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Social Housing

Volume 524: debated on Monday 28 February 2011

11. What steps he is taking to address under-occupation of social housing to promote social mobility. (42495)

In January, I announced a £13 million programme to address under-occupation by offering support to tenants who wish to move. Our radical social housing reforms will also involve introducing for the first time a national home swap programme.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. In my constituency there are a large number of families in overcrowded and cramped housing waiting for a suitably sized home, and the wait for larger homes can be several years. All the while, of course, there are people living in oversized social housing that is no longer needed. Apart from the better home swap scheme that he mentioned, what more can be done to encourage those who are reluctant to downsize, in order to free up that housing?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is an extraordinary 430,000 people living in homes with two or more spare bedrooms, while nearly a quarter of a million people are living in overcrowded circumstances. None of this makes sense, and we have just announced a scheme whereby people are helped to move where they want to. There is no question of anyone being required to move, but assistance with utility bills and bank accounts being moved, for example, turns out to be one of the most useful things available, particularly for elderly people who are interested in moving home.

On reflection, would the Housing Minister like to withdraw his comment that social tenants are “given” their homes? In fact, social tenants enter into a contractual relationship and pay their rent like any other tenants. Does that not show the contempt the Tory party has for them, particularly as he was given his seat by Lord Ashcroft?

On reflection, the answer is no. The truth of the matter is that homes are allocated to people who are in need because they are in need. The idea that just because at one point in their life they were in need, they should continue to have that home and be able to hand it on to another generation, lives, I am afraid, with a past generation. Even the shadow Secretary of State, when she was in my position, accepted the point that housing reform was greatly overdue.