Budget Resolutions - Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 1st November 2018.

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Photo of Ed Miliband Ed Miliband Labour, Doncaster North 1:27 pm, 1st November 2018

My hon. Friend makes an important point.

The second principle is that we need to acknowledge that the Government have come to see social housing as a residual for the neediest in our society, but that was not the origin of social housing. It was a tool to meet the needs of middle and lower-income families. That is particularly relevant today, given that 2016 figures from Shelter show that 78% of private renting households cannot afford to buy, even with Help to Buy. Why should the choice for those families be confined to the often substandard and highly expensive private rented sector? They should have a chance of social housing too. As one of my fellow Shelter commissioners—who happens to be a Conservative—puts it, we need to think again of social housing as meeting aspiration and need. That is a fundamental change, but it was part of the original vision of everyone from Nye Bevan to Harold Macmillan.

The third principle relates to the intervention by David Morris—the question of where we put our money. Essentially, the choice that has been made since Lady Thatcher has been to put money into housing benefit and various subsidies including Help to Buy. What we have again missed is that investing in housing is investing in an essential part of our infrastructure. Dare I say it, it is as much a part of our essential infrastructure as transport—including High Speed 2—or schools and hospitals, and it is value for money because of the return on that investment.

In case hon. Members do not take my word for it, they can listen to Lord Porter, the Conservative chair of the Local Government Association. I have only just discovered Lord Porter—an important discovery. On Monday he proposed that we build not 10,000 but 100,000 social homes a year, saying:

“The gains are enormous. Investments in social housing could generate returns up to £320bn over 50 years, helping countless families along the way by creating local jobs and building homes people need and can afford.”

The reason I talk about those principles is that they drive the scale of the response. If we recognise the principles of the limits to the market, who social housing should be for and the that fact there is a return on investment—that to borrow to invest in social housing is a sensible move for the country—we will be led to a much bigger response than we saw in the Budget. As I said, it is good that the Government have changed course in a number of respects, but this is an era for boldness, not incrementalism, and I am afraid that the scale of boldness required is not in the Budget.

I will end by discussing why this really matters. It is actually about Brexit—I am sorry about that. The vote to leave was in part a cry of pain about the loss of hope and the loss of a sense of community. We should not idealise the past, but social housing was absolutely part of that. But this is not just about nostalgia. It is about whether people’s kids and grandkids will have a better life. And here’s the thing: in a world and a country where we seem divided on everything, this issue unites remain voters and leave voters, young people and old people, people in the south and people in the north. Whatever happens with Brexit, we need to bring the country together. I can think of nothing more likely to unite people across the divides than long-term investment in social housing, but it needs to be at scale. Incrementalism is not enough; we need a bolder offer. It is there in our history, from Bevan to Macmillan, and we need a Government who will discover it.