Housing

Part of Opposition Day — [13th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 15th December 2015.

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Photo of Teresa Pearce Teresa Pearce Shadow Minister (Housing) 6:45 pm, 15th December 2015

In a wide-ranging debate, we have heard contributions from Members in all parts of the House, including the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald); my hon. Friends Dr Huq and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter); Huw Merriman; and my hon. Friend Daniel Zeichner. My hon. Friend Jess Phillips made a passionate speech about the human cost of the housing crisis, and my hon. Friend Julie Elliott also spoke with passion about the shortage of social housing. Most interestingly, Mr Bacon spoke of not only his well-known interest in self-build, but his less-known interest in the Deputy Speaker’s shoes.

Clearly, the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges to face our country in recent times, and Members from across this Chamber know the impact that housing has on their constituents’ lives. Mr Walker spoke of his casework, which mirrors mine. My advice surgeries are full of people suffering as a result of the housing crisis, and my inbox and telephone line are jammed with their cases. Rent costs are rising, and there are poor standards in the private rented sector. We have ever-increasing homelessness across the country, both in terms of statutory homeless and rough sleeping. The Government are seemingly committed to seeing the end of the social housing sector as we know it. Fewer homes are being built than at any time since the 1920s and we have a generation of young people priced out of the property market. For five years, the Government have had the chance to tackle this housing crisis head on, but they failed.

It has never been more important to tackle the housing crisis, because housing affects everything—it affects our whole lives. Insecure housing affects our whole society. It affects health, education and productivity. Without a secure roof over our heads, we face uncertainty, instability and doubt. Stable homes make stable communities, and without safe, stable and affordable housing we face pressure across our whole society and across our public services. It affects our schools and our children’s education, with unsettled classes affected by churn and individual children falling behind as they move school again and again. It affects public health and our doctors, who struggle to co-ordinate health awareness campaigns as a result of instability in the housing sector, as residents constantly move between practices. It affects our communities, where many are unable to set down roots, commit to a local area, and join local organisations, sports teams and religious groups. That point was made by my hon. Friend Ms Buck.

The Government claimed that they would build more affordable homes, but the “affordable rent” is not affordable to many people. House of Commons Library research shows that in London it would swallow up 84% of the earnings of a family on an average income and it requires a salary of up to £74,000. This does not just affect London; the contributions we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) showed us that this is a national crisis, not just a London one.

Many of those who cannot afford to buy have to live in the private rented sector, where the Government have failed to increase security and improve standards, and have overseen rents reaching an all-time high. Once the private rented sector was mainly for students and young professionals, but now it is families and the vulnerable who live in the sector. That was spoken about with concern and compassion by Jake Berry. Some 9 million people now rent privately. Almost half of those who rent are over 35. They want the same security and stability that they would have if they owned their home, but they face insecure assured shorthold tenancies, and a Government refusing to encourage long-term tenancies and to tackle rising up-front letting agent fees. While these people pay more, the Government are failing to act to improve standards in the sector. Although the majority of properties in the private rented sector are well maintained and of good quality, there are sadly too many landlords who let properties that are not fit for human habitation. Indeed, the Government’s own statistics say that 16% of private rented sector dwellings are failing the minimum safety standard. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North introduced a private Member’s Bill to make sure that homes were fit for human habitation, it was talked out by Conservative Members, who argued that it would put a huge burden on landlords.