Housing and Regeneration Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:39 pm on 27th November 2007.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Labour, Islington South and Finsbury 7:39 pm, 27th November 2007

I have been advised that I should declare an interest before participating in the debate. I refer hon. Members to the Register of Members' Interests. When my brothers and I left home my mum was living on her own in a three-bedroom council house, so I helped her to buy a flat. The house was therefore released back to the council so that another family could live in it. When my brother resettled in England after working for nearly 20 years in central Africa as an aid worker, I gave him the money for the deposit on his one-bedroom flat. My husband owns a house that is rented out to some young people whom we know, who are on low incomes.

Until I was elected, I had no particular interest in housing, except perhaps from my own experience of how desperately we need to provide social housing. When I was seven, the bailiffs came. I remember that they wore bowler hats and they chucked us out of our house. We had nowhere to go. Thankfully, we were given a council house. I do not know what would have happened to us otherwise. I hate to think.

I now represent an area that has one of the worst housing crises in the country, and for me housing has become a passion. I do what I can. Sometimes it is hard, and I am willing to admit that some of my housing cases keep me awake at night because sometimes all I can give my constituents is tissues.

Last month a woman came to see me. I shall call her Jackie. She has two little children. She was going to be evicted the next week. The rent that she had to pay on her flat was far too much. She could not possibly afford it, so she had got behind and was about to become intentionally homeless. Islington council therefore had no obligation to rehouse her and would not do so. She was desperate to stay in the borough where her children were at school, but she has had to move many miles away to a private rented flat. I could not help her and her family get affordable housing in Islington.

I cannot say that that is the hardest case that I have had to deal with, but I raise it now because it reminded me so much of the situation that my mother was in 40 years go. The position has not got any better over 40 years. The overcrowding is worse and homeless families continue to face terrible crises. In Islington there are 13,000 families waiting for housing. Two thirds of those are living in overcrowded conditions. It is estimated that in the next two years 7,000 more households will be created, but the houses will not be built. Islington's housing crisis is desperate. The market cannot and will not provide.

The median income in Islington is about £25,000 a year. The entry level price for a two-bedroom flat is about £300,000, which is 12 times the median income. In this week's paper, the cheapest one-bedroom flat, an ex-council flat, is £250,000. That is 10 times the median income. What about the private sector and private rented homes? Unfortunately, there is nothing there approaching an affordable rent. The cheapest one- bedroom flat in this week's local paper is £210 a week. The person on a median income, £25,000, is taking home £320 a week, so paying £210 in rent leaves only £110 for food, bills, travel, council tax and so on.

Our median person, one of the 7,000 new households, cannot rent or buy in Islington. What will happen to them? Many of my constituents are poorer than the median person. The average household income of people on council estates in my constituency is £15,000 a year, and nearly half of my constituents live in social housing. Many of those households include children.

That brings us back to social housing and the 13,000 families on the council waiting list. Allocations are managed by a system that is laughably called choice-based lettings. There is no choice and there are hardly any lettings. Only those in the top half of the waiting list are even allowed to bid for properties. The bottom half, 6,500 families, have to hang on until things get better, and they are not getting better.

Perhaps the Opposition Members, none of whom is still in the Chamber, who campaigned so actively to ensure that we do not build any more affordable homes would like to guess where the woman whom I am about to describe is on the waiting list. She came to see me a year ago. She is a single mother with one child. She is homeless through no fault of her own and is living in a hostel provided by the council. Let us call her Fatima. She has one room in the hostel. That is no place to bring up a child. Hostels should be for emergencies.

Where is Fatima in the list of 13,000—in the top 1,000, who might have a chance of getting a home in the next year? No, because she is not seriously ill and nor is her child. Is she in the top 2,000, who could reasonably expect to be rehoused in the next two years? No. Fatima is in the bottom 6,500—those who have no chance of ever getting an affordable house in Islington. She came to see me again in my surgery recently. She still does not have enough points to bid for a home, so she is stuck in the hostel with a larger toddler now. She is on income support. Should she go to a one- bedroom flat in the private market at £210 a week? What would happen if she got a job? How would she feed herself and her child? Surely it makes sense for us to build enough affordable housing for rent so that my constituent has a chance of a home for herself and her child.

My Lib Dem Islington council's record on the matter is a disgrace. Councillors must be disconnected from real life in Islington. I cannot believe that they are intrinsically evil or wicked people, but they do not seem to understand the crisis. They will not stand up to developers and they will not refuse planning permission unless half of it is affordable housing that my Islington families can afford. Instead, only one in seven of all new homes that are being built in Islington is affordable rented housing. It is not good enough. I am pleased that the Government will step in.

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