Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry

Part of Humanitarian Situation in Mosul – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 12th July 2017.

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Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee 3:02 pm, 12th July 2017

Absolutely—that is precisely the point I was coming on to make. The money will come out of the housing revenue account, which is, of course, funded from rents. In the 2015 Budget, the Government decided that rents would not rise by CPI plus 1%, but would actually fall by 1% per year. It is estimated that that will have a massive effect, with many billions of pounds less—about £40 billion over 30 years—coming into housing revenue accounts. Councils can, of course, borrow money, but the amount is capped by the Government.

When the Government cap rents and borrowing, where can local authorities go to find the money to show, in the Minister’s terms, that they can afford to do this work? All they can do is to cut other planned expenditure for the maintenance of social housing. Solving one problem will simply lead to other problems unless the Government are prepared to find the money. It is as simple as that, and I hope the Minister will reflect on this very seriously. Local authorities should not have to show either that they will not build a few social houses that they were going to build, or that they will cut maintenance programmes so that they can prove that they can afford to provide extra money for the necessary work on tower blocks. Instead, the Government should say that all the necessary work approved by local fire authorities to make tower blocks safe will be eligible for extra Government money. It is a very simple request, and if the Minister could say yes, he would resolve an awful lot of concerns and difficulties in this debate.

In a slightly wider context, we simply must start to view social housing differently. There has been a tendency in the past few years to see social housing as poor housing for poor people, and to think that anything will do for the people who live there. I have to tell Ministers that that is somewhat reflected in the pay to stay scheme. Fortunately, the Government have recently made the scheme voluntary for social housing landlords, not compulsory. In other words, there is a view that those who can afford it—slightly better-off tenants—should not be in social housing. I disagree: social housing should be there for those who need it.

Such thinking is also reflected in the proposal to sell high-value council assets. In other words, there is a view that if council housing is good and decent, it should not be council housing any longer. That is wrong as well. The proposal to fund the right to buy for housing association tenants seems to have been put on the back burner. Again, the Minister could address that by saying that we will have good-quality social housing in the future that will remain as social housing for those who need it.