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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:06 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Labour 1:06 pm, 31st January 2019

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Orbit group, a large housing association. Few areas of public policy are more pressing than the crisis in the supply of social housing. There has been a terrible failure by successive Governments to address it. Since 2010, the situation has worsened. Both the coalition and Conservative Governments have not taken it seriously enough. Recently, there have been some welcome changes in policy, but they should have been introduced much earlier and they are not nearly ambitious enough.

Decent housing is vital to the quality of life of our citizens, which is greatly damaged if their homes are damp, cold, squalid and overcrowded. It is disgraceful that many children grow up in such homes. The experience will often damage them permanently, denying them the ability to reach their potential at school or beyond. Government investment in social housing should be seen as an investment in well-being and better economic outcomes.

It is also shocking that in a country as rich as the UK there are so many homeless people. The shortage of social housing means that local authorities struggle to meet their statutory duty to provide homes for people sleeping on the streets.

I want to make four points about the Government’s policies. First, the decision to raise the cap on local authority borrowing is welcome, but it is not sufficient. Why not allow local authorities to keep 100% of the receipts from sales to invest in new homes? I hope that the Minister will reply to that. Secondly, why not curtail the right to buy altogether, as has happened in Scotland? We have heard today the figures on the outcome from right to buy. Thirdly, new government grants to both local authorities and housing associations need to be very much higher if the supply of new social housing is to meet the agreed targets. The reduction in the shedloads of money going on housing benefit would in the longer term outweigh the extra investment via government grants—I am sure that the Minister will agree with that.

Finally, as others have said, the availability of land is vital. As my noble friend Lady Warwick implied, the Government need to reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 so that a fairer proportion of the rise in land value is shared in the community. Will they produce a transparent database of land ownership, including that owned by government departments or their agencies, with a view to enforcing the sale of some of that government land for new housebuilding, especially for social housing?