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Affordable Housing Starts

Volume 547: debated on Monday 2 July 2012

If the Government’s record on affordable homes is so good, why has the number of households in bed and breakfast-style accommodation increased by 44%?

Many of these problems would have been a great deal easier if we had had an extra quarter of a million social and affordable homes, which is the reduction that the hon. Gentleman’s Administration produced. We have a social and affordable housing programme that will deliver 170,000 new affordable homes by 2015, and my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister has been very diligent in pursuing the point the hon. Gentleman raises.

There appears to be a discrepancy between the figures used by the Government and those used by the Homes and Communities Agency. Why does it suggest that there was a 68% drop in starts last year, and will the Minister be getting the chief executive of that august organisation in as soon as possible to clear it up?

The hon. Lady should not believe too much of what she reads on these matters—[Interruption.]

Order. The Minister, as we always expect him to, is behaving like a gentleman, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard.

The fact of the matter is that the social and affordable housing programme is meeting an urgent need and we are pressing ahead with it vigorously. The issue that the hon. Lady raises must be seen in the context of the financial and housing situation we inherited from the previous Government.

Given what my hon. Friend said about right to buy and like for like in social housing, does he agree that the more people who take up the £75,000 discount, the more chance there will be for people to have affordable housing, and will he make every effort to encourage every council to offer that discount so that we can make affordable homes for the many, not for the few?

That is of course an important step, and the Minister for Housing and Local Government has also announced a consultation on “pay for stay” to ensure that those on very high incomes do not have the subsidised use of valuable social rented accommodation.

I am not surprised that the Housing Minister has chosen not to answer these questions, given that the House knows he has a bit of a problem when it comes to statistics. Will the Under-Secretary explain how his right hon. Friend came to conclude that the huge decline in affordable housing starts this year—that is what the figures from his own Department show—were in his words “impressive” and “rapid and dramatic progress”?

It is certainly rapid and dramatic progress if someone inherits a situation in which they are going backwards. We are going forwards, and the Homes and Communities Agency housing delivery programme is on track and, in fact, in completion terms, ahead of its corporate plan. There is a cyclical financial profile, but the sector has risen to the challenge to deliver, and 146 providers will deliver 80,000 new homes for affordable rent and affordable home ownership, using Government funding of just under £1.8 billion. This means that we will be able to deliver even more homes for every pound of subsidy from the taxpayer.

I am not surprised that the Minister is unable to answer the question, but the House should be keen to assist his right hon. Friend the Housing Minister in his difficulty. He has already had to be put straight by the UK Statistics Authority, and I suggest that he seeks the help of the Education Secretary and offers to take one of the new mathematics O-levels. I have a question: “If 49,363 affordable houses were started last year and only 15,698 affordable houses were started this year, should Grant describe this as: a) ‘a massive increase’; or b) ‘a 68% decline’? Please show your detailed workings.” Does the Under-Secretary not understand that every time his right hon. Friend does that, it is not just affordable house building that declines, but his credibility? When is the Secretary of State going to get a grip?

The right hon. Gentleman prays in aid the UK Statistics Authority, so if I may I shall very briefly quote this:

“Official estimates of net change are available for social rented dwellings, but not for the wider stock of ‘affordable’ housing beyond this category. They show an overall reduction of 421,000 in the stock of homes rented from local authorities and housing associations over the period 1997 to 2010.”

That seems to me a horrific indictment of Opposition Front Benchers, and what Government Members are doing is repairing some of that damage.