Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:25 pm on 24th July 1986.

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Photo of Mr Robin Corbett Mr Robin Corbett Opposition Whip (Commons) 11:25 pm, 24th July 1986

Everyone knows that there is a crisis in housing. The Church of England's report "Faith in our Cities" said that, and the Commission chaired by Prince Philip said the same. Hundreds of thousands of homeless and badly housed people say that and know that.

I said that everyone knows that there is a crisis. There is one exception, and that is this Government. Since they took office, they have cut spending on housing by 47p in the pound since 1979–80. This week the Institute of Housing reports that only 39,000 houses and flats were built by councils and housing associations in 1985, against 162,000 10 years earlier. Over both sectors there has been a drop of 40 per cent. in the decade from 1975, from 313,000 to 188,000 last year—not because new homes are not needed but simply because this Government seem to prefer to leave £3·5 billion washing around the banks and 400,000 building workers jobless instead of putting both money and manpower to work.

The crisis in housing is the worst in 20 years and growing. It is evidence of the lack of freedom and fairness under this destructive Government. Millions of people are denied real choice over where and how they shall live. For those with cash there is a chance of private housing in pleasant well-laid-out areas, increasingly around the far edges of Birmingham and our other great cities. For those without cash, because of unemployment or low pay, there is the squalor of many of our crumbling run-down estates and tower blocks with almost non-existent repairs and little real hope of a move.

That is easy to say. It is harder to appreciate, because that misery is there hour by hour, day by wretched day. It does not go away. It gets worse as vandalism and unsolved crime are piled on top to produce hopelessness and despair among people who feel abandoned, unheard, neglected and forgotten. In the public sector there is both the squalor of many board and lodging houses and the insults and mysteries of the so-called private rest homes where some unscrupulous owners make money out of the age an infirmity of those whom councils are prevented from properly helping because the cash has been stolen from them by this Government.

A Government cannot cut rate support grant, for example, from 61p in the pound to 46p in the pound, have rate-capping multipliers and the rest and be surprised at the growing squalor in private and public housing.

Ten years ago, 44 tenants in every 100 in Birmingham got help with their rent and rates because of low pay or joblessness. Now that number is a staggering 77 in every 100. In recognition of that fact, housing benefit is now to be cut, and people in poverty are to be forced to pay 20p in the pound of their rates, having then to choose between food, heat, light and so on, or face the miseries of a summons for non-payment of rates. That is housing in Tory Britain 1986.

As the Institute of Housing argues, the present level of restriction of publichousing investment is not simply mean; it is short-sighted. Without more money for essential repair work next year, the deterioration will accelerate and soon we may truly be unable to afford the kind of housing standards that we expect in a civilised society.

Nowhere is that more true than in the city of Birmingham. Last year's return on the repair and improvement of local authority housing stock showed a need—not a wish—to spend £715 million on repairing and improving the council's present stock. At the present rate of tackling that job, it will take more than 600 years to achieve.

In July, a housing committee report to the council showed that housing need is outstripping supply in Birmingham, despite a falling population. It argued that a minimum of 1,270 new homes were needed each year for the next five years. These should be built by the council and housing associations in an attempt to cope with the demand. Yet, not one new family home has been built in Birmingham in the past four years because of Government cash cuts.

It is the same with improvement grants, but this, in many ways, is the greater idiocy. The Government encouraged thousands to apply for improvement grants, but a few months after the 1983 general election they suddenly switched off the funds. The housing committee considers that because of this neglect an extra 26,000 substandard homes will get too bad for repair and the bulldozers will have to be called in. We have been this way before, but we and the Government seemingly learn nothing.

There are also the infamous tower blocks. We have 492 in Birmingham. I am delighted to say that eight in my constituency must come down within the next 10 years, I wish it was in the next 10 months. It is only a start. There are 1,400 Boswell system built homes in Pype Hayes in my constituency. About 400 of them have been sold to former tenants. People scraped together to find the cash to buy these places at discounted rates, but now there is a question mark over their future. Until the Minister decides to designate them under the Housing Defects Act 1984, the whole area is blighted. These people have an urgent right to know what will happen and I appeal to the Minister to speed a decision to designate.

Birmingham, along with other cities and towns, has paid the price of the neglect of housing because of having cash stolen from it by the Government. It matters in ordinary and everyday ways. Some 30,000 low and medium rise blocks and maisonettes in the city are without an adequate cleaning and caretaker service. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) had a hand in this matter during her benign days as chairman of the city housing committee.