My Lords, I apologise for my wi-fi glitch and thank the House for allowing me back in.
It would have been my pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and I share her concerns, particularly about discretion for judges. Today’s debate is about emergency evictions, and my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb has addressed the details of that. I am going to look at the broader picture.
We have a profoundly insecure housing model. As in so many other areas, Covid-19 has only exposed pre-existing weaknesses in our society. Houses have been treated primarily as financial assets rather than secure, genuinely affordable places for people to live. Just as in the UK in the depths of the Second World War, there was deep, effective planning for the NHS and the welfare state, we need to be thinking now about a different housing policy future.
In 1979, heading on for half the British population lived in council housing; they were secure. Then right to buy arrived. Now, nearly half the homes purchased under that and not replaced are owned by private landlords, massively subsidised by housing benefit and tax breaks. Money that might have gone into productive economic investments has gone instead into lifting prices. In private rental accommodation of 4.6 million households, one in 10 of which are insecure in the age of Covid, a significant number of tenants are over 50, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, noted.
Insecurity is not the only problem; we know there is a huge problem with quality—draughty, cold, badly maintained housing stock. That poor quality sadly extends to homes being sold now to people who are stretching every financial sinew, with prices supported by Help to Buy, also known as “help to profit” for a few large corporations. In 2019, the National Audit Office noted that many buyers would immediately lurch into negative equity—something now of even greater concern.
It is tempting to think now that we should just patch the worst problems, but we also need to see the Government putting serious work into a different housing model.