I should like to draw hon. Members' attention to my entry in the Register of Members' Interests, as a member until May of one of the housing authorities in my constituency.
I am pleased to be called to speak in this debate, which I consider to be vital to many of my constituents and to the people of this country as a whole. It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, who spoke quite a few words of wisdom—I hope that the Government are in listening mode.
I welcome the Bill because if we get it right—I believe that the broad thrust is right—it will greatly improve housing. We all know what the problem is, as it has already been mentioned by other speakers. There are just not enough houses to meet the demand out there for people, and families in particular, to be housed. For the past 25 years or more, we have taken our eye off the ball, although we are all to blame to some extent. There is a substantial problem in my constituency and, from what we have heard, those of other hon. Members, too.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of right to buy—I do not intend to go over those today—without building houses to replace those that were sold off, let alone additional houses to meet the growing demand of an expanding and changing population, we have created a severe shortage in socially rented accommodation in parts of the country. That is certainly the case in my constituency, as an average advice bureau in any of the seven venues in the Stockport and Tameside parts of my seat would bear out.
How did we get where we are today? As we know, not only have local authorities been stripped of their financial ability to build more homes for rent, but they have struggled adequately to maintain the ever-diminishing stock that they managed, to the extent that billions of pounds of repair backlogs built up over the years. The investment made in those houses after 1997, bringing them up to the newly defined decent homes standard, was definitely the right focus for the Government initially. The work done by Irwell Valley housing association and the New Charter housing trust group in Tameside and by Stockport homes in Reddish is a testament to the massive investment in stock renewal that the Government have permitted and pursued.
New windows, doors, bathrooms and kitchens are fantastic, but only if people have a roof over their heads in the first instance. For too many people coming through the door of my advice bureau, there is no realistic prospect of being offered a home in the socially rented sector in the first place, because there are just not enough to go around. Like other hon. Members, I find it disheartening that, because of how the system works, younger couples—working but on low wages, struggling to do their best and bringing up families—just do not have enough points ever to be allocated anything.
Those are the very same kinds of families who after the second world war could expect a nice new council house—a semi-detached house, with a front and back garden for the children to play in. That provision was also there, just about, for their children, but sadly not for their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren. The reality today is that some of those young couples are forced to split up because of the lack of any prospect of being housed as a family. Some live in cramped conditions, with a friend or at mum's and dad's house, in the hope that the letter from the housing department offering them a house will come through the letterbox. That is far from ideal, but it is sadly a common occurrence I hear about at my advice surgeries.
The situation is made worse in that some of those families would previously have had the option of buying a small terraced property, of which there is a plentiful supply throughout my constituency. In the past, such a property was an ideal starter home for those who could just about scrape enough together to cover a small mortgage. However, over the past 10 years the property market in Denton and Reddish has boomed—excellent news for those with their feet already on the property ladder, but not good news for those starting out today.
The property market in my constituency has seen a 398 per cent. increase in a decade, albeit from a low starting point. The average cost of that small terraced house in Denton and Reddish is now £140,000. Some hon. Members might think, "£140,000? Wow—affordable housing!", but what is affordable to some is out of the price range of others. The average wage of my constituents is £16,800 a year, although for many it is much less than that, placing even terraced housing firmly beyond their reach. So the social rented sector is no longer an option and, for many now, neither is buying. At present, therefore, the only option seems to be the private rented sector.
Let me put it on record that there are some very good, honest, decent private landlords. I do not wish to tar all private landlords with the same brush. However, in my constituency and elsewhere rogue landlords are operating. They do not care a jot about their tenants or about the conditions in which they are forced to live. I have seen squalid conditions over which the local authority has few powers to intervene.
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