Housing Need (London)

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 11:00 am, 29th June 2010

On a point of order, Mr Howarth. You will be aware that we have just lost an hour and a half of precious parliamentary debating time because of the failure of Richard Graham to turn up on time. The situation was compounded by the failure of the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Mr Hayes, to turn up in time for our 9.30 am debate. That debate was on the very important subject of apprenticeships. Is there any way in which we can reinstate that hour and a half of parliamentary time, which was lost because of tardiness that would not be tolerated of any apprentice throughout the country? Is not such a situation a contempt of the House, particularly given the number of hon. Members who would like to speak in this housing debate? Given that the hon. Member for Gloucester did not see fit to turn up on time for his debate, the hour and a half that was lost could have been used for the housing debate.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

There is, unusually, a point of order in the hon. Gentleman's comments, but I think he was straying towards making a political point at the end of his contribution. The reality of the situation is that it is open to the hon. Gentleman whose debate was lost earlier or any other Member to apply to the Speaker for a further debate through the normal procedures. If any Member considers that the subject of the debate that was lost is important enough, that debate can be held, but it will have to be the subject of a separate application. I do not think that what happened was a contempt of the House, although it might be seen as discourteous.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:01 am, 29th June 2010

I am very pleased that we are having this debate, although I am sorry that it will last only an hour and a half. I am sorry that the previous debate collapsed, but we could well have used three hours to discuss housing in London, so it seems that a monumental parliamentary opportunity has been lost. I hope that the hon. Members concerned will reflect on the situation because we are sent here to represent the people and to try to deal with their problems.

I am resuming the debate on housing in London. There is a slight feeling of déjà vu-the actors in the theatre have changed only slightly-because we have discussed housing needs in London many, many times before, and I suspect there will be many more debates on the subject. London Members know that there is no bigger issue, no greater stress and no greater problem that faces all our constituents than housing, whether that relates to people who are trying to buy, people who are trying to get social housing, people who are going through the problems of being a leaseholder or people who are living in private rented accommodation.

The levels of housing stress with which MPs deal are absolutely enormous, but I need not go over that in too much detail because hon. Members in the Chamber will be well aware of it. The levels of stress associated with problems of overcrowding, and of uncertainty and insecurity of tenure, lead to ill health, underachievement in school, family break-up and unemployment, and they have a wholly corrosive effect on our society. I am not asking for something special because we are talking about London. I am asking for recognition that the whole country faces serious housing problems and that they are even worse in London than throughout the rest of the country.

One could quote many relevant statistics at great length. I shall not cite a vast number of figures, but I would like to run through some information that was helpfully provided to me by Crisis. Reading across the piece, the average house price in London is £362,000, which is £140,000 higher than that in the rest of the country, and the average income is £26,000 a year, which is £6,000 more than in the rest of the country. The gross annual income needed for a mortgage in London is £93,000-it is £109,000 in my borough-so we can easily see the disconnect that exists.

Total local authority stock in London is 432,000 and housing association stock is 350,000. The number of new lettings by local authorities was around 23,000 last year, with 22,000 lettings by housing associations. Some 353,000 families are on the waiting list for social housing in London, of whom 52,000 are in temporary accommodation, while the number of households accepted as homeless is 12,000, although that relates to the last year for which figures are available. All that information shows that buying anywhere is unaffordable, that there are huge waiting lists for social housing and that the number of homeless people is rapidly increasing. The 12,000 London households accepted as homeless represent about a fifth of the total for the whole United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. I apologise that I will need to slip out of the Chamber part of the way through it, but I hope to be back at the end.

I want to raise with my hon. Friend-and indeed all hon. Members present-the human tragedy behind those figures. People are living in temporary accommodation for four, five or six years. They move constantly and are unable to settle anywhere. The children of such people are really badly affected by continually having to up sticks to move to other accommodation. Should we not be most concerned about that situation?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I recall that in the halcyon days when I was chair of housing for Haringey council, we were able to build a large number of council houses, some of which were very good properties. We were determined to build good-quality properties not because we had a desire to spend vast sums of public money, but because we had a desire to conquer the problems of housing shortage and the stress that goes with it. Three quarters of the people in this country who are in temporary accommodation are in London, and my hon. Friend is right to point out the effects that that has.

All hon. Members have seen people in our advice bureaux who are living in their third or fourth piece of temporary accommodation and whose children have had to move schools or make very long journeys to stay in the same school. Those people are unaware of what will happen to them because of the lack of security that surrounds such a situation. We have a very serious problem indeed. I mentioned the corrosive effects of housing stress in London. One such effect is overcrowding, a second is uncertainty, a third is the problems of private rented accommodation, and a fourth is very high cost, which is the matter that I want to move on to.

If someone secures a council or housing association tenancy in London, the rent for a two-bedroom flat will be, broadly speaking, £100 to £120 a week. That is a reasonable rent-it is an economic rent, not a subsidised rent-that allows people to live somewhere reasonable, secure and safe. However, this country's very bad record on building social housing over the past 20 years or so means that the number of people re-housed by local authorities or housing associations is low. Most local authorities say, "We cannot possibly house you; you'll have to go into private rented accommodation."

Councils therefore assist people to get private rented accommodation and have, in some cases, an over-close relationship with various letting agencies. The rents in such accommodation are often very high. They can be £250 or £300 a week, but I have even come across rents of £400 a week or more. If the people concerned are unemployed or on benefits, those rents are largely paid through housing benefit. For them, having a private rented place with the rent paid initially sounds like a reasonable option, but two problems can emerge. One is that such people are left in an enormous benefit trap, because if they succeed in finding a job, they will lose all or most of their housing benefit, and they therefore cannot possibly take a job unless it is incredibly well paid. One needs an awfully large salary to be able to pay £400 a week in rent. I suspect that that figure is far more than hon. Members in the Chamber pay for their mortgage monthly.

As a country, we are therefore pouring billions of pounds in housing benefit every year into the pockets of private landlords who do not give security and often provide inadequate accommodation. It is often very difficult to get them to carry out repairs, as I am sure that all Members in the Chamber who have corresponded with private landlords to try to make them carry out repairs have found. We must bear in mind the benefit trap and the huge cost to the whole country. It is fairly obvious, as a point of principle, that it would be far better to invest our precious national resources in building homes for affordable rent through councils and housing associations, rather than pouring the money down the drain by putting it in the pockets of private landlords through the housing benefit system. None of that is particularly new.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

The hon. Gentleman and I have held similar views on those matters for many years, and I have not changed mine. Does he agree that we ought to encourage local authorities to use their powers to acquire all the residential properties in their boroughs that are sitting empty? There are now powers for local authorities to take over the management of such properties, albeit not their ownership, so that they can let them at affordable rents, rather than pushing people into the private sector which, as he rightly said, makes things impossible for those who want to get back to work because of the benefit trap.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

Order. Seven Members have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate, so lengthy interventions are not fair to them.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I take your point and I will be brief, Mr Howarth, because I want all Members who wish to speak to have an opportunity to do so.

I largely agree with the points made by Simon Hughes. Local authorities do have the power to buy on the open market and to take over empty properties, and they should use that power. Indeed, my right hon. Friend Margaret Hodge was chair of the housing committee in my borough in the 1970s and undertook an enormous purchase of street properties throughout the borough, which did a great deal to preserve its street character and to house many people who would not otherwise have been housed. Clearly, there will never be enough land for new build in central London, so that is one way of dealing with the problem.

I want the Minister to answer four simple questions. I am sure that he will give me positive answers to them all because I know him to be a decent, reasonable and helpful chap who wants to deal with the housing problems in London, even though he does not represent a London constituency-there is no crime in not representing a London constituency. [Interruption.]I do not wish to be controversial, because that is not in my nature. The statements that the coalition Government have made over the past few weeks are disturbing, to say the least. They initially said that they would continue investment in infrastructure in our society, which I took to include the current building programme and the enhanced building programme for council houses-the Minister can confirm whether I am right or wrong. However, last week's Budget included a statement on housing benefit that is absolutely devastating for those of us who represent London constituencies. It is devastating for the whole country, but its effect will be particularly acute in London.

I should tell the Minister that 30% of my constituents live in private rented accommodation, that about 40% live in local authority or housing association properties, and that the remaining 30% are owner-occupiers. Many of those in private rented accommodation are in receipt of housing benefit. I will quote again from the information helpfully provided by Crisis:

"From Oct 2011, Local Housing Allowance (the new form of HB...) will be set at the 30(th) percentile (rather than the 50(th) as now). This is probably the most serious of the cuts and will mean many more people will face shortfalls and/or find it very difficult to find and sustain a tenancy. It will be particularly difficult in areas where more than 30% of the private tenants are benefit claimants. This may well lead to an increase in homelessness.

From April 2011, rates will be capped (from £250/week for a 1-bed to £400/week for a 4 bed). This will mean certain areas are likely to become no go areas for claimants, particularly larger families, with significant implications for mixed communities and community cohesion, through changes to the 30(th) percentile will affect more people...Alongside this, working age people in social housing will no longer be able to claim HB on a property deemed bigger than their needs. This is designed", apparently,

"to tackle under occupancy. From 2013/14 onwards, Local Housing Allowance will be uprated on the basis of the Consumer Prices Index, rather than on the basis of local rents."

Non-dependent deductions are another issue. When taken together, those proposals will be absolutely devastating for those of us who represent high-cost, inner-urban areas. They will, in effect, start a process of the social cleansing of claimants across London.

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound Opposition Whip (Commons)

Bearing in mind your earlier strictures, Mr Howarth, I will be brief, and I am sure that all Members wish you a happy birthday.

With regard to the figures that my hon. Friend quoted in relation to private sector leasing, is the situation in his borough the same as in mine, where the majority of those PSL properties are former local authority properties that have been bought from the council and are now being leased back to it? Does he agree that one needs a strong stomach and a sense of irony to look at housing in London today?

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Many of them are ex-local authority, although not all. I am constantly astonished when I speak to people in my constituency who are living in ex-council flats that are privately rented and are paying twice, or three or four times, the rent of their next-door neighbours who are still council tenants. What is going on in London is absurd and obscene. I hope that the Minister will at least recognise that the housing benefit proposals are punishing the poor, tenants and those in housing need for a problem that they never created. I am not sure what the proposals will achieve. Unless they are linked to a huge building programme of places for affordable rent, all we will be doing is making a bad situation much worse and punishing a whole generation of young people and children across London. I want to hear about the building programme, so I hope that the Minster will be able to address that point.

I shall make my two further points quickly because many colleagues wish to speak. Has the Minister any plans to improve the situation of leaseholders who have bought places, usually under shared ownership schemes, from housing associations? There seem to be enormous problems about representation in housing associations, and many of them seem to have a generally unresponsive attitude to high leasehold and service charges.

My final point relates to planning issues. Most local authorities in London have now adopted a proposal that a proportion of all new build schemes should be for social housing. The former Mayor of London, Mayor Livingstone, wanted a proportion of 50% for those in housing need, although I would rather it was 50% for social housing. Is the Minister prepared to underline what the previous Government tried to do by providing sufficient resources so that new build can take place or providing borrowing allowances for local authorities?

My local authority has a new cabinet member for housing: James Murray, who is part of the new Labour team-not new Labour with a capital "N"; I do not ever want someone to misquote me on that. I shall end by quoting from his message to me:

"In Islington we have thousands of families on the waiting list for housing, many living in desperate overcrowding. It is not rare to see 7 or 8 people in a 2-bed flat-with the children often unable to do their homework, unable to have any privacy, and with the whole family suffering under the stress...The announcement last week of a cap on housing benefit could put a third of Islington's private sector tenants who are on housing benefit at risk of eviction. This will only increase the pressure on social housing-and so more than ever we desperately need more investment in social rented homes. You will hear the same message from many Labour politicians in inner London-and that is because this investment is the only answer."

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 11:19 am, 29th June 2010

Many of us present are old hands at speaking in Westminster Hall on the continued complexities and persistent demands of providing affordable, decent and plentiful homes in the capital. I fear that I have joined Jeremy Corbyn as one of the usual suspects in that regard, and perhaps in many other ways as well. The frequency of our presence in this Chamber testifies to the difficulty of striking the right balance when dealing with housing need in London.

As those who have heard me speak on this subject before will know, an ostensibly wealthy inner-city constituency such as mine is not in any way immune to these problems-quite the opposite. Housing has been, and continues to be, the single most important issue in my postbag, along with immigration. No doubt, the two things go hand in hand for Westminster, and for any of us with London seats, because this global capital city is a magnet for those seeking to make their fortunes-not only from across the world but from all corners of the British isles.

The pressure that the vast flow of people into and out of my constituency places on our housing stock is enormous. Rental values have shot up in recent years, and so too has the huge cost of providing for those in need, although the amount of money that landlords get from tenants on housing benefit has similarly driven up prices. It is, I fear, for that reason that some of the most shocking and high profile stories about housing benefit have come from my constituency; the £104,000 a year home was in Mayfair in the west end. There are individual families whose accommodation costs the taxpayer thousands of pounds each and every month.

I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Member for Islington North said on this subject. There is a risk that some of the proposed changes will drive some of the most vulnerable people out of London, and that will need to happen to a large extent.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

I heard the hon. Gentleman say that some of the most vulnerable families will be driven out of central London, and I believe that he said that was necessarily so. Where does he think they should go?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I hope that the hon. Lady will allow me to continue with what I have to say; these issues affect all of us in the capital. In his Budget statement, the Chancellor said that we could no longer have a state of affairs where people who do not work are living in homes that ordinary working people simply could not afford for themselves. Putting aside that principle, housing benefit has also become an enormous trap, as the hon. Member for Islington North rightly said, for its recipients in London, and I agree. In the past few weeks, I have canvassed people in the Churchill Gardens estate, where the precise situation that the hon. Gentleman described is prevalent. In other words, people are living next door to one another, one in a council property paying rent that is very low by the standards of the vicinity, and another in a property that has been sold two or three times and is now in the hands of a housing association, effectively being passed on to nominations from the local authority at three or four times the rent of the property next door.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Has the hon. Gentleman spotted a potential inconsistency in the argument of the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who says that the unemployed in the north of England, for example, should give up their homes and move to London, while those on benefits in London should give up their homes and move to the north of England?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I fear that there are many inconsistencies going back not only over the past six or seven weeks but, I suspect, over the past six or seven decades. One inconsistency is that we had a Labour Mayor of London for eight of the past 10 years, and housing development was almost at its lowest. In many ways, having overly stringent rules prevented many developers from deciding to develop; they sat on their hands and waited for property prices to increase. The situation has made unemployment a logical option for many people living in London, because it has been forced on them, due to the huge poverty trap. That has meant that unemployment in the capital, even in the boom years, was the highest of any region in the UK.

The announcement in the emergency Budget of a cap to limit the cost of a four-bedroom property to £400 per week has caused incredible concern among my constituents. I suspect much of that concern is caused by the uncertainty of how such a cap will be applied in individual cases, and I want to highlight a couple of typical cases that have come to light in the past week or so. Most of the concerns raised with me so far have come from elderly or disabled constituents, many of whom have been unable to get on to Westminster city council's list for a council property, so instead they live in the private rented sector and have their rent paid by housing benefit. One such constituent is Mr Roger Aves, a disabled resident who requires a live-in carer. He wrote to me:

"You cannot get a broom cupboard in central London for the amount being proposed yet central London is my home and has been since 2001. My medical input is large and being close to my health providers and social care was paramount to my choice of living here."

Another constituent, William Richards, is an 80-year-old pensioner from Pimlico. He said:

"'I agree with a cap on total amounts although it may well affect me in the future. What is a bit mystifying is reference to 'percentile'- referred to earlier-

"which appears to be another way of reducing the benefit but is not made clear at the moment. I have lived in the same private rented accommodation for 25 years. My rent is increased by 10% per annum. How will my flat be evaluated compared to the rent of a social housing flat? Will it be based on the market rent of a privately rented flat in Pimlico or on a council flat?"

As many of us know, some of the most illustrious and sought-after areas in central and outer London are often cheek by jowl with council estates. Mr Richards says:

"The two do not bear comparison. Even now my pension does not cover my rent and I have been living on my savings for many years now in order to pay for the basic necessities. I may well be forced to leave my home."

It is vital that the likely impact of any changes is made clear to people such as Mr Aves and Mr Richards, and we need certainty at the earliest opportunity.

My local authority, Westminster city council, supports the cap and lobbied for some time on reform of housing benefit, as it is essential to reducing the welfare bill, particularly with rates of £2,000 per week claimed for larger properties in Westminster-rare, but none the less real cases.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am sure that the hon. Lady wishes to defend the honour of Westminster city council.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Does the hon. Gentleman share my sense of irony that Westminster is supporting the cap now after making almost £6 million for the council tax payer in recent years through housing benefit being above the rents paid for temporary accommodation? Is he not aware that to be politically in line with the Government, Westminster is cutting its throat and the throat of its council tax payers to the tune of nearly £6 million?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

The hon. Lady makes a very valid point; one of the main absurdities of the housing benefit system is that there is so little incentive for local authorities, whether in London or across the country, because they can get the money back from central Government. That situation has to change.

Westminster council estimated the worst-case costs at £8.1 million, reflecting the expense of the long-term temporary accommodation contracts that the council was encouraged to enter into under the previous cap regime. Many would welcome the Government's implementing the new caps and mitigating the associated risks. In particular, places such as Westminster need the guidelines around local connection to be changed. Under the existing guidelines, local authorities affected by the caps are required to try to house people in their vicinity. I think that Westminster city council is particularly concerned that the courts will find against it if it tries to house families out of the borough, leading to additional costs and more uncertainty and family disruption.

The guidelines need greater flexibility, and the Minister must recognise that there are specific issues in London, for boroughs of all political complexions, that need to be thought through. We need to ensure that local authorities can, to an extent, house out of borough when it has not proven possible to find temporary accommodation in the area at the new capped rates.

There is much more that I would like to say, but I appreciate that other Members wish to contribute so I shall end my comments with these thoughts. Given that the proposals are due to come in over the next few months, in the run-up to the next financial year, I wish to say only that many Members on the Government Benches welcome the review of the housing benefit system, the flaws of which have been glaringly obvious to all of us who deal frequently with housing cases. I accept that there will be differences across the House as to how the changes should take place. If the case for change is successfully made, we will require a much closer working relationship with the boroughs, and clear and frequent communication with London Members, who will be receiving ever more letters from anxious constituents in the months ahead, so I hope the Minister will pledge to ensure that there is proper communication, which will be essential.

It is also vital that the most vulnerable in our communities are properly reassured. If they are not, we risk undermining the most compelling aspect of the case for reform, which is that the measures should primarily be about fairness, with the hard-working being rewarded and the truly vulnerable being properly and fully protected.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn 11:30 am, 29th June 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing this debate.

I shall not rerun all the figures that have been heard already. I agree absolutely with what my hon. Friend said, and I also agree, up to a point, with the contribution of Mr Field. The central issue is the implicit threat to so many of the most vulnerable people in my constituency from what the Government propose on housing benefit. I freely and openly admit that I am a cynic when it comes to their policies on what I still regard as social housing-I prefer to call it council housing, but let us make it broader than that.

It seems that we will have, yet again, a rerun of the attacks that were made on social or council housing under the first Thatcher Administration-the coalition Government are actually Thatcherism mark 2-and we can remember what happened during that time. We saw a massive explosion in homelessness. I do not think that there was a single street in London during that time that did not have its community of homeless people sleeping in doorways, many of whom had serious mental health as well as physical health problems. The waiting lists grew ever longer, and families were placed in bed and breakfast accommodation where they were allowed into what were, in the main, utterly appalling conditions. I visited many of them, and I speak about what I actually saw. If those images had been presented to members of the Kennel Club as fit places for dogs to live, there would have been riots in our streets. Families in such accommodation had to leave it at 9 o'clock in the morning and were not allowed back until 5 o'clock at night, in many instances.

Out of the desperate need of those families-every black cloud has a silver lining-came a growing number of charitable and voluntary organisations that attempted to get certainly the children off the streets of London, where the then Government had deemed it was entirely right and proper for them to be. Many of the children were of pre-school age, and, of course, there was nothing like Sure Start and no free nursery provision in those days.

What is being proposed by the present Government for housing benefit will recreate precisely those conditions all over again. No one in this Chamber would argue that the housing benefit system should not be examined closely-many of us have been arguing that for a considerable time-but to believe that we can improve it by punishing those who have no homes without the support of housing benefit seems utterly absurd.

For example, rents in my constituency and in that of every London MP who is sitting here this morning are way above the national average and, in many instances, way above the London average, yet the Government propose that a cap should be placed on housing benefit. I cannot in all honesty see the landlords who are presently benefiting from the system saying, "Oh dear, are we charging too much? Perhaps we should bring the rent down." They will simply not accept the same number of tenants whose rent payments are dependent on housing benefit. That is also something that has been growing over the past few years.

Then we look at the north, where people who cannot get work in London are apparently supposed to go to look for jobs. Rents undoubtedly are much lower there than they are in London, but one knows precisely what will happen. The landlords will say, "Oh, goody." If the Government are prepared to pay a certain amount for a house, flat or whatever, up the rents will go. There will be absolutely no saving of any kind for the national purse, but there will be real, serious human tragedies played out on our streets yet again.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North said, the proposal will impact horrendously on children. He did not say that-I am paraphrasing-but that is what he meant. It will impact horrendously on children who cannot do their homework or make friends because they have nowhere to bring friends after school to play or have a cup of tea. It will impact terribly on parents who are constantly left feeling guilty, because they see the damage that is being inflicted on their children.

The proposal will also have appalling repercussions on the wider community. All hon. Members receive letters and complaints from constituents about noise-in many instances, it is perfectly natural, normal noise. Children make noise, and if three or four of them are in an extremely small flat with nowhere to play-more than likely up a tower block-they will make noise, and that will create the usual neighbourhood dramas that we all have to deal with day in, day out.

I go back to my original hypothesis, which arises from my cynicism and hard-won experience of many years ago, that this is just another brick in the wall of the attempt by the present Government to destroy social housing as we all understand it. They want all properties that at present could be deemed to be social-whether council, housing association or some other form of social housing-to be taken out of that sector and placed in the private sector. It seems that they want to put all housing in the private sector and to remove all kinds of support for people who will never be able to buy a house of their own or meet what will be the soaring costs of renting in the private sector, certainly in London, because they want London to be a place where rich people live. They do not want it to be a place where poor people live.

This is a step up from the gerrymandering-I exclude the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster-that we saw in Westminster. My hon. Friend Ms Buck, who is sitting one seat away from me, knows precisely where I am going with that. That kind of gerrymandering involved decanting people from areas of Westminster and bringing in those who were deemed to be Tory voters. I have to tell the Government that the fallacy that only rich people vote Tory is absurd. I know many people whom they would not regard as being even vaguely well off who are solid, absolutely committed Tories and will be all their life.

The idea that the way forward is to create virtual ghettos of a different kind is absolutely and utterly unacceptable in a country such as ours, certainly in this century. We cannot go down the road of arbitrarily deciding which properties can be charged for at a certain level in this way. The proposals for housing benefit are monstrous, and they will, as they inevitably do in such areas, impact most on the most vulnerable.

I sincerely hope that the Minister, who I am surprised to find sitting here supporting such policies, will rethink them. If he will not do that, I hope that he will report on what he hears this morning in the hope that those above his pay grade will think again about something that could be so destructive for this city.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

It might be helpful if I announce at this point that I intend to call the first of the two Front-Bench spokesmen at 12.10. If hon. Members who are trying to get in do the maths, they will realise that it will be difficult to get everyone in. However, the more disciplined hon. Members are about the time that they take, the more likely it is that we will get more of them in.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington 11:38 am, 29th June 2010

Thank you, Mr Howarth. I shall follow your stricture and keep my remarks to 10 minutes or thereabouts.

I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on securing this debate. He is right: many of the usual suspects are present for it. They include some ex-Ministers who share responsibility for the housing situation that we have in London.

It is fair to say that housing has been neglected by successive Governments and that the problem in London has not emerged in the past couple of months. There are different figures for how many households in London are looking for or waiting for social housing, but 350,000 has been quoted to me. Whichever figure one takes, a substantial number of people need social housing.

Clearly, as a result of demographic changes in London, pressure on housing will increase as the population increases. Demand might rise further if the coalition proposal to safeguard housing rights for people who are looking for work and perhaps coming to London has an impact, which it could. The proposal has some merit, but for it to work, we need some spare capacity in housing in London. I would not want such a proposal to displace people who are waiting for housing in London and who, in many cases, are being advised that they could wait for seven, eight, nine or 10 years. Such waiting times are being quoted to some people in my borough.

Clearly, too, the housing benefit changes, to which many hon. Members have already referred, will have an impact. There is some evidence, certainly in the commercial sector, that some landlords are responding to the present financial situation and, if not knocking down prices, holding prices for leases that run for four or five years.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith

The situation may or may not have changed but the policy certainly has, so does the hon. Gentleman support what the Housing Minister said about looking at having no secure tenancies for new lettings in the future? Does he support the £250 to £400 cap on housing benefit, which must affect his constituents as well as mine?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

Some valid points have already been made in the debate and, perhaps surprisingly, one of the reasons for my being here today is to listen to the Minister, who is a sound and honourable man, explaining-hopefully, explaining away-some of the apparent contradictions in a number of the proposals. I know from his background in local authorities that he believes, contrary to what Glenda Jackson said, that council and social housing in this country has a strong and sound future. I am sure that he will defend that principle.

Photo of Glenda Jackson Glenda Jackson Labour, Hampstead and Kilburn

Going back to my theme, we have heard such a proposal before but presented in different words: essentially, it amounts to a property-owning country. That is good old-fashioned Thatcher dogma, simply re-dressed in another way. We saw what happened when that dogma ran the first time: a massive loss of homes, businesses and families. The Government will create that all over again.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

That is the hon. Lady's interpretation of the coalition Government's proposals across a number of policy areas, but it is not one with which I can agree. I agree that we need to guard against the potential impact of the proposed housing benefit changes on migration from central London to outer London boroughs or beyond, but I hope that Opposition Members accept that we are in rather a difficult financial position at the moment. I am keeping a tally of their proposals on how to address that position. They have accepted the need to cut 20% from a number of departmental budgets, including those of the Departments for Work and Pensions and for Communities and Local Government, so we need to hear some sort of explanation. Indeed, the hon. Lady said that housing benefit should be looked at, but presumably not with a view to increasing the funding available. I hope to hear at least an outline of some possible Opposition solutions or improvements to the coalition Government's proposals. I shall wait and see.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that if we invested in housing with affordable rents, through housing associations and councils, we would immediately cut the housing benefit bill enormously: instead of paying £400 a week, we would pay £120 a week?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I assure him that I understand his point perfectly, but he must be aware, having spoken in many such debates in the past 13 years, that housing in London is in short supply. The previous Government did not manage to resolve the problem, but I hope that the coalition Government will do so.

I want to refer to some of proposals in the coalition programme that will address the issue.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Development), Party Chair, Co-operative Party

As someone who also represents an outer-London borough, I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the migration of people from central to outer London-a number of my constituents, who are struggling to find housing in the private sector because of the changes, are already concerned. He hopes that the Government will make some changes to prevent such migration from happening, but what sort of changes would he like the Government to make?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I am afraid that I shall again have to defer to my hon. Friend the Minister, who I am sure will pick up that point when he responds to the debate. I want to put on record some of the proposals that the coalition Government have listed in their programme-measures, or sentiments, that can address the situation. When the Minister responds, I hope that he can put some flesh on the bones of such sentiments, as well as give an indication of where the Government are going with housing, so that we have greater clarity about how housing provision and needs will be addressed.

We will promote a radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. We will abolish local spatial strategies and return decision making on housing and planning to local councils. We will radically reform the planning system, to give neighbourhoods far greater ability to determine the shape of places in which their inhabitants live. We are exploring a range of measures to bring empty homes back into use, as my hon. Friend Simon Hughes made clear in an intervention earlier. We are also looking at new trusts and perhaps ways of providing cheaper homes that people can buy-cheaper because community trusts hold the land separately.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Energy and Climate Change)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that David Orr from the National Housing Federation has said that changes to the planning system, such as the end of regional targets and the cut in investment, mean that the amount of affordable housing built in England this year could fall by 65%?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I am aware of those concerns. However, a bottom-up approach to housing is required. Again, when the Minister responds to the debate, I hope that he will explain how the proposals in the coalition programme will help to increase the supply.

I want to mention the promotion of shared-ownership schemes. Registered social landlords, such as London and Quadrant led by David Montague, are proposing imaginative schemes, such as the "up to you" programme, to make homes available for people who might not be able to pay a deposit for a property.

The situation is challenging, but we have some solutions or partial solutions to the problem of housing need in London and beyond. I should like to ask the Minister a specific question-just to get some clarity-on the decent homes programme. Although the issue is a local one, it might affect other hon. Members. The London borough of Sutton was awarded partial funding for its decent homes programme shortly before the general election. I seek confirmation that that funding remains available, and I ask about the future of the programme, which was due to last for a number of years. Tenants and the Sutton Housing Partnership are interested in what will happen to the decent homes funding.

To conclude, we are clearly in a challenging situation as far as housing need in London is concerned. It is not something that has emerged in the past couple of months but has been a long-standing problem in London, with a shortage of supply of affordable homes and, indeed, homes for sale. I hope that the coalition Government can take on that situation and can address it in the next five years.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Minister (Higher Education and Intellectual Property) 11:49 am, 29th June 2010

I congratulate my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn, who has a long history of bringing to this place for discussion matters on which Opposition Members work as a team. My hon. Friend Ms Buck-I hope that she catches your eye, Mr Howarth-also has a long history of bringing such matters to this place.

As London MPs, we are not here to suggest that we have cracked housing issues in London. We all have a long track record of campaigning on them, and understanding them, largely because we know from our constituency surgeries that London is a tale of two cities-the two cities that my father found when he arrived here in 1956. He shared a one-bedroom flat with a small paraffin heater in Finsbury Park with five others. He is not with us today, but I know he is pleased that I now have a big house in Finsbury Park. That is the progress of immigration.

All of us in the Chamber have large homes, and all of us have employment, but we are here because either we are moving incrementally forward on housing or moving backwards. The Budget and its housing benefit issues will move us backwards. I predict that the result of the exodus from inner London to outer London will be equivalent to what happened in the Parisian suburbs and there will be social unrest in three or four years. It is right to put that on the record. That will be the consequence of the social cleansing of inner London. It is patently clear to all Members of Parliament who represent London constituencies that the face of homelessness, particularly in London, is a black and ethnic minority one. Those are the people who will be cast out of Westminster, Islington, Camden and Hackney to find their way and their homes as they will, against a backdrop of existing acute housing need in London.

We have a Mayor who is not committed to building the necessary affordable homes in the city. Looking at the list of Conservative local authorities, I find it pathetic that only 200 affordable homes were built in Westminster in the last year for which we have figures; just 100 were built in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea and, even worse, in Richmond only 127 were built. Those authorities have the space and the opportunity, but over that period their attitude to building affordable homes was poor. That is the backdrop against which people will suffer.

Last Friday, an event was organised by the charity, TreeHouse, which supports families with young children on the autistic spectrum. I spent the afternoon on the Broadwater Farm estate with the Uddin family. I collected their son, Adil, from Broadwater Farm primary school, to be close to the family as they deal with their five-year-old's serious autistic needs. There are eight of them and they live in a two-bedroom flat, which is typical of housing need in my constituency. My message to that poor family with six children is that their disability living allowance will probably be cut by the present Administration, so despite having a three-week-old child, they can forget any possibility of receiving the baby or toddler element of the child tax credit, because that will go too. Mr Uddin makes representations to me about housing need, but against a backdrop of 3,471 people on the temporary accommodation list in the London borough of Haringey and, as we speak, 818 in emergency accommodation, it is very unlikely that the family will be able to move from their two-bedroom flat, despite the fact that eight of them live there. Even worse, the new Government, because of their attitude to economic matters, has deemed that the housing pressure in our London borough is set to become even worse.

Opposition Members believe passionately that despite the tough economic times, the way through is to invest and to determine growth. This is an opportunity for a new deal arrangement for our country, and Liberal Democrat Members should remember the opportunities that Lloyd George put in place with his people's Budget. It is a disgrace that hon. Members who represent areas such as Hornsey and Wood Green, and Bermondsey, where there are poor and needy constituents, support a Budget that will result in an exodus and social unrest. It is a disgrace.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Minister (Higher Education and Intellectual Property)

No, I will not give way. We have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman and, frankly, it was pretty poor.

One in eight people on housing benefit is unemployed, but many are workers-cleaners, shop workers, hospital porters and so on. The pressure that the Budget will put on them is unacceptable. It is a disgrace, and will lead to the sort of social unrest that I and my constituents saw in 1985 when unemployment was 20% in the constituency, and probably 40% among black people. We will see that again with the cutting of the future jobs fund alongside the ridiculous, nasty policy that underpins the Government.