Employment, Universities and Skills and Housing

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 7:42 pm on 8th December 2008.

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Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) (Housing and Planning) 7:42 pm, 8th December 2008

The rules of the House dictate that Liberal Democrats get just one Front-Bench contribution during the day's debate on the Gracious Speech. Bearing that in mind, and given current economic circumstances, we felt that housing was the most pressing of the three important issues grouped together for debate today. That is why I, as the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for housing, am speaking on behalf of my colleagues—it is not just because I miss debating with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills and Mr. Willetts. I have say, however, that, a year on, it does not seem that the debate has moved on a great deal— [Interruption.] I am making no comment on that, but explaining why I—rather than my hon. Friend Stephen Williams, who shadows the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills—am responding to the debate.

I am relieved to note that Mr. Hayes was in his place for the opening speeches, despite his pantomime —[Interruption.] There is obviously a comic genius on the Government Front Bench. It is a little odd that the Conservative housing spokesperson is not in his place today, especially when I thought that the Conservatives had actually chosen the particular days for these debates. I know that they have been changed, but it seems a little strange. I do not know whether the Conservative Whips fail to communicate well with their own Members or whether this subject has just dropped down the priority list during the week.

The housing crisis in this country is not new and it is not merely a product of the recession. Waiting lists for affordable housing to rent have been rising steadily over the last decade in which Labour has been in power and now stand at around 1.7 million families. In common with those of most other Members, my advice surgeries are filled with desperate families struggling to get decent accommodation they can afford. There are families suffering overcrowding and families whose children have nowhere to play, let alone do their homework; there are families whose children are sharing the parent's bed because another sibling is already sleeping on the sofa; there are families for whom overcrowding is causing condensation, which has led in turn to mould so that the children all have asthma—or, even worse, the whole family has tuberculosis. That may sound like Victorian Britain, but it is happening in new Labour Britain today. This problem is not new; it is just getting worse.

About 90,000 children live in temporary accommodation in England, and two thirds of those live in London. In some boroughs such as Haringey, one in seven children live in temporary accommodation; in Brent, the comparable figure is one in 10. One of my constituents, who is almost my age, has spent her entire life in temporary accommodation. She was born into temporary accommodation and is now raising her own children in temporary accommodation; the repeated moves and long-term uncertainty have blighted a whole generation.

This country's housing crisis has been and continues to be about supply and demand, and it affects everyone in the chain: it prices homes out of reach for first-time buyers, it prices renting out of reach even for some families on average earnings, and it puts huge downward pressure on those at the bottom of the earnings table who are forced to queue hopelessly for social housing. What is new is the impact of the recession on those who were previously secure in their homes: families who could afford to pay the rent but who, now out of work, find themselves looking for emergency help from their council; and families owning their own property whose circumstances changed so that they find themselves falling behind with their mortgage payments.

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