I certainly advise those people who come to my surgery of the realities of life and the housing problems that they face under the Conservative Government. I advise them to seek housing association nominations. Lewisham council and its local housing associations work closely together, and the council nominates people to housing association lists. I advise people to seek accommodation in the private rented sector, but they tell me that it is difficult because of the amount of money initially required. People have to pay lump sums that they simply do not have in their pockets, so it is nonsense to suggest that they should use the private rented sector.
Some 5,000 people are in bed and breakfast accommodation which is often poor quality. There are 15,000 people in short-life property and 17,000 in hostels. There are 80,000 people in London in overcrowded households. For any nation to admit to such figures is surely, at the very least, embarrassing. For Britain to do so, with 500,000 construction workers on the dole, is a national disgrace.
Homelessness is only the most obvious expression of the housing crisis in London. We should never forget the thousands of people living in poor and deteriorating housing—the overcrowded families, the people with disabilities trapped in their homes because access is poor or impossible, and the growing numbers of home owners facing mounting debt and repossession.
Let us examine what is happening here in our capital city. More than 1·1 million of London's homes are either unfit for human habitation or are fit but in need of serious renovation; 79 per cent. of the unfit houses—four out of five—are in the private sector. A quarter of a million households are on council waiting lists. Many of them are families with children, elderly people or people with disabilities who need specialist accommodation. More than 60,000 households in London are defined as seriously overcrowded, and about 110,000 council tenants are on council transfer lists.
These are staggering figures, yet in 1991–92 only 500 new homes were built by councils and a further 1,800 were made available through conversion and renovation. To call that a drop in the ocean is an understatement.
London's councils could house only 9,000 families and enable another 17,000 to move. At that rate it will take 25 years to house the people already on waiting lists and another six and a half years to transfer existing council tenants. The fact is, however, that these people will not be rehoused, because others with more pressing needs will join them, every day of every week of every year, in every London borough.
I have already said that the numbers of families in temporary accommodation continue to rise. That is because London's councils are accepting about 38,000 families—as they did in 1991–92—but can provide accommodation for only about 25,000 of them.
We tend to think of the housing crisis as affecting only those who want to rent. That is simply untrue. Although repossessions have slowed a little in the past year, the number of people in arrears has markedly increased. According to some figures, about £169 million is owed to building societies in mortgage arrears. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston spoke about negative equity. Four out of 10 of the people in London who bought their homes between 1988 and 1991 have an average negative equity of £5,500—yet prices continue to fall, and although building societies are beginning to accept lower repayments, I fear that as unemployment relentlessly rises their goodwill will soon disappear and people will be out on the streets.
So what is to be done? Clearly, the Government do not know, and the hon. Member for Basildon has even less understanding of the housing crisis.