Orders of the Day — Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 25th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett , Birmingham, Erdington 5:40 pm, 25th July 1984

The hon. Lady's constituents in Derbyshire must wonder why she has such a long and lingering fascination for Birmingham. I shall come later to most of the details for which she asked.

The Minister knows what is going on in Birmingham in relation to housing and housing expenditure. The city put in a bid for £120 million of housing allocation for 1984–85. It has been allocated only £66 million. There is urgent need, especially in the inner city area, for a much larger spend to create the jobs about which the Prime Minister and her right hon. and hon. Friends are always crowing. The need is not only to provide decent homes, but to help take some of the 400,000 building workers off the dole and put them back into useful work.

These well-housed Ministers know well that they are storing up a housing problem that will match that of the immediate post-war years. Some 1·25 million homes in England and Wales are unfit and lack basic amenities, 800,000 people live in overcrowded conditions, 2·5 million houses are seriously affected by dampness and it has been estimated that about £10,000 million is needed to remedy construction and design faults in existing council homes such as those built by the Bison wall frame system in my constituency. Some 103 blocks have been built by that system in the city of Birmingham. All that the Government can say to a city that cannot get anywhere near enough housing money to deal with its normal problems and faces a massive repair and renovation bill is, "You find the money yourselves." A report on the tower blocks, which was submitted to the Birmingham housing committee in February this year, stated: The main problems with the wall frame system are the possibility of insufficient ties being installed in inner and outer leaves of external walls. The report added: urgent action has been taken to provide bolts to 83 suspected panels. Those are the 3-ton external cladding panels. Some 1,200 other panels in those tower blocks are suspect.

The Housing Defects Bill promises to help those who bought defective council houses by giving them a 90 per cent. repair grant, most of which will be funded by the councils, but what are the councils to do when they face equally severe problems with similar types of housing? They have been told that they must deal with these matters by using funds from their housing allocations, which are being cut in any event.

The private sector, together with the building suppliers and other linked trades, used to be a good friend of the Tory party, but not now—not any more. I suspect that VAT on home extensions, introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, put the final seal on that. However, that is by no means the end of the housing misery. A survey just published by the Birmingham standing conference on the single homeless showed that on any one night nearly 200 people could be sleeping in six night shelters in the city. In the course of one year, well over 2,000 people might pass through those shelters. It is no good the Minister saying that they should look to the private sector. The privately rented sector in Birmingham fell from 61 per cent. of housing stock in 1947 to 15·9 per cent. in 1975,and I suspect that it is much lower today.

The number of single homeless on the city's housing list has risen dramatically. According to the survey, they now represent 55 per cent. of those on the waiting list, and half of them are aged between 18 and 24. What is being done to help them? Nothing is being done in Birmingham, because of the Government's policies. Let us look at the number of maisonettes, assuming that they are suitable for the single homeless—in many cases they are not. In 1979–80 just 15 were built in the city. In 1980–81 none was built, in 1981–82 four were built, in 1982–83 none was built and in 1983–84 two were built. What about two-storey flats? They are no good, because they are provided mainly under warden-supervised schemes for the elderly. There are precious few of them in any event. Some 263 were built in 1981–82, only 62 were built in 1982–83 and 213 were built in 1983–84.

The stark fact is that nothing is being done in Birmingham for the single homeless or others in desperate housing need, because of the Government's savage cuts in the money spent on housing. In 1982–83, just five new family houses were built in the city of Birmingham. That is when the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) was proud to be chairman of the housing committee. In 1983–84, just 33 new family houses were built. There are 20,000 or more people on the waiting list. What hope do they have of getting decent and adequate housing under this Government? The fact is that the only place that those 20,000 people will have to live is on that waiting list.