Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:24 pm on 15th February 1993.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Battle John Battle , Leeds West 6:24 pm, 15th February 1993

No, I must move on. I want to give the Minister time to reply.

In our society there are 80,000 single homeless people. We now face the introduction of care in the community, without the proper backing. The Minister should remember the line in the White Paper: Housing is the key to independent living. Unless the resources to provide such housing are passed on to local authorities, we shall face increasing homelessness among the most marginalised members of our society—those who may be discharged from hospitals. It will stare us in the face from 1 April this year.

I could echo some of the local comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. In Yorkshire, homelessness has risen by 60 per cent. in the past six years; in Leeds, there has been a 34 per cent. increase in homelessness inquiries between 1988–89 and 1991–92. Last year, there were 10,000 inquiries; 10,000 people applied for housing, and were registered as homeless. A total of 24,000 households are on waiting lists; the figure is up 30 per cent. since 1983–84.

In 1980–81, Leeds city council built 1,200 homes; in 1991–92, it could build only 18. That is a telling figure. There is not enough housing to rent. The council was not even able to replace the housing that it had lost through sales, including housing association accommodation. Although homes are now coming from housing associations in partnership with the local authority, the authority is not being allowed to use capital receipts to replace the rented housing that has been lost. It is no wonder that people are homeless. One third of the homeless people in Leeds have been in care, and those people are vulnerable.

The Government should examine, across Departments, the desperate need for supported accommodation for young people. The private market is not providing it, and housing associations have been priced out of special needs. Who will provide those homes? The Government's cool complacency reflects a chillingly barren policy, and an absence of real, co-ordinated housing action. The housing crisis is frozen in the permafrost of the economic recession which is gripping the country.

The real dereliction, as will be revealed when the English house conditions survey is published later this year, is the dereliction of duty by a Government and a Minister attempting to sustain an image of competence from day to day, floated on daily departmental press releases as one phoney piecemeal initiative after another is launched, sinks and is launched again. Two weeks ago, for instance, we received a press release telling us of the virtues of the "flats over shops" initiative. Last week, the annual report of the Department of the Environment told us that there would be nothing in the 1995–96 budget programme. We are told that the capital partnership initiative has a future, but the annual report provides nothing in the 1994–95 budget.

Action could be taken, however. I will put a five-point action plan to the Minister. First, more rented housing should be provided. On every working day since June 1979, 600 building workers have lost their jobs; they have continued to do so, yet there are fields full of bricks in Bedfordshire. The need is there, the skills are there, the materials are there and the resources are there; yet £5–7 billion is locked up in capital receipts. That money could be used to provide housing. The Government refuse to link jobs and housing, which flies in the face of ordinary common sense. The Government can and must provide more rented housing. What is needed is a housing need package, not a housing market package.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to extend the rough sleepers initiative beyond London. Sixty per cent. of those sleeping rough are on the streets of Brighton, Bristol and other towns and cities throughout the land. Thirdly, the Government should immediately restore income support for 16 and 17-year-olds, which was removed by the present Prime Minister in 1988. The removal of that benefit is increasingly seen as a cause of homelessness among young people.

Fourthly, the Government should publish and use the English house conditions survey, which will s how that nearly 1.5 million properties are now in serious disrepair. They should use it as a renovation and renewal charter, change the failed means-tested improvement grant system and ensure that the construction industry is free of the increases in value-added tax on building repairs that we are told the Budget may contain. Such increases would drive the construction industry even further back.

Fifthly, the Government could support and publicise a real mortgage rescue scheme. I suggest that the Minister take a look at the Bradford and Bingley building society, and support fully mutual housing associations which allow families to remain in their own homes and be charged rent. The Government should support mortgage-to-rent schemes rather than rent-to-mortgage schemes.

To sum up my five points for action, I suggest more rented housing, an extension of the rough sleepers scheme, the restoration of income support for youngsters, the use of the English house conditions survey for renewal and improvement, and support for real mortgage rescue schemes. Too many people are being denied the basic right to a decent, affordable and secure home.

The current housing crisis is the most vivid symbol of the failure of the free market myth. What is needed is real choice, not just abuse of the word. Without real choice between tenures, which must include the right to rent, millions will remain locked out of decent housing that they can call a home of their own.