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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:22 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 12:22 pm, 31st January 2019

I welcome this opportunity to talk about social housing and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling the question for debate. Harold Macmillan responded to Rachman, who had died a few years before, by having a unified House that brought in the rent tribunal. The rent tribunal meant that people like me could rent a flat, disagree with the rent, go to the rent tribunal and spend three or six months playing around so that the landlord did not get his money. This led to a 40% fall in the amount of cheap housing in the private sector. Until that point, only 30% of the population of the UK was in social housing. Enormous pressure was put on social housing, which meant that local authorities, and then the increasing number of housing associations, dealt only with the desperate. That ended social housing once and for all. You then have a new form of social housing, full of ghettos of profoundly needy people, instead of it being sociable housing, as it was before, with a mix of tenants, including working people.

I was born in a London Irish slum. We eventually got a council flat in Fulham in 1956. In the block of flats that we lived in, there were policemen, teachers, our first parking warden, caretakers and lorry drivers, and mixed in with them were the needy—people who were disabled and so on. It was sociable housing. We lost sociable housing when, with the best will in the world, the Rent Act took out of circulation a large amount of private housing, putting enormous pressure on local authorities. The local authorities, unable to meet the housing need, said that people had to fulfil the most dreadful criteria to be given social housing. So the next generation of my family, who lived in Fulham, never got social housing. We have to avoid that situation.

We also have to avoid what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when we pulled down the crap put up in the 1950s and the Ronan Points that went up in the 1960s. We have to be very careful how we do this. We can call for all the social housing that we want but let us make it sociable. When only 0.5% of children living in social housing will get to university, it means that we have the worst form of social engineering possible.