Housing

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 28th April 1987.

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Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:34 pm, 28th April 1987

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) made a sensible point when he said that it was vital that people understood there was no such thing as blanket solutions to the housing needs of different areas. Sadly, for all the Government's rhetoric about choice in the housing market, in reality they are trying to impose an ideological straitjacket which simply does not fit. That can be well illustrated by the abysmal failure of the Government's housing policies in Manchester and Greater Manchester.

It is conceded by Labour politicians and our political opponents that at present Manchester has a housing crisis. More than one and a half times the national average of houses in the city of Manchester are considered to be overcrowded, and the position is getting worse, not better. There is a freezing of choice, even in Manchester which has a massively higher number of relets of local authority properties than other authorities. The Government's actions are inflicting human misery throughout the Manchester area because of the resulting housing conditions.

There is a housing stock of nearly 100,000 and about 37,000 people are on the housing waiting list. Many hon. Members may wish to dismiss some of those people, but I do not because each person represents somebody who is badly housed. As everybody involved in housing in Manchester recognises, the housing transfer list will never offer any hope for many people, although their circumstances are intolerable.

Recently a constituency case was brought to my attention of a family living in a three-bedroomed house. The married couple had one bedroom, their teenage son another and their four daughters shared the third. Because of the acute crisis in housing, their problem will not be resolved in the near future. Neither I, nor the chairman of the housing committee as a local councillor can offer them any hope. Such is the misery that is inflicted.

Conservative Members say that the crisis is the fault of the wicked public sector. Sadly, Manchester is now a poor city. About 70 per cent. of its population is described as low-paid by well-established definitions, or as out of work. The proposed private sector solutions are not available to those people and are ridiculous. The same national builders whom my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr said were tickling up house prices in the south-east have approached the local authority in Manchester to ask whether it will buy the houses they have built for purchase because they cannot sell them at cost. Indeed, they cannot even sell the houses when the price is dropped below cost. Therefore, neither national builders nor local builders will build to sell when the housing market in the city simply does not exist.

The pre-first world war terraced houses in Moss Side have been considerably improved, sometimes to a good standard, but those houses cannot be sold easily because the cost of modernisation is greater than their market price. The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) is right to say that such houses should not be demolished, but without a significant public sector contribution they will eventually have to he demolished. The public sector will have to take responsibility for that type of housing in our inner-city areas.

Private rented accommodation simply does not exist. I was perplexed to hear the Minister say that after eight years of Conservative Government there was an awakening private sector about to unleash itself to solve my constituents' problems. Eight years is a long time for people to wait in appalling housing circumstances and it is a long time for a hypocritical Government to discover their compassion for those whose housing conditions are intolerable. It is about time that the Government came clean and said that their ideology is not relevant to areas such as my own.

We can look across the border from the city of Manchester, which is labour-controlled, to the conservative-controlled borough of Trafford, which failed to build any houses for the general housing public sector market, except for a few of what my friends on the local authority called Noddy houses at the time, which the Government put on offer before the general election in 1979, when they said that all authorities that got houses up to the eaves by a certain date could have the money. Trafford Conservative council decided that, for the first time since reorganisation, it would go in for that. It did riot achieve its objective in terms of getting houses up to the required standard and had to pay the full whack itself. But we know that that was just an election ploy, similar to the election ploys that we are seeing now. Clearly, apart from the faint hope for the private sector, housing is riot something on which the Government feel emboldened to offer anything in terms of electoral bribes.

One of the big criticisms by constituents concerns the number of voids in the ownership of both local authorities. This concerns me and must concern everybody. I would feel much better hearing hon. Gentlemen talk about voids in local authority housing stock if they would join us in pressing the Government on this point. On the Langley estate in Manchester some 600 houses are now vacant, which is a very large number; but the reason is that the concrete floors and the sulphate in the soil have made those houses uninhabitable. Yet, when the local authorities approach the Government for the money to repair the houses, that money is simply not available. Manchester is not repairing its housing stock, so it has to see its houses boarded up, vandalised and not let to families which could use them.

The reason for the overwhelming majority of those voids is the underfunding of the capital budget for local authorities, and that is something for which central Government have to take direct responsibility. That situation applies throughout the land.

Housing in this country is now severely underfunded, and this is true of both local authority housing and housing in the hands of owner-occupiers. In my own constituency owner-occupiers, who are very often on moderate incomes, find even the improvement grant system that exists no help to them. One of my unemployed constituents has been trying for some time now to get some assistance with his own home, but when it comes down realities and the funding of his portion of the grant he simply cannot afford to take on that kind of debt. More to the point, he cannot find anybody who would lend it to him. So for many people there is an underfunding of housing.

The private institutions do not cope with that kind of problem. The local authorities are not in a position to do so, not because they do not want to but because the Government will not let them. At the end of the day, the housing crisis in this country is a crisis inflicted by this Government which affects the way of life and the quality of life of the people of Britain.