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

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is not really the business of housing associations to build luxury multi-million pound accommodation. Their whole raison d'être should be to provide affordable housing, which is why they came into being in the first place. They have lost sight of their original purpose when they start engaging in market-led developments, such as the one that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

I referred earlier to the difficulties that people have in raising deposits, and I have seen figures that suggest that it takes more than 14 years on average for someone to save for a deposit, assuming that they can keep pace with house price inflation. It is completely wrong that people are forced to rely on relatives to get a foot on the housing ladder, because it disfranchises tens of thousands of people in London whose families do not have the wherewithal to provide them with the deposits needed to purchase the houses that they aspire to own.

Tom Brake said, I think, that the economic background was one of the reasons why the Government had made some of their decisions on housing and cutbacks. I assume that he was referring to the finance that has been made available for housing and the cuts being made in housing benefit. I disagree with him, because it is really important that the Government seek to invest in the housing market and in providing houses, because that is a way of addressing the very problems that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Using the construction industry is an excellent way of assisting a private sector-led economic recovery. Most of what is procured for the construction industry is sourced from the UK, which provides a huge number of jobs in areas where housing construction and other building is taking place. It is mistaken to suggest that the economic circumstances that the country faces in some way justify the cutbacks in housing.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to delays in planning, and I agree that more needs to be done in that regard. I am concerned, however, that proposals in the Localism Bill might add delays, or will certainly make it more difficult in many circumstances to provide the houses that people desperately require.

It seems to me that the biggest reason for this housing crisis in the capital is an obsession that can be traced back to the early 1980s and the introduction of the right to buy, with its emphasis on a personal subsidy rather than a subsidy on bricks and mortar. That was almost inevitably going to end in tears, which is where we are today. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North pointed out, many landlords-I accept that it is not all of them-have sought to exploit the housing benefit system and to maximise rents. That has led to rents in the private rented sector going up and up to a point at which the Government-the same Government who introduced the obsession with personal subsidies in the first place-are now reining in those subsidies and forcing the poorest people and those on middle incomes in the city to bear the burden for their policy mistake, which can be traced back 30 years.