We would never introduce the kind of unfair flexibility—if I can call it that—that the Government are now promoting. The simple reality is that hard-hit areas will be hit even harder in the next stages, be they in Wales, the north-east, the north-west, Birmingham or Northern Ireland.
In the time remaining to me, let me deal with something that commanded but a passing reference in yesterday’s Budget—housing. We have the biggest housing crisis in a generation. Millions of people in Britain are in need of a decent home at a price that they can afford. About 2.8 million people are on council waiting lists, 30,000 of them in the city of Birmingham. Owing to the combination of this Government’s economic mismanagement and the failure of their housing policies, this crisis gets worse by the day.
House building was down by 11% over the first 18 months of this Government in comparison with the last 18 months of the Labour Government. It was the vainglorious boast of the Housing Minister who gives hubris a bad name that he would beat Labour “hands down” year on year, but that is not what is now happening. Homelessness is up, with families presenting themselves as homeless up by 14%. Rough sleeping is up 23%, yet it fell by 70% under the Labour Government. We have a mortgage market where millions struggle to get a mortgage. Scottish Widows estimates the average age of unassisted first-time buyers to be going up from 37 to 40 to 44. We have a private rented sector growing rapidly which is characterised by soaring rents and, all too often, abuse of tenants.
What, then, of the “housing revolution” announced by the Government in November last year? All I would say is that if we had a house for every press statement issued before and after that time, we would not have a housing crisis. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister donned wellies and went to a building site to say that all would be well. What came out the following day, however, was that as a consequence of the £4 billion cut instituted by the Chancellor in October 2010, affordable house building had collapsed by 99% throughout England.
What of the new homes bonus? It is both inefficient and unfair, while our planning system is being thrown into chaos by the Government.