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What is a starter home?

Part of Housing and Planning Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:45 pm on 3rd May 2016.

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Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 7:45 pm, 3rd May 2016

I am a member of Sutton Housing Society Ltd, although I have no pecuniary interest.

I will start where the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee finished, on the issue of supply. The Bill should be about supply in the widest sense, but while I do not doubt that Ministers are seeking to solve housing problems for some, I am afraid that the Bill will do nothing for the people I see regularly in my constituency surgeries. Nothing in it will help the single mother I referred to earlier, living and working in London on £17,000 a year and seeking a better private rented property or social housing through a housing association. Nor will it help the couple I saw a few months ago in a two-bedroom flat with three children, who could not afford the rent in a housing association property, let alone afford to buy in London.

We have heard about the Khan amendments, but perhaps I could throw in the Caroline Pidgeon amendments, which unfortunately do not feature in any of the strings today. The advantage of her proposal for London is that it includes a revenue stream of £2 billion to deliver the housing. Many have said they will deliver housing, but in practice we are still hundreds of thousands of properties short.

The Bill has been subject to an extraordinary number of amendments and no fewer than 13 Government defeats in the Lords, which is testimony to the fact that the Bill was presented to the House lacking a huge amount of detail and clarity. I thought we might get some here but that has not, I am afraid, been the case. The Bill contains provisions that will have extremely concerning consequences for housing in the UK and affordable housing in particular, and the fact that there has been such united cross-party opposition to the Bill in the Lords, including from Cross Benchers, indicates the depth of concern.

The Bill’s focus is on home ownership for better-off renters, but it neglects affordable homes to rent and clearly seeks to reduce the number of social homes provided by local authorities. As Opposition Members have said, the impact will undoubtedly be a rise in homelessness. Furthermore, far too much is being imposed on local authorities, in terms of sales of higher-value council homes, pay to stay and secure tenancies. It is encouraging, however, that the Government have taken on board some of the serious concerns and made concessions in relation to amendments 26 to 36, on abandonment, and amendments 90 and 91, on mandatory electrical safety checks for private tenants. Those are welcome.

I also welcome the Government’s recent inclusion in the Bill of a commitment to replace all homes sold off under the sale of higher-value properties. Replacements are critical to whether the Bill will have a devastating impact on social housing. In the past, promises of replacement have been made but not delivered, and as several Members have mentioned, it is critical that the replacement is like for like, in terms of the type of property, and in the same area.

In London, pay to stay is of particular concern. Some Members might be aware of a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2014 that found that a family of two adults and two children needed an income of £40,000 to have an acceptable standard of living. That was an average across the whole country. Given that that was two years ago and an average for the country as a whole, it is clear that families on £40,000 in London would not be wealthy. I hope that the Government will look favourably on amendment 57, which would raise the threshold by £10,000 and might actually get people up to an acceptable standard of living before their income is reduced by rising rents in their social property. In addition, I will certainly support amendment 55, if it is pressed to a vote, and amendment 54. If they are pressed, I will also support amendments 9 and 47, which were debated earlier.

With that and within your five-minute margin, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will sit down.