Public Expenditure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:29 pm on 18th February 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth , Knowsley North 8:29 pm, 18th February 1987

I shall concentrate my remarks on the housing aspects of the public expenditure plans and to begin by considering the stated objectives of housing expenditure in the plans. There are three objectives which, in broad terms, are not unreasonable. However, when we consider them against the reality, they go no way to meeting the problems.

The first objective is given as the choice for decent housing through the spread of home ownership. There is nothing objectionable about that and the Opposition support home ownership. However, the problem faced by many of my constituents, especially those who are unemployed, is that even in an expanded private sector where new housing stocks were created in the private sector, the unemployed would not be able to get a mortgage and take advantage of that availability. While we accept that home ownership is desirable, it is not an objective open to many of the unemployed people in my constituency.

The second objective which the plans concede in a somewhat mealy-mouthed way is the role for the public sector. They contain an analysis of the amounts of expenditure involved.

Thirdly, the plans consider the urban housing renewal unit, or Estate Action as it is now called, and some of the special schemes involving the private sector that will take place through the Housing Corporation.

I shall concentrate on these objectives and how they relate to the reality of people's lives and the potential that exists within the construction industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) made a good analysis of how problems in the construction industry and housing can be brought together to stimulate economic growth.

There are plans for increases in the rented sector of some £390 million—at least, that is how it is shown in the programmes. However, in terms of housing investment programmes—which are critically important in my area because there is such a large council house stock and most of the people in need believe that the council house rented sector is the way to resolve their need—that means a reduction in expenditure of about £99 million, and in real terms that is a drop of 11 per cent. That is very serious and affects my constituents.

There has been talk about the use of capital receipts. However, many local authorities have virtually exhausted any capital receipts that may have been available. Whether these authorities should have complete access to such capital receipts as exist is another argument. However, the Government cannot use the argument that capital receipts exist in every case. A large amount of national capital receipts may be available but these receipts are not necessarily available to the local authorities that need them. That position is serious and a cause of grave concern.

Local authorities that are virtually without capital receipts, such as that in my constituency, have to try to cope with demands for expenditure on housing for major and serious repairs and for new family housing for rent, and with the growing demands and needs for special accommodation for the elderly—a growing proportion of the population nationally and in my constituency. However, these authorities have no capital allocations or capital receipts with which to meet even part of those demands.

while I accept that some of the new schemes in connection with the Housing Corporation are interesting and ought to be explored and adopted, and that there have been some small increases, the great demands and the potential of the housing association movement — and, one of my particular interests, the housing co-operative movement — are not being harnessed to deal with housing problems. However, I must pay tribute in that regard to the amount of money put into such housing. I am interested in the new challenge funding. The Ravenscroft newbuild co-operative is applying to use that new, different kind of funding which involves the private sector in a newbuild scheme and I hope that it succeeds. However, even if it does succeed, there are many groups and people in housing need in my constituency who cannot possibly use that route and whose needs and problems will not be resolved.

In housing terms, we are faced with plans which do not come near meeting the housing needs. Nor do they help to harness the economic growth potential that undoubtedly exists in the construction industry. If we can harness and direct expenditure in that direction, there will be direct results and spin-offs throughout the economy and a multiplying effect. That can be a real stimulus to the economy, but the opportunity is being missed.

We are also confronted nationally—and I have given examples from my constituency—with examples of how the housing problems are not being met in any reasonable way. The Government's plans reveal an escalation of a growing housing problem which is now reaching crisis proportions.

I turn now to some of the problems that we face nationally. All hon. Members must be aware from their constituency experience of the growing problems with waiting lists. At every advice centre and surgery that I hold, I am confronted by people in desperate housing need, but no end to their problems is in sight. The local authority must deal with priorities which are even greater than theirs. Those problems must be dealt with in areas such as mine. It is simply not good enough to claim that the private sector and owner—occupation will resolve the problems when, for example, I am confronted with between 9,000 and 10,000 unemployed people and their families. The private sector and owner-occupation options are not open to them. They face severe overcrowding and they often live in flats with young children and no gardens.

Another of the national problems at present is that of severe overcrowding. In some families, children of opposite sexes are forced to share bedrooms because of the lack of space. When I became involved in politics 20 years ago, I thought that we would have eradicated that problem by now. However, that problem occurs daily throughout the country.

There is little or no scope in the plans to meet the needs of people who, although cured, are forced to remain in psychiatric units because there is no housing available for them if they leave such units. It is estimated that about 835,000 people are in hospital wards simply because there is no suitable housing for them.

The Government's plans offer little hope of meeting the needs of the homeless. It is all very well to quote statistics about the number of vacant council houses. We know that sometimes the management of empty stock could be improved. However, the truth is that there will always be a proportion of the housing stock standing empty because of the movements of people in the area and the need for improvements to those properties. However, there are still 100,000 people homeless and no light at the end of the tunnel for them. There have been many debates which have raised important points about the growing use of bed and breakfast accommodation for the homeless.

The authority in my constituency is faced with an aging housing stock in the public sector, yet no capital receipts or allocations are available to meet the problems caused by the need for serious repairs. In many instances there is a need for new roofs and window frames, for example. It is estimated that about £20,000 million will be needed to clear the national backlog of repairs, and I do not believe that anything will happen on that scale. There is a problem in the private sector, for it is estimated that about 77 per cent. of all unfit dwellings are to be found within it. I have some examples in my constituency. The Government's plans will do nothing to resolve that problem.

The next Labour Government should have an objective of 1 million new homes so that something can be done to meet demand. That would cost about £28,500 million. We need resources directed to the repair of substandard and seriously defective housing, which would cost about £27,500 million. We need resources to repair the public sector housing stock, and that would require the expenditure of about £20,000 million. Finally, we need the local authorities, the housing association movement, housing co-operative groups and the construction industry to be given the assurance that what they are ready, willing and able to do will happen because the necessary public resources will be provided.

The cost of the programme that I have outlined would be about £1,500 for every man, woman and child in the country. That seems a small price for resolving a housing crisis. Unfortunately, the Government's plans show no prospect of anything being done in the near future.