Housing

Part of Statutory Instruments, &C. – in the House of Commons at 7:23 pm on 3rd July 1990.

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Photo of Mr Bryan Gould Mr Bryan Gould , Dagenham 7:23 pm, 3rd July 1990

I hope to meet the hon. Gentleman's points before the end of my remarks.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence for Members of Parliament is that presented to us through our postbags and at the surgeries which most hon. Members hold in their constituencies. I hold regular surgeries, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman does in his constituency. In recent years I have noticed a worrying and remorseless rise in the proportion of cases brought to me which involve housing needs. I estimate that perhaps 70 per cent.—sometimes more, but certainly 70 per cent.—of all my constituency cases involve some degree of unmet housing need.

By the end of a long evening—perhaps three or four hours—considering such a range of problems, I feel profoundly depressed. That must be an experience common to hon. Members on both sides of the House, when we not only witness a parade of human misery, which is depressing in itself, but have to acknowledge that we cannot do anything, even in conjunction with a hard-working local authority, to alleviate the problems of most of those people. The all-too-predictable and depressing aspect of the housing crisis is that it hits those who are most vulnerable.

A recent and good Department of the Environment survey showed that only 3 per cent. of the homeless had incomes at or above the national average. In London, a similar survey showed that fewer than 4 per cent. could afford to buy or rent homes in the private sector. We are dealing with people who are at the bottom of the income scale and, in many cases, are already vulnerable because of a physical or mental incapacity that makes it difficult for them to handle their affairs properly. We are often dealing with people who, by reason of membership of a minority, ethnic or otherwise, are likely to be discriminated against and to find themselves at the bottom of the pile. I fear that those groups are strongly represented in the numbers of those who are increasingly finding it difficult to be adequately housed.

Britain is a rich country, still full of resources—at least according to some Conservative Members—and at the end of a decade of prosperity. It has certainly had an unprecedented bonus from North sea oil perhaps £120 billion to £130 billion of North sea wealth that was not previously available. How is it that a country that spends a great deal, perhaps notoriously, of its natural resources on housing and on subsidised housing can fail to provide adequate housing for a substantial minority of the least fortunate citizens in our midst?

The facts that underline the problem can be simply stated. The problem arises, not surprisingly, because there is a shortage of housing at prices that people can afford. That shortage arises primarily because we have not built enough homes. Housing completions for 1989 made a total for that decade that was the lowest peacetime total of housing completions since the first world war. That failure occurred right across the board. If the trend established by the preceding Labour Government had been maintained this Government would have built an additional 600,000 houses. They would have reduced by 200,000 the number of houses that lack one basic amenity. There is a substantial shortfall because of the Government's failure to maintain the record established by the previous Labour Government.