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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:15 pm, 3rd May 2016

It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Hollinrake.

I shall be brief, because I know that the hour of the vote is upon us, but I could not resist speaking. Since I was elected a year ago, 1,300 people have come to my advice surgery or have contacted me, and 60% of complaints have been about housing. People have wanted to get on to the housing ladder, have been party to unsatisfactory private rental agreements, or have desperately needed a social home.

It is great that so many London Members have spoken today. Many of us look forward to a wonderful result on Thursday and a more positive approach to housing in London. I am sorry to say that, when it comes to housing for people on ordinary incomes, the record of the current Mayor of London has been pathetic. As a council leader—I must declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association—I was involved in a number of rows with him. When the council said, “This must be 50% genuinely affordable,” he changed the definition of affordable homes to 80% of the market rate which, in inner London, is utterly unaffordable for the average worker. He also called in applications proactively. When we had agreed with developers about 50% affordability, he turned the application on its head and gave in to the developers. We need a Mayor who will stand up for Londoners and hold developers’ feet to the fire. We need a Mayor who will do the opposite of what was done then and call in developments when councils are not providing enough affordable property.

Let me say a little about the private rented sector. This is not just a London issue, because 4 million families in the country are now renting private property. This is not just a minority interest for London Members; the problem exists across the board. The insecurity that families in the private rented sector feel must be taken much more seriously. It is a crying shame that, notwithstanding all the parliamentary time that we have had in which to debate this matter, and despite all the thinking that has been done in the House of Lords and here in the House of Commons, we have come up with no more than paltry recommendations for an unfair housing sector in which rents go up at the drop of a hat, agents can charge ridiculous fees just to photocopy a rental agreement, and people regularly have to change schools and GPs, which involves a massive cost. In the previous Parliament, housing benefit cost us £60 billion, which could have been spent on building more affordable homes. Why do we think that housing is such a wonderful investment for the private sector? Because of the returns. An investment of £100,000 returns that money after 10 years. It is an excellent investment, which is why housing is so expensive.

I see that you are restless for the vote, Madam Deputy Speaker, so let me end by saying that we must have some leadership from the Government on social housing. There are virtually no proposals, apart from that on starter homes, for the active promotion of high-quality communities with a mix of social homes, private homes, starter homes and key worker homes. We need to be able to take an active interest in how we shape our communities and neighbourhoods so that they are genuinely mixed, rather than being the ghettoes that proposals of this kind could potentially create.