Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 6th February 2002.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:00 am, 6th February 2002

I have had trouble on that score before. Good morning, Mrs. Roe, and thank you.

This is not the first, and certainly not the last, Westminster Hall debate on London housing, and I hope that there will be further debates on the Floor of the House. It is clear from the number of hon. Members present that there is serious concern about housing shortages and housing problems in London. The housing crisis affects almost everyone: those on waiting lists, those in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, those who are homeless or, unfortunately, still roofless, and those who are desperate to pay high private rents or buy a flat in London.

The situation demands large-scale public intervention, which has helped people out of poverty and misery in London in the past. There were large-scale council house developments after the first and second world wars and right up until the advent of the Tory Government in 1979. Many people owe the fact that they live in reasonable accommodation to the enormous efforts that successive Labour Governments and many Labour local authorities put into expanding their social rented stock, and such an approach remains the only long-term solution to London's housing problems, which the market alone cannot solve.

I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, my hon. Friend Ms Keeble, will refer to this when she replies, but it is important to recognise that London's housing problems are markedly different from those in other parts of the country. Its problems are driven as much as anything by the property boom, which has a pernicious effect on all housing sectors and particularly on public services and on the ability of public service workers to live in London.

Lists and figures abound, and they tell a terrifying story. In 1998, 19,000 homeless households were in accommodation in London, but the number has now gone up to 48,000. The figure has increased from 2,000 to 4,600 in the borough of Haringey, and from 500 to 1,400 in my borough of Islington. I hope that my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith will catch your eye, Mrs. Roe, because he wants to say more about that. Throughout London, the figures tell a similarly terrifying story.

Some 7,000 families have been placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation throughout London. That is an entirely miserable way to exist, and such accommodation is supremely inefficient and a gross waste of public money. We are giving millions of pounds to bed-and-breakfast landlords and making millionaires of people who often provide abominable accommodation. Anyone who cares to visit bed-and-breakfast hotels in Finsbury Park in my constituency and in many other parts of London will see the sheer misery in which people must live. Such accommodation is not cheap and is paid for by the public sector, because housing benefit pays the rent of a large proportion of the people involved.

If I may, I shall quote briefly from the Shelter briefing for this debate, which states:

"The Government has made tackling homelessness a policy priority. The Homelessness Bill, the National Homeless Strategy and the new unit dedicated to reducing the use of B and B are testament to this."

Shelter is very favourable to many of the Government's policies, but the briefing goes on to say:

"But these polices must be backed up by resources if the Government is to deliver on its pledge to halve child poverty by 2010 and end it in a generation. The Spending Review 2002 presents a key opportunity to put in place a sustained programme of investment backed up by challenging targets to improve the lives and life chances of homeless children."

Shelter has given us part of the important story. It is true that the costs of poor quality housing are borne by the public sector, in that we pay for extortionate private sector rents through housing benefit or through homelessness and bed-and-breakfast landlords. However, the children also pay. They pay in ill health, poor school achievement, endless moves from one set of homeless person's accommodation to another and family break-up. The damage to our communities resulting from the inadequacy of housing in London is astonishing. We must tackle that issue.

However, we must also look at the problems of communities that are being priced out of their geographical area. The borough that my right hon. Friend and I have the honour to represent is now one of the areas of the country with the fastest rising property prices. That means that even Members of Parliament moving there could not, unless they had substantial equity, afford the mortgage on a two-bedroomed flat. Price rises of that magnitude, which are similar to those that have happened in neighbouring boroughs, mean that unless families on average or below-average incomes obtain social housing through a council or a housing association, the possibilities of remaining in the community where they grew up are pretty well zero. Inner-city areas of London are simply exporting people on average or below-average incomes. That problem needs to be dealt with.