It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Brine on securing the debate. The subject is important in a week when the Prime Minister has made two significant announcements. At a time when the Liberal Democrats are taking policies in my manifesto and planting a nice yellow flag on them as though they had always owned them, I want to ensure that we claim both those policies as having been born, brought to fruition, made aware and brought to life in the Conservative party, with a big blue sticker on them.
I am proud of what this party has done for first-time buyers, not just since I have been an MP but since I was born, and even since the party was founded. We have always been the party of the first-time buyer. I make no apology for that, and I am proud of it. I know that our critics—sadly, they could not arrive today—normally say that we are opposed to social housing and that we look down on it. Far from it; as my hon. Friend Iain Stewart pointed out, we see the importance of the tenancy escalator. We see social housing as a springboard or trampoline, not quicksand from which one should never escape.
There is a reason why that is in our party’s DNA: we are real people with lived experiences. In my family, on my mother’s side, I had relatives living in Myrtle Gardens, a modernist estate in the heart of Liverpool. It was rather like the Karl Marx-Hof in Vienna but, in that part of Liverpool, possibly more left-wing. In the 1930s, it was a model of its time, but by the 1980s and the Toxteth riots, it was a shadow of its former self. What happened? Along came Lord Heseltine, who made sure that Myrtle Gardens was rebuilt and sold off to local people at prices that they could afford, which turned that estate around. In the heart of Liverpool, the Conservative DNA flickered, and we should be proud of that as well.
Council estates should be more than just assemblages of houses where we put people for social engineering purposes, as many on the left have always sought to do. My home village of Weaverham, where many people bought their houses in the 1980s, was two-thirds council estates, mostly for people working in the local Imperial Chemical Industries plant. Looking around, I found that they built a community from within the houses that they bought; they did not rely on someone else to do it for them.
It is clear that after 13 years of Labour rule, the challenges that we face are far different. As other speakers have pointed out, numbers of first-time buyers are falling sharply, from 50% of all house buyers in May 2009 to only 20% now. My hon. Friend Sheryll Murray cited the age of the average first-time buyer as 35. I heard 37. Maybe we will hear an upwards bid from the Labour spokesman, although I doubt it. That is Labour’s legacy.
Perhaps the most shocking legacy that we inherited was 50,000 statutorily homeless people. We do not mention that figure often enough, as my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy pointed out. Because the social housing market did not work as it should, we inherited 50,000 people trapped in temporary, substandard accommodation. That is not a legacy of which the Labour party should be proud for one second.
It is no wonder that groups such as Priced Out exist to campaign for people of my generation—20 to 35-year-olds—who are being priced out of the housing market, unable to afford a first house. I was fortunate. I bought in the last housing development in Greater London where prices were still under £100,000. I got in just in time. Another year or two and I would have been the sort of sofa surfer that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester discussed.
Why should my generation be denied opportunities that previous generations had? We should enable people, not tell them how to live their lives. It is a cultural battle as much as a political or economic one, because it is about the belief that housing policy is somehow about social engineering. It most certainly is not. It is about enabling people to choose how to live their lives. Home ownership is a natural objective for 86% of people, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government. We should not sneer at that or think that it prevents our wider dreams of creating a new Jerusalem. Far from it. True communities come from families having a stake in the society in which they live. That is the nub in terms of policy.
When those on the left criticise our NewBuy policy, I want to take them to Westminster Gardens in Bispham or Hawley Gardens in Thornton in my constituency. The criticism is that we are doing it just for the sake of the house builders. I want to take them around those new estates. Westminster Gardens was being built five years ago, when I was first elected to fight the seat. It is still being built; it is what is called a stalled development. Those who think that we are just trying to benefit house builders should speak to the residents of that estate and find out what is actually going on there.
A stalled development means that the local council will not adopt the roads, so they are left with substandard paving and road quality. They are left with dangers to small children from building sites and higher numbers of road traffic accidents and injuries. Merely to say, “Oh, you’re just doing it for the sake of the house builders” shows once again the failure of the left to engage with people’s lives as they are lived. Once again, it is only seeing the schematics, which is deeply unfair to the people investing in those estates who want them to be completed.
More concerning still is how our social housing market is blocked up, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer said. Many social tenants now are not moving through the system. That is why large numbers are stuck in temporary accommodation: there is not sufficient turnover. Labour has almost destroyed the right to buy by tweaking criteria, lowering thresholds and trying to prevent people from buying their council homes. I am sure that Labour Members pay lip service to the concept, but they do not believe in their hearts that owning one’s own home is a good thing. They look on it with suspicion, distaste and almost distrust, which angers me.
I could easily do cheap politics—