My Lords, I welcome the housing needs of the nation being, once again, back on the political agenda. In recent weeks we have heard announcements on housing from the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition. In this debate I will resist the temptation to say, “Too little, too late”. Instead, I will say thanks to my noble friend Lord Smith of Leigh for bringing forward this important debate. As a recent past chairperson of Midland Heart housing association, I maintain an interest in the debate on social housing in general.
For many families the current debate on housing is like waiting for a bus. You stand at the bus stop in the pouring rain and keep looking at your watch for what seems like hours, but there is not a bus in sight. Then, without warning, two buses turn up together. Sadly, they are both full and you cannot get on, so the wait continues. That is the hypothetical experience of many families today. I use that analogy because in the current conference season both major parties made bold pledges on how to solve the current housing crisis. I use that term because that is precisely what it is—a crisis. There is more homelessness, more rough sleepers and little hope for the upcoming generation.
During the recent conference season both major political parties pledged to build or make available significant numbers of additional units. The homeless believe that there is hope, but that hope has to be transformed into practical results. Housing is not just about politics; it is about life and reality. The housing shortage underpins a degree of selfishness in our society. We must therefore find a way to resolve the lack of political capital being expended.
If we paid half the attention we pay to Brexit and used half the energy we expend on it on housing instead, I suspect the housing crisis would disappear almost overnight. As we have heard, the Prime Minister has announced an additional investment of £2 billion in affordable housing, which is equivalent to 2,500 homes over two years. However, those with housing needs are not persuaded, and for good reason. It is to be noted that there has been a downward trend in the number of affordable houses being built. The figures are arguable, but it is suggested that around 60,000 were built in 2010 and only around 32,000 in 2015-16. There is therefore a challenge as to how that figure can be increased, because the demands are growing daily.
The Chartered Institute of Housing confirms that the Government’s focus is on affordable homes and not social homes. The social homes requirement is being left behind. There is therefore a debate to be had about equity and justice with regard to public concern about housing. As we speak today, the current rate of housebuilding by government is at its lowest level for generations. It is clear that there is a crisis in the sector. It is widely reported that estate agents have the lowest stock of homes in 40 years, with new instructions falling for the 14th consecutive month, driven by political uncertainty that is underpinned by Brexit fears. It is highly likely that, as the economy tightens, the housing sector will be subjected to further pressures and uncertainty. What is now required to maintain confidence and stability in the housing sector is leadership and support from government.
All of us are therefore required to make a contribution by advocating a recognition that housing is a human need and demand. Today’s debate takes us further towards that reality.