Housing Reform

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 21st November 2011.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Housing) 4:29 pm, 21st November 2011

Housing matters. Good housing can make a world of difference to people’s lives, but bad housing harms health and holds back kids at school.

Britain is gripped by a growing housing crisis. Does the Minister accept that he makes his statement on a day when the figures show that house building is down, homelessness is up, we have a mortgage market in which people cannot get mortgages, and rents are soaring in the private rented sector? Does he also accept that the extra £400 million to build only 16,000 more homes is but a 10th of last year’s cut to housing investment of £4 billion?

Some of today’s announcements are not without merit. The mortgage indemnity scheme is something that we have called for and was pioneered by Labour in

Scotland. However, the Government must get this right. So I ask the Minister: how many lenders have signed up to the scheme? On the sale of council houses, can he guarantee today that, for every house sold, one will be built? Will local authorities be able to keep 100% of the receipts from right-to-buy sales, and will the new council homes be let at the so-called higher, affordable rent linked to market prices? Does he not accept that we cannot have a combination of falling stock and rising rents when the need for good council housing has never been greater? The announcement on the use of public land is welcome. However, does the Minister agree that it is nothing new? Press releases from his Department about where such schemes are happening demonstrate that such things were taking place back in 2006 under a Labour Government. Does he accept that this is the fifth time that the same initiative has been announced?

That goes to the heart of the problem. Today, much has been promised—much has been repeatedly promised—but, in 18 months under this Government, there has been a sorry saga of false dawns, failure and broken promises. The Minister boasted that he would beat Labour hands down when it came to house building, yet new homes are down 6% and housing starts are down 7%. Does the Minister accept his Department’s figures? The Prime Minister once said that homelessness was a disgrace and, together with the Minister, he committed to tackling the issue. Since the general election, homelessness has risen by 10%, yet under Labour, it fell by 70%. Does the Minister agree with Crisis that his policies will make that situation worse?

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has said that he wants to see more young families able to buy their first home, as he did. Yet research by Scottish Widows demonstrates that the average age of the unassisted first-time buyer will increase by seven years, from 37 to 44. However, one promise will be kept. When the Minister for Housing was the shadow Minister for Housing, he said:

“it’s easy for a housing minister to catch your eye with a headline, but much harder to deliver more homes.”

He has been true to his words. After 137 housing announcements, the facts are clear: on every measure, this Government are failing to deliver on housing. The contrast with Labour in government could not be more dramatic. There were 2 million new homes, including 500,000 affordable homes; 1 million families buying their own homes; 1.5 million social homes brought up to standard through the decent homes programme; and tenants’ rights were protected.

Urgent action is needed now. Will the Minister accept that we should repeat the bankers’ bonus tax, so that we can build 25,000 new affordable homes and create 100,000 jobs for our young unemployed to kick-start the economy? Will he support our proposal for a 5% cut to VAT on home improvements, as that would mean that more homes were in a better condition?

There is a human cost to this growing housing crisis: the damp flat where the baby is always ill; proud parents desperate because the kids they love cannot get a mortgage; small construction companies struggling to stay afloat; unemployed building workers desperate to get a job. Those people have had enough of false dawns, grand plans and press launches followed by broken promises and a failure to deliver. Sadly for them, a decent home at a price they can afford has never been further away than it is today.