Housing (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:57 am on 15th February 2011.

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Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 11:57 am, 15th February 2011

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, as it was to serve under Mr Turner's chairmanship before he left Westminster Hall.

I start by congratulating my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn on securing this debate and on making an extremely powerful and cogent speech. He made a number of pertinent points. In the first part of his speech, he referred to the record of the previous Labour Government, including the decent homes investment, which made a big difference to many households in the capital, and the rough sleepers initiative, which did so much to address the problem of homelessness in London. He also mentioned the new build programme. Towards the end of the previous Labour Government, that programme had also started to make an impact on the housing crisis in London. It is regrettable that the policies that are now being pursued by the Conservative-led Government are going in the opposite direction to those Labour policies.

Pertinently, my hon. Friend identified the fact that homelessness is now increasing again in the capital. The scourge of homelessness is an issue that should unite parties across the House, so that we can take the necessary measures to reduce the growing number of people who are forced to live on the streets, which is a stain on our national character. If homelessness in London has increased at the end of this Government's tenure in office, that will be a very poor statement about their record on tackling this issue.

As my hon. Friend mentioned, it is also clear that the number of people who are forced to sleep on a friend's sofa-I think that it is known colloquially as "sofa surfing"-is growing. That is because it is simply impossible for those people to access accommodation, as there is such an inadequate supply of housing in the city and the housing that is available in the private sector is beyond their means.

There is also a big problem with the housing benefit system. The system is wasteful, and I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a great need for much more regulation. He called for four areas to be addressed, one of which is changes to the housing benefit system. I agree with that, because there is perversity, but I do not agree with the changes that the Government are pursuing. Regulation needs to be introduced. We need to build more council houses, and I concur with my hon. Friend's comments about the banks being forced to provide mortgages for people who would like to, and have the income multiples to enable them to, access private sector owner-occupied accommodation.

My hon. Friend Mr Slaughter spoke eloquently about the gentrification of many neighbourhoods in the capital leading to an inadequate number of affordable houses. That contributes to the overall problem in London, and the Government's policies are effectively leading to a clearance, with people on low incomes being forced out of many boroughs. That is completely wrong, and the Government need to think again. My hon. Friend also identified the fact that much of the housing being built is inappropriate, and I have seen figures that suggest that about 80% of it is only one or two-bedroom units. Clearly, there is a need for much more emphasis on family housing, for the very reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North gave. A whole host of problems are related to people being forced to live cheek by jowl in accommodation that is too small for a growing family.

There is a need, particularly in the capital where house prices are much higher, for the Government to deal with the problem of people accessing mortgages, and pressure needs to be brought to bear, possibly with regulation to ensure that banks do not insist on people finding massive deposits. That problem is in desperate need of attention, because it contributes to building up the current housing crisis in London.

The proposed changes to social housing tenancies simply will also make matters worse, with the expectation for people to move on if their earnings exceed a certain level, forcing them into an even more precarious and difficult situation. In addition, the housing investment cuts have hit London hard, and they exacerbate the problem to which my hon. Friends have referred.

The amount of housing currently been built in London is inadequate and much of it is inappropriate for family needs, but another problem is that about 50% of it is located in just three boroughs, and there needs to be some attempt to ensure that there is building right across the city.