Housing: Availability and Affordability - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:46 pm on 12th October 2017.

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Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Labour 12:46 pm, 12th October 2017

My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow that contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham. I was born into a council flat. Just as he found, the joy of an inside toilet and bath, which was utilised once a week—the bath, that is—was an incredible luxury. My first home was a housing association flat. Those same options would not be available to people today. That is why I believe the policy has failed to deliver. Figures in report after report confirm this. As other noble Lords have said, the people sleeping in shelters, on our streets, in our parks and open spaces and on our sofas attest to the failure of housing policy and the so-called affordability of social housing.

Public housing policy, public housebuilding, has been castrated, and no amount of trying to pretend otherwise will change that fact. It is not about Governments expressing concern; if only it were. It is about making homes available for people to live in. However, I believe there is no political will in government to do the right thing, which is to build more public, affordable social housing. If central government will not build then it must allow councils, housing associations and others to borrow the money to do so—if necessary, to borrow against current housing stock, as has been referred to by other noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh, whom I congratulate on initiating this debate. Such investment is called the regeneration of our towns, cities and neighbourhoods and investment in the greatest thing that we have in this country: our people and their future.

Yes, I am angry, but the anger I feel is nothing compared to the deadening anger of despair experienced by hundreds of thousands of people who live with the reality of inadequate homes, sheltered accommodation, emergency accommodation that stretches on for weeks or months, or no home at all. The utter hopelessness and worthlessness that some of these people experience is almost unimaginable, and it shames us all. It shames every single one of us that it occurs in our wealthy economy. It shames us that the basic right to a home is unachievable for hundreds of thousands of people. The right to bring up one’s family in decent accommodation and see one’s children learn and develop within such a home are basic rights that lead to other rights and obligations, but also the obligations of the state.

If people feel that I am overstating the case then I make no apology, because these people’s voices are not being heard. I recognise and applaud the activists and the organisations, but they too are being ignored as the situation worsens. Are we hearing the children in families sharing almost uninhabitable emergency accommodation with others, sleeping in the same bed as or beds adjacent to their parent or parents and siblings, having no environment in which to breathe, grow, learn and develop? The longer there is an absence of housing, the longer we will continue to blight generations yet to come.

We have failed, and there is no sense, no joy and nothing to gain from making party-political points; that serves absolutely no one in need. We must look failure in the face, accept responsibility and bring people together to build the number of homes necessary. We must bring an end to the cap on housing benefit, which traps so many people in desperate situations; we must bring an end to buy to let, which has failed to fill the gap created by a lack of public housing and affordable rents; and we must bring to an end the concept of housing as purely an investment vehicle. The Right to Buy scheme inflicted unimagined damage on public housing stock, and that stock has never been replaced. We must end the rollout of universal credit, too.

From the Government’s own website, we can see that at the end of quarter 2, 2017, there was a total of 78,180 households in temporary accommodation, and the number of children in temporary accommodation at the end of that quarter was 120,170. The total number of children in temporary accommodation has been increasing year on year. There are also specific figures for the number of households with children in bed and breakfasts, and these, too, are shocking. There was a 650% increase in households with children being in B&Bs for more than six weeks from quarter 2, 2010, to quarter 2, 2017.

It is clear that much needs to be done, and we must not forget those who are most vulnerable. In 2014-15, the Albert Kennedy Trust undertook a thorough survey of LGBT youth homelessness. It revealed that LGBT young people are more likely to find themselves homeless than their non-LGBT peers, comprising up to 24% of the youth homeless population.

In closing, I thank Crisis, Shelter, the National Housing Federation, Stonewall, the Albert Kennedy Trust and so many others for their dedication, their action and the information that they make available to us, the policymakers, that gives us the opportunity to deal with the reality of the public housing crisis in this country. In the words of the National Housing Federation:

“We have an urgent obligation—the Government, local government, housing associations and private developers—to act now, and work together to end the housing crisis”.

We cannot say that we have not been warned.