[Mr Mike Hancock in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:10 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 12:10 pm, 29th June 2010

It is fair to say that housing is one of the biggest issues in my constituency, if not the biggest, and I am very pleased to be able to take part in the debate. Having a decent place to call home is something that many of us take for granted, but for thousands upon thousands of Londoners, the housing crisis in London can be described only as a living nightmare.

In my constituency, the biggest problem is that there simply are not enough reasonably priced homes to go around. In parts of Lewisham East, average house prices are 10 times average salaries. For many young people and public sector workers, home ownership is a distant pipe dream. Even the council's housing list offers little hope. The list stands at 17,000 households but, in contrast, about 1,400 properties become available to rent each year, so for each family that moves into a suitable property, another nine will be disappointed. For larger families, the wait for a suitable property can seem to take for ever.

In some parts of the country, overcrowding could be sorted out by using homes better, such as by matching the size of a household more closely to the size of the property, but even if under-occupation was completely eradicated in London, we would still be left with a huge problem. Private sector cross-subsidy for new affordable housing has not delivered the number or type of the new homes that are so urgently needed.

This issue is not about giving people a cushy place to live, but about giving kids the chance to do well at school and giving mums and dads the type of home life that prevents them from going nuts and enables them to go out and get a decent job. I could not quite believe it when the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested in last week's Budget that one of the ways he plans to limit spending on housing benefit is by restricting tenants' access to appropriately sized homes. Will the Minister recognise the devastating impact that overcrowding has on the lives of my constituents and will he assure me that the Chancellor's zeal for reducing spending on housing benefit will not result in even more misery than there is at present? I cannot help but think that the coalition's proposals to do away with housing targets and its weird obsession with so-called garden grabbing will just result in fewer homes being built in the capital. What assurance can the Minister give that that will not be the case?

The issue is not just building more homes, however, but investing in the homes that we do have. As Tom Brake said, a number of arm's length management organisations in the capital are crying out for investment. In my local authority area, Lewisham Homes is being inspected to determine whether it has reached the required standard to unlock £154 million of capital funding over the next five years. Other round 6 ALMOs in Lambeth and Tower Hamlets will undergo similar inspections in due course. Given the Chancellor's remarks about the importance of capital expenditure in the next few years, will the Minister reassure me and residents of properties provided by Lewisham Homes that the Government will look favourably on the investment needs of homes in London, and will he honour the commitment made to Lewisham by the previous Government?

Will the Minister also commit to looking beyond the decent homes standard and finding a flexible way for tenants to have the ability to set local priorities for investment? I have lost count of the number of times that people have said to me, "I have a perfectly decent kitchen, thank you. What I want is a lift that works." The scale of the investment required in London's social housing must not be underestimated, and nor must the long-term implications of not investing.

Housing is an issue that does not get enough airtime. It is also something that the new coalition Government seem not to understand. Last week, various news outlets were reporting the impact that housing expenditure can have on the nation's public health, but for those of us who are familiar with the state of London's housing needs, that was not news. I sincerely hope that the new coalition Government will do all that they can to improve London's housing conditions and to ensure that the type of homes that Londoners need are built. I for one will do all that I can to make sure that they do.