I welcome the efforts that my hon. Friend has described. I said a moment ago that this is a responsibility for all of us, but I cannot promise to resist the temptations presented by the Secretary of State, given what he had to say.
Ministers do not want to talk about housing starts, because the figures are bad, so instead they want to focus on completions. Let us have a look at them. The facts are pretty stark. The number of completions in
England in each of the first two years of the coalition Government was lower than in any one of the 13 years of the Labour Government. In other words, we completed more homes in every one of those years than the Government have managed in either year since they were elected. Indeed, the Secretary of State has the dubious distinction of presiding over the lowest level of completions by any peacetime Government since the mid-1920s. That is some achievement. No wonder the construction industry has been so hard hit. Eighty thousand construction workers are out of work, and output has fallen by 8.2%, contributing a great deal to the absence of growth in the British economy. The rate of home ownership has fallen, and there are 136,000 fewer home owners than when the Government came to power. That is hitting the youngest hardest, because the average age of a first-time buyer is now 37.
Official statistics from the Secretary of State’s Homes and Communities Agency show that affordable housing starts collapsed in the last financial year by 68%; homelessness and rough sleeping are up by a third since the election; the number of families with children and/or a pregnant woman housed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for six weeks or more has risen by over 800% since the coalition came together; and 125 councils have had families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for six weeks or more. As private rents have continued their relentless rise and incomes are squeezed, more people in work have to claim housing benefit to help them pay the rent.