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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to give my maiden speech today. It is a pleasure to follow Wendy Morton and I congratulate her on her maiden speech. I also add my sincere condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Charles Kennedy, a truly compassionate and decent man.
I am proud to have been elected to serve as the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the area that has been my home for almost 20 years. Dulwich and West Norwood is a wonderful constituency south of the river, encompassing parts of Brixton, Camberwell and Crystal Palace, Dulwich, Herne Hill and West Norwood. It is a diverse constituency in every respect; a microcosm of London. And it is a place of firsts: the first public art gallery in England, Dulwich Picture Gallery; the first London teaching hospital, King’s College hospital; and the home to the first large Caribbean community to settle in London, the Windrush generation. We are a community formed and sustained by our diversity and I will always celebrate the contribution that people from many different parts of the world make to my constituency.
It is a great pleasure to be able to pay tribute to my predecessor, Dame Tessa Jowell. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Tessa was elected as MP for Dulwich in 1992 and for the new Dulwich and West Norwood constituency in 1997. Tessa was a fantastic constituency MP and I know she is much-loved in this place, as she is in Dulwich and West Norwood. She was an MP who delivered for her constituents, transforming education and healthcare in Dulwich and West Norwood with four new secondary schools and the rebuilding of King’s College hospital. She has delivered for the country throughout her distinguished ministerial career, setting up Sure Start and, of course, bringing the 2012 Olympics to London.
At the heart of both Tessa’s politics and mine is the belief that, while working tirelessly to represent everyone, we have a particular responsibility to address disadvantage, especially for children born into poverty. In a society that can be very unequal and where people can easily be divided, we need our community organisations and public services to be the glue that binds us together. I wish Tessa every success in her bid to become Mayor of London. She is just what London needs.
Today, I want to speak about one of the most significant issues facing residents in my constituency: housing. The average cost of a flat in Lambeth and Southwark is £450,000. There are 20,000 people on the waiting lists for a council home in each of those boroughs, while the Government spent more than £10 million in my constituency last year on housing benefit for working households renting privately. Many who live in parts of my constituency where young families could previously afford to settle are deeply worried that this is not a future that their children or grandchildren can look forward to. In recent weeks, I met a family of six, with both parents working and the oldest children studying for exams, living in a two-bedroom privately rented flat; an NHS nurse sleeping with her new-born baby on her grandmother’s sofa; and a cancer patient evicted from her privately rented home by a landlord who simply wanted to increase the rent. Resolving the housing crisis needs a big vision and a comprehensive approach.
After a significant worsening of the housing crisis under the previous Government, I am dismayed that the Gracious Speech offers so few solutions. The central proposal is to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. I support fully the aspiration for home ownership, but as someone who, running a small business, has worked as a town planner with communities across the country for the past 18 years, I know that there are better ways to achieve it. Extending the right to buy will: deliver home ownership for relatively few, while limiting the aspiration of a decent home for many more; reduce the prospect of getting an affordable home to rent for those who are on council waiting lists; reduce the ability of housing associations to deliver new homes; and place further pressures on an already overheated private rented sector.
I am proud to have been a member of Southwark council, which has a bold and ambitious programme to build 11,000 new homes. The proposal to fund the extension of the right to buy to housing associations from the sale of council homes would, quite simply, decimate this programme and force the sale of Southwark’s new homes before they have even been let to the first tenant.
We have a crisis. We need political leadership and a fully formed plan to address it, not a piecemeal approach that looks at only one aspect of the housing sector. We need short-term measures, especially in London, to regulate the private rented sector. We need every local authority in London, irrespective of political colour, to make a full commitment to delivering new genuinely affordable homes and to be held to account for doing so. We need new ways for the public and private sectors to work together to deliver homes across a range of different tenure types, including shared ownership and rent to buy. We need to hold developers to account for building out the planning permissions they hold. We need a plan for engaging and involving communities in this process. Homebuilding must deliver better outcomes for everyone, including existing residents.
I will work tirelessly with and on behalf of my constituents and with our local councils to address the housing crisis in Dulwich and West Norwood, and I call upon the Government to support us in this endeavour.