British House Building Industry

Part of Uk Shared Prosperity Fund – in the House of Commons at 4:40 pm on 5th September 2019.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 4:40 pm, 5th September 2019

I thank my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh for securing the debate through the Backbench Business Committee. She is right to highlight these issues. Surely, in this world of inequality, individuals should not be lining their own pockets with millions of pounds in bonuses taken from taxpayers’ money. Our focus needs to be on all our people, not just the few. Other Members raised the issue of leasehold. I invite the Minister to solve the crisis by adopting our approach to leasehold.

A home is at the heart of our lives. It is the foundation on which we grow up and raise our own families—the bedrock for our dreams and aspirations. It helps us to belong and shapes who we are and what we do. Yet, as others have said, we have a housing crisis in our country. We all know it, but successive Ministers seem to have had little motivation to do anything about it. There has been a steady rise in homelessness, in rough sleeping and in hidden homelessness—people or families who are considered homeless but whose situation is not visible—either on the streets or in official statistics, with those forced into the world of sofa surfing, living in make- shift rooms in overcrowded dwellings, or maybe even in a car. That was also highlighted by my hon. Friend Justin Madders. It is not a situation fit for 21st-century Britain.

When Labour left office, housing was at the heart of our decision making: we had just pulled the country back from the cliff edge of the global recession; we had just switched funding from other Departments to deliver the biggest investment in social housing in a generation; and we had just protected people’s homes with Labour’s mortgage rescue scheme, which, along with other actions, meant that repossessions were over a third lower than in 1991, when Tory inaction led to 75,000 homes being repossessed. Over the whole 13 years that Labour spent in power, home ownership soared. Since then the number of home-owning households has fallen under the Tories. Under Labour, the number rose by over 1 million. House building grew. We built almost 2 million homes. After years of high homelessness under the Tories, Labour cut it by 62%. We brought over 1 million homes up to standard as part of our decent homes programme.

Since 2010, however, the number of new social rented homes has fallen by over 95%, and we are now building 30,000 fewer social rented homes each year; house building still has not recovered to the level it was at before the global financial crisis; the overall level of home ownership has fallen since 2010, from 67% to 64% last year; average private rents have risen by £1,900 a year; and—something that should shame us all—in the sixth biggest economy in the world, we have seen rough sleeping more than double over the past nine years.

After nearly a decade of failure, it is clear that the Conservatives have no credible plan to build the number of homes we need. Labour will draw a line under the failure of the past and put building new homes at the heart of government. For the first time ever, a Labour Government will establish a fully-fledged department for housing. Ministers will be challenged at each step by a new Office for Budget Responsibility-style office for housing delivery, which will be an independent auditor of house building projections, delivery plans and progress against Government targets. We will set the new department a target of building at least 1 million new, genuinely affordable homes in England over 10 years, including a major council house building programme. We will bring forward more land for development at a lower price, by setting a new role for the Homes and Communities Agency as the Government’s main housing delivery body, and we will protect the green belt.

We will introduce a revolutionary new type of housing, “first buy homes”, with housing costs for new build homes benchmarked at a third of local average incomes so that homes are priced at what local people can afford, not what makes developers the most money. We will also introduce a tough “first dibs” rule on new housing developments to give local people confidence that homes built in their area can be for them and their families. Developers will be forced to market new homes to local first-time buyers first, not to overseas buyers or those with no connection to the area. We will act on those 750,000 empty plots that are sitting doing nothing and bring them into use.

Some may question what exactly we can do to tackle homelessness. Last week I visited St Mungo’s and learned about its initiatives to help reduce the impact of homelessness, including “no second night out”. I also visited AKT—formerly the Albert Kennedy Trust—and heard directly from some young LGBT people who had experienced homelessness, and who told me what housing support they needed. Organisations such as St Mungo’s and AKT do excellent work in supporting people who need help, and they truly set an example of what can be achieved with vision and passion. Any Government could learn much from both those organisations.

Ultimately, this comes back to the availability of housing stock. We cannot provide people with decent, affordable homes if we simply do not have the stock. We need to build, and build fast. However, we cannot compromise on quality or affordability. It means very little for thousands of new homes to spring up in an area if the people who live in that area cannot afford them.

Rental costs should not account for two thirds of tenants’ incomes, and it is on social housing that we must focus to address the housing crisis. Labour has already made a commitment to stop the sell-off of 50,000 social rented homes a year by suspending the right to buy, and to transform the planning system with a new duty to deliver affordable homes in order to make more land available more cheaply. Councils are not adequately staffed to oversee planning applications, and the industry does not have the skills and innovation to deliver what we need. Labour will ensure that both councils and the industry have what they require.

Everyone should have a safe place that they can call home, but that is so often not the case. A young person may not be able to return to the family home because he or she is at risk of harm. An older person may not be able to go upstairs safely, and may therefore need a different type of accommodation. A survivor of domestic violence may need somewhere safe to rebuild his or her life. A family may be sleeping in a car because it is cleaner, and perhaps safer, than temporary accommodation. I am thinking of some of the destroyed families referred to by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms.

Successive Tory Governments have failed all those people. It is time that we had a Labour Government putting housing front and centre, putting right the failures, and sorting out the crisis that so many face today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden said, we have done it before and we will do it again.