Orders of the Day — Housing (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:11 am on 23rd January 1989.

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Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East 12:11 am, 23rd January 1989

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) has a great deal of expert knowledge of housing and has outlined the problems of Edinburgh and Scotland. I hope that the Minister was listening because those issues are relevant to the living standards and environment of the Scottish people. His message was well worth hearing and I hope that the Minister took note.

Housing support grant is what it says—it is the amount of money central Government are prepared to give to support public housing in Scotland on a national basis. It is clear that the Government are giving less and less to any national housing programme. It is also evident that the Government have no national housing programme in Scotland. Their retreat from providing finance is witness to their lack of commitment to Scotland's housing situation and housing problems.

Since 1979–80, the housing support grant contribution to the housing revenue account has been slashed from 39 per cent. to 7 per cent. In 1989–90, only 23 out of 56 Scottish housing authorities will qualify for any form of housing support grant. By deliberate policy, the Government are withdrawing their financial commitment to any national housing programme.

As a consequence, the burden of financing council homes has shifted on to the tenants, but, at the same time, there has been a continuous reduction in Government funding—it has fallen from £391 million to £60 million when calculated on average prices. That staggering decline in commitment worth £331 million has taken place in less than a decade.

The Government are retreating from the problem. How else can one describe a Government who have done nothing to overcome the damp and decaying conditions prevalent in the Scottish housing stock and who have consistently refused, at the same time, to undertake a Scottish housing conditions survey? They are simply failing to measure up to the problem.

During the past nine years tenants have seen their rents rise by 230 per cent., but capital expenditure on housing has lagged far behind. Therefore, the Scottish tenants are getting the worst of all possible worlds-high rents and reduced housing standards. As a result of the Government's housing policy, more than two thirds of Scotland's housing stock now receives no grant support at a time when thousands of homes are simply below any tolerable standard. Once again the housing support grant settlement shows no national commitment whatsoever to tackling the major problems of homelessness, dirt and overcrowding and the other problems that are endemic in Scotland's housing system. The Government's callous indifference to Scotland's housing crisis is in the order for all to see.

The Government's housing priorities are quite clear when the vast mortgage interest relief subsidies enjoyed. by the south-east of England are compared with the sums being made available to Scottish local authorities. The Government always accuse Scottish council tenants of being sheltered from market forces, yet the £60 million provided for Scottish public sector housing pales into insignificance beside the subsidy of almost £5 billion given to English private housing through mortgage interest tax relief—by a factor of more than 80.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention specifically to homeless persons—a growing problem which the Government have singularly failed to address. The increase for the hostel portion of less than 1 per cent. of the aggregate grant is totally inadequate, but the 33 authorities which do not qualify for housing support grant are placed in an even worse position by the Government after this settlement. I hope that when the Minister has listened to my arguments, and to the points put to him earlier, he will give the House a cast-iron guarantee that he will look at the current legislation and report back with new proposals to help local authorities cope with the growing problem of homelessness.

At present most housing authorities which do not receive housing support grant have to meet all the costs of running their homeless persons' services through the housing revenue account. Surely that is unreasonable. It is unfair that local authority tenants should bear the costs of the statutory service which is used equally by all sectors of the community. Logically those costs should be met from revenue support grant, as that would spread the financial load much more fairly.

Funding hostels for homeless persons is a major problem for the local authorities which own and manage them. Those hostels are notoriously expensive for residents to operate, and even more so taking into account high void levels. I hope that the Minister will address that point when he replies to the debate.

The hostel portion of housing support grant was satisfactory while virtually all authorities were eligible. But when authorities were taken out of grant no account was taken of the grant that they had lost. I understand that a number of authorities such as East Kilbride, Perth and Kinross, Edinburgh and Inverclyde have lost quite substantial financial assistance. For example I understand that the additional combined costs of the homeless persons' service in East Kilbride and the hostel deficit has meant an increase of 75p per week per tenant, given the very small district council housing stock. In Edinburgh the figure is an approximate addition of £1 per month or £12 per tenant per year as an additional burden.

The homeless in Scotland need action, but the Government simply starve them of funds. As COSLA points out, the resources and consents available next year, excluding receipts, represent a cash reduction of £96 million for housing in Scotland.

The Government are producing a cash standstill, assuming that the greatest input to assist housing programmes must inevitably come from council house sales. It is a crazy way to run any council housing policy to say that housing provision will not be determined by the housing needs of the population but by the number of houses that can be sold. That is exactly what the Government are doing. They are imposing another major problem on Scotland's housing.

The proposed paltry increase of £5 million in housing support grant is nothing short of pathetic. As a direct result of Government policy, council house rents inevitably will rise. COSLA estimates that they will increase above the rate of inflation. The tenants are paying the price for the Government's policy. However, tenants in SNP-controlled Angus will benefit from a housing policy which gave them a zero rent increase last year and a small increase this year which keeps Angus tenants well below the Scottish average.