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My Lords, for the record I will take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend on her maiden speech. She has much to offer your Lordships’ House. I also thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for securing this able and timely report.
It is timely for a number of reasons, but I shall draw to the attention of the House the report from Shelter that tells us that more than 250,000 people are now homeless in England on any given night. Many are in temporary accommodation or are sofa-surfing, as it is candidly put. More than 4,000 people are sleeping rough.
In 1967 the first English housing survey was published. Some 50 years later, the Department for Communities and Local Government reported that the social rented sector was down 30% from its target. In response to the post-war housing need, local authorities and housing associations built nearly 4.5 million social homes at an average rate of more than 126,000 a year. That figure stands as a challenge, but in 1980 local authorities’ ability to build and manage social housing was restricted. That year, just over 94,000 social homes were built. Three years later, supply had halved. Last year, it was down to a shameful 6,463 homes. That is an indictment of the nation and of decision makers.
Instead of spending on building social housing, the Government are spending billions of pounds on housing benefit, much of which goes to private landlords. There is no return on that sort of public spending. Councils are now spending more than £996 million a year on temporary accommodation—a rise of 71% in the last five years. Those figures tell us that the problem is getting progressively worse. The effects of bad housing do not stop at the doorstep. It increases costs to the National Health Service and to education, and much more.
I commend Shelter’s housing commissioners, who have called in support and professionalism to make an assessment of the scale of the problem as they see it. They are seeking to recapture the original purpose of social housing, and I am sure that this debate will energise their efforts. I am also sure that noble Lords taking part in this debate will look to see what precisely Shelter will produce, so that we can take the benefits of this debate and integrate them as practical policy promotions.
I conclude by paraphrasing the President of Harvard University: “If you think solving the housing problem is expensive, try the cost of homelessness”.