Yesterday evening I spoke during the House of Commons debate on the Housing and Planning Bill.
I am worried about the impact that this Bill will have on reducing the social housing stock in London, which will see more low-income families reliant on the private rented sector. I argued that the Bill will drive up homelessness, vastly increase the housing benefit bill and provide no genuinely affordable homes for ordinary Londoners to buy.
During the debate I asked the Minister for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis whether he really considered £450,000 to be an 'affordable' home, and expressed my concerns that the destruction of social housing will mean the end of mixed communities in many London boroughs.
You can read my speech and the full debate on Hansard here or below:
The Government’s own figures show that rough sleeping has increased by 30% over the past year, and it has almost doubled since they came to power back in 2010. The Mayor of London promised to tackle homelessness in the capital, but it has doubled over his period in City Hall.
The Combined Homelessness and Information Network found that there are 7,500 rough sleepers on London’s streets alone. Councils are spending a staggering £623,000 every single day on temporary bed and breakfast accommodation just to put a roof over the heads of vulnerable families.
That equates to £227.5 million last year, a rise of over £60 million on the previous year. The overwhelming majority of that money—some £176 million —was spent in London; 10% of the total figure—some £20 million—was spent in my home borough, the London borough of Haringey.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, which has looked into the extension of the right to buy. Its report makes sobering reading. The Government have not published a proper impact assessment on the full extent of the right to buy.
In fact, my hon. Friend said: “The Government should be embarrassed by the findings of this Report.”
I could not agree more.
I ask the Government why they are planning to push through changes that would reduce social housing stock by 370,000 by 2020. That figure is not from the Labour party; it is from the Chartered Institute of Housing. Why are they proposing to push that through? They are stretching councils to breaking point but are not even prepared to publish an impact assessment.
Homelessness will increase and more families will end up in temporary accommodation. More families on low incomes will be reliant on the private rented sector. Of course, if they are reliant on the private rented sector, who will pick up the bill for that? We the taxpayer will, because housing benefit will increase.
It is a phenomenal waste of resources. Usually, although we play party politics and there are dividing lines, there are issues on which there is some agreement. But here we have a Bill that offers a discount to those who can be earning up to £77,000, and there is already a discount for right to buy. The housing benefit bill is bound to go up.
How is that a sensible Conservative policy? That is what I would like the Minister to explain. On what analysis is that fiscally sensible? It does not feel fiscally sensible to me to introduce a set of policies that will not only run a coach and horses through our housing policy, but actually cost the taxpayer more in the long run.
That is all in addition to the issues of social exclusion and, I believe, social cohesion that will inevitably follow in parts of London. It has been said before that what we are seeing in London—this Bill will make this worse—is a move towards what we see in Paris, with an inner sanctum that is very well off, surrounded by an outer banlieue where people who are very poor move when they are increasingly pushed out.
We should commit to having a balanced situation. Of course we want to help people on to the housing ladder, but surely we do not want to drive the very poorest into some of the most squalid housing in the city and then ask taxpayers to subsidise it.
He has repeated that line today, but the House has pressed him for detail. He is an educated man, so can we get into the detail, because this is important stuff that we are being asked to see through? He has been asked for detail by the Public Accounts Committee and its Chair, but we have heard absolutely none.
When there is no detail, as this House knows from experience, it is usually because it has been done on the back of an envelope. We will be back here in a few years’ time to tidy up this mess—when I say “we”, I mean the House as a whole. Where is the detail? We need to hear more about what flexibility he actually means.
In London there were just 4,881 affordable homes built last year, which is the lowest number since 2008. How will this Bill make that any better? It will not, and that is why we oppose it.
Only last Thursday it was reported that Camden Council will be auctioning off £150 million of council homes on the private market in order to pay for these short-sighted reforms. Those council homes should be going to families on the capital’s waiting lists, but instead they are being sold to private buyers.
For what reason? Is it fund the fire sale of yet more council properties to tenants at a discount rate under the right to buy? It just does not make sense. I am putting on my best Conservative hat and trying to understand it, but I am struggling—usually I can just about get there, but I cannot on this occasion. I am really looking forward to hearing the Minister explain this.
Last month I asked the Minister what steps his Department is taking to ensure that replacements under the replacement housing scheme will be provided. He told me that “housing associations will have the flexibility to replace nationally.
He has repeated that line today, but the House has pressed him for detail. He is an educated man, so can we get into the detail, because this is important stuff that we are being asked to see through? He has been asked for detail by the Public Accounts Committee and its Chair, but we have heard absolutely none. When there is no detail, as this House knows from experience, it is usually because it has been done on the back of an envelope.
We will be back here in a few years’ time to tidy up this mess—when I say “we”, I mean the House as a whole. Where is the detail? We need to hear more about what flexibility he actually means.
In London there were just 4,881 affordable homes built last year, which is the lowest number since 2008. How will this Bill make that any better? It will not, and that is why we oppose it.”