Social and Economic Policies

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 6th April 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Roy Hattersley Mr Roy Hattersley , Birmingham Sparkbrook 3:32 pm, 6th April 1987

The right hon. and learned Gentleman believed it then, but he does not believe it now that his talents have been recognised and he has been elevated to the glory of special assistant to Lord Young. I believe it now, and I believe that it should be introduced in a way that protects families and concentrates resources on them. All the evidence confirms that the families most in need, the 4 million unemployed, pensioners and families on wages that hold them below the poverty line, suffer from multiple deprivation under the Government. All the deprivations — low income, reduced services, reduced benefits, deteriorating housing and increasingly inadequate medical care—come together.

In Britain today, 800,000 families are in need of decent housing. Those families live in multiple occupation, in homes unfit for human habitation and in slums and tenements. The Building Employers Confederation reports an annual shortfall between demand and supply of 100,000 houses. That annual shortfall, like the total shortage, is the direct result of the Government's abandonment of public sector housebuilding. In 1978, 107,000 municipal houses were built in Britain. Last year the total was barely a quarter of that, at 31,000. Homelessness has doubled since the Government were elected, and let there be no doubt why that is: the Government have turned their back on those in greatest housing need. Meanwhile, the highest earners with the largest mortgages enjoy the highest tax relief on their investments and on their appreciating assets.

The remedy for the housing crisis will come when we again begin to build public sector housing. That process will help in the general reduction of unemployment, which has been the prime cause of increased poverty during the past eight years. The indictment of the Government for the jobs that they have lost and the unemployment that they have caused demonstrates two distinct tragedies: first, the widening gulf between those who are at work and those who are unemployed; and, secondly, the widening gulf between the nations and the regions of the United Kingdom.

In East Anglia, employees in work have increased by 8·5 per cent. in eight years; in the south-east there has been a job loss of about 2 per cent.; but in Wales the total number of jobs has fallen by almost 17 per cent.; in the north-west by 15 per cent.; in the northern region by 14 per cent.; and in the west midlands by 10 per cent. Exactly the same pattern applies for the long-term unemployed. In the west midlands, almost a third of the unemployed have been without work for more than a year. In the north and north-west, it is almost as bad at 29 per cent. To the Government, Scotland, Wales, the north, the north-west and the industrial midlands are distant countries about which they know little—and care even less.

A similar rule—neglect of those most in need—has applied to the provision of health care.