I believe that my hon. Friend is referring to a statement made by a previous Labour MP, who is now a Trade Commissioner in Brussels, shortly after we came into government in 1997. I was saddened by a current Minister commenting that we should celebrate people being very wealthy. I certainly do not object if people become wealthy by honest work, but the Labour party did not come into existence, and it is not its rationale, to celebrate the very wealthy. It is there to protect the poorest, give them more opportunity and reduce the divide between rich and poor.
Against that background, the epicentre at which the credit crunch will strike the poorer half of the population hardest is housing. There are already 4 million applicants on lists for council and housing association accommodation. That is an average of more than 6,000 per constituency. Obviously the situation varies a great deal in different parts of the country—in my constituency, it is double that number. There are 80,000 people registered homeless nationwide. One way of preventing that huge pool of housing need from ballooning even further—this is a radical proposal, but I would like it to be considered seriously—would be to allow houses at risk of repossession to be bought by public authorities and their owners converted to tenants until such time as they are able to buy again. I should like that possibility, and the economics that might bring it about, to be considered very seriously.
The Government have made a commitment to build an extra 15,000 social or affordable houses a year by 2016. That is probably less than half the number necessary to remove the backlog, but it is very welcome. Yet the housing situation is desperate because, tragically, even that lower total is disappearing before our very eyes.
The Government's objective is to build 240,000 houses next year, and we would all like that to be achieved. Like me, however, other hon. Members will have read the announcement about a week ago from the House Builders Federation that it expects the total to be only 80,000—that is, one third of the objective.
Although the financial backdrop is very difficult, the Government recently promised an extra £200 million for housing. I would be the first to say that that is very welcome, but it is only enough to build around 1,000 or so extra homes. There are also plans for more shared equity, an objective that the Conservative party shares. However, that is almost irrelevant to the core of housing deprivation today.
Mr. Vara can correct me if I am wrong, but the Conservatives have made it clear that they would not build a single new council house. They are completely opposed to building council houses, but they are obsessed with home ownership. Home ownership is fine for those who can afford it, and all of us in the Chamber are probably home owners, but a quarter of our population cannot afford it. All that they get is a cavalier, ideological dismissal of their very great needs.
We are all aware of the state of the public accounts. Given that, the only way out of the present housing crisis that I can see is to allow local authorities to build social or affordable housing by borrowing against the collateral of their housing stock. That is how it should be done, and I desperately hope that the Government will consider that.
In conclusion, I am sure that the Government wanted this welcome debate on the draft legislative programme to restore some momentum to their direction. I strongly urge them to pursue many of the matters that I have raised, as that would significantly help them to achieve that purpose.
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