Housing

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 3:27 pm, 18th July 2007

I, too, congratulate Philip Davies on securing the debate, and welcome my hon. Friend the Minister to his position. Like my right hon. Friend Mr. Smith I also welcome the higher profile that housing has now secured, even if I do not necessarily welcome all the ways in which the issue is presented, including some that we heard from the hon. Gentleman. We look forward very much to next week's housing Green Paper as a further demonstration of the Government's renewed commitment to tackling what we all agree is both a crisis of affordable housing to buy and, particularly, a shortage of rented accommodation for people in housing need.

It is important to understand the full range of reasons that have driven that level of housing need in recent years. We accept that there is now a backlog affecting housing provision, because of a decades-long failure of the house building industry to meet need. It was only two years ago that private sector house building fell to its lowest rate since 1926. The pent-up demand that is now in the system is in large part driven by that failure. Of course, in the social rented sector it is also driven by a near halving of supply in many areas of the country, because of the impact of the right to buy. We all support the right to buy. It represented, in many ways, the biggest shift of wealth to poorer people that has ever happened in this country. However, for decades we failed to replace the stock, and as a consequence the people occupying many of the properties that were sold under the right to buy are no longer of the same profile as those who seek social rented housing. They are the ones who have borne the brunt of the impact.

I think that all Labour Members recognise also—I am sure that we shall hear more about this, Mr. Cummings, if my hon. Friend Dr. Starkey, who chairs the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, catches your eye—that there has been a rise in demand, which is driven by several factors. Those include, certainly, household change and the growth of single person households, the impact of the buy-to-let market and second home ownership, which have also had a significant impact on housing provision, and, indeed, to a certain extent, migration.

I, certainly, have no difficulty with discussing the impact of migration on housing, but, of course, this is not a debate on migration, and it is important that we try to focus only on the implications for housing. However, let us be very clear about who these people are, and why, in certain cases, we have a housing obligation to them. Primary immigration to this country has not occurred for decades. People arriving in this country are doing so through a number of routes, and some of them are entitled to housing, particularly social housing, but many, of course, are not.

In my constituency, I have seen the impact of immigration through the refugee and asylum routes. I invite the hon. Gentleman, and anyone else who doubts the legitimacy of the housing claims of people in that situation, to come and meet some of those individuals, and to tell me that they do not have a reasonable claim to social housing. Under this blanket description of migration and its impact on housing, we are in grave danger of forgetting human beings: who they are, what their circumstances are and the fact that, in many cases, they have come from the worst places and circumstances in the world. We have an absolute obligation to ensure that their needs are met.