Backbench Business — [25th Allotted Day] — Social Housing in London

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 12:02 pm on 5th May 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 12:02 pm, 5th May 2011

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has represented his constituency and pointed out what the council in Hammersmith and Fulham is doing, and what he is trying to do to meet the needs of people who are in desperate housing need.

I come back to the issue of people on housing waiting lists. What is the route for a homeless family, or a concealed homeless or about-to-be-evicted homeless family, in an inner-London borough, or probably any other London borough? If they go to the council and present themselves as homeless, they will probably get a hostel place. Hostels are grim places and have a devastating effect on the psychology and well-being of children who go into them. If they are there for a long time, it is an awful experience. If they knew it was for one, two, three weeks or a month, and that at the end of that they would have a secure council flat, that would probably be bearable. But if they are there for six months or longer and are told that the only pathway out is to go into private rented accommodation, and they ask me as their MP whether to accept that, I have to say that they must, because if they do not the council will have absolved itself of its responsibility to them.

A member of that family will say, “But Jeremy, housing benefit will have to pay this huge rent, and that means I can’t get a job, otherwise I will lose the housing benefit.” They are moving into the most awful bind. Quite often they are placed in flats in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton—no reflection on him; quite the opposite—and they then come and tell me what the flat is like: slum landlord, inefficient heating, badly maintained, possibly vermin infested. They can get no redress from the landlord because the landlord knows for certain that there will be no problem in renting it again through an agency. We report the matter to the local authority but this can go on for years. They move from one private rented property to another until, perhaps five or 10 years down the line, they achieve the gold medal of a council flat. That is a lifetime for a child. They will move primary schools several times, lose their friends and social contacts, their youth club and their networks. That is what is happening to dozens and dozens of children and families all over the city at this time.

I ask the Government: please think through what is happening. Think of the desire for somewhere safe and secure to live. Think of the housing benefit that is being wasted in excessive rents to private landlords, and allow local authorities to do what the old London county council, the Greater London council, and lots of London boroughs of all political parties did, which was to invest in good-quality bricks and mortar of secure housing for people to live in, which they could call their own home and know is their own home. That is what brings about stability in communities. The alternative leads to underachievement, homelessness, crime and the misery of unsustainable communities.

I do not call such building a waste. I listen with interest when building workers tell me that they are being laid off because there is nothing for them to do. There is a housing crisis out there that can be solved by the building of new properties that can put those people to good work and solve the social problems at the same time. London is crying out for a socially responsible approach to housing. Let us not leave it all to the market; The market is what created the problem in the first place.