Housing Waiting Lists

Part of Opposition Day — [5th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:34 pm on 11th February 2009.

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Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government), Vice-Chair (Youth), Conservative Party 3:34 pm, 11th February 2009

Today's debate has been interesting and important. The consequences of the problem of housing waiting lists reach far beyond the lists themselves; the reality is that there is all too often a human and negative impact on a whole range of affected families and communities. I am thinking of problems of education and health inequality, family problems and even crime. We all see such issues in our constituencies; every single week as a London MP, I see constituents in my surgery who face them. We know that, more often than not, a housing issue is at the heart of many of the social problems on our streets and in our homes.

Housing troubles are not the sole cause of society's problems, of course. However, we need to consider the impact on us as a nation of the increased waiting lists that we have seen, certainly in the past 10 to 12 years. Some 1.8 million people are now waiting for social housing in Britain, and they are desperate to get a home. As we have heard today, a growing number of people are homeless—they do not have a home at all. Yet Government statistics are changed and goalposts are moved to make the situation look better than it is. The situation is dire. We all recognise that we cannot fix the problems overnight, but many in the House are concerned that the Government have gone backwards; they certainly have not fixed the problems in the 12 years they have been in power.

There have been a number of passionate and interesting contributions from Members across the House. Mr. Betts, who is no longer in his seat, is a member of the Communities and Local Government Committee. He talked of his experience in Sheffield and the need for more flexibility in the management of housing stock as well as the need for more social housing. He was followed by my hon. Friend Anne Main, also a member of the Select Committee She talked, perhaps more honestly, about the Committee's concerns and what she called the "damning indictment" in its recent report. She expressed her own view, saying that we need to consider very grass-roots issues, including the capability of planning officers up and down the country. We need to make sure that they can get through the developments that communities want.

Mr. Raynsford said that the debate should not come down to numbers, but there is no doubt that the numbers tell the story. As Bob Russell just said, it has been this Government who have dropped the ball on social housing and who, year after year, have created less social housing than the previous Conservative Government did. If social housing had been created at the same rate, nearly 250,000 more social houses would have been built under the Labour Government. That fact is hard to deny. There is a desperate need for housing, but at the same time, as we have heard, there are plans to demolish 400,000 homes in the north of England. That suggests that the Government have no practical housing strategy that will make a difference to the very people who most need one.

One of this afternoon's finest speeches was made by my right hon. Friend Sir George Young, and it followed an unfortunately vitriolic speech from Mr. Slaughter. My right hon. Friend put forward a more reasoned view about the right to buy. As he pointed out, that gave millions of people the chance to buy a home and fulfil the dream of home ownership; without the right to buy, they could never have done that.

Under this Government, the right to buy has been consistently reduced and trimmed back, so that current sales on that basis fell to just 15,000 in 2007-08. Many Government Members criticised the right to buy, yet their own Government have not got rid of it. Nevertheless, they seem to want it to wither on the vine. That is unfortunate, because a report by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, just a few years ago, stated that the right to buy was one of the most successful housing policies because it enabled many households to become owner-occupiers who would otherwise not have been able to do so. The Government's own reports say that it was a successful policy, yet they are not maintaining it. Of course, they have brought forward other schemes such as social homebuy and shared ownerships, but those are all falling well short of the 120,000 sales target that the Government set themselves. So we have a restriction of the right to buy and a restriction in the operation of alternatives whereby people could start to share in the ownership of their home and see a route to owning their own home. Overall, it is a failing policy.

Let us not forget that many people face severe overcrowding in their homes. In London, 98,000 families are living in overcrowded properties, and it is often children who are at the sharp end of that. They must find it like trying to study for their GCSEs on the tube in terms of the amount of privacy and peace that they get. That is the sharp end of this Government's failure to invest in and to create social housing at the levels of the previous Government.

We have also talked about homelessness. Perhaps the people who have suffered most of all are those who do not have a home. We do not even know the exact numbers, but charities such as Crisis estimate that the total number of hidden homeless people may be up to 400,000.

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