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Queen’s Speech - Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:27 pm on 21st October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Shipley Lord Shipley Liberal Democrat 6:27 pm, 21st October 2019

My Lords, I want to say something about housing but I first pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, for his work as a Minister, particularly in relation to the private rented sector. It was always a pleasure to work with him.

I declare my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association. The Queen’s Speech says very little about housing. Indeed, in the five days of our debate, there is no mention of housing as a topic, despite the Government’s continual claims that they are committed to solving the housing crisis. The truth is that there is an absence of both money and clear policy objectives to solve that crisis. Some extra money was put into reducing homelessness over the summer, but it was insufficient. As the noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded us, at the Housing 2019 conference, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, said that social housing has been a,

“victim of the single-minded drive for home ownership”.

She was right, but the big new idea of the current Housing Secretary seems to be to extend the right to buy to housing association properties. The problem he needs to solve first is the lack of supply of properties that people can afford to live in. This initiative seems more likely to worsen the housing crisis.

There is rising homelessness caused by the lack of supply of social homes. There are 277,000 people homeless in England today, with 7,000 families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation costing £93 million in the past year. There are 62,000 families homeless in England in temporary accommodation. Shelter reports that 3 million social homes are needed over the next 20 years, yet the Government built only 6,500 in the past year. Our waiting lists for social housing have a million people on them and the dream of home ownership is out of reach for many people. So I ask the Minister this specific question: will the Budget due next month start to address this serious lack of resources?

In London in June, the Greater London Authority and the G15 group of housing associations said that the government grant for affordable homes in London needed to increase sevenfold, to £4.9 billion a year. That is evidence of the scale of the problem that the Government need to address. Meanwhile, in the past two years, the 50 biggest housing associations have built more homes for market sale than they have for social rent. Given all the evidence, I conclude that the Government should suspend the right to buy, not extend it.

In this Queen’s Speech, I welcome the building safety standards Bill to improve high-rise safety, in particular, proposals around accountability and the enforcement of compliance. There are suggestions that there could be a Bill on reforming leasehold and commonhold; that would be welcome, as would the further strengthening of regulation in the private rented sector. Regarding the private rented sector, I hope that the Government will proceed with ending the Section 21 “no fault” termination of tenancies at six months. Can the Minister confirm the timings on that?

Today, the average price of a home is eight times average wages. In London and the south-east, it can be 12 to 15 times. Only 38% of people under the age of 34 own their own home. Thirty years ago, it was two-thirds. Generation Rent has pointed out that four in 10 young people live in the private rented sector. Twenty years ago, it was just one in 10. I conclude that the priority should be increasing the supply of new housing and doing so sufficiently to make housing genuinely affordable for those on average and low incomes.

Today, there is a welcome increase in the building programmes of local councils but we need much more. That means greater leadership and finance from the Government now that they claim that austerity is over. It needs a willingness to capture more of the rising value of land with planning permission for community benefit. It means an increase in capital investment in social housing to reduce the high levels of housing benefit going into the private rented sector, which now has to provide accommodation for one in five households.

As we work towards housing costs not exceeding a third of a person’s income, we need to stop calling homes affordable; self-evidently, the Government should not call homes affordable when they are simply not for so many people.