Housing Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:11 pm on 12th January 2004.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 9:11 pm, 12th January 2004

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Resources have to be put in consistently, over the long term. Sufficient police resources must be available to keep up the pressure, because—as we discover when London Members of Parliament meet, as we frequently do—the problem moves from one constituency that has had an effective operation to another down the road.

I shall concentrate on issues of social housing need—the need for a better supply of housing. I recall a time when my hon. Friend Mr. Love and I were active in politics in Haringey. We were both councillors at various times and in the late 1970s we could say proudly that we would never again put children in high-rise properties, that all the new properties we built would be houses with gardens, and that we would attempt to create decent community neighbourhoods. There are some wonderful examples of municipal development by Haringey, Camden, Hackney and Islington in that period, which was a high point for housing, with a Labour Government providing sufficient resources and local authorities with the imagination to develop new estates.

Tragically, a graph of the development of housing would show 100,000 new properties for council rent constructed in 1979, but only a handful—a few thousand—constructed last year by registered social landlords. The situation is desperate. The Government have commissioned a report from Kate Barker on housing supply, which demonstrates some unpalatable truths that we need to understand. It is all very well to assume that there is a market solution to housing need, but the reality is that 70 per cent. of all new households—they are mostly single person, but not all—cannot afford to buy a property. It is impossible to buy a property in my constituency even on an MP's salary without having a property to sell. That is the case for most of London. If someone who earns more than £50,000 a year cannot afford to move on to the housing ladder, what hope is there for a local authority worker, a nurse or a road sweeper?

It gives me no pleasure to say that of the 80,000 homeless people registered nationally, some 30,000 are in London. Over the past five years, the only big increase in London has been in the number of people registered as homeless, living in grossly overcrowded accommodation in hostels or bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The number of new lettings has fallen and the number of new houses built has not increased. It is certainly not keeping pace with the number of people registered as homeless in London.

I congratulate the Government on the money that they have put in to estate improvements, including new roofs, new windows and new landscaping. However, the market created the housing crisis that the poorest people of London and the south-east face at present. The market will not solve that crisis. It will be solved only by sufficient public investment in new housing for build. The Government should not tell those living in overcrowded, badly run, dilapidated estates that the only way to improve their housing stock is to transfer to a registered social landlord who will be allowed to build dozens, if not hundreds, of properties to sell on the remaining bits of open land on those estates. Working-class communities which suffered 18 years of cuts and abuse under the Tories deserve better than that from a Labour Government, so I hope that the Minister will understand the strong feelings that arise when there are votes on housing transfer or, as occurred in Camden recently, on transfer to an arm's-length management organisation.

I represent an inner-city area and I see the desperation of the people who come to my advice bureau—children who are under-achieving at school and truanting, families who are breaking up, unemployment and everything that goes with that misery. Nationally, the picture is clear; there are empty properties in the north-east and the north-west. If people want to move freely from London to those areas that is fine—I wish them well. Good luck to them and I hope that everything works out for them. But for people with an extended community network or from a particular linguistic minority, that is not a credible alternative. We need to invest in council housing in inner London so that the poorest people, who have loyally supported our party for dozens of years, can have hope and aspiration for the future.

I welcome much that is in the Bill. I welcome the aspirations of the decent homes target, but that target cannot be met unless there is sufficient investment in, yes, high-cost areas to ensure that we have decent-quality housing for all those people. The Government will the ends, which are laudable, but they do not provide the means for us to achieve them. I hope that the Bill goes through and that it is improved in Committee, but I hope, too, that the Government will give us a much enhanced housing strategy in the future.