The man who came to see me, although elderly, was not old enough to fall into a category eligible for local authority help. I wanted to take up his case, but he would not allow that because he was afraid of losing what he had. There were no controls to help him and I could not offer him alternative housing. Why not? It was because the Government have cut the public housing sector by two thirds since 1979.
The Duke of Edinburgh's report, that of the Church of England—"Faith in the City"—and just about every independent housing expert have stated clearly that we must reform the housing finance system. If I have God and the royal family on my side, the Tory party should be worried. I repeat my offer to the Government—we will talk with them about all aspects of housing finance and help them to get the necessary policy through the House, subject to two conditions. First, any new or reformed system must be fairer both within the rented and purchase systems and between the two systems. Secondly, any such system must not cause either rent or mortgage payers economic distress.
The Government, through their combined assaults on housing benefit and rents—brought about by their cuts in grants to local authorities—have thrown almost every rent payer into financial crisis. In addition, every time that there has been an increase in the mortgage interest rate and every time that there has been a dramatic increase in unemployment, mortgage payers have been caused economic distress. At the same time, the Government have managed to distort the housing market out of all proportion to its previous state.
The proposal to restructure housing association finance will break up a system that has commanded all-party support. The original legislation was introduced by a Labour Government, but some of the thinking had already been done during the 1970–74 Tory Government. When the Labour party introduced legislation—albeit with amendments—it received a considerable measure of support from Conservative Members.