Inner Cities

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:34 pm on 11th December 1985.

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Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West 8:34 pm, 11th December 1985

In the last year, many hon. Members have speculated on the reasons for riots and why people turn to crime. I make no apology for reading an extract from a letter that I recently received from a constituent of mine, a man in his early twenties who has been unemployed for two years: I just cannot get anywhere decent to live. At the moment I have a horrible bedsit without hot water. After two years waiting for a flat from a housing association, he was offered short-life council accommodation. He goes on: The flat was completely empty. I had no heat or hot water for two whole weeks. The DHSS did things in their own time. There I was in an empty, cold flat, miles from anywhere, no cooker, no bed and not much else. So I got into trouble. There was always temptation, other people indulging in crime, but I never took part because I could survive without it. When I found myself alone without the basic household things and no money, I got into trouble. What does it matter when you've got nothing to lose … I went to court, I was fined and that was the end of that. I took my time, suffered when I had to and used what money I had wisely, like my mother always did. I bought a gas fire, stereo table, I received money for a bed and a cooker and started to settle. Then I was burgled twice. I lost everything including the gas fire. Even the boiler was taken. Back to Manningham and furnished accommodation. I rented a really good flat — I started to settle down with a nice girlfriend. I wallpapered the room and I thought my troubles were over. I fell behind on my fine payments. I was warned. In July, seven months after I was fined, I fell behind again with payments and I was sent to jail for 18 days. Around this time my landlord had received orders from the council to renovate his property. Eighteen days later, the men had packed my things and he just told me I didn't live there any more. He concludes: It's painful. Honestly, you don't know what to say. You just realise the hopelessness of your situation, and what can you do? Who can you tell? Telling my friends doesn't help. It's the people in authority and positions of responsibility who need to know what's going on, who need to care about what's going on, and quite frankly, Mr. Madden, not many people do care. Even riots don't encourage people to look closer at what's happening, at how some people live or don't live. People may now give some attention to Brixton, Handsworth etc., but similar conditions, similar deprivation, exist here. I inquired of a housing association about that young man's prospects of being offered a fiat. I was told by one association: Your constituent's present accommodation is not ideal and lacks facilities, but his application is rated quite a way down the points system. The Association has currently over 800 applications, of which 25 per cent. are requiring bedsit or one bedroom accommodation in the Bradford area. Another housing association told me: The great distress caused by the lack of decent rented accommodation cannot be emphasised too often and I would like to detail one small example of the situation as it exists in Bradford. We are currently building 38 Category 1 flats for the elderly in Bradford, and without any advertising we have received over 200 applications for the accommodation. It has been necessary for us to refuse any further applications, despite the accommodation not being ready for letting until later this year. I am sure you will be only too familiar with the distress caused to the elderly living in inadequate conditions and the disappointment which will be felt when the majority of applications are refused. There is an inadequate supply of good rented accommodation for all age groups in Bradford and the problem is increasing. A number of hon. Members have, rightly, pointed out that the populations of inner cities are declining. That is not the case in Bradford. Indeed, Bradford has the largest population projection growth of any urban area in the country, including all the London boroughs. The population will increase by 10 per cent. in the next 20 years, according to the official population forecasts.

We have 30,000 unemployed and a waiting list for council property of more than 8,000. There are 5,500 people living in homes with no toilet, bathroom or running water. In the last three years, 146 properties were started by the local council and 84 have been completed. Our housing investment programme has been decimated. In the last three years it has been reduced by the Government by £6 million or 31 per cent., or about half in real terms. Improvement grant programmes have also been decimated.

About 10,000 improvement grant applications have been refused and the expenditure provided by the Government for grants has been dramatically reduced. In the last three years, the amount given to Bradford council for home improvement grant purposes has been £28 million. We need £66 million to meet our real needs. The gap between the required resources and the available resources for housing investment in Bradford widens each year. In 1977–78 it was only £2 million, and the latest figures show that for 1986–87 it will be £34 million.

Structurally defective housing has been mentioned. Bradford has had to transfer about 1,500 people from such housing. There are 4,786 defective properties still to be dealt with. The Government have provided only £18 million to Bradford council for that purpose. As one official said to me, "Such allocation is merely nibbling at the edges of a massive problem." We ask for action, and when we make that request we are told a variety of things. We have heard during the debate that the Conservative party is shifting its ground. The Government are saying that the problems to which we have referred have always existed. When we ask for money, the Government say that there is no point in throwing money at the problems or, "We do not have the money."

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Roberts) has said, we completely reject the Government's assertion that the resources are not available to tackle the problems to which we draw their attention. We know that that is a lie. We know that the poor in the inner cities of the constituencies that we Labour Members represent have been paying for the massive tax cuts that have been enjoyed by the richest sections of the community. We have authority for saying that if we turn to the financial section of The Guardian of July. The introduction to one of its articles read: Mrs. Thatcher succeeded in giving a lot of people the impression that she intended to cut taxes, but the opposite has been the case. According to the latest calculations for the Guardian by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, only 6 per cent. of the population are actually better off as a result of the tax and benefit changes which the Prime Minister has made since 1978–79, and they tend to be those who were richest to start with. Tax changes have made some 87 per cent. unequivocally worse off. That is the reality.

I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will not tell us when he replies that the necessary money is not available. Of course, he will give us an almost inevitable lecture on morality. We know that he is a reborn monetarist. We know also that the factor which is lacking is the political will of the Government to allocate resources where they are most needed. Resources must he made available so that we can deal with the problems that are to be found in inner cities throughout the country.

Yesterday, the Government were at it again. They took the first steps to flog off the gas industry so as to enable them to give the richest section of our community even more tax cuts next year. We in Bradford have been asking for only £4 million to electrify the line between Bradford and Leeds, and last week, when I had an Adjournment debate, the Minister who replied told me that the Government could not intervene, that it was a matter entirely for British Rail.

What is going on elsewhere? It is proposed that thousands of millions of pounds of public and private investment should be spent on the Channel link. The Government are rushing the proposal through after one of the shortest periods of consultation that can be imagined. They are refusing to allow a public inquiry into the greatest investment of public and private resources that Britain has seen in many a long year, yet my city is told that there is not a miserable £4 million available to electrify a line and thereby enable it to tackle massive unemployment and the enormous social and industrial problems with which it has been struggling for more than a century.

We are told that no money is available. There is a housing crisis in Bradford, yet £250,000 of urban aid has been directed recently to renovating 30 bedrooms in a luxury hotel in Bradford. I do not think that the 5,500 who lack a bath, running water and an inside toilet saw that expenditure as the concentration of available resources on those most in need.

At a conservative estimate, £5,000 million is being lost to the Inland Revenue through tax evasion. The Government are cutting the number of Inland Revenue inspectors while increasing the number of DHSS inspectors to deal with fraud — in other words, the miserable sums which the poor sometimes obtain by mistakes or human error within the Department. The Government cannot sustain the argument that there is a lack of resources.

We know that £3 million a day is being spent on the fortress Falklands policy. We know that millions upon millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are being used to bail out Johnson Matthey. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money are being directed to bailing out the Export Credits Guarantee Department. We are aware that £10,000 million or £12,000 million is being made available to finance the Trident nuclear submarine programme. The stench of corruption and fraud is hanging over the City, which is even beginning to reach some of the none-too-sensitive nostrils of those in this place. The Government do not have the guts, the will or the determination to instigate an inquiry into what is going on at Lloyd's, or what went on in the sale of British Telecom shares. They are reluctant, to say the least, to inquire into what is going on in other sections of the City.

The Government saw no reason for not granting bumper pay increases to judges, top civil servants and generals. At the same time, the Government paid lip service to their interest in the family. Of course, they have cut child benefit, which provides the most effective way of combating family poverty. The Tories do not like child benefit. They argue that it goes to everyone, rich or poor, and that it is wrong to support the better-off through the payment of benefit such as child benefit. However, they do not object to the payment of the large subsidies that go to the relatively well-off in the form of mortgage tax relief. Nor do they object to large handouts to the rich in the form of tax cuts.

The Bradford chamber of commerce recently conducted a survey of 180 companies. It asked them what had been the major constraints on their businesses over the past 12 months. Nearly 40 per cent. of the companies referred to high interest rates and the high exchange rate as major constraints. They did not put the rating system into that category. Interest rates and the exchange rate are affected by Government policy.

That which we see in the inner cities is the result of Government neglect, lack of resources and a refusal by the Government to act. Crime has reached record levels and the victims are working-class people. They want the social and economic problems dealt with which lead to crime and not more oppressive laws. The Government are responsible primarily for the problems which lead to the commission of crime. The people want a Government who listen, care, act and recognise the problems and deal with them in a sensible and common-sense way. They do not want a Government who, when criticised, immediately accuse their critics of being naive, muddleheaded or Marxist.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have set out the arguments on behalf of the inner cities and directed themselves to the help which the inner cities need so desperately. It is a great tragedy that the Government are deaf, that they do not care and that they promote acute inequalities.

Until the Government's policies are changed, the crisis which faces the inner cities in housing, education, health and the environment will continue and intensify. My colleagues and I will continue to bring to the House the complaints of those in the inner cities. It is the forum of the nation and the appropriate place for us to articulate on behalf of our constituents.

Whether the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster likes it or not, we shall continue to raise these matters in this place. We shall continue to tell our constituents that it is for the Government to act. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the resources that they have available are allocated where they are most needed, which is to the poor, the deprived, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled and the elderly.

I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has been so keen to intervene in the debate, will not give us another third-rate lecture on morality. I hope instead that he will make some positive proposals and set out the way in which the Government intend to act to combat and remedy the crisis which is facing them, whether they wish to acknowledge it or not, in inner cities throughout the country.