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Social Housing - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:23 pm on 31st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Thurlow Lord Thurlow Crossbench 1:23 pm, 31st January 2019

I too add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on securing this debate; the number of speakers, balanced across all sides of the House, is testament to the severity of the subject being considered. I of course congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her maiden speech, which was powerful and quite emotional. I declare my interest as a small-time landlord, as declared in the register.

This debate is about stark facts. We have heard shocking statistics repeated in several speeches. I will not add to the facts, but they are pretty shocking. There is the number of council houses sold; the lamentable replacement numbers; the affordability of the housing constructed; the rental cost discrepancy between affordable housing, as deals are done with private developers, and council or social housing; waiting lists—here I will add a statistic: Shelter told us that over 1 million households were on waiting lists in 2017; and homelessness. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, made an inspired comment about the cost of homelessness, which is huge. These are all stark facts. While it may be difficult to add to the statistics, this is a take note debate. I hope that the Minister will indeed take note of these shaming numbers coming from all sides of the House.

I think we all agree that there is no quick fix. We need a cohesive strategy and a long-term programme, and we need to reflect regional differences and needs. Perhaps we also need to replace the emphasis on, or reconsider, the right to buy. I have not heard references to the staircasing shared ownership programme, which has been around for many years. It allows the owner of social housing to buy a small percentage of the equity in their property, perhaps 20%—something they can afford. They do not need a big mortgage but something that they can manage, at market value, and when they are ready and if they wish, they can buy some more at the current market value. That should be looked at more carefully. New borrowing powers for local authorities will take time to mature; there is no quick fix.

On cost, clean sites are expensive. The noble Lord, Lord Best, an acknowledged authority, has referred to an interesting proposal to reduce the costs, but why not try harder with brownfield land? It is frequently serviced and centrally located, with good access to transport, hospitals, schools and shops. It needs cleaning up, so get on with it—clean it up anyway. Much of it is in indirect government ownership. It is morally unjustifiable to develop green space, particularly greenfield space, when this is the case.

My three minutes are nearly up. Steadily selling stock without replacement is a spiral—a sure way to make the problem worse. The population is not declining. I have two questions for the Minister. Why are sales not being replaced, and why is there so little funding for local authorities?