, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and University College. It will undoubtedly make a major contribution to medical research worldwide, but it is located on a site, a substantial part of which was originally designated for housing. All the time that the talks were going on, I argued that some land that the Medical Research Council owns at the National Temperance hospital should be made available for the housing that would be displaced from the laboratory site. However, the Government have decided, “Oh, no. It should be sold on from the public sector.”

Similarly, when properties became surplus after the new University College hospital was built, a proposal, which local people and the council overwhelmingly supported, was made to knock down buildings and build decent housing on what was known as the Middlesex hospital annexe site. Two and a half years ago, a proposition by English Heritage to list the building was duly turned down. The law states that if a Minister wants to reverse that decision, they cannot do it within five years unless something new comes up. Someone managed to cobble together a connection between this ex-workhouse and

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Charles Dickens and claimed, at one point, that it was the workhouse described in “Oliver Twist”. Well, they had obviously not read even the first page of that book, because Oliver had to leg it to London from the workhouse in a country town often believed to be Kettering.

Stephen Pound: I am reluctant to intervene on my right hon. Friend, but as one who spent 10 years as a hospital porter at the Middlesex hospital, I can assure hon. Members that the connection is that Charles Dickens frequently gave public readings that funded the hospital’s building. That is the connection, although on Kettering my right hon. Friend is spot on.

Frank Dobson: But no one claimed that famous connection. Indeed, English Heritage was quite happy to nod through the demolition of the whole of the Middlesex hospital—we are talking about the annexe that was left. Anyway, that programme for a large number of new flats has been set back for God knows how long.

Similarly, there is meant to be the building of a lot of social housing on the King’s Cross railway lands behind King’s Cross station, but I understand that the project has been set back because Ministers are not prepared to help the private developer comply with the section 106 agreement that the developer entered into in order to get on and build some new flats. As a final encore from the Government, they are proposing not just to prevent the building of new social housing, but to knock down social housing for 360 people who live in the blocks of flats that will have to be knocked down if High Speed 2 is going to come into Euston, which is itself a ridiculous proposition.

We feel a trifle beleaguered in Camden. We are massively affected by the ludicrous increase in property prices in our area and the ludicrous increases in commercial rents. However, at the same time as rents are soaring out of sight, the Government, including those caring Liberal Democrats, have proposed the slashing of housing benefits. To demonstrate just how out of touch they are in setting the new housing benefit maximum levels, I will provide a simple illustration. A Member who lives outside London and needs to rent a single-bedroom flat in London is given the money—rightly—by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. IPSA has decided that the going rent in London for a single-bedroom flat is £340. That is the most it will pay. However, £340 appears to be a magic figure among public bosses these days, because the Government have decided that £340 is also the maximum housing benefit that can be paid to anybody in London for a three-bedroom flat. So officialdom now says, “One-bedroom flat for an MP: £340. Three-bedroom flat for a family: £340”. The fact is that the going rate for a one-bedroom flat probably is £340, but for a decent privately rented flat in London, £340 goes nowhere near towards meeting the costs of family accommodation.

There are all sorts of arguments about what we should do about this problem. My point is this: If in that great centre of capitalism, New York—so that includes Wall street—they still have rent controls in the private sector, I see no reason why we should not reintroduce rent controls in this country. If that upsets a few property developers or if the Gaddafi family’s property portfolio suffers from a cut in rental income,

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I do not really mind. I want rents to come down and there to be a massive increase in housing for those most in need, because as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) pointed out, there are legions of people whose daily contribution to the life of this city makes it a tolerable place to live.

Stephen Pound: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Frank Dobson: I would rather not. I will just get on, because other people want to speak.

There is no chance now of a tube driver, an ambulance driver, an ordinary police constable, a nurse, a midwife or, in some cases, a junior doctor meeting anything like the going rate for a private sector home. They are out of that market altogether. If we want such vital people to contribute to making living in London tolerable, we have to go much further than we have in the past, under Governments of all persuasions, because otherwise the place will be torn apart. I know that the leader—at least for the time being—of the Liberal Democrats, the Deputy Prime Minister, objects to the term “social cleansing” in relation to driving up rents and removing security of tenure, but as the inventor of the phrase, I make no apologies for it, because that is what will happen. If people’s security of tenure is removed, and if rents are driven up and subsidies for them are also removed, they will be driven out.

People say that we are spending far too much on housing benefit—and indeed, one could not make a more truthful statement. I think the figure is £22 billion, and it is that high because the rents are too high. If we want to cut the amount of money going into housing benefit, the best thing would be to cut the rents. Rather than trying to cut housing benefit, we should cut the entitlement by ensuring that we reduce the rents.

Jeremy Corbyn: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Frank Dobson: I will certainly give way to my hon. Friend, and then I will finish.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government’s claim is that when the housing benefit allowance is cut, the tenant can negotiate with the landlord, who will understand the situation and therefore reduce the rent? The Minister himself told me that in his office. I expressed some astonishment and decided to check up with Islington council, which has tried to negotiate rent reductions with landlords. The council tells me that, sadly, it is very difficult to do that, if not well nigh impossible, even for the most well-meaning and determined people. Surely the answer is not only controls, but investing £10 billion in housing, rather than £22 billion in housing benefit. That way we would all be a lot better off.

Frank Dobson: I entirely agree. Even if we transferred the money from the housing benefit account into the account of, at least, the public sector landlords who are charging high rents, that would bring rents down and be to everyone’s benefit.

My final point is this. Large numbers of places have been sold under the right to buy—certainly in my area—that have then been sold on by those who bought them or their children, following which the buy-to-let

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people have moved in. Therefore, somebody will have bought the flat with a massive subsidy from the taxpayer, then someone else will have bought it with a tax incentive and now they will be charging a rent that is two, three, four or five times higher than it would have been had the property never been transferred from the council’s ownership in the first place. So when people talk about public subsidy for housing, they should remember that the biggest imaginable public subsidy involves those who own or are buying a buy-to-let property that was formerly a council flat. That is the sort of thing that we need to stop, rather than rabbiting on about taking away security of tenure from all sorts of other people.

I hope that the Government will eventually take this matter seriously. One of the biggest housing programmes in my constituency was carried out by Neville Chamberlain when he was Minister of Health. Indeed, one of the buildings is called Chamberlain house. Tories should not be ashamed of their distant past record on social housing; all they need to do is revert to type and stop being mad marketeers.

3.11 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on securing this debate. I know that he has been a fearsome campaigner for social housing and all manner of other housing issues in London, and I am pleased to be able to make a contribution today.

I would also like to pick up on the comments made by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), just before she leaves the Chamber. She said that London faces specific and often unique circumstances in relation to housing. Many people across the country might not understand that. When I tell my parents, who live in Swindon, that I spend a lot of my time doing work on housing, they look at me slightly quizzically, as if to say, “Why is that?”, but anyone listening to this debate must realise that London faces quite extraordinary circumstances.

According to an estimate by the Greater London authority, the cost of renting in London is 51% higher than anywhere else in the country, and the National Housing Federation has recently estimated that, in order to buy an average-price house in London, a first-time buyer would need a salary of almost £100,000. Social housing, whether it is owned by a local authority, an arm’s length management organisation or a housing association, therefore fulfils a large number of needs for people across the spectrum, including those on benefits and all the others we have heard about today: the construction workers, the public sector workers, the nurses and the doctors. Sometimes, when people outside the capital think about housing, they do not really understand the true nature of the housing market here.

I also want to reflect on the fact that we are having this debate on the day when people are going to the polls to vote on changing the voting system. A couple of weeks ago, I did my street surgery. I write to 2,000 residents once a month and say, “If you want to see me on a Saturday morning, please put this poster up in your window. I will come and sit in your front room and talk about whatever you want to talk to me about.” A couple of weeks ago, when the Westminster village and the media were getting very excited about today’s referendum on changing the voting system, all my

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constituents wanted, without fail, to talk to me about social housing. One elderly gentleman lived in a block of flats, and his wife had just broken her leg. They had lived there for 25 years. He said, “I just need the housing association to move us to the vacant flat downstairs.”

Jeremy Corbyn: That sounds very complicated!

Heidi Alexander: Well, I am really pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the housing association—it is quite a large one, London and Quadrant—responded superbly when I contacted it. I am pleased to say that that gentleman has been moved to the flat that he wanted. So there are cases where housing associations respond and provide the sort of services people need, but that is not to say that there are not other circumstances in which couples desperately need to live in a more suitable home but cannot achieve that. There are hundreds of people whom I have seen in my surgeries and out on the doorstep since I became an MP whose families are living in desperately overcrowded situations—and it is mainly for those people that I make my remarks in today’s debate.

I shall speak on three main themes. The first is the massive need, as others have mentioned, for more homes that people can afford to rent. The second is the Government’s proposals on housing and how they relate to the wider welfare reform changes. I have a number of concerns about how they interrelate. Thirdly, I shall speak briefly on a topic that has not been mentioned so far—the proposed changes to the planning system and how some of them might result in fewer homes, particularly affordable homes, being built. I shall reflect on how proposals in the Localism Bill might make it harder to build the affordable homes that London needs.

Let me deal with the supply side first. We know that 350,000 people are on the social housing waiting list in London, and that one in 10 households are living in overcrowded conditions. As others have said, there is undoubtedly a massive need for more homes in London that people can afford to rent. Tackling the problem of under-occupation has been mentioned, and some argue that people are living in properties that are too big for the number of people living in them. I have seen research that shows that even if we tackled the problem of under-occupation in London completely, it would come nowhere near to solving the housing crisis.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend makes an important point in that under-occupation is only a slight issue and tackling it would not solve the problem. If children move away from home and grandchildren are born, is there not something quite reasonable, normal and acceptable in the idea of those grandchildren going to stay with their grandparents in the house’s bedroom? Why should it be that those in social housing cannot lead the kind of lives that anyone living in an owner-occupied place would assume to be perfectly normal and sufficient for them and the entire family’s needs? Why cannot we be a bit more human about it?

Heidi Alexander: I entirely agree. Many people look forward to that sort of thing in later life. We need to ensure that, whatever policies are in place in future, we

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recognise that issue. I would say, however, that I sometimes meet constituents who are living in a large three-bedroom house and find it too hard to manage and cope with. Lewisham has a positive record as a local authority in providing the assistance needed to make a move easier. More can be done about under-occupation, but it will not solve the problems in London, as I said. In the rest of the country, it could make a significant difference, but not in London because of the scale of the challenge we face.

Frank Dobson: In my area, those who, like my hon. Friend’s constituents, want to move out of a large place—perhaps a widow or an elderly couple—are often reluctant to do so because the front room of the one-bedroom place they are offered is simply too small. One of the practicalities of dealing with the issue, then, would be to provide a bigger front room in those properties, as people are often reluctant to get rid of the nice furniture that they have had with them for a long time.

Heidi Alexander: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, with which I entirely agree. Interestingly, I spoke a few months ago at the launch of the National Housing Federation’s “Breaking the mould” report, which looked at the housing needs of older people or those moving into later life. Given that one in five children born today will live to the age of 100, it is important for us to ensure that, as more people move into later life, we provide housing that meets the specific needs of our population.

Campaigns are sometimes mounted against the building of extra care housing. When I spoke at the launch of that report a few months ago, I encountered a gentleman who had been trying to build such housing through a church-sponsored scheme in north London. He was amazed at the degree of opposition that the scheme had generated in the local population, who said that the development was too big, too ugly and too wide. I could not help thinking that their concerns might be genuine. There is a desperate need for new forms of extra care housing, but we must give thought to the specific type of housing that is required, whether it is social or private sector housing. I shall say more about that later.

The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), who is no longer in the Chamber, referred to the amount being invested in the national affordable house building programme. I asked her how that compared with the level of investment over the past three years. She declined to give me the answer, but I can give it to the House now. The national affordable house building programme has been cut by 63%. Between 2008 and 2011, £8.5 billion was invested in it, with a target of building 155,000 affordable homes. In the current comprehensive spending review period, between 2011 and 2015, £4.5 billion is being invested, and the Government have a similar target, namely the building of 150,000 affordable homes. That represents a halving of the programme. The budget has been slashed, and, whatever Boris Johnson or Government Members may say, that has dealt a devastating blow to the future of house building.

I mentioned Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. I want to say a little more about some of his pronouncements about his record of building affordable homes. We have

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seen him on television recently, standing in front of new flats. I often scream at the television—I do not know whether other Members do as well—

Jeremy Corbyn: It does not solve anything.

Heidi Alexander: It does not, which is partly why I am making this speech in the House.

When Boris Johnson stands there and looks proudly at new homes, I feel like saying to him, and to the public, “Those new homes are a result of the Labour Government’s investment in housing. They are a direct result of the national affordable house building programme.”

I have been involved in regeneration and attempts to build new homes in Lewisham for a number of years, and I know how long it takes to get new developments off the ground. Any homes that are being built at the moment probably went through the planning process three or four years ago, and the commercial viability of the scheme was probably assessed and agreed three or four years ago. For Boris Johnson to stand there and claim this as his victory is entirely wrong. His record will relate to what happens in the years to come. As we have heard, the Homes and Communities Agency predicts that in a couple of years no new affordable housing will be being built in London. It will fall off a cliff face. Boris Johnson should bear in mind that that will be his legacy for London, not the legacy left by the last Labour Government.

Another thing that I wish to say about my experience of trying to deliver regeneration in Lewisham is that no thanks are due to the Liberal and Tory councillors in this regard. As soon as there was the faintest whiff of local opposition to a new housing scheme, whether it was a private sector development or affordable housing, they generally chose to vote against it. Some of the plans in the Localism Bill will make it easier for some of those nimbys to block development. If we really are going to build more homes, we need to be thinking about how the planning system works.

I have talked a little about the fact that the capital grant programme has been slashed and the Government seem to be moving to a way of funding new homes that relies on the future rents that they will get in from properties. The approach of allowing housing associations to build and charge 80% of market rents seems to relate to an argument about why capital grants are being reduced. My big problem with that approach is that I fear we are simply not going to build the type of housing that Londoners, including my constituents, can afford.

I have done a bit of research on the average rents in Lewisham in the private rented sector and for housing association properties, and I have thus been able to work out what 80% of market rent would mean. At the moment, the average median rent for a one-bedroom flat in Lewisham is £170 a week and the rent in a housing association for such a property is about £80 a week. An increase to 80% of the market rental value would make the cost £136 a week and would mean a weekly increase of about £55.

That is bad enough, but the average market rent for a four-bedroom flat or house in Lewisham is £300 a week. Someone living in a similar London and Quadrant property would pay, on average, £114 a week. If London

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and Quadrant builds new homes in Lewisham and charges 80% of market rent, that figure would increase to £240 a week, which is an increase of about £125 a week. That represents a monthly increase of £500 and an annual increase of £6,000 in someone’s housing costs. If someone is lucky enough to be in full-time work in Lewisham and they are on the minimum wage, they will be earning less than £12,000 a year, so how on earth are they going to find £6,000 extra to pay towards their housing costs? I cannot see how that will happen and the London Council agrees with me. Its recent briefing produced for councillors in London on the affordable rent model states:

“There is already a widespread recognition that the ARM will fail to deliver on larger sized family homes; and that, at 80% of market rates, the model’s maximum rent level will be unaffordable in the capital”.

As I have mentioned, I am also concerned about families living in overcrowded situations. When they are offered a flat or house at 80% of the market rate, how are they going to be able to afford it? If they are going to have to pay an extra £6,000 a year, they are not going to move and so will stay in the overcrowded flat that they are living in.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) discussed in an intervention the additional costs that could be pushed on to housing benefit, and that is precisely what the affordable rent model could result in. I recently read an interesting report by Family Mosaic entitled “Mirror, signal, manoeuvre: our drive to provide more social housing”. Family Mosaic did some research on about 50 of its new tenants who moved into properties across London at the end of last year. Some of those people were in work and some had caring responsibilities; the real-life situations of a vast range of people were researched when putting together that report.

Family Mosaic estimates that if every one of those 50 individual households lived in a property at 80% of market rent, the housing benefit bill would increase by 151%. That is a huge amount of extra money that will have to go out in housing benefit and my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North is completely right to say that that is a way not of tackling the deficit but of making it worse.

At the end of the report, Family Mosaic asks what we can do:

“How do we go forward?”

In answer, the report states:

“To mitigate this risk”—

the risk that people might not be able to afford the rents—

“we could change the profile of our tenant group, and not let new properties to those most in need: this, however, goes against our core principles.”

I am concerned about how the affordable rent model will deliver any homes in which people can afford to live.

Mr Slaughter: It is refreshing to hear that from a housing association. The quote is from the same report that I mentioned when I intervened on the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord), who chose, for reasons best known to himself, to answer about security of tenure. The report completely gives the lie to the idea that

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so-called affordable rent—a piece of Orwellian speak if we have ever heard one—will be in any way affordable. It also states that 60% market rents will not be enough to enable