Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 3:41 pm, 18th July 2007

I will abide by your suggestion, Mr. Cummings. I welcome the debate and the fact that a Green Paper comes out next week. I hope that that Green Paper will at last enable the corner to be turned on the housing crisis in this country. I also hope that it will at last level the playing field for tenants of council estates or any other council tenant, so that the fourth option will be accepted and it will be legitimate for tenants to vote for an arm's length management organisation, for a private finance initiative, for a stock transfer or to remain as council tenants and receive exactly the same investment and treatment that is so necessary for them.

I pay tribute to the Government for the amount of money that has been put into improving existing stock. My hon. Friend Ms Buck is correct to say that that has been a major priority and it has meant a real change in the lives of many people who now have new kitchens, new roofs, new windows and new heating systems. There has been fundamentally a great improvement. That issue was sadly neglected by the Conservative Government in all those 18 years. There has been a major improvement and a major step forward.

The area that I represent, like that of my hon. Friend, is inner-city London, where the housing crisis is most acute. I hope that the Green Paper will recognise that unless a substantial number of council properties are built in the areas of highest housing stress, we will all pay a price. More than 900,000 children in this country live in grossly overcrowded accommodation. The effect on their lives is dramatic. They underachieve at school, they over-attend at doctors' surgeries and hospitals, and they overachieve in crime and social disorder. Teenage children growing up in overcrowded flats on estates or anywhere else simply cannot socialise at home. Therefore they go out, and all the other problems emanate from that.

If we want to improve social cohesion in our society, the best way to do that is through huge investment in the housing needs of the very poorest and most vulnerable people in our society. The current crisis means that local authorities cannot house people in normal council housing or with registered social landlords or housing associations, because there is nowhere for them to go. Instead, they are put in private rented accommodation, most of which is paid for through housing benefit.

I shall give an example. This morning, I visited a family living in a one-bedroomed flat—two teenage children, one small child and the parents were all sharing one tiny bedroom. The flat was damp, mice-infested and leaked, and the extraction equipment of the restaurant down below pumped straight into the bedroom windows. That is a private rented flat. The rent is £780 a month, all of which is paid through housing benefit. In other words, the public sector is paying £780 a month for a family to live in absolute misery. The only beneficiaries from that are the private sector landlords. It is simply an insane form of investment. How much better would it be to put money into bricks and mortar and build new places, rather than subsidising slum landlords, who exist all over London at present? I hope that when the housing Green Paper comes out, we will understand the absolute priority that should be attached to doing that.

I hope that the Green Paper, in recognising housing needs, will also recognise that many people living in the private rented sector, who do not necessarily depend on benefits to stay there but who are paying a very high rent, look to have some form of control and security—some form of secure future. In my constituency, there has been a very big increase in buy to rent. That means that many people are living unstable and insecure lives. Some form of security is needed for people living in that situation.

As I have only five minutes in which to speak, my last point will be on registered social landlords and housing associations. I recognise that RSLs have built quite a lot of places, although unfortunately nowhere near enough, as councils have not built anything over the past few years. There are questions about the management of housing associations, the efficiency of that management and the accountability of those who manage housing associations. I hope that the Green Paper will look towards a degree of accountability in that respect, because many of my constituents have real problems with housing associations, and housing associations themselves have financial problems that too often they solve by selling off vacant flats that are desperately needed for the social sector.

I hope that the Government will recognise that yes, we have had great achievements in improving existing council stock, but we must provide new homes for social rent. I say that because 75 or 80 per cent. of people in my constituency have no chance whatever of buying anywhere. The only route out of misery and poverty for them is through the provision of good-quality social housing through the local authorities. I hope that the Green Paper will recognise that and that we will turn the corner and end the misery being experienced by so many people living in inner-city Britain at the present time.