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

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:26 pm on 5th May 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 4:26 pm, 5th May 2011

I have not read that particular book, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point. In my constituency, we have what used to be called “homes for heroes” estates that were built after the first world war. There are also 1930s garden estates, such as the Wormholt estate in Shepherd’s Bush. Those are fantastic examples of social housing, but the Tory politicians always seem to overlook them when they are decrying social housing and social housing communities.

Getting back to the subject of housing associations, I am going to read from the “Our history” page on the Notting Hill housing association website. Talking about how the association was set up, it says:

“In 1962…our founder Bruce Kenrick…came to live in Notting Hill in West London. He was shocked by social and financial inequalities experienced by poor and immigrant communities in West London. He later wrote:

‘What struck me painfully was the extent to which people’s problems stemmed from housing conditions. Marriages broke up because one or other partner could no longer stand the strain of living in one room with a stove and sink squeezed into one corner.’

In December 1963 Bruce Kenrick, together with a group of equally committed individuals, formed a new, proactive type of voluntary housing organisation. Notting Hill Housing Trust was born. Within our first year, we had bought five houses and housed 57 people. Within five years, we had become a large presence in west London, housing nearly 1,000 people.”

I shall refer to the Notting Hill housing association later in my speech, in a less flattering light. In those days, however, people aspired to build decent housing for the working poor, and indeed for the ordinary citizens of London.

Twenty-five years ago—I think it was 25 years ago this week that I was first elected as a councillor in the London borough of Hammersmith—we had what we then thought was a housing crisis. Now, however, I think we would be quite grateful for the conditions that obtained then. It was a difficult time. Right to buy under the Thatcher Governments had depleted some of the best social housing stock, and problems of disrepair were growing yearly because of the neglect by Tory Governments and Tory councils of the council housing stock, which was already becoming a feature of the division between the political parties on this issue. Overcrowding was increasingly becoming an issue, too. Even in the mid-80s, however, it was possible to have hard-to-let properties; there was not the same degree of pressure or the same level of market rents or prices that forced people to live in ever-more overcrowded housing.

I have glossed over the period of the Labour Government because it has already been dealt with. I will say, however, that I think it was a mixed record. Decent homes was a good programme, but I am not sure that the voice of London was heard strongly enough in those times. Decent homes became so much of a priority that housing supply, which is such a big issue for us today, did not get a fair crack of the whip. I recall that during some of the years when I was running a local authority, we tried by hook and by crook to build as many socially rented and intermediate homes as we could—and we succeeded as best we could—but housing supply remained a failure overall. I regret that. I believe that the last Prime Minister got it and I believe that the present Leader of the Opposition certainly gets it. Prime Minister Blair, however, did not get it when it came to the importance of housing, not just as a public service but as an important part of the country’s economy.

With that brief history, we come to today. Other Members have mentioned the statistics, which are important. The housing waiting list in Hammersmith and Fulham is the highest I think it has ever been, with 9,361 households—more than 12%—on it, even though it is one of the smallest boroughs in London. Those figures are often manipulated. Over the recess, I spent some days on the public inquiry into the new core strategy —this is how I spend my leisure time—and found the council claiming that there were only 3,000 on the waiting list, which is only a third of the official figures according to the House of Commons Library.

As I look down this list, I notice that the famous Tory boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster appear to have low numbers on their waiting lists—just 4% and 7% of their populations. That is half or even a quarter of the figures for some of the Labour boroughs. It is not because there is no housing stress in those boroughs—on the contrary, there is; they have a worse record on the supply of affordable housing than most Labour boroughs. It is because the lists are manipulated in a most unseemly way. People are discouraged in every way from going on the lists.