More Social Housing

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Regent’s Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on securing a debate on this important issue. I, along with other hon. Members, particularly from London, have raised this issue on a number of occasions, with questions to the Prime Minister and in Westminster Hall debates. We have tried to highlight the issue by consistently stating that it has been overlooked on the political agenda and in debates about what should be the Government’s priorities.

A number of people have made the point that the Government must be clear about what they mean by affordable housing. In the past, it has been interpreted as a need for schemes to assist people to purchase houses. However, for many people in London, even with the discounts available through various Government schemes, those homes are just not affordable. Often, they require a deposit that is out of the affordability range of most people in desperate housing need.

I am relieved that people such as the Chancellor want to see a case made for affordable housing. I am delighted that we are starting to get some response to the debate, but I appeal to the Government to take it on board from us that the clear but unstated hatred of and lack of trust in local authorities to deliver in this vital area must stop. They are the vehicle for change, and they can deliver the social housing that will change communities and provide the opportunities that families are currently being denied. We must remove the roadblocks in the way of local authorities’ delivery of that change.

My hon. Friend is right when she says that supply is the issue. I gave figures for my local authority whereby housing applications for 2004-05 were running at similar levels to those of 1999. The acceptance rate was more or less the same, but the figures for those waiting for housing were up by almost 60 per cent. Demand is not growing and outstripping supply—it is the supply that is wrong.
The figures in my area also mask the underlying problem of those who are trapped in their family homes. Every week, my surgery is full of examples of three generations of a family who live in a house that the Labour party built. The grandchildren and the parents of those grandchildren are trapped in that home, and they are unable to move into housing in the same way as their parents were before them. The grandparents are looking to the Labour party and saying, “We want you to build houses for our children, so that they can have the opportunities that we had to bring up our families.”

We have seen right to buy decimate the supply of social housing, but the sad fact is that at the other end, we have not seen any investment in the stock—to the point at which local authorities are building almost no properties at all.
There is also a problem with the way in which we construct the finance for building new social housing schemes, and I believe that we can release much of the equity in new-build for reinvestment in the public sector. Too often, when my local authority sells a parcel of its land to the private sector and then negotiates
under section 106 a proportion of the development of that land for social housing, the developer walks away with a huge profit from the sale of the rest of the site. I have spoken to housing associations that say, “We can manage those schemes from beginning to end; we can sell the properties, bring the profits back into the public sector and reinvest them in further schemes in the local area.”

We are frittering away our resources through the way in which we set up the finances for the development of social housing. We must tell local authorities that we want them to be more innovative, with self-financing schemes in some respects. We could consider placing a proportion of the rents under a prudential scheme, so that they finance some of the interest that must be paid. We must consider those schemes urgently.

Regeneration of the Kidbrooke area in my constituency will result in 4,400 homes where there are currently just under 2,000, and about 2,000 of them will be affordable. Some will be part buy, part rent and others will be for rent through the social sector. However, it is still not too late to have a greater proportion of social housing in that development. Most of the land is in public ownership, and the financing package could be reviewed to provide more social housing for local people who desperately need it.

People in the eastern corridor of London see beautiful houses being built in the Thames gateway and are fed up that they and their children do not have access to those houses because they are priced out. They are frustrated, and demonstrated that frustration clearly in the recent local elections. That fuels the lies of extremists such as the British National party who want to exploit the situation and people’s feeling of desperation. They have done that successfully because we left the opportunity open to them and failed to address the problem of housing demand and the people who desperately need housing.

We must expand the housing stock and provide the opportunity for money to be invested in houses to accommodate larger families. In return, families may have to sign away their right to buy for a period or even in perpetuity so that investment in housing can be made with the confidence that it will not disappear from the public sector. We must look at such schemes.

Overcrowding is fuelling antisocial behaviour and is a block to improving standards in education. Young children who are at school will not sit and watch “EastEnders” with their parents if they live in an overcrowded house and sleep in a bedroom with their younger sister or brother. They will go out on the streets with their friends. They have nowhere to do their homework. We must cut the vicious circle. Only a Labour Government will deal with the problem and people need to receive that message loud and clear. The Government’s duty is to tell people that housing is a priority and that Labour will deliver for them once and for all.

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