Temporary accommodation debate

On Tuesday 7th November I spoke in a debate on temporary accommodation on behalf of 3,140 families in Haringey living in temporary accommodation, including two families I have represented in the last couple months who have been living in temporary accommodation for 14 and 17 years respectively.

You can read my speech in full below:

I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in this important debate and to have supported my colleague the Hon Member for Mitcham and Morden in calling for this debate.

I hope that the Government are listening to this debate, because what we are seeing in constituencies like mine is a very serious crisis.

It is no longer accurate to talk of “temporary accommodation”. In the last three months I have represented two families in my constituency who have been living in so-called temporary accommodation for over 10 years.

Temporary accommodation is becoming permanent accommodation, and if we look at the broader context of this debate, then this is happening because of the huge shortage of social housing across our country.

One family has been living in temporary accommodation for the past 14 years. Another for 17 years.

The family has lived to see their children grow up in temporary accommodation. It is the only home their children have ever known – from their first day at primary school, their first day at high school and next year they will celebrate their eldest child’s eighteenth birthday.

Another of my constituents has been placed in temporary accommodation with her son who suffers from cerebral palsy, and the room is too small to accommodate the equipment he needs.

Another two cases came into my postbag this month of two households living in temporary accommodation since 2010.

There are 3,140 households living in temporary accommodation in my borough of Haringey.

And let us be clear about the conditions in which people are being housed. If the Minister has not visited an emergency accommodation hostel, I would be happy to facilitate a visit.

In the last couple of months I have asked the Minister’s Department about the state of temporary accommodation, but they seem unable to answer me.

So I hope he can tell the House today what he failed to tell me last month:

How much of our temporary accommodation stock is unfit for human habitation or is in disrepair and requires refurbishment?

How many children are living in such inappropriate accommodation?

What is the average length of time that a household spends in temporary accommodation?

How many households have spent more than a year in temporary accommodation, or more than two years, or more than three years?

How many households in temporary accommodation are being moved into a permanent social home?

Because in my own Borough of Haringey the wait for social housing is around 10 years even for those families in the most dire need of a home.

What impact will the freeze in the local housing allowance have? As night follows day households currently renting in the private sector will become homeless as they fall into rent arrears.

The number of homeless families that councils will need to house in temporary accommodation will increase.

92% of councils fear this freeze will cause a surge in homelessness, yet the Minister for Housing told me in an answer to a Written Question last month that the Government have not even carried out an impact assessment.

But this is not about the numbers, as awful as they are. This is about the reality of life for hundreds of thousands of people in this country, one of the wealthiest in the world.

The hostels in which these people are being placed are not acceptable places for vulnerable women escaping abusive relationships or for parents to bring up their children.

Clearly there are real problems in the system when vulnerable people are being left in temporary accommodation for many months or even years. What steps will the Minister be taking to address this, and to improve the system of assessments for vulnerability and the needs of families placed in temporary accommodation?

Over the years I have heard horror stories. Of needles in stairwells, of young children sharing bathrooms with strangers, of vulnerable women being abused and exploited.

But this situation is also untenable from an economic perspective, and it is clear where the root of the problem is.

The number of Government-funded social homes has fallen by 97% since the Conservatives took office in 2010.

Last year local authorities, stretched to breaking point after years of austerity and budget cuts, spent £845 million on temporary accommodation.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has built just 10 new council-funded social homes since 1990 – symptomatic of an ideological contempt for social housing, no matter what the consequences.

In 2016 only 1,102 social homes were built with Government money in England.

At a local authority level, we built just 1,890 – 5 per council.

The Chartered Institute of Housing estimates that by 2020, nearly 250,000 social homes will have been lost in just 8 years.

What we are seeing is the dismantling of social housing and a refusal to invest in building social housing.

Social homes sold off under Right to Buy have been replaced at a rate of 10 to 1.

The forced sale of social homes to fund the Right to Buy discounts has essentially privatised social housing.

Social homes are passed into the hands of landlords and rented back to people in the private rented sector at exorbitant rates. The Local Government Association has predicted that almost 100,000 council homes will be lost in this way by 2020.

So now we have the ridiculous situation where we are spending almost £10 billion a year of taxpayers’ money on housing benefit, straight to private landlords.

So slashing social housing funding is a false economy. This is dead money and instead of lining the pockets of private landlords should be used to build new social homes.

In the 2010 Spending Review the state grant available for social landlords to build social homes was slashed to zero.

In its place we got a new category of homes – homes for “affordable rents”, and “affordable homes” for first-time buyers.

And it is important to place on record that this crisis will not be solved by building “affordable” homes that cost £400,000 or £450,000 in London.

It’s time to banish the word affordable from the lexicon when it comes to housing policy – it means nothing to ordinary people.

We have already heard that this Government are not building social homes.

But they are also spending 80% of the total housing budget on subsidising private homes through Help to Buy and discounted starter homes, so they are not even really serious about their own “affordable” homes programme.

So the dire situation that we are seeing in temporary accommodation is symptomatic of, and intrinsically linked to, the shortage of homes and the housing crisis.

We will only get to grips with this crisis through a mass social housing programme.

The Government are beginning to recognise this – and I welcome the government’s promise of a council house building “rebirth” in her conference speech last month.

This crisis will not be solved by further overheating the housing market by offering Help to Buy loans to first-time buyers who have the help of the Bank of Mum and Dad.

This crisis will not be solved by 5,000 homes each year. That is a drop in the ocean. That is only half of the households waiting to be housed in the London Borough of Haringey, and 1.2 million are waiting across the country according to Shelter.

So I hope the Government are listening and on behalf of over 3,000 families in Haringey, I hope that they will finally act.

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