Housing: Overcrowding - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 25 April 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour 3:08, 25 April 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the National Housing Federation’s report, Overcrowding in England, published on 19 April; and, in particular, its finding that one in six children lives in ‘overcrowded conditions’.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The Government are committed to reducing overcrowding by increasing the supply of affordable housing and enabling councils and other social landlords to make better use of their existing homes. We are also consulting on changes to the NPPF to make clear that local authorities should give greater importance to social housing in planning decisions. The current legislative framework maintains that statutory reasonable preference requirements must ensure that social housing is prioritised for those who need it most, including for those in overcrowded housing.

Photo of Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Labour

I thank the Minister for that reply but does she accept that the National Housing Federation’s research has exposed the dire levels of the housing crisis in England? Some 2 million children are forced to live in cramped and overcrowded conditions, with no personal space—that is one in six children. Households from ethnic-minority backgrounds are three times more likely to be affected by overcrowding. There is a general recognition that the leading cause of overcrowding in England is the chronic shortage of social housing, as the Minister has I think acknowledged. Funding for social rent remains at an all-time low. The lack of any funding for regeneration has made investment in existing homes nigh impossible. Does the Minister agree with the National Housing Federation that a long-term, national plan is required to drive up the number of appropriate, affordable homes across England for families right round the country?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Obviously the Government are concerned about overcrowded houses around the country and the report that came out, but I can tell noble Lords what the Government are doing. Now, as we sit here, we have an affordable housing fund of £11.5 billion, and we are putting more priority on using that fund for houses for social rent. The £500 million local authority housing fund is also going out now, to build houses in the next two years where local authorities are under extreme pressure for social housing. As I say, for the future, we are changing the NPPF to ensure that social housing takes a higher priority when local planning authorities are looking at their local plans and prioritising houses for social rent.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Is it not a fact that, over the last five years, there has been a steady decline in social housing? Against that background, will my noble friend look again at this issue and put some drive behind new towns, new cities and new garden cities? Those organisations have relieved a great deal of overcrowding in our cities throughout the United Kingdom and have provided decent housing for families to live in, for the future.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

This is a subject that my noble friend brings up quite often. As I have said, we will continue to look at every solution to the problem of more houses in this country.

Photo of Baroness Thornhill Baroness Thornhill Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, for me, the key issue is the lack of suitable homes for people to upsize to at a rent that they can afford. Will the Government please reconsider unfreezing the local housing allowance to help some families, especially those in the private sector, to upsize and get out of those conditions?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We have no plans to do so at the moment but I will keep the noble Baroness and the House aware of any that we might have in the future.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I am grateful to the National Housing Federation for its excellent report highlighting this crucial issue, and to my noble friend Lady Warwick for her tireless work on housing. The level of overcrowding highlighted by the NHF is one of the strongest indicators of the woeful state of housing in this country and the shameful record of this Government, with only 6,000 social homes built last year and 2 million families on waiting lists. The recent decision to abandon housing targets has exacerbated the housing crisis and will worsen the issue of overcrowded properties. Given that planning applications in England are now at a record low, will the Minister bring forward amendments to the levelling-up Bill to put the targets back into law?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the noble Baroness. We have had this debate on a number of occasions throughout the LUR Bill, and I am sure we will have this discussion again. We are clear that we are looking at the NPPF into the future, but it is up to local planning authorities to decide on the types of housing that they are going to put into their local plans and how many. We feel that, with the new changes in the LURB, local plans will be easier to produce and there will be more of them, delivering more housing for this country.

Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the research to which my noble friend referred showed that the families most likely to suffer from overcrowding are families already in the social housing sector, but they cannot move because there are no larger homes to move to and they cannot afford to rent. In the medium term, should the social housing sector not be building more, larger houses? In the short term, should housing associations and local authorities consider leasing larger homes from the private sector in order to mitigate the problems to which my noble friend referred?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My noble friend is absolutely right. If you have anything to do with local housing, you will realise that there seem to be many more one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties than there are family homes. We recognise the challenge faced by the sector, and that is why we encourage local authorities to continue to consider innovative ways in which they can best use their stock. For example, supporting underoccupiers to transfer to other, smaller properties is one way that they can then relet family homes. Landlords are focused on providing high-quality services to all their tenants. Introducing a new requirement for local authorities to lease larger homes in the open market may also be considered a new burden, for which funding would be unlikely to be provided.

Photo of Lord Sahota Lord Sahota Labour

My Lords, as has already been mentioned, the report firmly states that ethnic-minority households are three times more likely to be overcrowded than white households. Have the Government taken note of that? What do they intend to do to specifically rectify the problem for ethnic minorities?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My Lords, interestingly, in December 2022, we published our report Overcrowding in South Asian Households, to provide a deeper understanding of the issues faced by those from South Asian backgrounds. The study puts Bangladeshi and Pakistani households at the centre of a piece of research, including their perceptions of their living situations and cultural drivers. This is the first time that overcrowding has been studied in that way, and our findings are used to develop culturally sensitive policies on overcrowding and housing more generally. This came from an English Housing Survey that indicated that British Bangladeshis and Pakistanis were particularly affected by overcrowding.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative

My Lords, I know a number of families in London who are affected by significant overcrowding, and obviously one of the options for them is to leave London. Will my noble friend the Minister please talk to her colleague at the Department for Education, as there are reports that the school-places situation in London is going to be affected by the fact that families are now moving out of the capital? It might cost more money to build school places elsewhere in the country than to adopt the solution suggested by my noble friend Lord Young, which is to rent from the private sector three-bedroom and four-bedroom properties here in London.

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am aware of some of those issues, some of which came from Covid and people moving out at that time. I do not know the answer to the questions that my noble friend raises on the education side, but I will ask my colleagues in the Department for Education and will write to her.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Labour

My Lords, the myriad issues that arise on housing provision are very serious indeed. The solution might be expensive but it is not complicated —virtually every questioner today has pointed to the lack of supply of social housing. The stats are very simple: the availability of social housing in the last two or three decades has pretty well halved, while much more expensive, private accommodation has pretty well doubled. Can the Government just focus on this one, simply stated issue, as we desperately need a huge expansion of the level of provision of social housing?

Photo of Baroness Scott of Bybrook Baroness Scott of Bybrook Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

That is why, as I have already said, we are putting £11.5 billion into the affordable housing fund, more of which is going to be prioritised on social houses for rent. We are also looking at changing the National Planning Policy Framework in order to increase the importance of social housing. We are encouraging local authorities, in drawing up their local plans, to consider not just affordable housing but social housing for rent. We have just put £500 million into the local authority housing fund to help in the short term.