Future of Social Housing — [Ian Paisley in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:24 am on 19 April 2023.

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[Ian Paisley in the Chair]

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale 2:30, 19 April 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the future of social housing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Paisley, for this important debate. I am glad that so many Members from across the House have joined me to make their case and give their perspective on the future of social housing. I want to acknowledge the contribution of the stakeholders that have campaigned for social housing over a considerable number of years, and especially those that have supported this debate, including Shelter, Crisis, the Local Government Association and its constituent councils, the National Housing Federation and the housing associations in my constituency.

I will make a passionate case for a new generation of social housing in this country, built at scale, in mixed communities, from north to south and throughout out devolved regions and nations. It should put tenants centre stage in the healthy and affordable—I mean genuinely affordable—houses of the future.

I will start with the story of a real family in my constituency to add context to the debate. Members from across the House will have encountered similar stories in their caseloads. Sarah and Eddy are a young couple who approached me some time ago. They have a baby on the way. They had been living in the private rented sector for nine years, and were served a section 21 notice. Section 21 should have been consigned to the history books some time ago. There have been many promises that that will happen, and I am sure the Minister will elaborate on that.

Sarah and Eddy were desperate. Weaver Vale Housing Trust, one of the housing associations in my constituency, was in the process of building affordable housing in a place called Helsby, and I was able to go along with the chief exec and hand keys not only to that family but to other families that the housing association and I had helped. I saw their desperation, then their hope, then their happiness. It was one of those days that makes us all tick in this job. Those issues keep us awake at night, but resolving them gives us a sense of purpose and achievement.

That example is one of only a few that I can refer to, because housing is not being built at a sufficient scale to meet the need that is out there; it barely scratches the surface. We have 1.2 million people in housing need, and the number is growing. There are 100,000 families living in temporary accommodation. I am sure some Members have seen the report published today—I think it was from City Hall, commissioned by the Mayor of London—which shows that there are 300,000 children sharing bedrooms with their siblings in very cramped conditions.

Of course, we see the visible consequences of not building enough genuinely affordable housing, whether we walk around the streets of Westminster, Manchester, Norwich or Birmingham, and undoubtedly it will be the same in Northern Ireland, Scotland and so forth. Quite simply, the status quo is broken.

The consensus on the need to build 300,000 homes of all tenures has now been ditched by the Conservative party—the Conservative Government—to placate Back Benchers and some Tory councillors. Now it is being reported that planning applications in England have fallen to their lowest level in 16 years. The Government are once again well below their target—I say “target”, but I am not sure that it is now. Is it a target or not? It changes by the day.

Limiting supply is shattering the dreams, hopes and aspirations of so many families and young people. There will be Government Members sat across from me now who are very much aware that it is actually market-led housing schemes that are providing some of the affordable housing schemes in our community. The situation provides yet more evidence that the current Government have set in train a collapse in house building across England, with all the harmful social and economic consequences that that entails.

Let us take our minds back to the covid pandemic. There was grand talk from Ministers of “building back better”, with the homes for key workers scheme draw on the post-war programmes of homes for heroes. We saw that scheme being announced, and spun, in the press. Unfortunately, it amounted to little in the way of substance. It was policy by press release, soundbite and broken promises. Lessons from history are simply being ignored.

During the current cost of living crisis, the relationship between housing and income has been magnified more than ever. Many commentators refer to a housing crisis; in reality, at its heart this is an affordability crisis. Too many people and families are excluded from what should be a basic right for all—a decent, genuinely affordable home that is safe and secure, and free from damp and mould. The case for social housing is stronger now than ever before—for now, not just for the future. That case is not just a moral one; it is about sound economics, too.

Let me start with the economic case. The cost of housing benefit in the UK is now truly astronomical. The Government’s own figures show that it is £23 billion a year. I will repeat that figure: £23 billion a year. Much of that goes into substandard properties in the private rented sector, where—as we all know from looking at our caseloads—rents are rocketing and local housing allowance rates are not meeting the basic costs of those rents. Again, I would like to hear from the Minister whether that will change.

As Sadiq Khan and City Hall have highlighted, over £1.6 billion is being spent on very bad—substandard—accommodation. The Government talk about the affordable homes programme, don’t they? In reality, in a lot of cases that programme is not building affordable homes, yet it costs £11.4 billion over four years. There is £23 billion every year going into the private rented sector, much of it for substandard accommodation, and yet £11.4 billion over four years has been spent on the so-called affordable homes programme.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a measure of the waste of public funds and the state of the housing crisis that in Kersal and other areas in my constituency—and, I dare say, in his constituency and others—small terraced houses are being turned into houses in multiple occupation for four families, with each individual family in these tiny properties claiming housing benefit? It is bad housing policy and bad public finance policy.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

My hon. Friend is correct, and he will know that I am very familiar with the area that he refers to.

Surely it would be better to recycle that money and build the green social homes to provide for need, reduce costs and stimulate the economy. This Government talk about growth, and we do not have it. What better way could there be than to get Britain building and get Britain working? The result of that investment would be a long-term saving for the nation, while improving health and wellbeing and, importantly, the environment.

The National Housing Federation, Shelter, Crisis and the Local Government Association all point to figures of between 90,000 to 100,000 for the number of new homes needed every year over the next decade if we are to stand a chance of meeting demand—I mentioned the 1.2 million who are in housing need—yet the Conservative Government’s record on social housing is pitiful. Since coming to power, they have failed to build sufficient homes to meet demand and even to meet their own targets. Under right to buy, 2 million homes for social rent—public assets—have been sold off. Just last year, some 21,600 social homes were either sold or demolished, while only 7,500 new homes were built, leading to a net loss of 14,100 homes. That has happened every year since 2010; it is a familiar picture.

The Government aim to deliver just 32,000 social rented homes over the next five years. The Prime Minister is quite keen on maths—that is 6,400 a year. It is even less than they are building now, which is pitiful, so it gets even more pitiful. In contrast, post-war Governments built more than 100,000 homes for social rent right up until the end of the 1970s. Part of the answer to this housing affordability crisis has been staring us in the face for too long. It is time to summon that spirit of the 1945 Labour Government and the consensus years beyond it to build hope, houses and opportunity Britain.

If this Government do not change tack over the next 18 months, a future Labour Government must reprioritise social housing to tackle housing poverty and provide genuinely affordable housing for those in need. Our party has already committed to ensure that social housing is the second largest tenure, with that pledge made by my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, the shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government, at the last Labour conference.

I want to put a number of points to the Minister. The affordable homes programme should be reinvigorated, with an increased focus on delivering homes for social rent over the next 18 months, not the current vandalised version of affordability that, in many cases, is anything but. Social rent of up to 80% of market rents in London, the south-east and many cities is just not realistic. The Government must change direction on their current proposals for section 106, given that 47% of affordable homes are currently funded by these means. The proposed infrastructure levy is becoming the Government’s very own magic money tree. We have all been in debates where we have been told that it is a remarkable, amazing levy that will pay for all these things. The one thing missing is affordable “affordable housing”.

The Government need to power up local councils and combined authorities, as argued by the Local Government Association, with even greater freedoms to borrow to build, while reforming planning to reduce the cost of land for public housing. I know that it is rather difficult with Government Back Benchers and so forth, but they have to do the right thing. The Government should also direct Homes England to take a more interventionist approach in the marketplace and acquire the land needed for building. In their first 100 days, an incoming Labour Government will do much of that, and very much more, with our “take back control” Bill. I think it will be in the first 100 days after the King’s speech; I look forward to that moment.

Some councils, from Manchester to London, and out to Norwich and further afield in our nations, have started to build council housing again, but meeting the scale of need will require political leadership and missionary zeal to charge up councils as well as housing associations—certainly those that have not lost sight of their founding principles. We must ensure that there is capacity in planning departments to turbocharge that missionary zeal into building social homes. I believe that time is up for right to buy—that is a personal perspective. To protect and grow the public housing stock, redirect an element of that subsidy to first-time buyers, so that they can have first dibs on market-led housing development.

The current Government’s first homes scheme has delivered just 35 completed homes. It is a scheme that had lots of fanfare in the not-too-distant past, with a target of 10,000. I suppose I will pay some slight credit to the Government and the Minister: it is much better than what came before it, which was zero. I think that is referring to starter homes, none of which have been started in any way. The direction of travel on social housing regulation is the correct one, but putting the voice of the tenant at the heart of the community will require sufficient resources for tenants as well as social housing providers to improve housing stock.

I am interested to hear the Minister expand on that. What minimum standards can we expect to be required of social housing providers? Will we see a programme such as we saw some years ago, in the last Labour Government, which drove up standards of social housing? I hope that the Minister can update us on when we can expect to see section 21 abolished.

Let us consider the pressing question for the Minister: will she recognise that it is now time to make significant investment in building genuinely affordable social homes? If she changes tack in the next 18 months, maybe she can make a mark in history. If that is not the case, it is clearly time to step aside and let people and communities take control, with a Labour Government to provide hope, houses and opportunity.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Can hon. Members remain standing so that I can see who wishes to speak? I do not want to put a time limit on Members, but if they can keep in mind a maximum of three and a half minutes when they make their speeches, it will give everyone an opportunity to speak. This is a very well-subscribed debate, and I know Members have important things that they wish to say.

Photo of Ben Everitt Ben Everitt Conservative, Milton Keynes North 2:48, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate Mike Amesbury on securing the debate and enabling us to have this vital discussion about social housing.

I am sure we will cover a broad range of issues relating to social housing; therefore, given the time limit, I will limit my comments to speaking about conversions and incentives to build social housing, where I know we need to be making much more ground than we already are. As of now, 145,000 new affordable homes need to be supplied in England each year to meet current demand, including 90,000 homes at social rent levels. However, Government figures show that just 59,000 new affordable homes were delivered in 2021-22, with only a small proportion for social rent, so we know that we need to do more.

I will cut to the chase: some 1 million households are currently on the social housing waiting list in England, and private sector rents are increasing at their fastest rate in 16 years. It is harder for younger people to afford social housing, and it is harder for anybody to find affordable housing. It is well documented that a lack of affordable housing options contributes to homelessness, which unfortunately remains a significant problem in my constituency of Milton Keynes North. It is vital that we deliver more affordable and social housing to keep people off the streets. Therefore, we must incentivise building more affordable social housing.

I have been looking at getting that done through conversions. The all-party parliamentary group for housing market and housing delivery, which I chair, is doing a joint inquiry with the all-party parliamentary group for ending homelessness, which is spearheaded by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and Florence Eshalomi, who I am delighted to be stood opposite.

We must find a way to make it easier for council housing associations, individuals and organisations to build. Permitted development could be an opportunity for that. Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, a total of 72,980 new dwellings were added to our housing stock through permitted development rights, 89% of which were the result of office-to-residential conversions. We have all heard the horror stories about PDRs, so we must ensure quality and standards. In addition to boosting affordable supply through conversions, another crucial element to consider is the infrastructure levy itself. I welcomed the Minister’s commitment at the Dispatch Box last year to look into exempting affordable accommodation from the infrastructure levy, following an amendment I tabled that would have done exactly that. Social housing should be included in that.

We must incentivise SME house builders to play a more significant role in the social housing sector. SMEs bring innovation, flexibility and local knowledge to the table and are often better equipped to take on small, bespoke projects than large firms. Therefore, we must make it much easier for them to enter the market.

The future of social housing in the UK requires a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach from both the Government and private sector. We must increase the supply of affordable housing, including social housing, by incentivising conversions and supporting SME builders. Consequently, we can realise our shared ambition, which is for everyone to have access to safe, secure, and affordable housing that meets the needs of our local communities.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General 2:52, 19 April 2023

Not only could I have made this speech in any year since I was first elected in 2005, I have made this speech in every year since then, because sadly, since long before that, there has been a sustained decline of social housing. Effectively, half the council homes have been lost since the right to buy was introduced as part of Thatcher’s attack on social housing.

It has been a very political attack. There is a completely erroneous belief that social tenants vote Labour and that Conservative voters do not particularly like social housing to be built. Actually, a survey last week showed that 70% of Conservative voters do want more social housing to be built. Perhaps the Conservatives’ electorate is slightly ahead of them on housing policy, because we are now in a deep housing crisis.

The cut to the social housing grant that was introduced in about 2011 and the freeze on rents, which prevented housing associations and councils expanding their stock, has really hobbled providers. This has been a 40-year process of decline. We have lost about half our council homes. It has gone from being a mainstream to a residual form of housing. Until we can reverse that, we will never resolve the housing crisis.

In fact, the struggle now is much greater. Because the last major building programmes were back in the ’60s and ’70s, many of those estates and homes are now either reaching the end of their useful life or need substantial repair. That money is not there. We now have, for sound environmental reasons, a huge bill for retrofitting and we also have—which we discovered in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy—a huge bill for fire safety. Against that, there has been a decline in the amount of money available. This is a created crisis. I do not believe that this Government are going to even begin to try to solve it in the next year, but a future Labour Government will have to tackle it head-on.

There are many practical ways. Yes, of course more grants and investment are needed, but there are underspends in Homes England. There are ways of incentivising developers. There are ways of changing plans to require a minimum of 50% affordable housing, particularly in areas of extreme shortage. That is not impossible; in Vienna the requirement is 66%. We need development corporations and an interventionist market in areas of high need.

One of the good things about canvassing, which I first started about 40 years ago, is that we get to see how people live. Forty years ago, we were worried about conditions in the private rented sector. Now, in many cases the social housing sector is just as bad. Housing associations are running their stocks badly, partly because they do not have the means to do it. Unless and until we have a Government that are serious about housing people on low and medium incomes particularly, but also the population generally, as was the pledge from Governments of both parties in years gone by—until we get that sea change in attitude, we are not going to resolve this problem. To think it can be tinkered with through the sorts of means this Government are introducing now is a pure fantasy.

Photo of Natalie Elphicke Natalie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 2:56, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. I thank Mike Amesbury for securing this important debate. Housing has long been my driving passion and interest. I have published extensively on housing. In that regard, I draw attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my unpaid role in the Housing and Finance Institute.

Hon. Members know that I am a strong advocate for the importance of social and affordable housing. I grew up in council housing, and I firmly believe that it is social and affordable housing that provides a good home. That is somewhere that provides opportunity—a springboard for life chances—as well as stability, flexibility and affordability. A good home is not incidental or subsidiary to the other fundamental needs or priorities of a Government, such as health or education. Providing good homes is itself a fundamental need and priority. It is the foundation stone for families and people across all ages to live well and prosper in our society.

The evidence is clear that a good home is provided best in two forms of housing tenure: social housing and home ownership, not the private rented sector. The link between the private rented sector and deprivation has long been shown, and it is time to rebalance the long-standing issue of growth in that sector. The uncontrolled expansion is a grave error. There needs to be a fundamental change to rebalance the tenure mix and provide more social and affordable homes. The nation needs good homes to provide home ownership and stable social rented housing.

Last month, I published Operation Homemaker, which is a groundbreaking plan to house the homeless and provide permanent homes for the most vulnerable households in Britain. Nearly 100,000 households in our country are without a home of their own, including a staggering 11,000 children in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Homemaker plan is to build 100,000 homes over a year and a half. Those homes will house the homeless and provide a permanent home for every family stuck in temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts. Operation Homemaker will not only house the homeless, but boost the economy. Building the homes will provide a £15 billion stimulus to the economy, which will help to keep the building industry going and secure hundreds of jobs. The Homemaker plan can be funded by better using available funding. That is both public and private finance, revenue and capital spending. With private finance and institutional investment appetite, the funding and the planning permissions are available to deliver on this important ambition.

As a constituency MP, I am proud of the work that the Conservative-led Dover District Council has undertaken to provide new council and affordable homes for our local community. However, more must be done nationally to support those in need. It is time for Operation Homemaker —a new national mission to house the homeless and build the affordable homes that our country needs. We can and must deliver the social homes that are needed. The time to deliver social and affordable housing is not the future; it is right here and right now, and that is what we must do.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Future of Work), Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy) 2:59, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my neighbour and hon. Friend Mike Amesbury on securing this important debate and his excellent introduction on a subject that he is passionate about, as is every hon. Member here.

If our debates were guided by issues that constituents come to see us about, housing would be very near the top of the list. Whether it is tenants facing eviction, tenants coming to see me for the fourth or fifth time because the damp has still not been fixed, or people who simply want a roof over their heads, it is clear that we do not have enough housing at the right price, of the right quality, in the right places or of the right tenure.

I look at what the young people of today are facing: student loan repayments, sky-high private rents, huge deposits for a home, and maybe even saving for retirement. With inflation continuing to outstrip wage increases for many, even renting privately is a challenge, never mind saving for the future or for a home of their own. A young person who lives with their parents and cannot afford to move out, as many cannot, will probably not even qualify to get on the housing register in the first place. They are essentially trapped.

To get on the housing list now, people have to be in a pretty serious situation. Simply being unable to afford a place of one’s own is no longer enough. Even with those restrictions, there are nearly 6,500 people on the housing register across my local authority area of Cheshire West, with more than 1,500 in the most urgent categories. For context, in the past year, only 922 vacant properties were advertised across the whole of Cheshire West. The average waiting time for an applicant in band A—which is for the most urgent cases, such as those involving domestic abuse or homelessness—is around 22 weeks, while the longest wait is just over three years. Those are just the most urgent cases—the so-called lucky few who can even get on the register in the first place.

The only answer is to massively increase the amount of council housing. As the LGA says, a generational step change in council house building is required to boost housing supply. What we have at the moment is a lottery. If there is a central Government grant going, or a new private development, where the developers might be required to build a few affordable homes, we might get a bit of new social housing, but it is piecemeal and nowhere near enough to meet demand.

The new builds we are seeing are not even enough to replace the homes lost to the right to buy, never mind to meet existing demand. I understand why, in the rush to reach the decent homes standard, many councils transferred their stock to housing associations at the start of this century, but that has led to council housing becoming detached from the communities it is supposed to serve. It is now all about asset management.

Although our council has built what it can, it is nowhere near what it needs to be, because of the straitjacket imposed by Government. Most of the new social housing built in my constituency in recent years has been built by housing associations, often based many miles away from the constituency, with no connection to the area, other than having a few dozen homes there. I doubt very much that the leaders of those organisations have spent much time in the constituency, if they have visited it all.

When councils had the capacity and resources to plan over the long term for housing need, it was about so much more than just putting a roof over people’s heads. It was about building communities, and successive generations living side by side in secure, well maintained, low-cost homes. We have lost all that. Decent and affordable housing, built in sustainable, joined-up communities, has the power to fundamentally improve people’s lives, and the life chances of children in my constituency and across the country. What we have now is a market-first, people-last approach, which ultimately makes us all the poorer. Build more council houses and build them now.

Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:03, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I thank my hon. Friend and north-western neighbour Mike Amesbury for securing this important debate. I know he is passionate about improving the provision of social housing in his constituency and across Britain.

Every single week my office is inundated with stories about scandalous rent hikes in the private sector, amounting to hundreds of pounds, and an ageing stock in the social sector, meaning damp and mould are rampant. Recent census data revealed that house prices in Stockport have risen by almost 50% in the last five years, compared with 20% in the rest of England and Wales. As a result, rents in the private sector are sky rocketing. Understandably, people are turning to an already oversubscribed social housing sector, where temporary and emergency accommodation is full.

Local housing allowance is dwarfed by the median rental value in the two broad market rental areas in my constituency, and with the Government’s consistent delay in abolishing section 21 no-fault evictions, the security of tenure in the social sector is rightly and more understandably attractive. When the Chancellor announced his Budget last month, I was deeply disappointed that local authorities were not given the money to improve the housing stock, or the ability and finances to build more council houses.

I recently received an email from a woman living in social housing, who said that conditions were so bad that her one-year-old baby has

“had to stay with family as we have to protect her health. She was constantly coughing and had bad breathing”.

Another example is a mother who wrote to me following an accident that left her paralysed from the waist down. She is in a property that has no wheelchair access and so is bedbound. There are currently no suitable properties for the family.

In the last fortnight I met with Stockport Homes, which is the primary social housing provider in my constituency. The truth is that it is so much more than a social housing provider. Whether by providing food and mental health or employment support to its tenants, or by tackling antisocial behaviour in and around its properties, it regularly goes above and beyond. Take, for example, the work it does through its money advice team, which supported more than 2,000 customers to obtain additional income worth £7.2 million. Stockport Homes is truly an example of an excellent social service.

But when I met with representatives from Stockport Homes, they shared with me the utter despair that they feel, day in, day out, about their inability to provide suitable housing to the people who come through their doors, despite the excellent work and services they already offer. There are 7,000 households on the waiting list, 4,000 of which are in housing need of some kind. There has been an almost 30% increase in the number of homelessness inquiries from people currently in the private rented sector across the Stockport borough. A total of 569 properties have been reported as having damp, mould and condensation. If those figures are not shocking enough, in the last month a single studio flat received 325 bids. That means that 324 people missed out on securing one single-bed property, which demonstrates the exceptionally high demand in the Stockport constituency. I place on record my thanks to the chief executive, Helen McHale; the head of homelessness and rehousing, Jeff Binns; and all the staff at Stockport Homes who work so hard to provide for people in my constituency.

The Government must understand, though, that without addressing the inadequate finances and the much-needed upgrades to a significant portion of the stock, Stockport Homes will continue to struggle. The Government talk a good game on housing. The Secretary of State has previously publicly shamed failing social landlords, and the overdue renters reform Bill is coming, although it seems to be stuck in the pipeline. Beyond words and empty promises, what are the Government doing to ensure both that there is enough social housing provided and that the stock is of the highest quality, meeting the demands of tenants in Stockport and across Britain? I want to hear much more from the Minister on that.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:07, 19 April 2023

I thank Mike Amesbury for introducing the debate, setting the scene so well and, by having the debate, giving us all an opportunity to participate. The Minister will obviously not be able to answer questions on Northern Ireland, because she does not have responsibility for that—it is a devolved matter—but I always like to come along and add a Northern Ireland perspective to debates. It is important that I do so, because I will replicate what everybody else is saying. The problems in the UK mainland are problems for us back home in Northern Ireland, so I want to make that contribution, if I can.

Housing issues have always been at the top of my agenda in my office, which perhaps indicates that back home we have the same problems that others have referred to. I work incredibly closely with the local housing executive and housing associations in my constituency of Strangford. I put on record, as Navendu Mishra did, that the managers provide incredibly timely responses and always aim to do their utmost for their tenants and my constituents. I very much appreciate our working relationship and partnership.

There are issues, however, that need to be addressed for the future of social housing, so it is good to be here. I have no hesitation in saying that in my office—I am sure that yours is the same, Mr Paisley—we receive and deal with between five and 10 housing issues per day, for five to six days per week. It is massive issue. When it comes to the workload in my office, the only thing that beats housing is benefits. More individuals are relying on social housing, especially because of the rise in the cost of living—private rentals are so expensive and out of proportion. Many people are pushed financially to the very limit.

On 31 March 2022, there were 44,426 applicants on the social waiting list, and of those, 31,000—three quarters—were in housing stress. In other words, they were priorities. Others, including the hon. Member for Weaver Vale, have referred to the number of priorities. One of the issues that must be dealt with is the disparity between the amount of social housing available and the number of tenants waiting to be homed. I am very pleased that two new social housing developments are coming to my constituency—those properties will be allocated in about a month’s time—but the number of priority tenants on the list has increased by 12% to 15% in the last number of years.

The locality of social housing must be addressed as well, as well as the sharing of properties. There was a news story this morning, which I am sure others will also have noticed. A gentleman died in a flat, and there were 16 people staying in that flat—multiple people in one property. We have a real issue.

The girls in my office would say that the issues we deal with are split 50:50 between maintenance issues and social housing transfers—50% for maintenance issues and 50% for housing allocation. Maintenance issues such as mould, damp and insulation are prevalent. That is one of the most important factors in providing a successful future for social housing. I asked a parliamentary question back in January about what the Department was doing to address the issues of damp and mould. The reply said:

“All social housing must be safe and decent, providing those living in homes with security and dignity.”

The problem is that that is not the reality. We will all have examples of that across our constituencies.

I am conscious of your direction on time, Mr Paisley, and I will conclude. Despite the issues, we have a social housing system to be proud of, and a system that looks out for and protects those who are at risk and vulnerable. We must do our job here, to help them do theirs. In this place, we have the capacity to improve things further down the line, and to help the social housing sector to create healthy and safe homes for those most in need. That is our job to do here. Let us do our best.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 3:11, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Paisley.

Recent figures suggest that at least 271,000 people are homeless in England. Of those, 2,400 are sleeping rough on any given night. We desperately need more social housing. In the 1950s, councils were building an average of 147,000 homes a year. Slums were cleared and people moved into decent modern homes. According to figures from the National Housing Federation, by the 1960s, a quarter of all the country’s housing was council housing. There was a belief in state provision of housing.

Since those days, there has been a massive decline in council or social housing. The introduction of right to buy in 1980 under the Thatcher Government reduced the amount of social housing owned by councils and the amount of social housing overall. Following the Housing Act 1988, many councils transferred ownership of their housing stock to housing associations, and housing associations continued to build more social homes through the 1990s and 2000s. However, a drastic reduction in Government funding since 2010 has seen fewer social and affordable homes built.

In 2010-11, nearly 36,000 social rented homes were started. The following year, after funding cuts, that number reduced to just over 3,000. But it is worse than that. Some 165,000 social homes for rent were either sold or demolished without direct replacement between 2012-13 and 2021-22. That is an average net loss of more than 16,000 desperately needed, genuinely affordable homes a year, meaning that those who cannot afford to buy their own home—that includes pensioners and those living in poverty—are often forced to rent privately and live in constant fear of rent hikes or eviction. It is not just people in poverty who are affected. A generation of young people are struggling to find a home in which they can have some dignity and raise a family.

The Government should be bringing forward an ambitious programme of new social homes built on brownfield sites to high energy efficiency standards. It is also important that existing social housing is maintained to a decent standard. It is a matter of real concern that after almost 13 years of Conservative Government, there are insufficient welfare rights agencies to support tenants when they need help with issues such as damp, mould and disrepair. I know from the casework I receive, as I am sure colleagues across the House do, that there is a desperate need for such support.

It is a matter of extreme concern that the Government have failed to address the crisis in supply of social housing. Successive Conservative Governments have not only singularly failed to build the social homes we need over the past 13 years, but they have actively sought to remove them on an unprecedented scale. We need a sea change in attitudes to social housing and a commitment and a belief that social housing is a social good. Without it, the misery of homelessness and insecure and overpriced accommodation will continue to prevail.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:14, 19 April 2023

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury on securing this debate. If I had a fiver for every time I was asked by an older person to help them move to a bungalow, or I encountered a plea for help from a person with a disability who needs specialist accommodation, I could probably build a house. I could build half a street if I included all the individuals and families who are homeless, or who need more space for a growing family or an extra room so they can accommodate and care for a relative. After 13 years of Tory Government, we simply do not have the houses to meet those needs. All those people have been failed. We have simply failed to build sufficient social housing.

We do not just need to put a roof over people’s heads; we need to provide safe homes that are fit for purpose in places where individuals and families can thrive without worrying about the end of yet another 12-month lease, which are so common in the private rented sector. More and more people are stuck in that sector when they should have a council house to rent.

It is reprehensible that the Tories have abandoned their 2019 manifesto commitment to build 300,000 homes a year. The Prime Minister refused to say why when he spoke at Prime Minister’s questions today. Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer that question. Thatcher produced the right-to-buy scheme and opened the door for millions to buy their council houses, but she failed to ensure that those homes were replaced when they were sold, which meant that there were insufficient homes to rent for future generations. The Labour Government from 1997 did not build enough houses to rent either, but they did concentrate on refurbishing millions of existing council homes, which had been neglected by the Thatcher and Major Governments for nearly two decades.

The Local Government Association says that we should

“give local government the powers and funding to deliver an ambitious build programme of 100,000 high-quality, climate-friendly social homes a year”, and I agree. It adds that that would

“save the public finances by £24.5 billion over 30 years, which includes a reduction in the housing benefit bill and temporary accommodation costs.”

For a long time, what used to be our council housing stock has been transferred to housing associations, and they have succeeded in many ways, but I worry about the focus on building new houses rather than social houses for rent. More and more are being built for sale. I do not doubt that there is a place for that sort of activity, but we need a policy to drive a revolution in the building of affordable homes for rent. Shelter is banging the same drum. It says:

“Unless we act now, we face a future in which a generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, where more and more people will grow old in private rentals, where billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords—and hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness.”

My local authority, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, is also seeing rent increases, which are making housing more unaffordable for residents. There is therefore a greater demand for social housing. That comes at a time when there is a lower turnover in social housing, which means that the generations coming up that require housing do not get it. Of course, there are significant waiting lists for properties that can provide independent accommodation for those who have a family member with a disability.

Thirteen, the social housing provider, wants to upgrade its old houses, but it is a risky business because of the way the financial system works. We need that revolution, and I believe that only our Labour pledges will drive a generational step change in housing. Our people will be happier and healthier as a result.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 3:18, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury for securing this really important debate and for his powerful contribution. He spoke passionately about this issue, which is close to many of our hearts.

Debates on social housing are personal to me, as they are to many people in Vauxhall. Like many other Members, I grew up on a council estate. I am the eldest of three girls, and I still remember being placed in temporary accommodation in a bed and breakfast in King’s Cross. My mum never allowed us to miss school, so we still had to get on the tube every morning down to Brixton. I remember the joy we felt when we received our permanent accommodation in the Barrier block in Brixton, and the relief of not having to wheel around a suitcase or look at my belongings in a black bag.

Many years later, many of the constituents I represent are still in that vicious cycle of not having somewhere stable to call home. I look back on my childhood and almost feel guilty, because I had my own bedroom on our council estate. In many of my constituents’ houses, three, four or five siblings share a bedroom. That is totally unacceptable.

This morning in the Jubilee Room, I hosted, along with Shelter, an event looking at young people’s housing aspirations. Many of the issues that we have discussed today came up. Those young people cannot start their lives—how can we expect the next generation to build a life and study properly if they do not get an adequate night’s sleep?

Housing is a basic human right. One of the things that I remember about growing up on a council estate is the fact that people stereotyped us and looked down at us. That is still how social tenants are treated but, as we all know from our casework, these tenants just want to live their lives, pay their rent and work. They have aspirations. The sneering in some of the media about people in social housing is part of why we are not building enough. We need to believe in those people—they are our future.

The home I had in Brixton gave me and my family a roof over our heads. In my borough of Lambeth, more than 36,000 people are on the housing waiting list, and a number of them will never get the social housing that I grew up in. My casework, like that of many other Members, is filled with housing issues. Housing is the top issue—repairs, damp, mould. I will read out one example of an email I received recently:

“I’m 27 years old and I currently live with my disabled 70 year old mother and poorly 92 year old grandmother. I am currently 33 weeks pregnant and at my wits end with the issues I’m facing. Over the past 7 years one of the bedrooms has suffered dark stains that come through the wall. These stains are so severe that a recent workman told me that it looks like there has been a fire. This is the room I have been breathing in the last 8 months of my pregnancy and this is the room I plan to bring my newborn baby into. As my due date is looming my anxiety is through the roof. Please please help.”

After the tragic case of Awaab Ishak, nobody should be living in those circumstances—but they are, because our housing associations and councils do not have the funding. The Minister is the 15th Housing Minister since 2010. When will the Government make housing a key priority? They keep on talking about it. I know that the Minister is very able, and I hope we will see a step change when it comes to building more houses, supporting our local councils and making sure that my constituents and many more do not have to live in this way.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central 3:22, 19 April 2023

It is always a pleasure, Mr Paisley. Here is a scandal: in York over the past four years, just 94 social housing units were developed, in addition to some resettlement homes. Currently, just 27 units are in development. Over that period, there have been 229 sales of social housing, while the waiting list has more than doubled—an average of 24 social homes built and 57 sold each year.

Meanwhile, York has seen the growth of short-term holiday lets: this morning, AirDNA showed 2,056 places to let. Why does that matter? It matters because people who want to rent social housing are forced to rent private housing, then their landlords serve section 21 notices, kicking out their tenants and flipping homes into Airbnbs, while residents have nowhere to go. We are drowning in luxury accommodation, with relocations, second homes and empty homes having driven up the “for sale” market costs by 23.1% in York just last year—the highest in the country.

There is a housing crisis. Ownership is inaccessible, current residential properties are flipped into Airbnbs, private rent is unaffordable and insecure, and council house builds number fewer than half the sales. There are no excuses, but that is what we get after 13 years of Tory Governments combined with a Lib Dem council.

The stock is old, cold and full of mould and damp. As I was switching off my laptop last night, there was yet another email, pleading:

“I live in a 2 bed second floor flat. I have 3 kids. I’m overcrowded and I’ve got bad mould on bedroom windows and on walls and living room windows are broken and unsafe for my 3 and 4 year old kids. Can you please help?”

It was not the first such email that day and, given that we receive hundreds and hundreds of cases, it will not be the last. Overcrowding, neglected conditions, people placed in completely unsuitable neighbourhoods—that is York today under this Conservative Government and the Lib Dem-Green council. My city and my residents are ignored as developers and private landlords profit. Our council and this Government are not incensed by the burning injustice of their own failure, but seek every reason to justify it.

Forgive me for being angry, but I am. I talk to these families every week. I am part of their community. I see the price of neglect; I know their stories, frustrations, sadness and lost dreams. When I see the Ministers, Government and councils with all the power to make a difference squander opportunities and fritter away the privilege that elected power gives to transform lives, it says politics is a sham, and politicians must be shamed if they cannot even build the homes that the poorest among us need. They cannot even find the parliamentary time for the promised renters reform Bill. Instead they publish Bill after Bill, consuming an inordinate amount of time fighting petty political battles, crushing workers and human rights, rather than using their power to retrofit homes and build the new ones that we need to restore communities and give people a new start. Labour will do that, because that is why we are here. It is the purpose of our politics.

I want no more embarrassing justifications. We have the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill in the House of Lords right now. As the Government heard my cries about Airbnb and introduced legislative changes and a consultation, I ask them to do the same in that Bill to bring forward the legislative changes to build a new generation of social housing. The opportunity is now. It must not be missed.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Defence) 3:25, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Mr Paisley. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury on securing this debate. We have heard fantastic, powerful speeches, particularly from Labour Members. I add my voice to say that the UK faces a severe housing crisis.

As the Member of Parliament for Luton South, I find that housing is the most common issue that local residents contact me about. High rents, poor quality housing and low rental stock mean that many Luton residents struggle to access affordable, safe, healthy and secure housing. Luton council has over 8,000 families on its housing waiting list, many with complex and multiple needs, and over 1,000 families in temporary accommodation. That is completely unsustainable and getting worse with the increase in section 21 no-fault evictions in Luton. Alongside low pay, rents in Luton are high mainly because of the town’s proximity to London, and the average house price is £289,000. That is 10 times the average wage in Luton, so owning their own home is a pipe dream for many.

We can see that the Government do not recognise the importance of a good affordable home. Around 2 million private renting households—about 38% of the total of those in the private rented sector—receive housing costs support through either universal credit or housing benefit. Yet the Government have chosen to freeze local housing allowance rates at the same time as rent inflation continues and new cost of living pressures have emerged. In Luton, Institute for Fiscal Studies analysis shows that there is now a £100 deficit in the local housing allowance rate in comparison with the lowest rents in the area. That does not acknowledge the types of properties that people need, as high demand for family homes means that the average rent for larger homes continues to grow.

In Luton, all homeless applications are placed in band 2 on the choice-based letting system. For a three-bedroom property, which is where the high demand is, the likely wait time is four to five years. That is four to five years of bringing up children in overcrowded and unsuitable accommodation. Without action, it will get worse over the coming years. The Government’s decision making is forcing people in Luton South and across the country into poverty.

I am proud that the Labour party has committed to be the first Government in a generation to restore social housing, including council housing, to the second largest form of tenure. The next Labour Government will rebuild our social housing stock and bring homes back into the ownership of local councils and communities. Home ownership will be opened up to millions more. For those in private renting, we will put into law a new renters charter and a new decent homes standard. Unlike the Tories, we know that housing is not a market, but a fundamental human right. The title of this debate is “Future of Social Housing”, but, as so many have said today, the future is social housing; the future is council housing.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Before I call the SNP spokesperson, I thank colleagues for self-disciplining themselves brilliantly and making sure that we got to this point without my having to call anyone to order. I call the SNP spokesperson, Chris Stephens.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up) 3:29, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I noted that your friend, Jim Shannon, exercised self-discipline, which is not always the case.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I noticed your strict chairing, Mr Paisley, but it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

I thank my good friend, Mike Amesbury, for opening the debate. He said a number of things that resonated with me; in fact, I got flashbacks when he talked about the challenges in the private rented sector. To this day, I remember the exchange I had with the landlord associations in the Work and Pensions Committee. They told me there was no such thing as “No DSS” and no adverts put out that said it, and then I managed to find one that said, “No DSS. Small dogs considered.” I am still waiting on an answer to the vital question in that exchange: did the small dog have to provide proof of income to get a property? Colleagues raising these types of debates, and the work of the Select Committee system, ensured that that particular policy was put in the bin.

The hon. Gentleman talked at great length about the very real need for social housing. I will touch on that, but not only is there a need for social housing; we need to acknowledge the support provided by social housing providers to their tenants on a daily basis. They must provide those wraparound services because of the effects of Government policy and a broken social security system, such as the challenges people face getting pension credit or disability benefit, or getting deductions at the very start of a universal credit claim, and all the other problems that social housing providers have to support their tenants with.

A number of colleagues have talked at length about the level of rents. With that comes food price inflation—currently at 18.2%. I thank the Linthouse housing association for providing the Linthouse larder, along with Good Food Scotland and Feeding Britain; Southside housing association for opening the Cardonald larder; and the Wheatley Group, which has opened the Threehills larder in Glasgow South West. These Glasgow housing associations have a vision of ensuring that there is affordable food for their tenants right across the great city of Glasgow. What is the benefit of that? It has been calculated that someone who uses an affordable larder saves £20 a week on their weekly shop. That goes a long way to help tenants to not only afford their rent, but buy other things, and it helps them with this Tory-made cost of living crisis.

In Scotland, the Scottish Government are leading the way in the delivery of affordable housing across the UK. They have delivered 115,558 affordable homes since 2007, over 81,000 of which were for social rents; that includes 20,520 council homes. The Scottish Government are working intensively with social landlords to develop an agreement on a below-inflation rent increase for the next financial year.

The Scottish Government are also committed to tackling disrepair in housing, which many colleagues have talked about, by driving a culture in which good maintenance is a high priority. Social landlords in Scotland are already required by law to meet the tolerable standard, which forms part of the Scottish housing quality standard. That requires housing to be substantially free from rising or penetrating damp. Compliance is monitored annually by the Scottish housing regulator.

One of the challenges we face in Glasgow South West is that housing provision for asylum seekers does not often meet the Scottish housing quality standard. The Home Office has argued that there is no need for asylum accommodation to meet the Scottish housing quality standard. I must say, I find that a disgrace, but I am sure Glasgow is not the only asylum dispersal area where we find that housing standards for those seeking sanctuary in the UK do not meet basic standards.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

The hon. Gentleman is making a very good speech. Understandably, most of this debate has been about general needs housing, but there is also social housing, asylum seeker and refugee housing and housing for Roma Gypsies and travellers. These are especially neglected groups, and the Government have an appalling record on each of them.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Levelling Up)

I agree that there is an appalling record here, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman agrees with me that it is the social housing providers that have allowed their homes and accommodation to be let out to the Home Office to provide accommodation, but far too much of it is being let out to the private sector. I hope to work with him in holding the Government to account on these issues.

It is important that the Scottish Government are committed to enabling disabled people to live independently in their own home where possible. The Scottish Government want disabled people in Scotland to have choice, dignity and freedom to access suitable homes and to enable them to participate as full and equal citizens. The Scottish Government have flexible grant funding arrangements, ensuring that specialist housing provision identified by local authorities is a priority, so that disabled people can be supported. The Scottish accessible homes standard will futureproof new homes, building in accessibility and adaptability from the start, to ensure that older and disabled people have an increased range of housing options and to reduce the need to make costly changes to people’s homes as their needs change.

It is also important that steps are taken to strengthen rights for tenants and to prevent homelessness. Tackling homelessness and ending rough sleeping is a priority for the Scottish Government. On top of the funding provided through the local government settlement, the Scottish Government are providing a total of £100 million funding from their multi-year Ending Homelessness Together fund to transform the homelessness support system. I hope that the UK Government will look closely at the situation of people with no recourse to public funds. Too many people with no recourse to public funds are at risk of becoming homeless or sleeping rough. I hope that the Government look again at this issue, because the clear view of the Scottish National party is that nobody should be at risk of homelessness or destitution because of their immigration status.

As other colleagues have already said, the UK Government should—indeed, must—take urgent action to support struggling households by increasing the local housing allowance rates and scrapping poverty-inducing Tory policies; no devolved Administration should have to mitigate those policies, but that is what they have to do.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response and I thank hon. Members for participating in this debate.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:37, 19 April 2023

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley.

I start by warmly congratulating my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury on securing this incredibly important debate and on the compelling remarks he made to open it. His personal commitment to tackling the housing crisis in all its manifestations is second to none. He made a passionate case today for doing what is necessary both to tackle the present chronic undersupply of genuinely affordable social homes and to drive up standards in those that already exist. I thank all the other hon. Members who have contributed this afternoon in an extremely powerful set of speeches, particularly those of Labour Members, who really brought home the human cost of the neglect in recent years.

A wide range of issues has been raised in the debate this afternoon, but the vast majority of them have related either to the pressing need to build more social homes or to the equally pressing need to ensure that our existing social housing stock is well managed and of good quality. I will seek to address each issue in turn, starting with supply.

It is beyond dispute that England’s social housing deficit is now immense. Over 1.2 million households are now on local authority waiting lists, and that number is almost certainly a significant underestimate of the number of families for whom social housing would be an appropriate tenure if it were available. The point was made by my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi that because successive Governments have failed to build enough social homes, millions of families are trapped in overcrowded or unsuitable properties, an increasing number of low-income households have been forced into insecure, unaffordable and often substandard private rented housing, and the number of households in temporary accommodation has rocketed from 48,000 in 2010 to 99,000 in 2022.

The cost of this tenure shift has been borne not only by those trapped in inappropriate housing, who are often at risk of homelessness, but by the state in the form of a rapidly rising housing benefit bill, which now stands at a colossal £23.4 billion per year. That sum amounts to more than the total running costs of several Government Departments, yet when it comes to social housing supply, the record of successive Conservative-led Governments since 2010 has been nothing short of woeful. As my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale mentioned, the Department’s own data makes it clear that just 7,528 social homes were built last year. At the same time, 21,638 were either sold or demolished. That is a net loss of 14,110 genuinely affordable homes when we know that we need to build around 90,000 a year if we are ever to meet housing need.

That meagre 2021-22 output figure is not an aberration. By means of slashed grant funding, the introduction of the so-called affordable rent tenure, increased right-to-buy discounts and numerous other policy interventions, Conservative-led Governments have actively engineered the decline of social housing over the past 13 years, presiding over an average net loss of 13,000 social homes in each and every one of them. For all that the present Secretary of State waxes lyrical about the need to build more social homes, the steps that the Government are actually taking—namely, slightly tilting the balance of affordable homes programme spending towards social rent and providing local authorities with some additional flexibilities around the use of right-to-buy receipts—are not only too little, too late but undermined by other measures that Ministers are committed to enacting; not least, as my hon. Friend mentioned, the introduction of a new infrastructure levy that will almost certainly deliver less affordable housing overall than is provided through the present developer contribution system. Labour is the only party seriously committed to a marked increase in social house building. We will set out plans ahead of the general election that will make clear the level of our ambition and how we intend to meet it.

Given the chronic shortage of social homes across England and the corresponding lack of choice available to tenants, it is critical that what social housing stock remains is of decent standard, yet we know that the lives of far too many social housing tenants are blighted by poor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions. The shared recognition across these benches of that fact and the consequential need for the Government to act—[Interruption.]

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Order. There is a vote in the other Chamber, and there will be at least two votes, possibly three. Hopefully, we will be back here at about a quarter past the hour to complete the debate.

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 4:19, 19 April 2023

I thank colleagues for making their way back so promptly; that is very helpful. I call the Opposition spokesperson—you have six minutes, or thereabouts.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Thank you, Mr Paisley. As I was saying, the shared recognition that exists across these Benches of the fact that the lives of far too many social housing tenants are blighted by poor, unsafe and unhealthy conditions, and of the consequential need for the Government to act, enabled the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to complete its Commons stages in short order.

However, when it comes to ensuring that standards in social housing improve markedly and rapidly, the Bill is not a panacea. The onus to drive reform is, of course, ultimately on the sector itself, and the steps being taken following the publication of the “Better Social Housing” review are a welcome sign that it may be doing just that. However, the Government are ultimately responsible for the state of social housing in England and, subsequent to the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent, the Government will still have a significant role to play in assisting social landlords to improve their stock and tackle the underlying causes of problems such as damp, mould and leaks.

The problem is that political choices made by successive Conservative-led Governments have piled significant financial pressure on to social landlords. As my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter argued earlier, the cumulative impact of having to build new, affordable homes despite swingeing grant funding reductions; the four-year 1% rent cut imposed between 2016 and 2020; the fact that the shortfall arising from this year’s 7% rent cut is unfunded; and the long-term challenges posed by decarbonisation and building safety in the absence of adequate Government support cannot be overstated.

Social landlords who wish to improve their existing stock face a monumental challenge. We need a Government who at least recognise that situation and are willing to explore what more is required from them, not least in funding and financing mechanisms to support social landlords to upgrade their stock, yet we see no signs that the present Government are giving the issue the attention it deserves. It is therefore likely to be yet another task that will fall to the next Labour Government.

The historical and ongoing failure to build enough social rented homes has seen growing numbers of families trapped in overcrowded, unsuitable, insecure or unaffordable properties. Those families suffer in terms of diminished health, wellbeing and life chances, and the state also pays in the form of an eye-watering and ever-rising housing benefit bill. Social housing is at the heart of the solution to the housing crisis, and the Labour party is committed to its renewal and rebirth through a substantial programme of social house building and further measures to drive up standards in our existing stock.

When it comes to social homes, “more” and “better” must be our watchwords. It is high time we had a Government who do not just pay lip service to the importance of social housing, but are wholeheartedly committed to providing decent, safe, secure and genuinely affordable homes for all who need them.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 4:22, 19 April 2023

It is a great pleasure to serve under you, Mr Paisley. Before I start, may I seek your guidance? How much time do we have for the debate?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Thank you—I will crack on, then. I thank Mike Amesbury for today’s really important debate. It is a pleasure to be here and to respond for the very first time on this particular issue in this Chamber.

The hon. Member powerfully articulated the case for building more social homes not just in his constituency, but across the country—that is reflected in the Members here. It goes without saying that that is an objective we all very much share. I will be responding to the comments made by Members, both in the course of my speech and at the end, and I thank every Member for making powerful contributions.

I start by reaffirming the unshakeable commitment of the Government to driving up both the quality and quantity of this nation’s social housing stock. It is a core tenet of our levelling-up agenda, and that has been reflected in recent years, starting with our affordable homes programme. The Government have been clear that they are entirely committed to increasing the supply of affordable housing in the country. That is why we launched the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme in 2020, with a commitment to deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes for both sale and rent.

At this point, I would like to say a bit about the social rent component of our affordable homes programme. We recognise how vital these homes are to building and maintaining thriving communities, and I was particularly struck by the very fluent remarks of Florence Eshalomi on this point; she really brought it to life and I thank her for doing so.

I know that every hon. Member will agree that homes for social rent are a fundamental part of our housing stock—a lifeline for those who would struggle to obtain a home at market rates. It was absolutely right for us to bring social rent homes into the scope of the affordable homes programme, as the Government did in 2018. Since then, we have doubled down in our levelling-up White Paper on our commitment to increase the supply of social rented homes, while also improving the quality of housing across the board in both the social and private rented sectors. The affordable homes programme has been changed to meet this commitment, with further increases to the share of social rented homes we are planning to deliver.

However, although social rent is a key element to our approach, we are also a Government who truly believe in supporting aspiring homeowners to take their first step on to the housing ladder. We understand what a difference that increased sense of security can make to all aspects of someone’s life and the lives of their family. That is why home ownership continues to be a fundamental part of the affordable homes programme offer and we will continue to deliver a significant number of homes through our shared ownership tenure.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

At Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister dodged the question as to why the Conservative party was reneging on its manifesto commitment to build 300,000 homes a year. Can the Minister answer the question and say why that has happened?

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The hon. Gentleman must be telepathic, because I was just about to come to that point. We are more broadly focused on accelerating housing delivery to make home buying a reality for a new generation, so we must build homes in the places that people want to live and work. As the Prime Minister said, and I agree with him, we want decisions about homes to be driven locally, which is why we need to get more local plans in place to deliver the homes that our communities need. We are working tirelessly across the country with our local partners and we intend to deliver 300,000 homes per year, as our commitment set out, so that we create a more sustainable and affordable housing market that benefits everybody.

However, I am not here only to talk about commitments, because it will make no difference unless we deliver on those commitments. We are making progress in our mission to increase housing supply and the numbers back that up. Many Members talked about numbers; let me give them some. Since 2010, we have delivered over 632,000 affordable homes, including 441,000 affordable homes for rent, over 162,000 of which were for social rent.

I hope that the hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench, Matthew Pennycook, will forgive me for making the comparison, but it is worth noting that this Government have delivered more affordable homes in the last 12 years than were delivered in the preceding 13 years of a Labour Government. Actually, I note that Alex Cunningham agrees with me. He said very clearly—

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

When I have finished this point, I will. The hon. Member for Stockton North said very clearly that the last Labour Government did not build enough social homes, either to rent or to buy, and I agree with him. [Interruption.] I will let the hon. Member for Weaver Vale intervene on me, but I want to answer his point. He has set out that he thinks a Labour Government are the answer to this situation; I disagree. A Labour Government are not the answer—the last Labour Government did not build enough affordable homes, social homes or council homes. If we look at Labour-run Wales, we see that they have an appalling record of building social housing.

Two London MPs spoke in the debate to highlight problems in London. I would like to remind—

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

When I have finished my remarks. I would like to remind the House that the Mayor of London is responsible for housing in London. He is a Labour Mayor of London and the problems there lie firmly at his door.

Many Members have also spoken about councils. I would like to point out my own local council’s record. Conservative-run Redditch Borough Council is delivering council housing. That is happening now that the Conservatives are in control of the borough. When Labour was in control of Redditch Borough Council, it delivered precisely zero.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

I thank the Minister for giving way. I should have welcomed her to her place, so I will get that on the record now.

This debate is about the future of social homes. I keep referring to that vandalised version of the definition of “affordable homes”; many of them are not affordable. On the track record of the previous Labour Government, let us compare social housing build. In those last few years of a Labour Government, considerably more social homes were built than under this Government—not enough, as hon. Members have said, but, going forward, the next Labour Government definitely will build enough.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I thank the hon. Member for his remarks. I listened carefully to the response of the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich on the Front Bench. What I heard is our agreement about the need to build more social homes to rent or buy, and Government Members also set that out very clearly. What I did not hear—from any Opposition Member—was a clear answer on how they will do that, so we await that.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

No. With respect, the hon. Gentleman has had his time, and I need to get these points on the record.

I want to talk about what we are doing. To support continued delivery, in March this year we announced that local authorities will have access to a new concessionary Public Works Loan Board interest rate for council house building from June this year. Local authorities have a real part to play in that endeavour. We are giving them the flexibility to make locally led decisions that deliver the best deal for their communities.

The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will create a new infrastructure levy—many Members touched on that, so it is important that we set the record straight. The new infrastructure levy will capture more land value uplift. That will enable us to deliver even more affordable housing, which is badly needed.

Local authorities will continue to benefit from the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, which we have discussed today, along with the scrapping of the housing revenue account borrowing cap. They will also benefit from greater flexibility, which someone mentioned from a sedentary position, in how they can use receipts from right-to-buy sales. I strongly urge councils to make use of those measures so that we can see more new homes built in the places where they are needed the most.

We briefly touched on social housing standards. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities could not have been clearer in his statements to the House when he said that every person in this country, no matter where they are from, what they do or how much they earn, deserves to live somewhere that is decent, safe and secure.

The tragedy of Awaab Ishak’s death made clear to us all the devastating consequences of inaction. The time for promises of improvements is well and truly over. Awaab’s law has been added to the Bill, with new requirements for landlords to address hazards such as damp and mould in social homes within a fixed period.

I want to finish by thanking all the Members who have contributed. We are committed to the abolition of section 21 eviction orders—

Hon. Members::


Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Very soon—Members do not have long to wait. They will have all their questions answered in due course.

I thank my hon. Friend Ben Everitt for his excellent speech on social housing. I reassure him that social housing will be part of the infrastructure levy, and it was a pleasure to meet his small builders and business experts. I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Elphicke for her considerable expertise in the sector and for bringing to us the Operation Homemaker programme. I thank her for all the work she is doing to help us.

I thank Jim Shannon, who highlighted similar issues in Northern Ireland; the hon. Members for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), for Stockton North and for Vauxhall; Rachael Maskell, who will know that we are committed to introducing the measures she has called for to control Airbnbs; and Rachel Hopkins. I thank everybody who has contributed. We will not stand for any tenant being mistreated—[Interruption.] I forgot to thank the hon. Gentleman from the Scottish National party Front Bench, Chris Stephens, for his contribution. That is all I will say on the matter—[Laughter.] We are committed to working with all hon. Members across the House to ensure that we get the safe and decent homes people deserve.

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

Thank you, Minister. It is clear that Mr Stephens needs to try harder to get noticed. Mr Amesbury, you have one minute to wind up.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale 4:33, 19 April 2023

I thank everybody for the good spirit in which they staged the debate. Everybody made powerful contributions, particularly the Labour Members. They were genuinely passionate about building a new generation of decent, affordable social housing. The future is social housing, and the future is a Labour Government to build it.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the future of social housing.