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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:54 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 12:54 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a district councillor in Lancashire, and I too used to be chairman of the housing committee. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, and am absolutely sure I would have agreed with every word he would have said in his last four minutes.

For all the faults of local authorities over the years and some of the major mistakes that were made, council housing is one of the great success stories of the last century. The more that that is said, the better. I remember when social housing was a new term introduced from America and we did not like it, because in America it meant housing for the down and outs and people at the bottom of the pile. The problem, as some people have said, is that that is what it is turning into in many places in this country. Council housing at its best was housing run by and provided by the local community for the local community. It provided so many families with a decent quality of life.

The same was true of local housing associations when they started. They were set up as locally controlled and relatively small, providing for local needs. Nowadays, a lot of housing associations have simply turned into large non-profit-making housing companies. Why it is thought that affordable and social housing should be provided by companies like this, rather than by democratically elected local authorities, is a mystery to me. Yet many local authorities, including my own I regret to say, were bribed and bullied—by the Labour Government in our case—into a stock transfer to a housing association. We were bribed because of the vast amount of money the Government gave us. Some of it was for housing improvement, renovation and repairs, which was fine, but a lot of it was just money handed out to the council to bribe us to do it. We were bullied into doing it because, if we did not, we would not even get the money to repair the housing. Initially, it was okay, and it was a local housing association with local representation, but it has now become part of a large north of England housing company.

There are two major scandals associated with this. One is the fact that something like two out of five houses—probably more now—sold under right to buy are owned by private landlords. This is not a property-owning democracy where people own their houses under owner-occupation. It is simply a policy of the Tories handing over all this stuff to their mates and to private landlords. I have mates who are private landlords, and there are lots of good ones. But the large private landlord companies, particularly in the big cities, are responsible for a shocking deterioration in the housing stock occupied by the poorest people.

I do not have time to discuss the second scandal, the question of land, but it was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. Until the question of land is sorted out—in the cost of a new house in London and the south-east, something like 70% or more of that is for land; it is payment for nothing other than the uplift to the people who own the land—it will remain an absolute disgrace. The land ought to belong to the people. It does not, but we need some policies that move in that direction.