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

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 5:40 pm on 5th May 2011.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 5:40 pm, 5th May 2011

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but two things have to be recognised. The first is the acceptance in his party’s manifesto that the current model of dealing with housing benefit was not sustainable. Secondly, I will go into this in a little more detail in a moment—I hope that he will forgive me if I return to it in the order that it appears in my speech—but there remain significant numbers of houses in London that are affordable. It cannot be sustainable for people who happen to be in receipt of housing benefit who can afford houses not to have to make the sometimes difficult choices that people in work at lower wages have to make.

I will return to the detail later, because there are some useful points to make. However, it is also worth saying something else—something that I am sure the hon. Gentleman and others will reflect on. I put this as gently as I can to Opposition Members, but they are not really in a position to criticise this Government for trying to do something to deal with the housing crisis in London when they left us in such a heaven’s awful mess in the first place. We heard a grudging acceptance that things were not quite right from some Opposition Members, including one or two who served in the previous Government, but let us put things where they are: the lowest levels of house building in peacetime since 1924; social housing waiting lists at record levels; 250,000 families in social housing living in overcrowded conditions; and—this is a particularly worrying factor—only half of social tenants of working age in work.

That is the inheritance that this coalition Government are trying to pick up, and at a time when there is less money available from the public finances, because of the economic mess that the previous Government left behind. I can understand that people such as the hon. Member for Islington North, who have been consistent in their criticism, are entitled to make the points that they do. However, there are other Opposition Members who—if I may politely say so—have selective memories, and I am not prepared to brook criticism from that source.

There is some common ground between us, however, so let us look at what we need to do. Mr Love talked about the need to increase supply, which is obviously right. We need to increase supply right across the types of tenures that are available, because the complexity of the London housing market is such that there is no single bullet. That point is right, and I will deal with it later. We also need to look at flexibility in social housing, which includes the questions of tenure and so on. There is probably common ground there, too. We also need to accept that there is an obligation to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged—something that I also want to touch on.

On the first point, about supply, I am not going to rehearse the rights and wrongs of our disagreement with Labour about the targets approach to the delivery of housing. We know where the previous Government stood; Labour Members know where we stand. However, at the end of the day, there was a failure to deliver an adequate supply of housing. We are determined to take steps to address that, which is why we are seeking to incentivise housing right across the board. That is why the new homes bonus is an important factor in again giving communities a real stake in giving permissions. That will be important in dealing with the reluctance of some communities previously to accept needed development because they felt that they had no stake in it and that it had been imposed on them without having a proper say-so. That is why we propose to reform the community infrastructure levy and turn it into a localised tariff, so that—to deal with the point that John McDonnell made—the community that receives development has a means of getting back a meaningful proportion of the planning gain arising from it.

Those are some important supply-side issues, but we are also setting aside £1 billion over the comprehensive spending review period for the new homes bonus scheme—I would politely point out to the hon. Member for Edmonton that the first £200 million, in the first year, is additional money from the Treasury. We seek to incentivise those authorities that are prepared to accept necessary and sustainable growth. We are investing a further £6.5 billion in housing, which includes more than £2 billion to make existing social homes decent and nearly £4.5 billion in new affordable housing to help to deliver up to 150,000 affordable homes. There is therefore significant investment taking place, against a background of seeking to pay down the debts that we inherited as a Government.

Those are supply-side issues that we are seeking to deal with, but the other key issue to the supply side is getting the economy right. Ultimately, confidence has to be restored to the markets, so that people start lending and builders can build once more. Getting the economy right—on which the Opposition have not been exactly supportive of the Government so far—is key, too.