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

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 5th May 2011.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 2:01 pm, 5th May 2011

Today’s debate is very valuable and I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on securing it. I do not always agree with everything he says, but on this point there is a lot of common ground between his party, mine and that of my colleagues in the coalition Government.

Labour Members speak about housing as though it is an issue that affects only them and their constituents. We are demonstrating today that there is a housing problem across London that is experienced by all Members, particularly in their surgeries and postbags. People regularly come to see me about this in my surgery and I feel a fraud in many ways because they are concerned and upset about their housing or lack of housing and I know that we will not be able to do anything to help. I feel greatly sorry for them and we recommend that they go to the private sector in the knowledge that we have nothing in the public or social rented sectors.

I want to cover a few points that the Government are addressing as well as to speak about my experience. Some people seem to think that all London is completely the same, but it is not. We have diverse areas and different experiences, which is exemplified in the housing crisis across the city. It is a crisis; we have a problem. Many people are not only unable to afford their own homes but have a problem housing themselves in the type of quality accommodation we would expect all our families to live in.

That is why it is vital that the Government and local authorities continue to promote the development of attractive mixed-tenure communities in our local areas instead of the monolithic estates about which many of us have been concerned. We have seen not a rush but an agenda to knock those estates down, and they are crime-ridden in many parts of London. Promoting such a development is the only way we will help people into home ownership. At the very least we should change their tenancies so they are better suited to individual needs. That is how we will stop people being trapped in that vicious dependency cycle.

I shall not reel off a lot of statistics, but one thing that I am very keen on—I spoke about it in my maiden speech—is social aspiration. I do not believe that people who go into the social rented sector lack social aspiration, but I do think that they have it hammered out of them. In 2008-09, only 49% of tenants of working age in the social rented sector were in work, down from 71% in 1981. I have heard the comments about cardboard boxes under Blackfriars bridge, but they do not stack up with the statistics. In comparison, in that same year, 89% of home owners, and 75% of private renters, of working age were in work. About 60% of social rented households report that they are in receipt of housing benefit compared with just 20% in the private rented sector. I would not say that people in the social rented sector were failures, but I believe that they certainly end up feeling that they are at a disadvantage in comparison with other people who are perhaps attracted to, or able to afford, the private rented sector.