Homelessness and Mortgages

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 16th November 1992.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:45 pm, 16th November 1992

I beg to move, That this House notes the shameful state of housing in Britain and the horrifying total of well over 150,000 families a year now accepted as homeless by local councils; further notes that over 75,000 homes were repossessed last year and that over 190,000 people are now more than six months in arrears with mortgage repayments; deplores the fact that in real terms the proportion of national expenditure spent on housing has more than halved since 1979; recognises that in the Autumn Statement, although Her Majesty's Government has announced a few measures which will assist some of those in need, its proposals are altogether inadequate and have yet again failed to include the release of the accrued £.5·5 billion of local authority capital receipts, higher credit approvals for councils with few or no receipts including those in Scotland, and a nationwide programme of home insulation; believes that the only reliable way out of the recession is a large scale public investment programme of which a central element should be higher capital spending for home renovation and new build; and calls on the Government to introduce such a programme which would rescue the construction industry, boost the general economy and provide real jobs, whilst at the same time ending for many the nightmare of a life in cardboard city, in bed and breakfast accommodation or in a home that is under imminent threat of repossession. It gives me no pleasure to have to introduce a debate on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends on housing, homelessness and the mortgage crisis in Britain. I move the motion because, since the general election, the House has not had the opportunity to debate properly the state of housing in Britain. I move it because the housing crisis is a crisis the length and breadth of the country. I move it because, after 13 years of Tory Government, all their promises have been seen to be shallow and hollow and millions have suffered as a result.

In 1983, the former right hon. Member for Finchley, now Baroness Thatcher, said and had printed in the Conservative party manifesto for that year: Our goal is to make Britain the best housed nation in Europe. Nine years later, I wonder how far she believes that we have moved towards that goal.

The majority of people who come to Members' surgeries—and you, Madam Speaker, will be as aware of this as any other Member of this House—come with housing problems. It is clear to them that housing is the most fundamental issue that a Government must address. It is a kind of fundamental human right.

Housing is a moral issue as well as a practical issue. The Catholic bishops conference stated in 1985: First of all, housing is a moral issue. Decent physical accommodation is a basic need and not a luxury; a right, not a concession. Another quote sums up quite well how important housing is in the spectrum of policies that concern us all: Housing is the greatest of all social needs. It is the first priority among social services. Even the best schools, clinics, hospitals, playing fields and libraries are something of a mockery to those thousands of families who have no decent home of their own. That was a quotation from the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, to the Tory party conference in Blackpool the year after I was born. Everyone of right judgment would agree with Harold Macmillan, and it is a tragedy that the 13 years of Tory rule have not dealt with that agenda in a way that the people of Britain need and would have wished.

We could look at any of the last four Conservative manifestos, but perhaps we should concentrate on the last but one Tory manifesto in the middle of the period in the 1980s which encouraged and pushed people into buying even though one had always understood that it was Tory policy to encourage people to choose—in this case, to choose whether to rent or to buy. The 1987 Tory manifesto stated: Housing is the biggest single investment that most people make, whether in money or in time, skill and effort. In the last eight years, as a result of our policies, we have seen a dramatic increase in home ownership. In the next five years we will complement that with policies designed to improve the supply and condition of the rented housing stock. Four years after the goal of making this country the best-housed nation in Europe, other targets were set—other targets which also have abysmally not been met.

On 4 February 1992, the Minister for Housing and Planning, whom my colleagues and I respect and welcome to his job, when speaking in the "Roof" debate, which we both did, just before the general election, said: The goal has to be a decent home for everyone in the tenure that he or she wants and at the price that he or she can afford. There is a consistency about the rhetoric. There is also, tragically, a consistency about the practice.