Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 15th February 2011.

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Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North 11:00 am, 15th February 2011

Absolutely, because the less distance people must move, the better. That change would ameliorate the policies, and I, and I am sure other colleagues, would be more than happy to support it. We want to minimise disruption.

I do not want to say too much more, because other hon. Members want to speak. I want to conclude with some points about overcrowding in Islington, which is a small borough in comparison with many others. There are 3,096 families living in overcrowded homes, and of those 355 are in severe overcrowding, which means that they lack two or more bedrooms relative to their need. Clearly, there is a need to build council properties. The council is a major provider of housing in Islington, and in its budget, which is due to be debated this Thursday, 17 February, it has managed to present a significant increase in money to go into council house building:

"Despite the difficult times, we have been able to raise the investment in new build housing from £1.6 million"- planned under the previous council administration-

"to a new total of £10.1 million for 2011/12. This will go towards work on-site this year for 86 new council homes, with plans in progress to continue and increase this programme."

I applaud what Islington is trying to do, which is to meet housing needs. Where is central Government's contribution to meeting those needs? The Government tell local authorities that the only way in which they can build new council properties is by raising council rents to 80% of market rents. That means that for many people it will be impossible, in work, to pay a council rent. We are presented with a vista where people will not be able to accept a council nomination, because they will not be able to afford the rent, which will be too expensive. They will have to go somewhere else and try to find somewhere small and overcrowded, where they can at least afford to stay. That is a monstrous way to fund new building-to say that those in great housing need must pay for people in even greater housing need to be provided with somewhere to live. Why can we not have what we have always had, namely central Government allocation of money through the Public Works Loan Board or any other appropriate arrangement, so that we build our way out of the crisis? I hope that the Minister at least understands that point.

I want to add some brief thoughts. We have experienced the sadness of homelessness and witnessed the health problems and disasters that come from it. London is a strong, thriving and vibrant city in many ways, but if it is left to the free market to deal with the issues that it faces, it will begin to take on some of the worst aspects of cities in the United States: the poor will be driven out, because of the housing benefit system, and the private rented market will take over entirely, bringing all the insecurities that go with that. Young people who move to London, who are in work and who manage to get into the private sector pay a vast proportion of their income on housing costs-probably the highest level across Europe. I have talked to people, some of whom work in this building and are on reasonable salaries for their age, who pay 50% to 60% of their take-home pay in private rent for a shared flat or house, which is a huge burden. There is no possibility that they will ever save enough money to buy a place. We must recognise that without public intervention and investment, the housing crisis in London will get worse and worse.

I have four brief points to make to the Government. First, they should look at the way the benefit changes are operating, and in particular at their perverse effects on families living in inner London. Secondly, they should bring about some degree of security and regulation in the private sector, to avoid the continual merry-go-round of people having to leave private rented flats after six months or a year, and to create some long-term security and certainty. Thirdly, they should build council housing, providing local authorities with the wherewithal to do so. The virtuous circle of taking building workers out of unemployment and putting them into work to provide housing for those who need it is a major and a beneficial form of income regeneration. Finally, the Government should speak to the banks about the difficulty that so many people have in getting mortgages because of the large deposits that are required.

If the Government and local authorities were to consider such intervention, we would all benefit. The benefits would be better health, fewer family break-ups, better educational achievement and a happier and more cohesive society. I hope that the Government understand that many building companies fear that they will go under because of cuts in house building. In its latest residential crane survey, Drivers Jonas Deloitte said that of the 28,150 homes under construction at 169 sites in London, 44% are allocated for affordable housing. Under current policies, that number will go down, and those companies and those jobs will be in trouble. Meet the social needs and solve the economic problems-the two things go together.