Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 27th June 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 5:45 pm, 27th June 2017

My Lords, I want to speak today about housing and support for the most vulnerable in our society. I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the trade body which represents England’s housing associations. We were all deeply moved by the tragic news from Grenfell Tower. The level of devastation affecting this community is unimaginable. In the midst of this tragedy, the light in the darkness has been the overwhelming response of the local community and emergency services. The people of Kensington and beyond worked tirelessly to support those affected, offering shelter, supplies and kindness. Our incredible emergency services bravely walked into a scene of incomprehensible horror and danger to save the people of Grenfell Tower. It is truly humbling to see the response to this tragedy and how this community has come together.

The first priority of housing associations is the safety and security of their residents. Since the fire, associations across the country have been completing safety checks, have kept residents up to date on whether their home will need to undergo further testing and have made sure they are aware of all fire safety procedures. Indeed, in the days immediately after the fire, social housing providers offered more than 100 properties from a number of London boroughs to help house those who have been displaced. The National Housing Federation is working alongside the Local Government Association and other sector bodies to deliver the Government’s audit of high-rise blocks. Housing associations are treating this with the utmost urgency, sending samples of cladding to be tested as quickly as possible to ensure that any risks to tenants’ safety are identified and acted on immediately. Housing associations will continue to treat the Government’s audit with the highest priority to ensure that their tenants are safe and that such a tragedy can never happen again.

Turning to the gracious Speech, I welcome the Government’s reiterated commitment to build more homes to address the housing crisis. A report by the charity Shelter, released on Monday, predicted that more than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 as a result of rising rents, benefit freezes and lack of social housing. This must not happen: action is needed now. Housing associations will play a critical role in delivering this. In England alone, they provide 2.5 million homes for more than 5 million people. They build a third of all new homes every year and aim to increase this to 127,000 homes annually by 2033. The Government say they want to create fairness and transparency in the housing market. With recent events on our minds and in our hearts, it is important that we build the future of the housing market with compassion and understanding. We must be firm in making sure that all are protected. A truly fair housing market needs to recognise and respect the diversity of the people it serves and protect the most vulnerable in our society.

That leads me to supported housing. Supported housing provides a secure, safe home for people with support needs, housing older people or those with long-term disabilities. The housing association sector is the largest provider of supported and sheltered housing in the country, helping more than 500,000 people across England to live independently and with dignity. England already has a shortfall of nearly 17,000 supported housing places for working-age people. On current trends, this will rise to more than 35,000 places by 2021; the resulting pressure on other services will cost the taxpayer £668 million.

Developing new schemes needs long-term funding. Making a decision that puts the funding of supported housing on a stable footing for the long term cannot wait any longer. Two cross-party committees of MPs, as well as the federation, have supported a proposal for a different level of allowance for supported housing which reflects the actual costs and which should be paid through the benefits system. It is wrong and inappropriate to base the funding of homes for vulnerable and older people on the lowest rent levels in the private rented sector, as the Government propose, albeit with a local top-up. Supply will simply dry up.

So I ask the Minister to urge his colleagues in government to reflect on the current funding model and amend it to reassure those who rely on this housing for independent living and to give the sector the certainty needed to continue delivering and developing new homes. Will the Minister arrange a meeting between the Secretary of State and housing associations so that they can work together to get this system right? This partnership working is the only sustainable way we can tackle the problems affecting housing in this country and deliver safe, affordable and aspirational homes. As we learn from the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, I urge this House to make sure that the housing of our most vulnerable remains our key concern.