Housing and Social Cohesion (Yorkshire)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:59 am on 20th February 2007.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Education) 11:59 am, 20th February 2007

I could not agree more. The issue is vital for many of us in the region and nationally, and I note that Jon Cruddas made similar comments recently. We must take the issue seriously. However, if we do not have adequate housing, we cannot address those problems or the need for more social cohesion on economic and aspirational lines. It should also be pointed out that, as the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East mentioned, without those social houses being replaced, the right-to-buy policy has been a disaster for the social housing network in this country. It led to a generation of children living for periods in entirely unsuitable accommodation. We have heard many examples of that.

The figures are quite damning. I was disappointed with the party political points that the hon. Gentleman made. It is extraordinary political logic to point the finger at councils whose hands are so clearly tied by a Government who will not give them the opportunity to build more social housing. The problem is a failure of Government policy. Since 1997, 449,807 social homes have been sold in England alone under the right-to-buy legislation, but in the same period only 151,255 social homes have been built in England, while 500,000 extra households are now on council waiting lists. That is the legacy of a failure of Government policy.

I am delighted, however, that the hon. Gentleman supports Liberal Democrat policy, which would finally allow councils to use the right-to-buy receipts for those currently without a place to call home. That would lead to £1.5 billion nationally, which would be a healthy sum to start the process, as I am sure he agrees. I also echo the comments about the Tory Government who created a social housing crisis, but they have been replaced by a Labour Government who have failed to address it in any meaningful way.

All of us, in all political parties, need to have a much bolder vision of housing. That applies to allowing people to get on to the property ladder, but also means considering how we treat social housing. The issue is not just about supply. We often get bogged down with supply, particularly when it comes to homes to buy and own. We also need to look at the kind of supply. We need more mixed-income communities, not only more housing per se.

For example, Liberal Democrat-run South Shropshire district council has taken an interesting approach, specifying that 25 per cent. of the homes in any private development must be affordable homes and that 25 per cent. of the homes must be social homes to rent. Crucially, however, those homes must be of the same sort as the private homes being built, so if the homes for sale are four-bedroomed family homes, the social and affordable homes must also be four-bedroomed family homes. What tends to happen otherwise is that, even when private developers are obliged to provide social and affordable housing, they often stick it in the corner of developments, as a token gesture. Such homes are often much smaller properties, so that there is still division of the sort that we are surely trying to avoid.

We need a bolder approach, as we should all accept, but the issue goes back to the biggest problem, which is the crisis in social housing. I echo the comments that the hon. Member for Pudsey made. The drive for people to own their homes and get on that first rung of the property ladder is a laudable aim with which we would all agree, but social housing is not a rung below that. We must not allow the laudable drive to enable people to get on the property ladder to come at the expense of those who, realistically, cannot afford to do so, and in some cases will never be able to afford to do so. It is time we stopped seeing social housing as second best.

I conclude by quoting Michael Hall, the chair of the Leeds Tenants Federation. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the high-profile right to rent campaign in Leeds, which we all support. Mr. Hall said:

"The stigma surrounding social housing had been created by successive governments that have treated the sector as little more than a welfare safety-net. These policies have led us to the housing crisis we now face...where the scarcity of affordable rented homes is causing misery for thousands who need a decent place to live."

He added:

"We want social housing to be available to everyone no matter what their needs. Social housing should be a main-stream choice, up there alongside home ownership or private renting as an option for everyone in this booming city."

That is the right approach for Leeds, the rest of Yorkshire and the whole country, if we are to have a more socially cohesive Britain.