Housing (Leyton and Leytonstone)

Part of Petitions – in the House of Commons at 12:29 pm on 20th December 1985.

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Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton 12:29 pm, 20th December 1985

I congratulate the Church of England on its report "Faith in the City". It makes many telling points and draws attention to the growing crisis in our inner cities, caused and much exacerbated by the Government's policies. The report states: The combination of unsatisfied needs and unused human abilities seems to us as uneconomic as it is illogical and immoral. Such sound moral and economic argument, which is relevant to our housing needs and capabilities, as well as to other aspects of life, was met by a bully-boy response from the Government.

The part of the report that especially caught my eye was its identification of urban priority areas, not just in the inner cities but on the fringes of the cities in housing estates. The report says that they present a pressing problem for the mid-1980s. Its recognition of the fringes of cities clearly applies to Leyton, which is classified as outer London, but its housing and many other services mirror the deprivation of the inner city. The main reason why it is not officially recognised as an inner-city area is that it lies in the borough of Waltham Forest which contains in the north the relatively prosperous area of Chingford, although it, too, has pockets of housing problems. The rest of the borough, especially Leyton and Walthamstow, has inner-city problems, and the Government should recognise that in financial terms.

There is a growing housing crisis in Waltham Forest and a severe problem of homelessness. At present, the homeless are almost the only category who can be guaranteed offers of council accommodation. That is done at the expense of those on the waiting list and requiring transfers. But the policy has been adopted because the alternative is the expensive, wasteful, unsatisfactory and unsuitable bed-and-breakfast arrangements. I am informed that even in Waltham Forest the council cannot find accommodation for about 150 homeless families. Although Waltham Forest has avoided using bed-and-breakfast establishments until now, it could be forced to do so in the near future. Even then, there will be no relief for those on the waiting list and awaiting transfers.

With council houses being sold and no replacements being built, there is almost no hope of the overwhelming majority of people on the waiting lists being rehoused,. Many people live in desperate conditions, and have 70, 80 or 90 points, but are getting nowhere in their quest for housing. The young, the newly married and couples with no children have no chance.

The problem is the shortage of decent accommodation. Recently, I received a letter from the council's rehousing supervisor about the case of a Mrs Smith. He wrote: In June this year the Housing Panel awarded a very high degree of social need priority to this case and recommended the offer of a three bedroom house … The problem of course is the very limited supply of such properties especially now no new properties are being built … I am sorry to write in such pessimistic tones when writing about a high priority case but the limited supply of properties is having a drastic effect on the prospects of any transfer case.

The lack of new properties is causing great difficulties for tenants who want transfers. The housing manager was interviewed in the local press earlier this year. He said: Because the supply of council homes has dried up … there is less opportunity to move within the Council sector, from the tower block estates to more popular properties. Some tenants who want transfers face a Catch-22 situation. I took up the case of my constituent Mr. Szersynski. He and his girl friend were in the "couples sharing" queue and had 61 points. The housing department wrote to me: The present rehousing level within the 'couples sharing' queue is 77 points". However, the couple are expecting twins, which gives them another 20 points, taking them past 77 points. That seemed to be excellent news, but the letter from the housing department added that when the twins come they will need two bedroomed accommodation and the minimum of points required for that is 110 points. That is a real Catch-22, or perhaps a Catch-110.

Problems have also been caused for my constituents Mrs. Warsap and her 82-year-old parents in Chingford. Their case is reported in today's edition of the Walthamstow Guardian under the headline "Christmas Day Ruined." Mrs. Warsap and her parents want a three or four-bedroom house so that the family can live together. They have offered to swap the two houses that they currently occupy, both of which are in tip-top condition, but that proposal has had to be turned down. Mrs. Warsap told the Walthamstow Guardian:When I walk in in the morning mum is often lying helpless and sobbing on the bed … For now, Christmas is a very sad time indeed. That is the sort of difficulty facing people who want transfers.

Not only is there not enough money for building, but there is not enough to repair existing properties. In the interview with the local press earlier this year, the housing manager said: We haven't got enough resources to do the basic repairs and improvements to our existing stock. Take our list of repairs so far. We've got a 10 year programme, but some of the things we'll be doing in year 10, we should be doing this year—no doubt about it … there is no money to spend on environmental upgrading of estates. That upgrading includes not only the appearance of estates, which is vital, but the facilities for mothers and children on those estates. Play groups and creches on the Hollydown way and Oliver close estates were started and run by the mothers, but have been denied support because of the lack of resources. If facilities are not provided and the environment of estates is not upgraded, it leads to problems such as those experienced on the Broadwater Farm estate as alienation sets in among the inhabitants.

Improvements in the private sector in my borough have also been curtailed because there has been a block on improvement grants since August 1984. There is growing disrepair in that sector, too.

The problem is one of resources. As the housing manager said in that interview: It sounds simplistic to say it's a money-linked problem, but to a large extent it is. Obviously you've got to strive to get the maximum out of what you've got, but all these things just can't be done with the amount of money we're working to. An additional dimension will exacerbate the housing misery of a large number of my constituents for many years to come unless additional resources are provided by the Government. The M11 link road is to be carved through my constituency. The Government gave an inadequate allocation for rehousing the displaced families. In an act of terrible mismanagement, the local Tory-Liberal council sold off the site which was to be used for building new homes and used the money elsewhere. As a consequence, many more people will be in a housing crisis unless additional money is provided.

In the face of these grim facts and those of 9,300 homes unfit for people to live in, 6,800 without bathrooms or inside toilets, 10,700 in need of urgent renovation, 1,300 overcrowded with more than two people per room, the Government dismiss any need for more to he done and abrogate their responsibility. They have cut Waltham Forest's housing investment allocation—the council received less than one third of what it deemed to be necessary.

It is ironic that the debate is taking place on the day when Tory Members are packing up to go to their comfortable homes in the shires. They should think for a moment how they would feel if they were in my surgery, in which I see family after family in housing discomfort and desperation, and bitterly dissatisfied. My housing caseload is a catalogue of human misery, worry and desperation. How many Tory Members go back to the awful circumstances experienced by my constituents?

How many parents of Tory Members experience conditions like those of Mrs. Harvey and her pensioner friends in my constituency, a case described in the local paper? She lives in a Leyton tower block and hates it. Not only do the lifts not work, but they are filthy and never get cleaned over the weekend because the council does not pay the caretaker overtime. When the lifts do not work there is a long haul up to her 11th floor flat. Mrs. Harvey and her friends dream of having their own front doors and gardens with a bit of green—nothing too fancy—but they realise that they are no longer spring chickens. Mrs. Harvey knows that in a few years she will not be able to climb stairs any more.

How many Tory Members have wives and children trapped on the tops of tower blocks unsuitable for their means, like Mrs. Palfreman and her two children and many others in my constituency? Another example is that of Mrs. Dibley and her large family who live in overcrowded conditions in property too small, dilapidated and inadequate for their living requirements. I have had cases in which teenage daughters and sons have had to share bedrooms or even where mothers are forced to share rooms with teenage sons because of their poor housing circumstances. I bet not many Conservative Members have experience of such housing problems. How can they say that monetarist cuts apply in these circumstances?

Let us compare this housing starkness under the Tories with Labour's alternative. We plan for a big boost in resources, extensive building of new homes and repairs and improvements to existing ones. Priority will be given to providing new homes for rent, a sector in which the need is overwhelming. There will be an enhanced role for local authorities, lifting the present Government restrictions on them, and for housing co-operatives. We shall provide new help for low-income households. That is a proper programme for decent homes, providing many jobs in the process. We need this programme of action for the people of Leyton and Leytonstone. My borough also needs a big boost in its housing investment allocation.

The Tory party should be ashamed when it sees Labour's effective housing alternative. It should be ashamed at its rough-neck reaction to the Church of England report, of its application of monetarist policies to housing and of what that has meant in personal misery to many of my constituents and thousands of others in the country. It should be ashamed of backing the Chancellor. He has applied monetarist policies even to his own father-in-law, who has had to live in impoverished circumstances on state benefit—Victorian values, indeed.