Class VIII, Vote 5

Part of Estimates Day – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 4th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Norwood 9:30 pm, 4th July 1984

I am in favour of anything that brings more money into new housing investment. I am sure that many local authorities would be only too happy to follow that course of action. However, one can understand the problem by examining the statistics of people buying council houses. The average age of people buying council houses is much higher than that of people buying private homes for owner-occupation. The average age is as high as 55, which means that building societies do not regard such people as being such a good risk as they would the average owner-occupier of 29 when they first buy. That is why the Government have got these things wrong.

I have an illustration of why the money provided for housing is inadequate. It arose out of a television programme about housing problems in London which was shown last night. It also illustrates how wasteful in the long term is the failure to invest in housing. In London there are 2,178 families in bed-and-breakfast hotel accommodation. That is costing the public — either London ratepayers or London taxpayers, or both—about £10 million a year. Money is being lost because local authorities are accommodating three times more families than three years ago in such accommodation. There is also the problem of the long-term damage being done to the health of these people and their children, which is almost immeasurable.

It is a scandal that the amount of money being provided for housing is such that over 2,000 families are living in accommodation that is described as "unfit for human habitation" and "prejudicial to health" and which involves people living in hotels with inadequate fire precautions. One of the people in the programme last night said that living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation as a homeless person was worse than a prison sentence". At least prisoners know how long their sentence is, but many homeless people have no idea when they will get a decent home.

This problem is exacerbated by the way in which some Conservative local authorities in London are misusing the national mobility scheme by pushing their homeless families into another part of London. It is interesting that many Conservative authorities have no people, or few people, living in hotel accommodation, because they are not allocating within their own authorities. They are simply pushing the homeless into areas such as Lambeth, Hackney and Southwark, which already have terrible housing problems.

Whichever test one applies to housing problems, the investment is inadequate. In the private sector. one third of a million houses lack amenities, and 500,000 have high repair costs of over £7,000. There must be more investment in that sector, or it will begin to fall apart. I suspect that much of it is beginning to fall apart already, as the pressure from the reduction in the provision of council accommodation to let continues because of inadequate housing investment programmes. More and more people on low incomes with inadequate resources to undertake owner-occupation are none the less being forced into the owner-occupied sector or are being forced to remain there because that part of the stock of privately owned housing will go the same way as the stock of privately rented accommodation which has been neglected because of too little investment.

By that test, far too little money is being invested. At the same time, local authority construction figures are continuing to fall, quarter after quarter, as the recent press releases from the Department of the Environment show. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) spoke of the housing association sector, and again expenditure on that is falling. Indeed, the most recent Department of the Environment press release shows a further substantial cut. In 1983–84 the net funds for investment for the housing association movement were £608 million. They fell in 1983–84, and they have fallen again this year to £617 million, which is a very substantial drop. But even within that reduced total of expenditure for housing associations, as the press release shows, the obsession with the right to buy, as opposed to the provision of money for housing accommodation to let, involves a further cut of £6 million in the housing investment programme for housing associations during the current year.

As was said at the beginning of the debate, we censure the Government for the amount of money provided in the housing Estimates. We are staggering to a terrible housing crisis. The position gets worse year after year. In the long term, it will be a crisis not only for the homeless, for those on housing waiting lists, and for those who live in inadequate, damp and poorly repaired accommodation; it will be a crisis for the whole of society, and one that we shall regret. We make no apology for returning to the subject at every possible opportunity.