I can announce today that, subject to contracts, more than 100 developers will offer the equity loan product Firstbuy and I can also say that this will build more than 10,000-odd homes as we initially anticipated—something like 10,500 in England—and bring up to £500 million-worth of investment across the UK.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, under the last Government, the waiting list in Harlow quadrupled? Does he accept that one of the best ways to break the poverty trap is to help families into shared equity schemes to give them a foot on the property ladder?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The waiting list doubled across the country, but in Harlow it quadrupled during the period of the previous Government. That is not good enough; we must build more homes to get ourselves out of that trouble. In addition, we need innovative products that share equity. I know that my hon. Friend is a keen supporter of that and I am sure it will help in his area as indeed it will in the areas of all Members across the country.
Many residents in Mid Bedfordshire who are living in social and council housing would love to have the opportunity to buy the home they live in. We know that such policies introduce aspiration and narrow the gap between rich and poor, enabling people to get on to that property ladder. Does the Minister have any plans to introduce schemes like right-to-buy again so that residents in Mid Bedfordshire can have some hope?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about right-to-buy, which helped millions of people achieve the aspiration of owning their own homes. This Government fully support that objective. I think it is right, however, to recycle that money into building more homes. Under the affordable rent scheme that I have recently introduced, that is precisely what will happen: if people end up buying their home, more homes will be built, which will help to lessen that record social housing waiting list that we were disgracefully left with after 13 years of Labour Government.
Does not the Minister recognise that, far from promoting home ownership, his Government’s policies have led to a stagnant market in which housing starts are collapsing and public confidence has been shattered by a combination of the Minister’s incompetence and the Government’s economic management. Does he not recognise that the latest figures from the National House-Building Council—the most authoritative source—show that housing starts in April 2011, the latest for which figures are available, are 18% down on last year?
I am deeply shocked that the right hon. Gentleman, who is an acknowledged expert on housing, has chosen to judge what is going on in the housing market on the basis of a single month’s figure, rather than an entire year’s worth of data which shows a 22% increase in housing starts. Housing starts mean that homes get built, which is turn means that we are on the road to recovery in terms of starts and builds.
It has been reported recently that millions of people will never be able to afford to own their homes, and that only those who inherit equity from their families will be able to do so. However, equity will increasingly be used to pay for long-term care, and owner-occupation will diminish. Is that not the reality?
The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to a serious problem involving both long-term care and a reduction in people’s ability to buy homes. That has happened because house prices tripled over the 10 years following 1997. Eight out of 10 first-time buyers are buying their homes through the bank of mum and dad, but today those without that ability will be pleased to hear about our Firstbuy scheme, which will help more than 10,000 people in England to get a foot on the housing ladder for the first time.