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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North 7:00 pm, 3rd May 2016

Funnily enough, that is almost the thrust of my argument. Things that are applicable in the hon. Lady’s constituency are not necessarily applicable in mine, so we want to have local flexibility and the freedom to develop a strategy that meets local needs. Also, I do not see why my constituents who are in housing need should fund home ownership for her constituents. We absolutely have to meet local needs; that is intrinsic to the idea of a local authority having statutory duties to meet housing need. I am afraid that I do not accept her point at all.

I know that other people want to speak, so I will not dwell on the issue that has already been raised—I have also raised it previously—about the income that people need to afford starter homes in places such as central London. It seems extraordinary that, on one hand, we think that social housing is a rare good that has to be rationed because we have to speak the language of priorities, but, on the other hand, our priorities are such that we can afford to give a 20% discount to people with incomes of up to £77,000 in central London. My colleagues and I, and Westminster City Council, make it absolutely clear that the strategy, as it is being imposed across the country, will have a very serious and negative effect in central London. It will provide a windfall gain for a very lucky and small cohort of people—good luck to them—but that, critically, will be bought at the expense of others.

I remind the House what we have seen in recent years as a consequence of the Government’s catastrophic housing failure. In my area, we have 600 fewer social housing units than we had in 2009. We have 2,414 households in temporary accommodation. The number of people in housing need on the housing register has doubled to 4,500 since it was redefined, and reduced, in 2012. We have 1.2 million people on the housing register across the country. There has been an 80% rise in homelessness acceptances in London. We have seen a soaring housing benefit bill in the private sector, and a time bomb of housing benefit expenditure is coming down the line as low-income households are forced into the private rented sector. That is all before the Government cut housing benefit still further.

I end by going back to the point about the lottery. Good luck to those people who get the benefit of high value starter homes, but why should that be at the expense of people such as my constituents: the healthcare assistant I met last week, who is bidding for housing association homes where the monthly rent is more than her take-home pay; the family so overcrowded that their little son, who is suffering from skin cancer, has to share a bed with his siblings; the family of six—two parents and four young adults, two of whom are severely disabled—in a property so small that their wheelchair-bound son is unable to do his required physiotherapy; or the mum with two young children who was moved from Westminster and her local job to the edge of London, from where she has to commute in, getting her children up at 5.30 in the morning and returning home at 9.15 in the evening, who is weeping with the stress of her experience—it is duplicated in hundreds of other families—and who tells me that her daughter does not want to live with her anymore because she cannot bear the stress of homelessness? The Housing and Planning Bill, unfortunately, says that those people and their needs do not matter, and that housing will not be provided for people like them.

Much as I applaud initiatives to support affordable home ownership—and I do—I do not think that it should be achieved at the expense of people in housing need. That is what the Bill does, and that is why it is so pernicious. That is why I hope that we will be able to secure progress on at least some of the amendments that were achieved in the other place a couple of weeks ago.