Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation — Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 25th March 2013.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 4:47 pm, 25th March 2013

I draw the attention of the House to an indirect interest, declarable but not registerable, as my wife receives rental income from a property.

We welcome this opportunity to discuss the Budget and housing. The housing crisis has come upon us over many years—people living longer, a rising population, the breakdown of relationships and new families looking for a secure home. There is rising demand but not enough supply. The well housed—the majority—are affected only when they think about where their children can afford to live, whether they want to rent or to buy; while the younger generation, priced out of the market, see their dream of home ownership recede into the distance.

The Minister responsible for planning, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Nick Boles, expressed the consequences eloquently in his Policy Exchange speech earlier this year, when he talked about the misery of young families forced to grow up in tiny flats with no outside space, and working men and women in their 20s and 30s having to live with their parents or share bedrooms with friends. Doing something about that is a task for all of us. We have to harness land, money and consent to build the communities we need so that young people and families can build a better future.

Ministers have made big claims for what was announced in the Budget. Of course we welcome steps that will enable people to get a foot on the housing ladder, and where they work, we will support them; after all, helping people to get a home is exactly what we have been calling on the Government to do. But the proof will lie in the detail of the schemes and on progress in actually managing to build more homes. As always with the Secretary of State, the issue is not so much his stated intention as his delivery. Perhaps that explains why we have had four major housing launches over the past three years and more than 300 announcements on housing; and why, in his recent speech to the Conservative spring conference on what he had actually achieved, the Secretary of State devoted three words to building more houses, and 194 words to talking about closing down a bar in the basement of his Department.

In the past few days, headline after headline has queried the Government’s grasp of the detail of its latest scheme. The Chancellor did not seem to know, and neither did the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, whether the scheme could indeed act as a spare-home subsidy, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor memorably christened it; whereas they certainly know that they are forcing social tenants out of their own homes because they have a spare room.

Let us begin by examining the facts about the Government’s record. Housing starts fell by 11% last year to 98,000. The number of private homes started was down; the number of local authority homes started was down; and the number of housing association homes started was down—indeed, the figure of 19,460 was the lowest for eight years.