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I beg to move,
That this House
believes everyone deserves a decent, affordable home to live in;
regrets that many people are priced out of the communities in which they grew up due to rising house prices and rents;
acknowledges the achievements of the Coalition Government in implementing Help to Buy, bringing empty homes back into use and increasing support for self-build;
condemns the present Government’s housing reforms which will lead to fewer new affordable homes for rent and breakdown in communities by selling off affordable homes with no guarantee of replacement;
further notes their devastating impact on supported housing of the most vulnerable including those with learning disabilities;
recognises the need for a huge increase in the supply of homes due to decades of under-delivery by successive governments;
notes that an increase in apprenticeships and other skills training within the construction industry is required to meet that need;
further notes the particular challenges of affordable housing in rural areas;
regrets that the average cost of a home in London is now over £500,000;
endorses the proposal of London Mayoral candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, to convert the Olympic precept into a funding stream that would enable 200,000 new homes to be built in London;
acknowledges the benefits of building sustainable homes;
and calls on the Government to set out a long-term housing plan to meet the housing needs of future generations which includes lifting the borrowing cap for councils and at least ten new garden cities.
Nothing robs people of their freedom more than poor housing, unaffordable housing or insecure housing. Housing is fundamental to our liberty and it is the entry point to a civilised society, yet despite being one of the world’s richest countries, we have a housing crisis in Britain that stunts freedom and crushes aspiration for many millions of people who want nothing more than to have a decent, secure and affordable place to live.
House prices are now almost seven times average incomes. In my constituency in Cumbria, house prices are 10 times average local incomes. Home ownership is falling, especially among those below the age of 40, and a majority of those who manage to get on the housing ladder have had to rely on the bank of mum and dad. Britain needs an approach to housing which provides people with a genuine opportunity to access the housing they need at an affordable cost, but this is not happening for too many people. That is why I have made housing a key priority for the Liberal Democrats and why we have chosen to talk about housing in our first Opposition day debate of this Parliament.
For decades successive Governments have not built enough homes, leaving the UK with a crippling undersupply and an industry producing only around half the houses that we need. This desperate lack of supply has fuelled rising house prices, with millions now priced out of the communities in which they grew up or the places in which they work. At the same time the lack of affordable housing to rent is at crisis point, with 1.6 million households on the social housing waiting lists and 100,000 homeless children, the most vulnerable people in our society, being let down. I wonder if it is a coincidence that those sections of society most in housing need are those sections of society least likely to cast a vote.
None of this will be fixed by accident or by blinkered ideology. Put simply, we need house building on a scale not seen since the post-war housing crisis was alleviated by Harold Macmillan, whose wise, effective and dogma-free pragmatism saw the building of 300,000 homes a year—the same number, incidentally, as Liberal Democrats have been calling for and continue to call for to tackle our present housing crisis. However, the Government have not yet demonstrated a Macmillan-style commitment to solving this crisis. They have introduced a short-term target of building 1 million homes by 2020, but even that falls well short of need. Of course, setting even an inadequate target is no guarantee that that target will be met.
As a matter of urgency, the Government must give us a long-term plan for fixing the problem of housing supply. We need to know how many homes their current strategy is set to deliver in 20 or 30 years’ time and how those homes will be delivered. Unless we build enough homes to meet demand year after year, housing costs will spiral further out of reach. For those with aspirations of getting on to the housing ladder, their dream will become less and less likely to become a reality.
The coalition Government made a good start on tackling the housing crisis. They inherited a situation in which house building across the UK had dropped to its lowest level since the 1920s, and a waiting list that had increased to 1.7 million in England alone—even higher than it is today. We brought 70,000 empty homes back into use, released enough public sector land for more than 100,000 homes and oversaw the building of 700,000 more homes. We made a start on Ebbsfleet garden city and got rid of 1,000 pages of planning guidance. There was a sincere commitment on the part of the coalition to bring housing back from the brink and to provide homes to buy and to rent. Before anyone jumps in, let me add that that record was far from perfect, but it stands out as a rare example of where a Government took real action to tackle housing need.
Since May 2015, however, without the influence of the Liberal Democrats, the Government have moved in the wrong direction. They have brought forward a Housing and Planning Bill that will all but destroy social housing, that will prevent the building of affordable homes for rent and that merely tinkers around the edges in an attempt to increase supply, rather than pushing forward the ambitious, radical plan for housing that Britain desperately needs.