British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:35 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth 4:35 pm, 5th September 2019

I thank the previous speakers, including my hon. Friend Justin Madders for his excellent speech on leasehold issues. He is such an expert—as ever—because he has such a problem in his area, but that is not unique and we have some of the same issues in London with flatted developments.

I also thank my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh for the excellent work that she has been doing on this important issue and for securing this debate. I am not sure whether it is a relief to discuss something other than Brexit, but this is as much, if not more, of a crisis, certainly for those who are affected.

In my maiden speech, I referred to my forebears, who recognised the importance of good-quality housing for people’s wellbeing, lives and, I have to say, their productivity in their factory. My forebears built good-quality, affordable housing until the state took on that responsibility. From the ’40s onwards, Governments of both persuasions built tens of thousands of council homes a year to ensure that the British people were adequately housed, but we have been walking away from that in the last 10 or more years.

For most of my political life, I was a councillor in Hounslow. Even in outer London until about 10 years ago, a family on an ordinary income could afford to buy their own home, so they did not need social rented housing. They did not put additional pressure on council housing. Since house prices have increased, however, people need a household income of £72,000 in Hounslow to buy even a two-bedroom flat, yet the average household income is £40,000.

We need 1.2 million new council and social rented homes in this country because that is the number of households on the housing needs register. That does not count people who are not disabled and working-age adults who have to rent. The number of people in that category has gone up 100% in just over 10 years. Under the right to buy, most councils, including even those that are building housing—Hounslow is building about 400 new council homes a year—are losing council homes faster than they are building them. Right to buy homes are often becoming private rented stock at three times the council rent levels.

Of course, we need house builders to be on our side. As others have mentioned so eloquently, they need to address the leasehold issue. They also need to take responsibility for the shocking faults in many new-build properties. There is variation between developers, and they cannot hide behind the fact that there is a skills shortage. There is one and they need to take responsibility for it, but so do the Government, because much of the skills shortage in construction results from the fact that a large proportion of our construction workforce are EU nationals and many are leaving, or are no longer coming in the same numbers because of the uncertainty that has been mentioned many times in this Chamber. They do not feel welcome and do not have security as workers in this country.

I am sure that the Minister will respond with warm and hopeful words, as Ministers always do. The new Government may even intend to do something significant about the housing crisis, although I suspect that they will not be around for long enough to implement anything. I advise them, however, not to fall into having the problems that some previous Ministers have had. This includes the risk of unintended consequences of poorly thought-out policies. I will mention two of them.

Let us have no more schemes, such as Help to Buy, that just give discounts to those who can afford to buy anyway. Let us not rush through planning changes such as those to permitted development rights, which have allowed the appalling chicken coops in old factories and offices, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden.