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Housing: Long-Term Plan

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:58 pm on 9th February 2016.

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Photo of Teresa Pearce Teresa Pearce Shadow Minister (Housing) 4:58 pm, 9th February 2016

I thank the Minister for his intervention, but with Help to Buy and starter homes, many developers are seeing people queuing round the block for the opportunity to buy the few houses and flats that are available. That shows that people want to buy, but it also shows that more people want to buy than developers have properties to sell. In my experience, such a position simply inflates prices. What is more worrying, however, is the fact that developers can deliver starter homes to help the few, rather than affordable homes that would help the many. I do not think that Labour Front Benchers would have such a problem with starter homes if they were in addition to, but they are not in addition to; they are instead of.

Where are people supposed to live if they cannot afford a starter home? They will find themselves in the private rented sector, with insecure, short-term tenancies, unable to save for deposits on homes of their own because their rents are so high. In 2010, the average deposit was £43,000; it is now close to £60,000. If that trend continues, by 2020 the average deposit will be about £76,000.

At the core of the housing crisis is a fact that has already been touched on. Not enough homes are being built, but although in a year’s time we may be judged by the number of homes that we have built, in 10 years’ time we will be judged on the basis of the quality of what we have built. Although we need to build more homes, it is a question of not just number but quality, and the growing skills shortage in the construction industry seriously threatens our ability to deliver the types of home that we need.

The Construction Industry Training Board recently revealed that in 2013-14 just over 8,000 apprentices had completed their training, 10,000 fewer than in 2008-09. Many construction apprentices are working towards an NVQ level 2 qualification, which means that they will not have the complete skills set that would enable them to become fully trained construction workers. The Government need to tackle that growing skills shortage, because it is a key issue, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it. We need the land, the developers and the people who want to buy, but we also need the people who can build.

In 2010, one of the first decisions made by the Chancellor in the coalition Government was to cut investment in affordable homes. Partly as a result of that short-term cut, the housing benefit bill has risen in the last five years as families have been forced into the expensive private rented sector. The provision of affordable homes would save money for the taxpayer by lowering expenditure on housing benefit.

The housing benefit cuts will have a devastating impact on supported housing, which we debated in the House two weeks ago. The Secretary of State is pressing ahead with the cuts although the evidence review on supported housing that he commissioned, which was supposed to be completed in November last year, has still not been completed. The National Housing Federation predicts that 156,000 supported homes could be forced to close. Moreover, the building of a further 2,400 homes has been stopped because of the proposals. The cuts in housing benefit, which supports thousands of elderly, disabled and homeless people, will have a catastrophic impact on those who can least afford it. Homelessness is becoming a national scandal. According to Shelter, rough sleeping has increased by 55% since 2010. In fact, those statistics understate the true picture, because many thousands of people are hidden from view because they are sofa-surfing or staying temporarily with friends or family, with nowhere to call home. In London, that must be a priority for the next Mayor.