I beg to move,
That this House notes that the Government’s record on housing is one of five years of failure with rising homelessness, falling home-ownership, escalating rents, deep cuts in investment and the lowest level of house-building since the 1920s; further notes that the Spending Review and Autumn Statement will not result in the homes that young people and families on ordinary incomes need being built because it cuts the level of investment from that of 2010 and fails to prioritise genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy; notes Shelter Scotland's report of September 2015, Affordable Housing Need in Scotland, which states that overall house-building levels are well below their peak in 2007 and that the number of new social homes built has fallen by 44 per cent from 2010 to 2014; notes the widespread concern that the Government’s Housing and Planning Bill will lead to the severe loss of affordable homes, will be a let-down for aspiring home-owners, and will do nothing to help England’s private renters struggling with poor conditions and high renting costs; and calls on the Government to help families who are struggling with the cost of housing, including by building more affordable homes to rent and buy.
Above schools, wages, crime, foreign affairs and terrorism, people now place housing as their most pressing concern. It is fourth in Ipsos MORI’s latest long-running “Issues Facing Britain” survey. In all parts of this House, we know of the increasing pressure, frustration and sometimes despair that our constituents feel when a decent, affordable home to rent or buy is totally beyond them.
That is why we have called today’s debate on the Government’s record on housing. It is a truly shameful record, with five years of failure on every front. For the Housing Minister, who I know is a fan of social media, we could call it #fiveyearsoffailure. There have been five years of failure on homelessness—[Interruption.]—which, despite the laughter of Conservative Members, we all feel keenly at Christmas. Rough sleeping has increased by more than half in the past five years, while statutory homelessness is up by more than a third and is rising rapidly.
There have been five years of failure on home ownership. The rate of home ownership has fallen each and every year since 2010, and the total number of home-owning households in this country is now more than 200,000 fewer than when the Tories took control. It is young people who are being hit the hardest, with the number of homeowners under the age of 35 down by a fifth in the past five years.
There have been five years of failure on private rents. While incomes have stagnated, private rents on new lets have soared—up by £1,400 a year—since 2010.
There have been five years of failure on housing benefit costs, which rose by £4.3 billion in the last Parliament, despite punishing cuts such as the bedroom tax, even as housing investment was slashed.
Finally, there have been five years of failure on house building. The House of Commons Library has confirmed to me that the previous Government built fewer new homes than any peacetime Government since David Lloyd George’s in the 1920s.
Speaking of house building, is not the most important statistic that, in the last year of the last Labour Government, on the right hon. Gentleman’s watch, there were 124,000 housing starts across the UK, whereas last year that figure had gone up to 165,000, which is a very impressive record? If he is so concerned about the topic, why did he not—
The statistic that matters most is the number of homes that were actually built. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that 2009 saw the lowest level of house building under 13 years of Labour, but that figure was still higher than that in the best year in the past five years of a Tory Government.
There have been five years of failure on every front, by every measure and in every area. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister gave a speech in which housing was a central theme. He said—I am not making this up—that
“this is a government that delivers”.
Well, it does not deliver on housing. The Government spent the last five years blaming Labour, but they have their own track record now—and it is one of five years of failure on housing under Conservative Ministers.
The Chancellor gave his autumn statement and spending review three weeks ago and, again, housing was a central theme.
That is exactly what the Chancellor said:
“We’re doubling the money for housing to build 400,000 new affordable homes”.
After the Chancellor’s autumn statement, the Government’s annual investment in housing will be £1.7 billion. Under the money inherited in 2010 from Labour, it was £3.1 billion. That is not an increase, but a cut—it is not a doubling, but a halving—of vital investment in housing in our country for our people.
The right hon. Gentleman was a long-serving Minister. Will he reflect on the fact that, on his Government’s watch, the number of households on the housing waiting list went up from 1 million to 1.8 million and that there were 420,000 fewer social homes to rent at the end of his term in office than before? Is that not 13 years of failure?
The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the fact that, under 13 years of Labour, more than 2 million new homes were built in this country and the number of homeowners rose by more than 1 million, but in the five years under his Government that figure has fallen by more than 200,000. So much for the party of the so-called homeowners.
We should remind the Government that it was the Conservatives, when they were last in power, who stopped local authorities building social housing. As a result, rents have gone through the roof and young people cannot get a house today.
My hon. Friend is right. He probably shares my view of our own Labour record. We are deeply proud of the billions of investment we made to make homes decent again, but we were perhaps too slow to start building new homes. When I was the Minister for Housing in the final year of the previous Labour Government, we got under way the largest council house building programme we had had for more than two decades. For the first time, councils were able to get the support on the same terms as housing associations to build the new affordable homes that were so badly needed in this country.
I want to return to the Chancellor’s boast about doubling the money for housing for 400,000 new affordable homes. It was not a doubling, but a halving of the investment under Labour. Most of those 400,000 homes had been announced before, so there is also double counting. Finally, many of the new homes will not be affordable for those on ordinary incomes either to rent or to buy. I would say to the Minister that we perhaps need a new hashtag. How about #fivemoreyearsoffailure?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point about just how affordable the new affordable homes are likely to be. The data I have seen show that, in areas such as Stockport, somebody would need an average income of about £53,000 just to have a deposit for one of the new starter homes.
My hon. Friend is right. I will come on to starter homes and how Tory Ministers try to fiddle the figures by fiddling the definition, but this is not the first time they have redefined what constitutes “affordable”. The level of so-called affordable rented homes we are now seeing in many parts of London means that rents are more than £1,000 each month. That may be affordable in their book, but for many people—with ordinary jobs, on ordinary incomes—it is totally beyond their reach. More is required of this Government to help the people who are working hard and struggling most.
The right hon. Gentleman is being generous in giving way. He did not attend the Housing and Planning Public Bill Committee, for the reasons he has given us, but will he confirm that it was comprehensively demonstrated by all the witnesses during the evidence sessions that there was no evidence that starter homes would be unaffordable for anyone north of a line between the Bristol channel and the Wash—most of the north-west, the north-east, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the east and west midlands?
I am not sure how much attention the hon. Gentleman was paying. He should have looked at the reports from Savills and from Shelter, and he should have listened to my hon. Friends who led for Labour so ably and so strongly throughout the many scrutiny sessions in Committee. I want to the return to the fact that we have seen such a serious failure during the past five years under Conservative Governments.
Does my right hon. Friend not think that the forced sale of council homes will exacerbate the homelessness crisis? Will he encourage the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) to speak in this debate to set out his view of the potential for extending Help to Buy to pay for the voluntary right to buy for housing associations?
My hon. Friend led in making those very arguments in Committee, and I hope we will get a chance to make those arguments again when the Bill returns to the House straight after the Christmas recess. He asked for my view about whether the forced sale of council homes, particularly in London, is likely to lead to a rise in homelessness. I agree with him that it will. In some ways, however, it is much more significant that the Conservative-led Local Government Association agrees, which is clearly why it opposes the plan. It has warned of the consequences,
“in particular on council waiting lists, homelessness and housing benefit.”
In many ways, these are not simply abstract political arguments or dry statistics, but the lives of our friends, our neighbours and our constituents: the young couple on average income who want to start a family, but are now less, not more, likely to be able to get a home of their own; the family, renting privately, whose kids—like 1.4 million others in the same situation—are less, not more, likely to go through school without being forced out by their landlords and forced to move areas; and the pensioner needing affordable supported accommodation who is now less, not more, likely to find a suitable home and the help they need. These are the human stories of this housing crisis, which has worsened during the past five years.
Do we not need a bit of contrition, rather than laughter and synthetic anger, from Government Members? Is it not a fact that homelessness and rough sleeping have risen 55% since the Prime Minister took office, even though he said they were a public disgrace?
My hon. Friend is right. He will remember how serious the levels of homelessness and rough sleeping were when Labour came to office in 1997 and how they fell with the policies that we put in place over 13 years. He is right to say that he, like Members on both sides of the House, has seen homelessness and rough sleeping rising again. We should pause ahead of the Christmas period, reflect on that and ask hard questions of the Housing Minister about why it is happening, what he will do about it and, in particular, what he will do over the Christmas period to help.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that homelessness peaked in 2004. He makes the serious point that we should all consider homelessness at Christmas. That peak came under a Labour Government, but I am not making a political point. As he has worked on this issue and will have been involved in part of the solution, perhaps he can tell the House what he believes the solution is.
I was, indeed, involved in part of the solution. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that part of the solution is not the deep cuts in local council budgets that we will hear the detail of later this week. Part of the solution is not cutting the rents for supported housing, because that will lead to a cut in the provision for many of the most vulnerable people in this country.
Unfortunately, we are still close to the start of a five-year Parliament. This is the most crucial part of the political cycle, when policy direction is set. It should be a time for stock-taking and fresh thinking, but the Budget, the autumn statement and the Housing and Planning Bill do nothing to correct the causes of the five years of failure and, in many areas, will make problems much worse.
The right hon. Gentleman is raising very serious matters. If his facts are correct, why did the property website Zoopla state just before the general election earlier this year:
“A win for the Labour party in the General Election could spell trouble for first-time buyers”?
Why would Zoopla have said that?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that the Conservatives took some responsibility for their failure in government? Their housing policy has been based on a misunderstanding of capitalism. It has all been focused on helping people to buy one of the insufficient number of houses, rather than on increasing the supply.
My hon. Friend makes a really important point that I hope will be a point of debate this afternoon. A serious question that must be asked in respect of the plans before us is whether it is the right use of public money to subsidise the demand for new housing, at a time when the housing market in many parts of the country is already out of control.
No, I will make some progress. If the hon. Lady really wants to intervene later, I will give way.
At this point in the political cycle, we need to look at what is ahead. Two areas demonstrate the direction that the Tory Government are taking on housing and serve as a warning of what is to come. The first is a systematic attack on housing opportunity for young people and families on ordinary incomes, the very people the housing market is failing most at the moment. Ministers have launched a full-frontal assault on council and housing association homes which will hit those on low and middle incomes hardest. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the result of both the Budget and the autumn statement together will be 34,000 fewer housing association homes built. Meanwhile, the Housing and Planning Bill strangles the ability and obligation of both private and public sectors to build the affordable homes to rent and to buy that are badly needed in both urban and rural areas alike.
In addition there is an extraordinary forced sell-off of council homes to fund an extension of the right to buy, with no prospect or commitment, as Labour has urged, of like-for-like, one-for-one replacements in the local area. I have to say that in many areas of the country, both rural and urban but especially in London, these council homes will go not to families struggling to buy, but to speculators, second homeowners, and buy-to-let landlords—and of course the greater the demand for affordable housing in an area, the higher the value of the houses, and the more the Chancellor will take in his annual levy.
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. If she looks at the Homes and Communities Agency data, they will confirm—as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), a member of the Select Committee, said at DCLG questions yesterday—that more than eight in 10 of the social homes and council homes built under the hon. Lady’s Government over the last five years were started and funded under the Labour programme.
Before my right hon. Friend moves on from the point about speculation, is he aware that the largest amount of foreign money coming into the London property market is from Russia and the average price Russians pay is £6.3 million?
I think my right hon. Friend will agree with me that it is time to kill this myth that the Tories are the people’s friend and that they build council houses. The reality is that those council houses were left in a right mess by the previous Tory Government and the last Labour Government had to put a large amount of money into refurbishing them. It was a disgraceful legacy.
My hon. Friend is right. The last Labour Government invested £22 billion to bring homes that were barely decent up to scratch—some 1.4 million council homes were given new kitchens, central heating, doors that fitted, double-glazing. Those homes were, for the first time, fit to live in, but they had been left as a legacy from the previous Tory Government. My fear for the future is that when Labour gets back into government, we will be faced with a similar legacy of neglect of our council housing.
Over the next five years, we look ahead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and to buy in this country. In total, the Chartered Institute of Housing expects the loss of 195,000 affordable homes for social rent over the next five years.
On top of this, in the very last sitting of the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, Ministers introduced plans to scrap the secure tenancies that Margaret Thatcher herself brought in for council tenants, restricting them instead to fixed-term tenancies of between two and five years. So the message from this Government could not be clearer: “If you’re on a low or middle income and rent a council home, then a stable family home is too good for the likes of you.”
Thanks to years of Tory leadership in Redbridge, we have the lowest amount of social housing stock in London. Does my right hon. Friend also know that one in 27 households in the private rented sector is at risk of eviction because of a whole load of factors, the majority of which are due to the Government’s policies?
I do indeed, and I say to the Minister, because there is still time for him to think again, that the Housing and Planning Bill is a huge missed opportunity to help 11 million people who live in the private rented sector without the security to start their lives and bring up their families. He could legislate for longer tenancies, better consumer rights, and better and more decent standards and obligations on landlords. He has refused to do that so far. I hope that he will think again.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clear up one point upon which I—and, I am sure, many people—am still in doubt. Is he in favour of giving housing association tenants the right to buy their home? Is he in favour of aspiration for those people to buy homes, in the way that Opposition Members have done? Yes or no?
I am certainly in favour of aspiration and of home ownership. Under the last Labour Government, the number of homeowners increased by more than 1 million. However, I confirmed on Second Reading that we will oppose right to buy funded by forced sale of council homes because it will lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy that people in this country need. That policy will penalise people on ordinary, modest incomes.
Is my right hon. Friend not amazed that, despite the Government’s claim that their policy of selling off high value council homes will fund the replacement of housing association properties and council homes, as well as a contribution towards the remediation of brownfield sites, they still cannot table for hon. Members the figures to justify that?
My hon. Friend is right. Obviously, the Select Committee is examining those matters. It is not the first time that the sums do not add up, but if the Government are going to force the sale of council assets to fund the programme to extend the right to buy to housing associations, why do they not start with some of their own assets? Why do they not start by funding their policy with Government support, instead of taking it, like some medieval baron, from councils because their coffers are empty?
Ministers made much of starter homes and there is clearly a need for more affordable homes to buy, especially given that the number has fallen in the past five years by nearly 30%. However, the Government’s starter homes will be a non-starter for families on ordinary incomes. Shelter calculates that, across the country, one would need an annual income of around £50,000 and a deposit of £40,000 to afford a starter home. In London, one would need an income of £77,000 and a deposit of £98,000. That is simply out of reach for most of those on middle incomes—working families, who need help to buy the most. Of course, there are no controls to stop those who can afford to buy without help from the Government taking advantage of the scheme. There is a big risk that those who need it least will benefit most.
The right hon. Gentleman is being most generous in giving way. If right to buy is, as he suggests, such a disaster for housing associations, why have they entered into a voluntary arrangement with the Government to deliver it? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain that?
Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard the term, “shotgun arrangement”? If he talks to a lot of housing association chief executives, their boards or their tenants, as I have done, he will find that they feel that they are left with no choice. They do not like it, they do not believe it, they do not trust Ministers, but they signed up to it because it is the least worst option for them.
With so many people’s dreams of buying their own home out of reach, Ministers have responded by announcing plans to fiddle the figures again, by changing the definition of affordable homes to include so-called starter homes for sale at up to £450,000. That is an insult to young people and families on ordinary incomes, and a mockery of common sense and sound policy. It is like the Health Minister tackling the GP shortage by reclassifying cashiers at Boots pharmacy as qualified doctors.
The second area that demonstrates the direction that the Government are taking in this Parliament is the systematic side-lining of local people and local decision making. Whatever they say, Ministers’ actions are anti-localist. At every turn since the election, housing policy has been set to undermine the say of local people and override their local representatives. The Housing and Planning Bill puts 33 new centralising powers in the hands of the Secretary of State, from directing starter homes to be built instead of affordable homes, to fixing rents for so-called high-income tenants.
Those powers include a legalised annual cash grab from councils, which totally undermines their ability to plan for housing need in their area. The Bill also rips up the contract of localising local finance for housing, which until this point has been the subject of all-party support. Ministers will have sweeping new powers to award “automatic planning permission”—the so-called “permission in principle”. That is not, as the House has been led to believe, simply a policy for dealing with brownfield sites; it is a power and policy for any site allocated for use in a local plan. There will be no need to apply for full planning permission, no limitations on what sort of development can be built, and no planning gain or obligation on developers. Only the technical details will be left for the elected local planning authorities to deal with.
A host of organisations now echo Labour’s concerns about such open-ended powers, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth and the Woodland Trust. There will be deep concern in all parts of the House if the Government’s dramatic failure on housing leads to such drastic steps and denies local communities a voice on development in their areas.
I am following what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but would his argument have rather more weight if he had not been part of a Government who imposed regional spatial strategies that gave no choice to local communities on how housing was imposed? Is he contradicting his own policy in government?
The hon. Gentleman is a master of distraction. I am making a point about clause 1 of the Bill, and he has enough experience to know what is at stake. If he reads the Bill, I know he will be worried about the sweeping, open-ended powers that it contains. If the Minister wants those powers, he should justify that in this House and the other place during the passage of the Bill, or tighten them up so that they do what he says he wants them to do. I look forward to the Minister’s response on that point, but I am not holding my breath.
In the housing world the Minister has become known as “Mr Million Homes”. He said:
“By the end of this Parliament success would mean that we have seen a build in total of something like a million homes”.
In other words, an average of 200,000 homes a year. Now we know that the Minister is prone to a bit of bullish bluster, but that is going some. In his first year as Housing Minister, not 200,000, but 115,590 homes were built. Last year—the best year out of the previous Government’s five years—only 117,720 homes were built. The total number of homes built in that Government’s best year was still lower than in the worst year of the Labour Government’s 13 years, which was in the depths of the global banking crisis and recession. Even the Prime Minister has not gone as far as the Minister.
In conclusion, no Government can sit back and see a whole generation priced out of a decent home, and call themselves a “one nation” Government. No political party can say nothing in their manifesto to the 11 million people living in private rented accommodation, and call itself a “party of aspiration”. No party can have a programme that will lead to a huge loss of genuinely affordable housing, and call itself the “party of working people”. This country has seen five years of failure on housing under Conservative Ministers. People desperately need and deserve better, and during this Parliament, this party—the Labour party—will prove itself to be the party of working people, of aspiration, and of one nation.
I warmly thank Her Majesty’s Opposition for choosing the subject of today’s debate. It is an important subject, and I am always eager to compare and contrast our records on housing. It is now five months since the previous such debate, and much has changed. In that time, we have announced the largest Government house building programme for 40 years. And of course, we now have a new shadow Housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). He was briefly Minister for Housing at the end of the last Labour Government, so this is rather a “Back to the Future” experience. I think I am now on my third shadow Housing Minister.
If we continue with that “Back to the Future” analogy, I recall that it is the third part of the trilogy—the one about cowboys—that nobody really likes very much. The question is: which “Back to the Future” film are we dealing with here? I hope it is not the cowboy one, but I also hope it is not the Soviet version from 1973. I should warn any hon. Members who do not have this kind of film library at home that that is a terrifying tale, in which Ivan the Terrible is accidentally transported into the future to become the superintendent of an apartment building in Moscow. Who knows? Stranger things are happening in the Labour party.
Shadow Ministers might come and go, but one thing remains the same: the curious phenomenon of Labour Members claiming that their record is preferable to ours. The right hon. Gentleman condemns our plans to support the aspirations of home buyers but, in a speech lasting more than 32 minutes, he did not suggest any alternatives. He talks about a housing crisis yet fails to admit who created it. And he claims that he will take Labour’s record over ours without any rational justification for his preference.
Has my hon. Friend given any thought to the fact that when Labour estimated in 2003-04 that only 5,000 to 13,000 Polish migrants would come in, more than 100,000 actually did so? Where did the Labour Government think those people were going to live? Does my hon. Friend think that might be part of the issue?
The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne has put on record his views on home ownership and house building, certainly going back to 2005. Obviously, we have challenges going right across as our population grows.
Let me remind the House of the situation we inherited in 2010. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends who were not here before then will be interested to know about this. We inherited: a housing bubble that burst with devastating consequences; an industry in debt; sites mothballed; workers laid off; skills lost; a loss of 420,000 affordable homes; rocketing waiting lists; and collapsing right-to-buy sales. In their 13 years in office, the Labour Government built only one home for every 170 that were sold. There was a sustained fall in home ownership. To be fair, the right hon. Gentleman knows that very well, because he himself said,
“I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing”.
It was no coincidence that that disregard for aspiring home owners was matched by chaos in the regulation of lending, a planning system in disarray controlled from the centre, a post-war low in house building by councils and the lowest level of house building since the 1920s.
Is my hon. Friend as disappointed as I am that in the course of the 32-minute churlish whinge-athon by the Opposition spokesman, he could not even give this Government credit for using the Housing and Planning Bill to tackle slum landlords? The Labour Government did nothing about that in 13 years.
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne has not been involved in the Bill’s progress in Committee, as I know my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) has been. That might be why, despite what is in the Opposition motion, he has oddly not picked up on the fact that we are going further to crack down on and drive out rogue landlords than any Government have done before. The previous Labour Government oversaw the lowest level of house building since the 1920s, with just 88,000 starts being overseen by the right hon. Members for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and, of course, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne. That was their housing crisis, that was their record, and that is the state of affairs that the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne claims the public should prefer.
As it contains two of our key manifesto pledges, on which we are mandated to deliver, I suspect that people will be pleased to see that we are a Government who are getting on and delivering for the people of this country. To take the hon. Lady’s very direct question, the public gave their verdict on the performance of the last Government at two general elections. At the last time of asking, the electorate were offered by the Opposition party a reprise of Labour’s centrally controlled, top-down housing nightmare—land grabs, the mansion tax, rent controls, red tape and restrictions on right to buy.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne does not seem to want to give housing association tenants the opportunity to buy their home, even though some 11,000 people have already expressed their interest in doing just that.
The public did consider the cocktail of regressive options being put forward by the main Opposition party, and they politely declined to take it up.
Actually, people in Redbridge were tired of the Conservatives running the council, which is why they elected a Labour council in May 2014. One of our pledges—I am still an unpaid councillor in Redbridge —was to introduce a landlord licensing scheme. When can we expect to hear from the Minister’s Department the go-ahead to deliver the manifesto pledge that so many residents are crying out for?
Obviously, we took through selective licensing just before the general election. That cracked down on rogue landlords, which are mentioned in the Bill. I will be coming back to that matter as we make progress with the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman’s residents will be delighted to see that we are going further than any Labour Government ever did. Under our watch, the number of first-time buyers doubled, the number of new homes doubled and public support for new house building doubled.
I thank the Minister for giving way. May I suggest that he speaks to Mr Toon, the economic director of the National Crime Agency, who says that,
“the London property market has been skewed by laundered money.”
He said that prices are being artificially driven up through the use of the proceeds of crime. If he wants to do something, he should just pick up the phone.
Obviously, I would be happy to support anybody who is looking to crack down on crime in London. Equally, I know that the hon. Lady seems to think that affordable houses in London start at £6 million. That may be so for those on the Labour Benches, but not for those of us on the Government Benches.
Perhaps I could bring my hon. Friend back to the London housing market. Does he agree that one of the worst things that could happen to the London housing market is the imposition of rent controls on the private sector, as it invariably drives up costs, reduces supply and encourages the bad landlord rather than the good one whom we need to see in the capital?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. One lesson we have learned from around the world, in places such as New York, is that rent controls simply drive down supply. They drive a black market and send rents upwards. Certainly, it is not something that we will be seeing under this Government.
I will make a little more progress, and then I will take some more interventions.
Since 2010, we have helped more than 270,000 households buy a home through Government schemes. We have provided more than 270,000 affordable homes to rent, which went beyond our target, nearly one third of which were in London. We are the first Government since the 1980s to finish a term of office with a higher stock of affordable homes than we started with.
I gently remind the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who has set out his preference for council house building, that twice as many council homes were built in the past five years of our Government than were built during 13 years of the Labour Government. More new council housing was started in London last year than during the whole of the Labour Government, shocking as that may seem. In all, £20 billion was invested over the course of the last Parliament, achieving the same rate of affordable house building with half the rate of grant as under the Labour Government.
In many ways, that is a clear metaphor for our record on housing: building more for less and doing it faster. We were not afraid of difficult decisions and of doing things differently. That has continued. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned our decision to end lifetime tenancies for new tenants to ensure that we make the best use of social housing based on need and income.
When the Minister introduced that amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, he referred to 380 households that occupy social housing with two or more spare bedrooms, and cited that as a reason for wanting to manage the stock more efficiently and to move people around social housing. Given that the Government are concerned about under-occupation, is it their policy not to allow people who under-occupy properties the right to buy?
On lifetime tenancies, it is only right that tenancies are reviewed after several years to identify whether the circumstances of tenants have changed. Through the voluntary extension of right to buy—it will be for housing associations to decide—we want to extend that opportunity to all 1.3 million people.
Order. I will make the decisions. That is not a point of order. I hope you are not trying to reflect on the Chair. [Interruption.] In which case, you don’t need to be stood up waiting for the Minister to give way again. I am sure the Minister will wish to give way on his terms, and not on your terms or mine.
My hon. Friend makes a good point—that silence has been very stark.
Our plans for housing are delivering but I will be absolutely up front about this: it is clear that we must do more to meet the housing needs of our nation. If our task during the last Parliament was to rescue the housing market, now we must supercharge it.
I will come to housing associations in a few moments but, as I told the Communities and Local Government Committee this morning, housing associations have an exciting opportunity. I would argue that they will be able to access and realise assets to build more homes than ever before.
I thank the Minister for giving way. To go back to supercharging, some of us were pleased when the Government made a commitment to build 1 million new homes in this Parliament. Is that still Government policy and a commitment, or has it been downgraded to an aspiration?
To be fair to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, he quoted me spot on in his opening remarks. It is absolutely still our ambition to build 1 million homes. We need to be ambitious about building new homes, but this is not solely about the number of new homes. We are determined not just to halt but to reverse the slide in home ownership that the Labour party oversaw. With so many people being kept off the housing ladder for so long, we are determined to deliver on our promises quickly.
On the measures to increase home ownership, which contrast with the inaction from the Labour party, is not one of the most radical measures we have introduced to support first-time buyers the levelling of the playing field between them and the people who wish to buy property to rent out to those same frustrated first-time buyers?
I will make a bit more progress and then I will take more interventions.
For the reasons that I have given, in the spending review we announced the biggest investment in housing for 40 years. We are determined to invest in what matters most to young people and to British families. We want to pay off Labour’s debt and make sure we build the homes our country needs. Both are required to make this the turnaround decade.
In the spending review, the Chancellor said, “We choose housing” and delivered a further £20 billion. Our work will include: major investments in large-scale projects, such as Ebbsfleet garden city, Bicester, Barking riverside and Northstowe; £7.5 billion to extend the Help to Buy equity loan scheme until 2021; and supporting the purchase of 145,000 new build homes. In London, we are doubling the value of equity loans to 40%, providing the capital’s aspiring home owners with a better chance to buy. A new Help to Buy ISA is helping buyers across the country to save for a deposit.
The brand new Help to Buy shared ownership will deliver a further 135,000 homes by removing many of the restrictions that have held back shared ownership. For example, an aspiring home owner in Yorkshire can get on the housing ladder with a deposit of just £1,400. I am sure the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) will be encouraging his constituents to apply. Let me provide the House with some clear examples of why this matters. In the south-east, a deposit could be as low as £2,400, and in London £3,400. Our plans for shared ownership will make 175,000 more people eligible for home ownership. Just last week, the Prime Minister visited a family in Burton and I visited one in Didcot. They were excited for the future and the possibilities home ownership opens up to them. These possibilities will be open to anyone of any occupation as long as they earn under £80,000, or £90,000 in London.
We will provide other opportunities for working people, too: a £1 billion housing delivery fund to support small and custom builders; £8 billion to build 450,000 affordable homes; 100,000 homes for affordable rent; and, yes, 200,000 affordable homes will be starter homes available to young first-time buyers, with a 20% discount. That is the largest affordable housebuilding programme for many decades. Starter homes will be transformational.
Opposition Members may laugh and pour scorn on starter homes, and go against the aspirations of first-time buyers, but I ask Members across the House just to pause and think for a moment. A first-time buyer getting a 20% discount on a new home, linking that with a 5% deposit thanks to Help to Buy, saves thousands. For example, a two-bedroom home in Durham—in the constituency of the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods)—can be bought for just under £150,000. With 20% off, that will be £120,000. If used with Help to Buy, it means a first-time buyer can get a house with a mortgage of £90,000 and a deposit of only £6,000.
The average price of a property, according to the Metro today, is now over £1 million in my constituency. To get a starter home, if one could possibly be found for £450,000, an income of over £101,000 is needed. Is that what the Minister has in mind as affordable housing? Pathetic!
That was almost a reasonable attempt by the hon. Gentleman, but let me just give him some facts for London. The average first-time buyer home is less than the cost of an average home generally. For example, in London an average first-time buyer home is £364,000. We recognise that that is a challenge, but with a 20% discount it will cost £291,000. If used with the Help to Buy scheme, a first-time buyer can buy that home for £174,000 with a deposit of just £14,500. I also point the hon. Gentleman to my comments of a few moments ago: shared ownership, even in London, means getting on the home ownership ladder for just under £3,500. We make no apology for our focus on affordable homeownership.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his remarks, and here is one more statistic: the massive expansion in “part buy, part rent” schemes, which he is helping us to oversee in London, has already helped 52,000 families, on an average household income of £37,000, into homes they partially own and will own more of in the future. That is the Conservative policy.
My hon. Friend highlights the reality and what the ambition should be. London is a shining example of what a city can achieve under the leadership of a powerful Mayor. He has overseen the delivery of more than 67,000 affordable homes since the mess we inherited in 2010, and we want to build on that, which is why we are looking to devolve more powers to mayoral London and enable my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) to take forward my hon. Friend’s work. We make no apology for focusing on affordable home ownership, while Labour does everything it can to deny people the chance to own their own home. It is what people want; buying a home is an aspiration shared by the vast majority of the public—86% say they would choose to buy their own property—which might partly explain the result at the general election, when Labour was ignored by the public.
The Minister is right to emphasise the importance of delivering on aspiration, but is he not also right to contrast the delivery by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) with the complete failure of the top-down dirigiste policies of the former Mayor of London, who I gather now advises the leader of the Labour party?
My hon. Friend puts it succinctly and highlights the mess inherited nationally and in London. I hope we can build on our work delivering for our country, following the general election result, by ensuring good governance in London with another Conservative Mayor next year.
The Minister talks about aspiration, but what about the aspiration of people on low incomes in my constituency for whom the sorts of figures he is talking about are completely out of reach and who are being shunted out of Oxford because the housing allowance will not cover rents in the private rented sector? What about their aspirations and chances of a decent life?
And there was I thinking the right hon. Gentleman was going to congratulate my hon. Friend the Mayor of London on his excellent work. It is important that he considers the whole ambit of the Housing and Planning Bill and our policies elsewhere, which are providing a wide offer across all tenures and types of housing and, with those £1,400 deposits to help people into those homes, making sure that, in areas such as his, shared ownership is a real possibility.
For too many people, the aspiration and the reality of home ownership are drifting apart. The decline in home ownership is not just an economic problem but a social failure. We risk creating a generation of young people exiled from home ownership. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne might not consider the decline in home ownership since 2005 to be such a bad thing, but we disagree. He might not care, but we do. We care about young people worse off than their parents, compelled to leave the communities they love and grew up in or to decline good job opportunities because local housing is too expensive. That is why we must build more homes. Everyone in the House has a duty to make that case and, along with local authorities, to show good leadership. We have a duty not just to say that we need to build more homes somewhere else, but to build—and to make the case for building—more homes in all our communities. This will be a defining challenge of our generation.
During the election, I received phone calls from people who had been in their homes for some time and were delighted to get the opportunity to buy them. On local plans and Labour’s top-down approach, is it not perfectly possible to build good-quality homes with a good local plan?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that we show good local leadership and deliver good local plans setting out where homes can be built in communities and outlining the aspiration for good-quality homes and good-quality design. That is what local authorities and we in the House have a duty to do and what my hon. Friend has championed in the House over the last few months. This will be a defining challenge for our generation, yet the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who spoke for more than 32 minutes, gave not an iota of a start of a Labour policy to tackle this problem. Instead, he fell back on outdated politics. I am afraid it was the Soviet version of “Back to the Future” after all. There is the lazy assumption that there is a contradiction between supporting the dreams of home buyers and ensuring that more affordable homes are built. Nowhere is this clearer seen than in the right hon. Gentleman’s opposition to our extension of right to buy for housing association tenants.
In the last Parliament, we dramatically improved the right to buy for council tenants, with 47,000 tenants seizing this opportunity and over 80% of the sales occurring under the reinvigorated scheme, yet 1.3 million social tenants in housing association properties continue to get little or no assistance. That cannot be right. We promised the electorate that we would end this unfairness.
No, not at the moment.
Housing associations have recognised this inequality and have signed an offer to the Government that we have accepted—a historic agreement to end it. I thank the housing associations for doing that, and I applaud them for their forward thinking and their eagerness to help tenants own their own property, especially in light of the fact that this has bitterly disappointed the Opposition. Clearly, the housing associations have not followed the Labour party script and fallen obediently into line. Instead, what housing associations are doing is giving tenants what they want. That should not be a surprise, because the mission of housing associations is to deliver for their tenants. They are now passionate about doing that, providing tenants with an option to buy their home and a ladder to opportunity. Every property sold will lead to an extra home being built.
As my hon. Friend will know, having given evidence after being quizzed by the Select Committee, I am an avid proponent of what it does, and my hon. Friend makes the very good point that the policy will increase housing supply. The reality is that every property sold brings in money that will mean that extra homes get built—housing supply will go up. So it is time to end the baseless scare story that right to buy reduces the number of homes, particularly in London.
Let me provide hon. Members with some figures. After we reinvigorated the scheme for council tenants in London, 536 additional homes were sold in the first year, and 1,139 were built. Yes, hon. Members heard that correctly: two for one on right to buy homes in London already. We are building even more, and that success will now be repeated on a much grander scale.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but he will, I hope, forgive my scepticism, given that in the Stockport part of my constituency, there have been 184 sales of council homes under right to buy over the last three years—yet not one single right to buy replacement.
The hon. Gentleman’s council will want to listen to him and get on with building more homes. There is £2 billion-worth of headroom for all local authorities to build homes, but what I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that right across the scheme, housing associations will build a home for every home sold. Even under the reinvigorated scheme across this country, we are seeing one for one, while in London, as I say, we are already seeing two homes built for every one sold.
I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman, and I want to make some more progress.
We are building even more, and that success will be repeated on a grander scale. Whether it be through right to buy, starter homes or Help to Buy: when buyers can buy, builders can build. We can support and we will support the aspirations of hard-working people. These plans are at the heart of our ambition to build those 1 million new homes. We are clear that we must go further and faster in all areas of housing supply. The Housing and Planning Bill is part of that, and it will give housebuilders and local decision makers the tools and confidence to deliver more homes.
I know that Members of all parties will want building on brownfield land to be the first choice at all times. Under this Government, brownfield land will be prioritised. New homes will be built near existing residents, so that their green belt and local countryside is protected. Regenerating eyesores and derelict land to create modern homes for the next generation is the opportunity that lies ahead of us. A new statutory register of brownfield land will provide up-to-date and publicly available information on land suitable for housing. Forty brownfield housing zones are being created across the country, including 20 in London. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the Mayor of London, for working with us to deliver those homes in London. We want to see planning permissions in place for 90% of these sites by 2020. We will also change the parliamentary process to allow urban development corporations to be established more quickly and get on with delivering new homes at the earliest opportunity. Smaller firms in particular will benefit from quicker and simpler ways of establishing where and what they can build, especially with the new “permission in principle” for sites on the brownfield register.
The Bill will ensure that the planning system helps to drive our increased aims for the supply of houses. During the last Parliament, we reformed and streamlined the failing top-down planning system. We dismantled regional spatial strategies, and as Planning Minister, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to oversee the reduction of thousands of pages of planning guidance to just 50, thus creating a system that people can understand and work with. Today, local people are in control.
I am always open to any ideas from local authorities that want to drive forward growth of that kind. We are already talking to authorities that want to be part of delivering for their communities. My hon. Friend has championed that work, because he wants to see local rural areas delivering housing, and I will be happy to work with him on that.
What we are seeing through this local system is that trusting local people and moving away from the top-down days of Labour’s past is working. We are seeing people develop their own plans for house building, and the system is faster and more efficient. Since 2010, the number of planning permissions for new homes has increased by 50%, and the number of local plans has more than doubled. Meanwhile, neighbourhood planning has captured the imagination of communities across the country. Following the holding of 125 referendums, each plan was approved by democratic mandate.
I know that not every authority has reached the stage that we would like them all to reach with their local plans, but if plans are not in place by 2017, the Government will work with local people to ensure that that happens, so that all local areas have the plans that they want for the homes that they need.
We have come a long way since the great housing crash of the last decade, when house building was in real danger of stopping altogether. We made the tough decisions to get Britain building again. We are still clearing up the mess that we were left, but now we are moving from rescue to recovery and thence to revival. Our investment in house building during the current Parliament is the largest for 40 years. We are determined to deliver a better housing market that secures our economic recovery, boosts productivity and rebalances the economy. Our plans go far beyond numbers, schemes and timelines; they are about people and their hopes and dreams; they are about supporting their aspirations and giving them the confidence that their hard work can be rewarded with home ownership and a place to raise their families. This is about having one nation, where whoever people are, and wherever they live, they can walk through the doors of opportunity and into a home of their own.
The motion is about a scattergun approach to a very important topic. I understand it is aimed mainly at the last five years of the coalition Government and the direction they took. Of course, a standard one-line dig is now levelled at the SNP Scottish Government, as if that is somehow going to transform Labour’s fortunes north of the border.
Current policy ties in with decades of housing policy of Governments of all hues. There is no doubt that the roots of the current housing crisis stem from the Housing Act 1980—an Act that Labour contemplated introducing before it lost power—which led to the decimation of housing stock across the UK as a whole, the biggest problem being that those houses were not replaced. The reason they were not replaced was that the moneys from the sale of stock were either used to offset debt or reclaimed by the Treasury, so it was impossible for councils to replace stock.
Fast-forwarding to Scotland now, the SNP has recognised this issue. That is why we scrapped the right to buy. As of this year, the right to buy council houses has been eliminated in Scotland. We are also opposed to the extension of the right to buy to housing associations. By removing the right to buy and opposing it in housing associations, we preserve stock and allow better targeted new building of social housing to meet local housing needs. Labour had 13 years in power in the UK but did not do that and Labour did not do it in Scotland when it was in power for eight years. Labour could have invested in a council house building programme but, like the Tories, in the main chose to leave affordable housing to the markets and to social landlords. We have heard about the sorry state of affairs whereby the coalition Government actually built more council housing in five years than Labour did in 13.
On the council housing theme, I point out that in Scotland the Scottish National party has now delivered more than 6,000 council houses, which compares to a grand total of six that Labour delivered when it was in power. [Interruption.] I said that right, the figures are 6,000 versus six. There is no doubt that greater council house building just makes more sense. Councils can borrow at a lower rate, they can use their land supply and they can target regeneration. Those were all things I was pleased to be involved with as a councillor for East Ayrshire Council.
Given the increased discounts put in by the coalition Government for right to buy, what council in England is going to invest in council house building in the future, as its stock will be at risk of getting sold off? The same goes for the extended right to buy in respect of housing associations. They will not be able to borrow securely when they no longer know accurately what their future rent projection will be. Clearly, they could build houses but those could then be sold off, which distorts the whole model that housing associations were built on.
Let me now deal with one-to-one replacement. Despite what we heard from the Minister for Housing and Planning, it is a complete sham. It is based on a three-year cycle, and I understand that that is to allow for planning and getting houses coming out of the ground. The Government say that they have already achieved the one-to-one, but they are comparing the first year’s right-to-buy sales with the replacements over a three-year period. There has been a massive increase in the right-to-buy sales since then. The Library briefing paper shows that to stay on track against the increased number of right-to-buy sales, 4,650 houses need to be built every six months. In the first six months of this year, there were only 730 starts and acquisitions, so for the first six months of this year the Government have achieved only 15% of that required target. There is therefore no doubt that going forward the one-to-one replacement will not happen. When that is combined with the forced sale of the highest-value council properties, it is clear that this Government are going to create a worse housing situation in the long term, rather than do something to sort it, despite all the bluster we have heard.
There is still no definition of what one-to-one replacement is. The target is a national one, so it does not compel councils and housing associations to replace houses locally. It means that local needs and supply assessments do not govern the replacement strategy or housing strategy, whereas in Scotland the local needs and supply assessments are a prerequisite of Government funding The SNP Government, when funding social housing and council housing, are making sure that they take local needs and assessments into account. That is a proper strategic overview, which is the only way in which housing stock can be managed.
Another major issue I have with the right-to-buy policy is that councils are forced to subsidise home ownership through the sales programme as well as fund the rebuild without any Government money being added. Monetary experts agree that this is the time to invest in infrastructure, and clearly housing is integral to infrastructure. If the Government used the £10 billion to £12 billion subsidy that is getting used for right to buy for housing associations, we could create additional housing. That would help to tackle the housing problem, it would create more jobs and it would lead to a more sustainable model. If the Government were actually willing to put money up front, that would also lead to Barnett consequentials for Scotland, and I know that the SNP Government would use that wisely.
The right-to-buy measure in effect privatises housing associations. I draw a parallel with what happened during an early reading of the Scotland Bill when a proposal was made to devolve the Crown Estate. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) made an impassioned defence of the Crown Estate on the basis of the principle of not imposing a change of ownership. No Conservative Member is willing to come to the defence of housing associations, yet it is the same forced change of ownership.
Under the right to buy, large family houses have all but disappeared from council stock in some areas, and private renting has had to increase to compensate. That drives up housing benefit costs, which is counterproductive for the taxpayer in the long run. Many sold properties end up in the rented sector, especially flatted properties. Someone exercises the right to buy. Then they die; the flat is passed on to family and the family have no need for it. It ends up as a buy-to-let and the taxpayer pays more money for someone to rent that property than for the person in the council house next door. In a study by Glasgow university, this is estimated to have cost the taxpayer an extra £3 million a year in Renfrewshire alone. We also know that 40% of flats in England sold under the right to buy have ended up in the buy-to-let market. Clearly, that will only increase under the extended right to buy for housing association tenants.
We heard in the autumn statement of an additional levy on people who buy additional homes. That is supposed to provide some income to the Treasury and have a balancing effect on the buy-to-let market, but there is no doubt that it will not do anything. It will give the Treasury a wee bit more money, but the returns that buy-to-let landlords get will at least offset that one-off levy. So the taxpayer will still pay more money in the long run in housing benefit. Going forward, it is almost guaranteed that the only way the housing benefit bill will be reduced is if the Government take further punitive measures.
I think I have made it clear that I am against extending the right to buy to housing association tenants. It will lead to social cleansing—to a clearing out of people.
They might do in the short term, but I can guarantee that they will get money from the taxpayer as a discount, then they will sell the property. Property developers will move in, they will demolish and rebuild and there will be an ongoing moving out of people. The social houses will not be rebuilt in that area so people on lower incomes will not be able to rent in the area that they were staying in. [Interruption.] I think I should be pleased. I am getting a wee bit of chunter, and that is maybe a good thing.
Affordable homes clearly need to be truly affordable. The SNP Government have made sure that that is the case, and it is part of our plan going forward. It is not the case here in London. A cursory glance at my local estate agent in Kennington where I have a flat for when I stay down here shows that the costs for one-bedroom flats are truly mind-blowing. I can understand why London has a housing crisis.
In Scotland the SNP Government have delivered 30,000 affordable homes since 2011, backed by £1.7 billion of investment and they are committed to 50,000 affordable homes, of which 70% will be available for social rent, if they are re-elected. Despite what the motion says, I can inform the House that the chief executive of Shelter Scotland has welcomed this commitment. We have had no such commitment from Labour as yet in Scotland.
Although we are against the extended right to buy, we are not against home ownership. I accept that many families welcomed the original right to buy and many people have benefited from it. However, the scheme has had its time and it is time to move on. The rhetoric comes back to whether we are for or against home ownership, but that is not the right message. I have concerns that the UK Government proposals for Help to Buy and right to buy will encourage more people to borrow. At present interest rates are at an all-time low, so homes may be on the cusp of affordability. People can borrow now, but when interest rates go up there will be a risk to the affordability of those homes.
Although the Government talk about reducing borrowing, the one-for-one replacement scheme is funded by additional borrowing by councils and housing associations. As we now know, housing associations are adding to the public debt and are on the public books, so there is no benefit from what the Government are doing. The long-term economic recovery plan appears to give a discount to home owners, but it will increase personal debt and force borrowing elsewhere for replacement housing. All in all, it is not a plan at all.
To meet people’s requirements, we need more houses to be built, based on local need and demand. Those must be truly affordable homes that are energy efficient. This would deliver health benefits and reduce the long-term housing benefit bill. A house building programme would create jobs, improve the welfare bill as more people would be working, and improve the Treasury’s income. That is the strategic plan that the Government should work to. It is one that the Scottish Government are doing their best to implement and they certainly will do so if re-elected next year.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Given that housing is completely devolved to Scotland, it does not seem reasonable that the Scottish National party spokesperson should take up about 15 minutes, when there are many Back-Bench colleagues who want to speak. Now, you have imposed a five-minute time limit on an extremely important topic. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) opened the debate by referring to five years of failure. By the way, I do not know where he is. He seems to have done a bunk. He spent a little time in the Chamber; he did not turn up to the Committee stage of the Bill at all, which for a shadow housing Minister strikes me as a little odd. What he should have referred to is five years of recovery from the dreadful situation we inherited. I enjoyed his speech.
I understand that. It is a very good reason for not being in the Chamber. I enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman’s speech, particularly the reference to the money inherited from Labour. There was no money. I do not think he got the memo written by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) that played a significant part in the general election. The Prime Minister carried it round with him the whole time. The memo said that there was no money.
We have been facing not five, but 50 years of failure from all Governments, who have worked on the flawed assumption that only the Government can solve the problem. For 50 years Government have been part of the problem, getting in the way of the supply of housing being allowed to rise to meet demand. We saw quite a lot of finger-wagging from the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, but we heard nothing in the way of solutions. I listened to Opposition MPs carefully for many weeks in the Housing and Planning Bill Committee and I heard a lot of whingeing, but no real solutions. It is as if they have never asked themselves why the supply does not rise to meet demand. We do not talk about the shoe crisis, the jeans crisis, the DVD crisis or the chair crisis. Everyone in this Chamber is wearing a pair of shoes—including you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and if I may say so, yours are very nice shoes.
My hon. Friend should move along a bit. They are very nice.
No one says we need a national shoe service in order to solve the problem. We have a broken model, and it is this Government who are seeking to fix it. What I find so depressing from the Labour Benches is the paucity of ideas, the sheer paucity of radicalism. Almost every amendment proposed from the Opposition Benches during the Committee stage of the Housing and Planning Bill would have had the effect of slowing things down—sand in the gears, a spanner in the works. Labour Members do not seem to recognise that they are seeking to make the central problem—the problem of supply—even worse.
Last week Kevin McCloud addressed the all-party self-build, custom-build and independent house building group at our No. 10 summit, and I am very pleased that he was able to do so. He said:
“The consumer has been on the receiving end of a pretty poor deal. We build some of the poorest, most expensive and smallest houses in Europe. That’s not something to celebrate.”
Yet according to Ipsos MORI, 53% of the adult population would like to build a house at some point, 30% would like to do so in the next five years, and more than 1 million people would like to buy a site and start in the next 12 months. This can be done at scale. Adri Duivesteijn in Almere in the Netherlands has proved that it can be done, with serviced plots for over 3,000 dwellings. Cherwell District Council is now doing it in Oxfordshire, with over 1,900 serviced plots. This is the way to help supply rise to meet demand, putting the customer at the centre. Chapter 2 of the Housing and Planning Bill, on self-build and custom house building, will make that happen. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne did not mention chapter 2 or self-build and custom house building.
There are very legitimate reasons why local authorities might want to have and maintain affordable housing. In my view, they could and should use some of their £22 billion of reserves to establish, promote and grow mutual housing co-operatives for affordable rent. That is completely normal in Berlin, where it is called genossenschaften, and elsewhere on the continent. These arrangements are not relevant in terms of right to buy because they involve people entering into contracts with each other to form part of a co-operative. I thought there was a thing called the Co-operative party, but we heard nothing about this in the Bill Committee; I was the one talking about it. Interestingly, the local authority leader who showed the most interest in it when asked about in-perpetuity social rents in big cities was the Conservative leader of Westminster council, Philippa Roe, who said very seriously, yet with a gleam in her eye, “Yes, we’re looking at that.” From Labour Members, I am afraid we heard nothing.
We need vision and imagination, and the Bill will make that easier to achieve. Instead of building the most poorly performing, most expensive and smallest homes in Europe, we should do things differently. We should use our imagination and our knowledge to make the best places that we can, with the best-performing homes that we know how to build, in the most beautiful surroundings that we know how to create, where people will be able to find an education, find the skills they need for life, find a job they enjoy, perhaps start their own business, put down roots, build a house or have someone build a house to their own design, raise a family, and be part of a community. These are all normal human aspirations. We have to make it normal to achieve them, so that housing supply rises to meet demand here in this country, just as it does in the rest of Europe. That is the vision that we should pursue, and this Government, with the Housing and Planning Bill, will make it happen.
The Government’s record on housing over the past five years is sadly one of failure, and failure across all parts of the housing sector. It is a failure driven by short-termism, incompetence, and a lack of understanding of how millions of people live their lives. People in my constituency live very different lives from the people the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) described. Most people in my constituency earn very low wages, often on very short-term contracts. Getting a home of their own—
No. Getting a home of their own is a dream too far; being able to self-build is absolutely out of the question.
Since 2010 this Government have presided over the lowest level of homes built in peacetime since the 1920s. This fact does not become dulled by repetition. Since May, muddled thinking has given way to contradictory policies. The Government give with one hand and take away with another. The Chancellor’s Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed in November’s “Economic and fiscal outlook” that Government policies since the election will lead to 34,000 fewer housing association homes being built over the next five years.
I share the Government’s desire to create a property-owning democracy for those who want to own their own home. I can therefore only assume that the Secretary of State shares my disappointment that home ownership under this Government has fallen by over 200,000 to the lowest level in 30 years, below the EU average for the first time on record. To choose a period at random, from 1997 to 2010 the number of homeowners rose by more than 1 million. The rise of insecure working practices, such as zero-hours contracts and underemployment, has meant that many people cannot save for a deposit or get a mortgage, because they do not have a permanent contract.
The state of social housing in many parts of the country is close to breaking point, with waiting lists of many years. If the Government are not sure why that might be the case, perhaps they could look back to 2014, when the number of homes built for social rent was at its lowest for at least two decades. The number of affordable homes provided in the past year fell by more than a quarter compared with 2010.
This Government simply do not get social housing. I sat on the Localism Bill Committee in the last Parliament, when a Conservative member of the Committee referred to social housing as “housing of last resort.” I was born in a council house and I grew up in that house and that community—it was my home. Council housing provides a safe, warm place for millions of people to call home. It is not housing of last resort. The proposal in the Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently going through this House, to scrap tenancies for life is a disgrace, and this Government should be ashamed for proposing such a change.
This Government have made it harder to build social homes by choking the planning system. They have consistently watered down section 106 affordable homes requirements, while in his day job as Mayor of London, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who is no longer in his place, has banned Labour councils from insisting on the building of genuine social homes through section 106 agreements in his London plan. He did that against the guidance of the planning inspector, but with the approval of the former Communities and Local Government Secretary, the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles).
With home ownership an unobtainable ambition for many, and with social housing in short supply, it should come as no surprise that the private rented sector has enjoyed tremendous growth. Although there are many good private landlords who provide decent homes for their tenants, many other tenants endure daily instability and short-term tenancies—typically of six months—as well as poor standards and rent increases at a pace that outstrips wages.
By every metric, and in whatever part of the housing sector, the situation has deteriorated in the past five years. I hope the Government can start to address the differing and diverse needs of families across this country with a comprehensive strategy that does more than simply manage decline.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), but I have to say that my conclusion from looking at every metric is rather different from hers. The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) opened in his usual way, but, behind his façade of bluster, the only conclusion we can draw from the statistics is that the Labour party left a housing crisis in this country. Under that Government, house building was at its lowest level since the 1920s, while the housing available for social rent decreased and the number of those on the waiting list increased.
There are a huge number of possible solutions to that problem, but Labour Members have offered a paucity of ideas. This Government have delivered for the past five years and they are continuing to do so. They are delivering 753,000 new homes and 260,000 more affordable homes, and council house building is now at its highest level for 23 years. The Mayor of London, who is not in his place but I was pleased to see him here earlier, has a record to be proud of. He is on track to deliver those 100,000 more affordable homes over his two terms.
Being a London Member, I was also pleased that the Chancellor, in both the autumn statement and the Budget, ensured that there was housing news and opportunity across the country. In particular, I was delighted with the extension of the very successful Help to Buy scheme—which in the last Parliament helped 120,000 households to get on the ladder—to London. That will be really important for the other measures the Government are also putting in place in London to work. It is clear that this Government do not lack ambition and that they are not complacent.
I heard the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne ask why the Government do not sell off some of their own land. In London, the London Land Commission is going to do exactly that, which will be hugely powerful in delivering extra affordable homes during the term of office of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), when he takes over as Mayor of London. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), who is in his place, will know that the London Land Commission will undertake a review in a year’s time. When he looks at that review, I hope he might contemplate giving the Mayor the power to impose a duty to co-operate—or, indeed, a power to have a first right of refusal—so that if any public or local authorities drag their feet and hold back the aspiration to provide houses for Londoners, they can very clearly be told that it is their duty to co-operate with the London Land Commission and to get on with the job.
The Budget contained several measures that will be powerful in accelerating the number of houses likely to be built in our country. In particular, in-principle permission for brownfield sites will allow developers to bring forward sites much more quickly. It will enable them to understand what can be achieved in outline. Any number of large projects may benefit from that, but equally, so will any number of small projects. If developers have the confidence to know what they can do, they will invest in the technical detail, which will in turn lead to community support for community infrastructure—it may also create opportunities for self-build property, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) has reminded us—and that will provide the opportunity for quality developers to bring forward quality developments on brownfield sites. Yet, Opposition Members have told people waiting to move into such homes, “Vote Labour— it won’t happen.” It is very clear that there is a real difference between us on such ideas and aspirations.
I know that the Minister is in the mood and has an appetite to deliver even more than the target of 1 million houses, so let me tell him that he could do a few other things. In particular, will he consider introducing a plan to allow small-scale developers—perhaps paying a small extra fee to accelerate the process—to fast-track small developments through the process more quickly? That would give us a real opportunity to bring on some of the smaller sites. We all want big developments, but small ones will help just as much.
This Government are absolutely right to be taking action on housing, which is the most important issue for our country. It was largely ignored during the 13 years of Labour failure, but I know that this Government have the ambition to build the homes in which the people of this country want to live.
I have spent too many years in the trenches of statistical warfare on housing supply, so today I want to use the few minutes available to me to talk about values.
Conservative Members have spoken about one aspiration—the aspiration for home ownership. That is an important and vital aspiration, because most people want to own their home if they can and we should help them to do so. The fact that the Government proposals for starter homes require households in my constituency to have an income of £101,000 does not fill me with confidence that the need will be met in central London any time soon. None the less, it is an important aspiration. Mobility is another important value, because we want to make the best use of the existing housing stock and we want people to be able to move around this country for work and other purposes.
I want to spend my few minutes talking about another value, which is the value of security. A home is not just based on an economic transaction—people do not just spend rent or mortgage payments to secure a bed for the night—but is where people bring up their family and experience community and neighbourliness, and it therefore means so much more to them. That does not disappear for people on low incomes: a home means as much to someone on a low income as it does to the millionaire who can spend £6 million to buy a home in the London luxury market.
No, I will not give way, because too many Members want to speak.
What we have seen under this Government—although it did not start in 2010, of course—is an erosion of the principle of security. That erosion reached its nadir with the proposal to scrap the security of tenure for social housing. The proposal to scrap secure social tenancies will mean an intrusion into the lives of the poorest, and only the poorest, every few years as they are required to justify their home.
The principle of security is being eroded in many other ways. There has been a doubling in the number of families who are bringing up children in private rented housing, where they can only rely on a 12-month assured shorthold tenancy. The Government refuse to do anything to address the desperate need for longer security for people in the private rented sector. There has been an increase in homelessness. It was coming down for many years from too high a peak under the last Labour Government, but it is soaring again. There has been a fantastic 820% increase in the number of families being held illegally in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. Families are living, sometimes for years, in nightly booked temporary accommodation after they have been homeless. That has happened to my constituents. Insecurity is the new normal, but only for the poorest. Far from addressing that crisis, the Government plan to extend it and entrench it even more widely.
The stories of my constituents and the constituents of everybody on the Opposition Benches—and, quite possibly, the stories of the constituents of Government Members that go unheard—are stories of people torn away from their children’s schools, torn away from their parents, torn away from the people they have caring responsibilities for, torn away from the volunteering they do, torn away from their part-time or even full-time jobs and torn away from their communities. It is their children, above all, who suffer. The hyper-mobility that is forced on families at the moment is bringing about worse physical health, worse mental health, higher suicide risks and worse educational achievement. We are entrenching that into the lives of the poorest. Sadly, I do not have time to tell some of those stories, although I would love to be able to do so.
We know not just from the anecdotes, but from academic research that has been done in Australia and America, just how damaging this is. Communities suffer as well as individuals when the people who are the building blocks of communities—people who are registered to vote and who are civic participants—can no longer be so because they are forced again and again to move house. They are forced to move house every six months or every year, and now social tenants will be forced to move house every three or four years.
I will finish with a quotation from Professor Steve Hilditch, who for over 40 years has been an academic, a manager and a deliverer of housing. He says in respect of the end of secure social tenancies:
“Social rented housing is our most precious housing asset. Its existence broke the historic inevitability that people on low incomes and vulnerable people would also endure homelessness and dreadful housing conditions. It removed the blight of bad housing from generations of children. In my view it was the strongest mechanism of all to achieve genuine social mobility and to give children born into poor families similar opportunities to those enjoyed by better-off families.”
I am grateful to the Opposition for calling a debate on affordable housing, because it gives me the opportunity to point out the very different records of Labour and my party in both national and local government in supplying affordable homes in Worcester.
Affordable housing is one of the most pressing and important issues for me, as the MP for Worcester. It is the single most commonly raised concern at my surgeries. Although Worcester has seen nothing like the price inflation that has been seen in the south-east, the price of housing is a major worry for young people, whether they are students and apprentices setting out to rent or young professionals looking to buy their first home.
In our beautiful county town, a city of about 100,000 people, there is rightly pressure to build affordable homes on brownfield rather than greenfield sites, both to protect the stunning Worcestershire countryside, which is such an asset to our county, and to defend the vital floodplains on which we rely each year to keep the River Severn out of homes and businesses. I was pleased to hear in a recent meeting with the Environment Agency that it rates Worcester City Council as one of the best councils in the area at using the planning system to protect its floodplains. Given that we see winter floods almost every year, that is essential.
For as long as anyone can remember, Worcester has been bombarded by Labour leaflets telling people that Labour is the party of affordable housing. I remember fighting local election campaigns as long ago as 2001 in which every Labour leaflet was adorned with messages about affordable housing. In 2003, the Liberal Democrats went into coalition with Labour on the council, with the explicit aim of delivering more affordable houses. If Labour had any track record of success in this area, the leaflets would be understandable. Knowing the importance of affordable housing, I made it my mission to explore how much Labour administrations in the city had delivered.
The figures from Worcester City Council tell a stark story of Labour neglect. From 1997 to 2000, a period in which Worcester had a Labour MP, a Labour-led council and—oh joy of joys—that things-can-only-get-better Labour Government in Westminster, the council built fewer than 20 affordable homes per year. Very few of these homes, and none after 1997-98, were for affordable ownership, and the abysmal record of Labour when they had complete political control of Worcester was of just 22, then 11, then 19 affordable homes delivered—these figures in a city of 100,000 people.
Unsurprisingly, Labour was turfed out of control of Worcester in 2000 and a Conservative administration took control. What happened to affordable housing delivery when those nasty Tories took over? It rose 47% in the first year, more than doubled in the second year and then ran all the way from 2002 to 2012 at an average of 112 homes per year—five times as many as Labour had delivered. “Ah, yes,” said the Labour party, “but things slowed down after we lost power in 2010,” and yes, they did. Labour left us with the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s. It took years for the housing market to recover from the great recession that began in 2008, but in Worcester we kept on building affordable homes.
In 2012-13 the council delivered a remarkable 117 units of affordable housing, 79% of all new homes delivered in the city that year, under a Conservative administration.
I am delighted with my hon. Friend’s intervention, although he may be less delighted to hear that the year he joined the Conservative party in Worcester was the year I was born.
What happened when Labour and the Liberal Democrats took control? Affordable housing delivery slumped, falling from 117 to 76, a decline of more than 30% in a single year. Worse still, the fall in delivery of housing meant a slowdown in receipts from the new homes bonus, a welcome financial incentive introduced by the coalition Government to support delivery of affordable housing. Not only did Labour’s chaotic year in control mean a more acute housing shortage, but it also meant damage to the city’s capital receipts.
Fortunately, the voters of Worcester, seeing the record of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats—who, alas, are absent from this debate—elected more Conservative councillors in 2014, and those mean old Tories took back control of the council once again. The result: an immediate recovery in the number of new affordable homes. The delivery of affordable homes in Worcester in the last year is the highest on record since 1997, and out of 460 new homes delivered in the city, 260 are rated as affordable. In 2015, new homes bonus income for the city rose to £5 million. The lesson here is stark: Labour always promise affordable homes, but only the Conservatives actually deliver them.
I know very well that there is still a great deal more demand, and the city’s own estimates suggest that this year’s record delivery is only the baseline for what is needed. In debates on building affordable homes it is often as if the only choice is to deliver them and concrete over our green fields or to give up on providing them altogether. That is simply not true. In fact, whereas a fifth of homes delivered in Labour’s one year of control were delivered on greenfield sites around Worcester, that figure has fallen, even as delivery of homes has increased, to only around 7.5% in the current year. Looking ahead, about 90% of the homes planned for in Worcester’s land supply can be delivered on brownfield sites, and I hope that figure continues to increase.
There is much the Government can do to further support the delivery of affordable homes in brownfield sites, and I am pleased to hear about the new brownfield fund. I hope the Government will look into more mechanisms to support renting above the shop and city centre living, which I believe can both help our high streets and address the desperate need for affordable homes.
I welcome the Government policies on Help to Buy. I have seen that for myself on the streets of Worcester, meeting people who have been able to buy their own home for the first time who would not otherwise have been able to do so. I particularly welcome the Help to Buy ISA. I also welcome the Government’s efforts to crack down on rogue landlords, going further than Labour ever did in their 13 years in office to deal with this very serious issue.
Today’s motion is typical of the relentless negativity we see from today’s Labour party. It says nothing about the aspiration of working families to live in homes they can own, nor the steps that have been taken, greater than under 13 years of Labour, to regulate rogue landlords. I am very proud that in Worcester, under a Conservative Government and with a Conservative council, we are delivering more affordable homes than ever.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on housing; it is the single biggest area of concern to my constituents. Whatever measure we take, this Government have failed to deliver the homes we need in the areas where they are needed and at the pace which is required to address a housing crisis unprecedented since the second world war. If their own measure of success is home ownership, the Government have presided over a decline in the number of homeowners of 205,000 since 2010. If their measure of success is the housing benefit bill, the current Chancellor has seen an increase of £4.3 million in that bill over the past five years, including a doubling of the number of in-work households in receipt of housing benefit.
If the measure of success is, as it should be, the level of homelessness, there has been an increase of more than 50% in the number of people sleeping rough since 2010, and an increase in homelessness as a whole of more than a third. If the measure of success is the delivery of affordable homes, we see perhaps the Government’s most catastrophic failure: a decline of almost 75% in the delivery of new homes at genuinely affordable social rents since 2010, and a new definition of affordable rents, which makes a mockery of the term “affordable”.
In response to that failure, the Government appear to be constructing a new set of policies around an entirely arbitrary dividing line. Let us call it the aspiration threshold. Above that line, which quantifies at a house price of £450,000 in London, or an income of £90,000 with savings of close to £100,000, the Government recognise the aspiration of us all to have a stable home for the long term, to put down roots in our community, and to know that our children can attend the same schools for as long as they need to do so. Below that line, the Government do not recognise the legitimacy of people’s aspirations. They seem to believe that the most that council tenants deserve is five years’ stability at a time. In the private rented sector, it is viewed as entirely acceptable to live with the threat of a no-fault section 21 eviction. For those people, moving their children out of a school where they are settled and away from their friends in search of an affordable home is perceived as an acceptable way to live. For those people who are paying rent so high that they cannot afford to save for a home of their own, the aspiration of home ownership becomes increasingly hard to realise.
I do not understand why the Government are so focused on that arbitrary line. Most people in my constituency want the same thing: an affordable place of their own that is secure, safe, warm and suited to their needs. Most people do not want their aspirations to be achieved at the expense of others. Housing association tenants who would like to buy a home of their own do not want that to be at the expense of a family with two children in a one-bedroom home, whose aspiration to move to a council home big enough for their needs will not be realised if the Government force the council to sell off its larger family homes because they are the homes of highest value. We need to build more homes across all tenures, not one type of home at the expense of another.
The Minister for Housing and Planning came to the Communities and Local Government Committee this morning, and could not give any assurances that the numbers underpinning his proposed radical reform of housing policy add up. Next month, hon. Members will be asked to vote on a set of ideologically driven, uncosted and unproven proposals in the Housing and Planning Bill, which is a pitifully poor response to the biggest housing crisis that this country has faced since the second world war. The Government have a shameful record and are making an inadequate response. I hope that they will listen and introduce a more convincing plan to tackle the crisis.
I direct hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in today’s debate. I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) said about housing being largely about security. We must accept in this country that the British housing journey has changed. The private rented sector is now larger than the social housing sector and 11 million people live in privately rented homes. To give Members an idea of the growth in that sector, it increased by 69% between 1993 and 2013. More than 1 million families with children live in the private rented sector. I hope that the Minister will turn his attention to those families today.
In the mid-1980s, the age of a first-time buyer was about 25. It is now over 30 and, in some parts of London, over 40. The Housing Act 1988 introduced the assured shorthold tenancy for people who rent on a short- term basis while saving for a deposit to buy a home. It was specifically designed—I went back to Hansard and had a look—for students, professionals and short-term renters. In an age when people are renting for longer and with families, I believe that the assured shorthold tenancy is no longer fit for purpose for people in the private rented sector with families.
As the figures show, being in the private rented sector means that people move more often. People come to my advice surgery and say that they have struggled all year to save perhaps £100 a month towards a deposit to buy a house, only for those savings to be wiped out by the cost of moving, paying agency fees and a new deposit on a private rented home. That is borne out by Shelter’s statistics, which state that 60% of those in the private rented sector have no money left at the end of the month, other than to pay the rent. Santander states that 49% of people in the private rented sector have given up saving for a deposit to buy their own home altogether.
I welcome the Government’s Help to Buy ISA, which is hugely encouraging and helps those in the private rented sector to save up a deposit. Will the Minister update the House on his progress with the family-friendly tenancy? I have sent several written questions to his Department, and I would be interested to know how many family-friendly tenancies have been taken up and what reassurance has been given to lenders. When I worked in the Downing Street policy unit on that policy, lenders were reticent to grant longer tenancies because of their nervousness about seeking possession if they went in as mortgagee in possession. If, as I suspect, the number of family-friendly tenancies taken up is low, is it time for the Government to consider legislating in that area? Given that so many houses in the private rented sector now have their rent paid by housing benefit, it is surely not unreasonable for the Government, who are paying the rent, to ask landlords to offer more security to their tenants.
Finally, let me cover something different. As we approach Christmas we will all be thinking of homelessness, and I want to mention Joanne Atkin and Michelle Brindle in my constituency, who saw Carlos Maradona, a salesman of The Big Issue who works outside Sainsbury’s in Darwen. As well as coming to see me, they set up a crowdfunding page, so that everyone in the town could get behind Carlos at Christmas and help him to find a home. I will tweet the link after this debate, but I thought the House might be interested to know that we have already raised £1,400.
I want to focus on supply and demand in Bristol, where the situation for buyers, and especially renters, is challenging. Information I have seen shows that property prices in Bristol have risen by between 7% and 9.7% in the past 12 months. Hometrack shows that of the 20 cities it monitors, only London, Cambridge and Oxford recorded a greater percentage increase than Bristol, and the influx of property investors from London and overseas is now a further influence on the Bristol housing sales market. One constituent who phoned my office told me that he was turned down for viewing a property because the estate agent had a queue of interested cash buyers.
The pressure felt by would-be buyers will increase further with the electrification of the London to Bristol line that will reduce travel times by 15 minutes, and effectively put Bristol on the same commuter belt as Oxford. Looking ahead, Halifax estimates that national house prices will rise on average by between 4% and 6%, and in high-demand areas such as Bristol that could be up to 10%. That is possibly good for investors, landlords and those who want to buy to let, but for young people and those looking to get on the housing ladder, it is not a good picture.
Rents have been rising throughout 2015, and they are expected to rise in 2016. This month, a local estate agent in my constituency told our local newspaper:
“If I take our Bedminster branch, there are 15 or 20 enquiries a day for rental properties, and the supply is maybe four or five a week, so the numbers are chilling. I’m pretty sure that the stamp duty rise on second homes will have an effect. It will force people to think twice and it will take a pretty robust person to buy a property to rent out. It is a bad thing for the Government to do because there is a massive shortage of properties to rent in the Bristol area and it will exacerbate the problem.”
Other factors that make the situation even bleaker include average prices of £210,000 and salaries of £22,000—I dispute the assertion by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) about houses being affordable above a line from the Severn to the Wash. Some 10,000 people in Bristol are waiting for social housing, and thousands of properties are standing empty. Some councils in the south-west are doing good work. A local council in Plymouth has plans for homes, plans for social rent, a plan for empty homes, a charter for private rented housing and a plan for social rented housing. That is a Labour-run council—a small blot of red in the blue that is the south-west of England. Bristol and other local authorities need to learn from each other and share good practice. Also, the Government need to support local authorities that are trying to achieve something. The Government need not only ambition but a better plan.
I should like to begin by declaring my interest. I am a controlling director in a mortgage broker and property portal dedicated to shared ownership, and chairman of the all-party group on housing and planning.
When we talk about housing at the moment, there is obviously a focus on new build and on supply, but as I said in my intervention on the Minister, I still think that one of this Government’s most radical changes is the one we are making to buy to let. In the last Labour Opposition day debate on housing, in June, I spoke on buy to let and said that I was looking for three changes from the Government, relating to the rate of stamp duty, to tax relief and to mortgages.
Two of those changes have been delivered, including a measure on stamp duty. I said that it was completely unfair that a first-time buyer should pay the same rate of stamp duty as someone buying their 25th portfolio buy-to-let property or a second home as a holiday home. The Chancellor has had the courage to make that change, which no Labour Chancellor ever made. On tax relief, I said that it was wrong that first-time buyers or other home owners, who no longer have mortgage interest relief at source—MIRAS—should not have tax relief when buy-to-let landlords do so. Again, we are addressing that.
Of course the buy-to-let change is controversial, and we are now experiencing a backlash from The Daily Telegraph and others against it. In the one minute and 44 seconds remaining, I want to remind hon. Members why it is necessary. The Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee’s minutes show that the rate of credit loss on buy-to-let mortgages in the UK has been about twice that for residential mortgages, despite the fact that 75% of buy-to-let lending remains interest only. In the past year, there has been £28.5 billion of lending with no repayment of the debt. For me, any area of the economy that requires tax breaks and non-repayment of debt to survive is unsustainable. The buy-to-let sector has not been sustainable.
That does not mean that we have something against those who wish to buy a property to let. I accept that some people use such properties as their pension, and some are saying, “It’s my pension. Why are the Government hitting me?” One change that must come out of this proposal is that we have to talk, as a country, about the fundamental issue of pension reform. If we can do that, it will represent an important gain. Luke Johnson has written in The Sunday Times:
“We cannot prosper as a nation of buy-to-let landlords; we must also produce goods and services and export to pay our way in the world.”
That means investment—not just foreign investment but our own investment—as well as a higher savings ratio and a more sustainable economy. I believe that a key part of that will be a more sustainable housing market in which first-time buyers have a reasonable chance of buying the properties which, at the moment, are being taken from them by people who will then rent them out to those same people who want to be first-time buyers. This is a fair move and it is being brought in by this radical Conservative Government.
In the brief time available, I want to highlight the problem in Leeds, to illustrate the fact that it is indeed a nationwide problem and not one that affects only London and the south-east.
In Leeds, buying a home is increasingly unaffordable, and that includes starter homes. According to the National Housing Federation’s paper, “Home Truths 2014/15: Yorkshire and Humber”, the current average house price in Leeds is £179,000, which is seven to eight times higher than median earnings in the city, depending on whose figures are used. That makes a mortgage unobtainable for vast swathes of the population.
Projections from the Office for National Statistics and the House of Commons Library have suggested that by 2020, starter homes could cost around £162,000 in Leeds. If that turned out to be the case, that would be significantly below the cap. However, the average income needed for such a property would be £45,000, and the reality is that gross median income in Leeds is currently around £22,000. Unless median income doubles in the next five years, starter homes will remain unaffordable.
Richard Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for regeneration, has said that the council’s ambitions for a new generation of housing are at risk because of
“central government’s focus on starter homes above all other types of housing and their attempts to reduce housing mix through extending right to buy and forcing the sale of council homes”.
The right to buy sell-off of council homes is resulting in local authority housing stock being diminished, with very little replacement. Over the past three years, 1,159 Leeds local authority properties have been sold, with only 59 replacement starts—a ratio of 20:1.
Renting is increasingly unaffordable for a wide variety of groups. The Leeds Tenants Federation states that, even in council and housing association properties, some people are spending between 40% and 70% on rent. Many in Leeds are also struggling with private rent. Indeed, the council has previously written to the Communities and Local Government Committee to say of the private rental sector that
“rents are now taking a greater proportion of income”.
“There is an increasing issue of affordability across all sectors of the private rental market.”
So there is much to do.
The Conservatives spent the last Parliament blaming Labour, but that will not wash any more. They have their own record now, and on housing, both in Leeds and across the country, it is five years of failure on every front, with unaffordable home ownership, rising rents, deep cuts in investment and the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. There is a lot of work to be done. The blame game has to end, and the work must start and then be finished.
It is as true today as it was 30 years ago that more than 80% of people aspire to buy their own home. On the other side of the equation, house builders make their living by providing as many homes as possible. There is no lack of will to build, or a lack of desire to buy. The problems are due to the supply-side issues in the marketplace. Supply is constrained by a planning process that is not fit for purpose. There is a shortage of viable land, as much of it is locked away in public sector land banks, and a major demand side issue, in that house prices are simply out of reach for far too many people.
Fundamentally, the supply-side issue is the one that we most need to resolve. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication: build more homes and most of the problems of affordability will fall away. We are building more homes. There has been a 56% rise in housing starts since 2010, and the number is now running at 136,000 a year. Planning consents are at a post-recession high of 240,000 a year, which will inevitably lead to more homes being built.
I welcome the provisions of the Housing and Planning Bill and its objective to increase further house building and home ownership. I welcome, too, the brownfield register, permission in principle, the simplicity of starter homes with a 20% discount, and right to buy.
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) may be interested to know that we took evidence from Dr Mary Taylor, the chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations. She was asked whether, if there had been a one-to-one policy for right to buy, she would have got behind that policy. She said that she might well have had a different view.
One third of all people in relative poverty are there due to housing costs alone. The additional homes created by right to buy, and funded by making greater use of taxpayer-owned assets held by local authorities, will deliver affordable homes to buy, for shared ownership, and to rent. I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) that we need longer, family-friendly tenancies and client money protection schemes for letting agents.
Earlier, I mentioned the huge swathes of land held in the public sector. The Government have pledged to bring forward enough public sector land to build 150,000 homes over the next five years. I am concerned that this land will be released and that we may need incentives to ensure that surplus, under-utilised land in our public sector is made available for development for our housing associations and the private sector. I offer strong support for this Government’s record on housing, and believe that the new initiatives in the Housing and Planning Bill will help to deliver a housing market that works.
Successive Governments have failed to build anywhere near enough houses. The Government’s current Housing and Planning Bill at least tries to deal with some of that fallout. However, as with so many of their current policies, we are expecting those with the least resource to pay for our mistakes.
The spare room subsidy was the first assault on the most vulnerable people to right that wrong. I worked with a young woman who, due to violent and persistent domestic abuse, needed to go into hospital to deal with her severe physical and mental health problems. For that period, her child was removed to foster care. When she returned home, she began the process of rebuilding her relations with her daughter. Her daughter remained in foster care to give them both space to recover. The period of time was such that she was considered to be under-occupying her property. She fast built up arrears and debts and was eventually evicted, leaving her with no stable home for her child to return to. That woman lost her home, her health and her daughter, and all she needed was a chance. Was it her fault that houses were not rebuilt when they were sold off? I do not think so, yet she paid the price.
The bedroom tax was an instrument meant to encourage people to move out of properties that could be used for a bigger family, but it does not work like that if there is nowhere for them to go. It just makes money out of those who simply cannot bear it. The blunt-ended policy fails to recognise the realities of people’s lives. Some of the proposed elements of the current Housing and Planning Bill will do exactly the same.
The Government’s intention to end lifetime and successive tenancies is meant, again, to encourage people to free-up much needed properties. That is all well and good, but similar to the problems faced by bedroom tax victims, life does not work like that. When an adult child has a choice to give up their own tenancy and livelihood to move in and care for an elderly mother or father, they have a very tough choice to make and will be unsure of their own future. When a victim of domestic violence is rehoused with her children, who have probably been through enough, will we say, “Sorry gang, you’ll have to move schools pretty much every five years”? Will the Government fund all of the new housing officers that will be needed to ensure that the system works fairly? I wonder whether any of the Ministers have sat in their local housing queue recently. I have; it takes hours to be seen.
I do not want to stand here and moan. I want the Government to do something and have some positive suggestions. If they are going to encourage people to move in and out of social housing more frequently, they need to invest heavily in temporary accommodation. Currently, there is no temporary accommodation. The taxpayer funds bed and breakfast accommodation for families to live in—where used condoms are stuffed into the walls and there are dirty beds—when there is nowhere for them to go. The Government must invest in that. They must also look at models such as the one we have in Birmingham, where we have a social lettings agency with an honest broker, two-year tenancies and help with deposits for tenants coming out of social housing.
The Government should look at those suggestions before they rush into something that will show up in my surgeries in glorious technicolour.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). I draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
Last Friday, I visited a new development in my constituency, Saxon Place in Penwortham. It is a mixture of family homes for rent and for sale under shared ownership. I mention that because I had the great pleasure of serving with many hon. Members on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee. There was a lot of talk about the affordability of starter homes and a lot of the conversation was very London-centric. My point is that, in many parts of the country including Lancashire, the starter and affordable homes really are affordable. On the average income in my constituency, a family could, under the shared ownership scheme, get a deposit of between £2,000 and £5,000 and have an equity stake in that house. I remind hon. Members that the world does not end at Watford Gap.
We agree that most Britons aspire to home ownership, but we have had a problem in getting more houses built. We have a growing population and more and more people live on their own. We need to be flexible about what we build. I was particularly pleased with the measures on automatic planning permission for brownfield sites. I have experience of developing brownfield sites. In the past, remediation works were costly and difficult. The fact is that we are getting better at that and prices are coming down. The provisions will start us on the way to building more homes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) said, we just need to increase supply. It is not the whole answer, but we absolutely must build more homes.
The important thing about the outline nature of that permission is that it gives reassurance to the developer that he can invest, but leaves the right amount of risk on the business rather than on the taxpayer. If we were to change the outline permission to make it more detailed, winding up in red tape, it would slow down the process, and there would be far too much onus on the taxpayer rather than on the developer. I also greatly welcome the Government’s pledge to bring forward more public sector land to build more homes.
The Bill is forward looking. We are tackling rogue landlords, and I welcome the investment in garden cities. We need more homes and the Government are determined to deliver them. The Bill will go a great way to doing that.
It is evident that there are Members in the Chamber, such as the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), who are strong supporters of English votes for English laws and who question why Scottish Members are speaking on a matter that should be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I point out that Scotland is specifically mentioned in the motion we are debating today. The fact is that housing is an area where the headline statement of devolution is seriously undermined by a haphazard split of responsibilities between this place and the devolved Administrations. As a result, many decisions taken in this place can have serious implications for the delivery of housing policy in Scotland, and for the real issues and concerns of so many people.
The UK Government have stated that they want to transform generation rent into generation buy. It is certainly no bad thing to buy a home, but it must be financially sustainable, it must be right for one’s circumstances and it must not be at the expense of future housing stock. The UK Government must focus on alternatives, too. We have heard concern from Members on both sides of the House about homelessness, which is a very real and very destructive issue. I gently point out that we should concern ourselves with this issue all year and not just at Christmas.
The UK Parliament has lost its focus on the quality and quantity of housing. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) that this can be traced back to the Housing Act 1980, when the Thatcher Government introduced right to buy. The policy has been popular with beneficiaries, but it has had serious side-effects on the quality of housing in the social rented sector and in entrenching deprivations in the areas of social rented housing that have not been sold off.
This Conservative Government are now going further than Mrs Thatcher. Owner-occupation is seen as the normal tenure for all households, regardless of income. This is exactly the approach that led to the American sub-prime scandal. Dame Kate Barker described the policy as
“people who are just on the cusp of being able to buy”
being nudged over the edge. It did not end well.
The Government’s thinking is that the social rented sector is a temporary stop-gap, where tenants should not regard their residence as a permanent home. They seem keen to import the deeply damaging and socially divisive concept of welfare housing. These policies are a smash and grab raid by the Chancellor on the assets of the social rented sector. Forcing councils to sell their best assets strengthens the social segregation that scars too many parts of this country and the forced sale of housing association properties represents the abandonment of those forced to wait for years for a decent home. Even The Daily Telegraph described the policy as
“dumb, economically illiterate…morally wrong…and close to absurd”.
The contrast between this shambles and the action being taken by the Scottish Government could not be starker. Instead of viewing housing as a weapon in a political game, the Scottish Government act on the basis that decent, accessible and affordable housing is central to the delivery of many other policy objectives. If we in Scotland had built houses at English rates since 2007, we would have 42,000 fewer homes. In fact, the Scottish Government have committed to something the UK Government no longer do: build both social and affordable housing.
I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I would like to start by replying to some of the points the shadow housing Minister, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), made at the beginning of the debate about the respective track records of this Government and the previous Government. In particular, I would like to draw attention to the number of housing starts across the country as a whole in the past year, which was 165,000, compared to the right hon. Gentleman’s last year as Housing Minister when the figure was just 124,000—a 33% increase by the current Government, which is an extremely impressive record.
The hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), who I see is in her place, drew attention to affordable housing. I am similarly pleased to report to the House that, according to House of Commons Library figures, last year 67,000 affordable houses were delivered compared to just 58,000 in the last year of the previous Labour Government. I think there is a record to be proud of.
I was privileged to serve on the Housing and Planning Public Bill Committee for 17 sittings with the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), but not, I regret, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne, who did not grace us with his presence. I was disappointed by the lack of new ideas in his speech earlier. I thought we might have heard more from a shadow housing Minister.
There is a great deal to welcome in the Bill, not least the idea that every single local authority must have a local plan by 2017; the local development orders to give outlying planning consent on brownfield sites, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) mentioned a few moments ago; and the London Land Commission bringing forward public sector land. The GLA has done that successfully: 98% of its land is being brought forward. I suggest to the Minister that the London Land Commission be given more powers to take hold of the surplus public sector land identified and make sure that organisations such as the NHS, Network Rail and Transport for London do not shilly-shally or delay.
I have one or two other suggestions. Parts of the planning process can be cumbersome, with reports on things such as bats and newts—
If there is any way of lightening the process, it would be welcome. Similarly, many developers would be happy to pay higher planning fees in exchange for guaranteed faster decision making, perhaps with the extra fees being refunded if the service level was not met. I hope the Minister will take those constructive ideas in the spirit they are intended.
In summary, having sat on the Bill Committee for 17 sittings, I am absolutely confident it will increase the supply of new homes and promote homeownership, and I strongly welcome it.
In 1892, Mr Pooter, from “The Diary of a Nobody”, was the archetypal suburban London Mr Average, but on current figures he could not afford today to live where he did. In 2009, The Spectator said his home would be worth £1 million and that his clerk’s salary would be £40,000. In Ealing, a typical suburb, the figures are astronomical and are placing an average suburb out of reach for the average Joe and Josephine, for whom suburbia was intended. Last year, average rents were £1,400. According to this year’s Land Registry figures, a terraced house in W5 now costs £781,000.
The Government’s housing record is one of abject failure, on homelessness, homeownership, house building, rents and, crucially, supply. Shelter, an objective charity, says that channelling existing public resources to build homes that only those on high incomes can afford will result in 180,000 affordable and low-rent homes not being built or sold. That is as a result of the changes in the Housing and Planning Bill. The goalposts have been moved several times. In respect of rents, “affordable” can now mean up to 80% of market rents, which is just not realistic.
These subsidised starter homes have been trumpeted, but they are a non-starter for people in my constituency. In Ealing, average earnings are about £34,500. If someone wanted a shot at just a one-bedroom starter home in W13, they would have to earn £73,142. In W4, it is even worse: £90,501. At first sight, the 1% rent reduction looks good, but it will have massive unintended consequences. I went recently to the reopening of the YMCA foyer in my constituency. It has sunk all its assets into it, based on a business plan of rising rents, and it now expects to be completely sunk. It was a massive oversight not to have exempted supported housing.
There is so much I could say about the mandatory “pay to stay” policy. The figure of £40,000 means two incomes of £20,000, which is not a princely sum in London. It is an attack on aspiration, which Conservatives keep talking about. Our capital city is being hollowed out, as we pay ever more for housing yet become ever more insecure at the same time. The Spectator says that Holloway is now becoming banker land. I fear that not just Mr Pooter but many others on average and modest incomes are being forced out of London, which is being left to bankers, oligarchs and off-plan buyers, whose playground our capital is becoming.
I welcome the Opposition’s choice of motion, but I was disappointed by the shadow Secretary of State’s lack of humility when he moved it, given his own underwhelming record in government.
As the shadow Secretary of State correctly said, housing is a top-four issue. I am sure it is towards the top of most of our postbags. The challenges of housing, rent and affordability are among the major challenges we face, and they deserve better than the rehashed diatribe we heard at the start of the debate. What we are seeing from this Government is the largest land building programme in decades, which will help to address the fundamental problem behind both the availability and affordability of housing.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) correctly said, the elephant in the room is the issue of supply. Why is there this market failure that we do not see in other areas of the economy? Part of the answer is regulatory failure. The Government cannot control all the levers that affect supply, but it is right for them to do what they can to eradicate some of the barriers to that market entry.
There are two elements at the core of addressing supply. The first is action to bring brownfield land back into productive use for housing. That is why I am so pleased that the Government are introducing this assumption of planning consent for developments on brownfield land. Devolution deals around the country are important, too. The devolution deal reached in my west midlands region is a combined authority with the powers of investment to bring brownfield land, and particularly contaminated brownfield land, back into use so that it can be made part of the land supply for our housing market. That is good for the environment—using brownfield instead of green spaces—good for housing and good for the economy.
The second area that needs to be addressed to increase supply is preventing the planning system from becoming a bottleneck to the availability of housing. The Government’s action to move away from the regional spatial strategy towards local plans as well as introducing planning in principle is absolutely vital and will hopefully mean that we have the supply to match this record house building programme.
Members who picked up the Metro this morning on the tube will have seen that Hammersmith features in this week’s property page. They will have found out that the average price of property there is just over £1 million, although they managed to find a one-bedroom basement flat for £425,000, which would be just within the starter home bracket, requiring an income of only just over £100,000 to snaffle that up. The more typical development—the new development with no social housing given permission by the previous Conservative council—sees a two-bedroom flat in Fulham going for £1.2 million or a three-bedroom flat in the Queen’s Wharf or Sovereign Court for £2.2 million.
That is why owner-occupation has dropped from over 40% to just over 30%. Local people cannot afford to buy those; they are bought by foreign investors from United Arab Emirates, Malaysia or wherever, and are either left empty or rented out, which is why the private sector has gone up from 30% to 40%, but all properties are unaffordable. I am afraid that I have to include in that list of unaffordable properties the 85% of council right to buys, which are now rented out at market rates, and mainly to local authorities that are now paying three or four times what it would cost to live in council accommodation. We know what the Housing Minister thinks about this because he recently said that
“if people want to live and work in and around London, it’s actually making a judgment call about what you can afford”—
in other words, “on yer bike”.
One type of housing is affordable—30% of the accommodation in my constituency is still social housing. Most Governments in the past, irrespective of party, would have regarded that as an asset, but not this Government. What are they doing? They are selling off housing association homes so that they in turn can be turned into buy to let at market rates, and they are selling 50% of the remaining 12,000 council stock in order to subsidise that sale.
When voters voted to get rid of the Conservative council that was selling off empty council properties—it sold off 300 and was warehousing and emptying blocks of council flats and constructing zero social homes in new developments—they thought that they had got rid of all that. Now, however, we have a Government who are bringing it all back at the national level through the Housing and Planning Bill. There will be no social homes built in the future—nothing that is affordable to my constituents.
I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) is sitting next to me. Her speech hit the nail on the head when it comes to the most disgusting thing this Government are doing—removing security from people who live in council homes and telling them that they will have temporary housing as a form of charity rather than a permanent home in which to bring up their families.
The Government have reversed their position on “pay to stay” for housing associations, which is welcome, but they should do the same for everyone. They should let families on modest incomes continue to live in secure homes in London and around the country, and end this appalling business of removing security of tenure from council tenants.
We are simply not building enough to keep up with both the demand and the challenges that are faced by many of our constituents who want to buy homes of their own. Government initiatives are radical and welcome, but I would advocate further action, and I hope that the Government will consider some of the following proposals.
First, there is a need to build on green spaces. Nearly 80% of my constituency is designated as “area of outstanding natural beauty”. There is a shortage of land afforded for local employment, but where there is such land, it is on brownfield sites. If the tens of thousands of houses that my district councils intend to build are allocated to brownfield employment sites, where will our current and next generations of homeowners work?
In one of my parishes, the village petitioned the district council to allow a small housing complex to be built on a green field just outside the building boundary. As a result of the campaign for building to be allowed on that green site, Etchingham now has a new school, a new village hall, and new affordable housing—all of it courtesy of that bold move. I should like the Government to make it easier to allow parish and town councils to make such decisions. When a district council has a plan, parishes and towns are required to conform to it; if they do not do so, their own local plans will not be approved by the district council. I should like to free parishes and towns from the shackles of district plan compliance. If they want to designate a site, then let them do so, and let them override district plans for their own purposes if that is within the planning laws.
Secondly, there is a need to deliver more infrastructure. Although the argument that more housing is required is being won, there is a real fear that communities will not have schools, doctors and other essential public services until the housing has been completed. If authorities could deliver infrastructure at the same time as building began, the public might embrace the building of more housing, and might even ask for more housing than had been scoped if, say, a new secondary school would be built with a few hundred more houses. I should like local authorities to be given the power to borrow money against the receipts from new homes bonuses, although, of course, that would work only if the new homes bonus scheme were extended for as long as the plans.
Thirdly, consent needs to be turned into new homes. The amount of land where planning consent has been granted but work has not begun continues to cause concern. The lack of building not only adds to the problem of a shortage of housing numbers, but also deprives local authorities of the ability to collect receipts from section funding or community infrastructure levies. I would support a policy that required developers to pay a first instalment of section 106 moneys within 12 months of the granting of planning consent, rather than on the completion of developments. Such a policy would not only incentivise house building and increase stock, but would permit local authorities to deliver vital infrastructure in parallel with house building.
The need to tackle our housing shortage is a huge priority. It is a national tragedy that more is not being done, but I support the Government on what is being done.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker. My city of Cambridge is in the grip of a housing crisis, and I have 110 seconds in which to speak.
An email that I received from a constituent recently encapsulates the problem. She wrote:
“I live, work and pay my council tax in Cambridge. Housing in Cambridge is almost as expensive as London these days. I was very excited to hear about the help to buy ISA—but Cambridge should have the same threshold as London of £450,000. Looking at rightmove right now, it is disheartening that there are only 4 properties that would meet our criteria of 3 bedrooms and the Government’s criteria of maximum £250,000 within a 5 mile radius of Cambridge…How are we supposed to buy, afford and raise a family in Cambridge?”
There are only four of those properties—four!
Perhaps the Minister will be able to answer my constituent’s question, but I personally doubt it, because I do not think that the Government have a clue about the real problems that face young people in Britain today. If young people such as my constituent cannot afford to buy, they have to rent, and do we hear anything from the Government about helping renters? I do not think so. If they were really listening, they would know that when house prices become unaffordable in areas like mine, the nature of the private rented market changes. Young families who would once have bought are staying longer in the rented sector, but the legislation has not kept up; the Government have not kept up.
Let me skip the points I was going to make about the attack on social housing and conclude by saying a little about the impact on business. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) visited my constituency recently and even he, experienced on these issues as he is, was shocked by the consistency of the message from employers. In every sector, be it the thriving life sciences and tech sector, research and our universities or major public sector employers such as the NHS, the message is clear: we cannot recruit and we cannot retain staff while housing remains so unaffordable. This is therefore not just about housing; it is about social justice and inter-generational justice. At the start of my speech I quoted the question from my constituent and I urge the Minister to answer it:
“how are we supposed to buy, afford and raise a family in Cambridge?”
In a wide-ranging debate, we have heard contributions from Members in all parts of the House, including the hon. Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald); my hon. Friends the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter); the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman); and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) made a passionate speech about the human cost of the housing crisis, and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) also spoke with passion about the shortage of social housing. Most interestingly, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) spoke of not only his well-known interest in self-build, but his less-known interest in the Deputy Speaker’s shoes.
Clearly, the housing crisis is one of the greatest challenges to face our country in recent times, and Members from across this Chamber know the impact that housing has on their constituents’ lives. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) spoke of his casework, which mirrors mine. My advice surgeries are full of people suffering as a result of the housing crisis, and my inbox and telephone line are jammed with their cases. Rent costs are rising, and there are poor standards in the private rented sector. We have ever-increasing homelessness across the country, both in terms of statutory homeless and rough sleeping. The Government are seemingly committed to seeing the end of the social housing sector as we know it. Fewer homes are being built than at any time since the 1920s and we have a generation of young people priced out of the property market. For five years, the Government have had the chance to tackle this housing crisis head on, but they failed.
It has never been more important to tackle the housing crisis, because housing affects everything—it affects our whole lives. Insecure housing affects our whole society. It affects health, education and productivity. Without a secure roof over our heads, we face uncertainty, instability and doubt. Stable homes make stable communities, and without safe, stable and affordable housing we face pressure across our whole society and across our public services. It affects our schools and our children’s education, with unsettled classes affected by churn and individual children falling behind as they move school again and again. It affects public health and our doctors, who struggle to co-ordinate health awareness campaigns as a result of instability in the housing sector, as residents constantly move between practices. It affects our communities, where many are unable to set down roots, commit to a local area, and join local organisations, sports teams and religious groups. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck).
The Government claimed that they would build more affordable homes, but the “affordable rent” is not affordable to many people. House of Commons Library research shows that in London it would swallow up 84% of the earnings of a family on an average income and it requires a salary of up to £74,000. This does not just affect London; the contributions we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) and for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) showed us that this is a national crisis, not just a London one.
Many of those who cannot afford to buy have to live in the private rented sector, where the Government have failed to increase security and improve standards, and have overseen rents reaching an all-time high. Once the private rented sector was mainly for students and young professionals, but now it is families and the vulnerable who live in the sector. That was spoken about with concern and compassion by the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry). Some 9 million people now rent privately. Almost half of those who rent are over 35. They want the same security and stability that they would have if they owned their home, but they face insecure assured shorthold tenancies, and a Government refusing to encourage long-term tenancies and to tackle rising up-front letting agent fees. While these people pay more, the Government are failing to act to improve standards in the sector. Although the majority of properties in the private rented sector are well maintained and of good quality, there are sadly too many landlords who let properties that are not fit for human habitation. Indeed, the Government’s own statistics say that 16% of private rented sector dwellings are failing the minimum safety standard. When my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North introduced a private Member’s Bill to make sure that homes were fit for human habitation, it was talked out by Conservative Members, who argued that it would put a huge burden on landlords.
I am afraid we are very short of time, so I cannot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) also touched on the rising housing benefit bill, which is now £4.4 billion higher than in 2010. The Housing and Planning Bill included an all-out attack on social housing. On the last day of the Committee, the Government added a last-minute amendment to end secure tenancies for social tenants without any consultation or impact assessment.
I would like the Minister to respond to two questions. If home ownership is the only way forward, where are people who cannot get a mortgage meant to live? Can he confirm that starter homes will be for first-time buyers and will not be available to cash buyers?
The Housing and Planning Bill will lead to a loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, but more than anything it is a missed opportunity to tackle the housing crisis head on, to provide greater security, stability and safety to tenants in the private rented sector, to offer a genuine hand-up to those who are trying to get on the property ladder and to build more social housing. We have seen a comprehensive spending review and an autumn statement that have failed to provide for a programme of affordable house building and have attacked many tenants on low incomes due to cuts in housing benefits.
For five years the Conservatives have had the chance to tackle the housing crisis. They have failed. They have their own track record, and it is one of five years of failure. They should and will be judged on it.
I thank all Members for taking part in this lively debate. Before I respond to the speeches made by hon. Members, the House will appreciate a reminder of what has been achieved since 2010. Back then, the housing market was broken. We inherited a planning system that was dysfunctional, and levels of house building that were tumbling. The economy and public finances were on the brink of collapse. Enormous progress has been made since. Almost 900,000 new homes have been delivered in England since 2010. In the last Parliament the number of first-time buyers doubled, the number of new homes we built doubled and public support for new house building doubled, and since 2010 we have helped more than 270,000 households buy a home.
We have provided more than 270,000 affordable homes for rent, with almost one third of those in London. We are the first Government since the 1980s to finish their term with a larger stock of affordable homes. A reformed planning system gives far greater weight to the views and needs of local communities, but in this Parliament we want to go much further. The Government’s investment is being doubled to £20 billion in the next five years. It will support the largest housing programme by any Government since the 1970s. Our ambition is to deliver 1 million more homes and double the number of first-time buyers.
My hon. Friends the Members for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Worcester (Mr Walker), for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy), for Croydon South (Chris Philp), for Dudley South (Mike Wood) and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) all made fabulous and important contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk explained the importance of self-build and praised the measures in the Housing and Planning Bill to promote it. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon pointed out that council house building is now at its highest level for 23 years, knocking down the myth promoted by the Labour party.
It was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester point out that the Conservatives in local government, not Labour, are providing affordable houses in Worcester. I was also pleased to hear his welcome for our crackdown on rogue landlords. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen stated the importance of first-time buyers and the Help to Buy ISA that the Government are introducing. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk mentioned the measures that the Chancellor is taking to make things fairer for first-time buyers. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton made a great point about the importance of the additional housing that will be provided by the right-to-buy receipts, and my hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble and for Dudley South made encouraging comments about planning in principle on brownfield sites and the difference that it will make in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South mentioned the London Land Commission and the potential for public sector land to be brought forward for development. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle was a strong advocate of neighbourhood planning.
That brings me to the points made by Opposition Members. I shall start where my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning left off. He mentioned “Back to the Future” to describe Labour’s approach and he was right. Labour still has a past which it harks back to, but it has very little of a future to look forward to if today’s debate is anything to go by. Speaking from the Front Bench, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) and the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) spent 40 minutes in total on their opening and winding-up speeches, and did not put forward one idea for tackling one of the biggest issues facing the country. It was all soundbites, empty rhetoric and ideology rather than pragmatism to help people get into their own home. For some reason Opposition Members seem very happy to own homes themselves, but when it comes to other people having the chance to own their home, they do not seem to want it. We want people to have the opportunity to own their home, which 86% of people want.
There were eight speeches from Labour Back-Bench Members that were extremely consistent with those from their Front Bench. In those eight speeches not one idea was suggested to try to deal with the issues that the country faces. There was one notable exception. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) made several constructive comments and proposed a number of ideas that we will look at in the context of the debate.
Britain has come a long way over the past five years, a journey that has taken us from the brink of bankruptcy to being the fastest-growing advanced economy in the world. Confidence has returned and living standards are rising. More people are buying homes and house building is on the rise. But we must go further, and this Government are under no illusion about the scale of the progress that is required. In the past five years we have pulled house building up from the record lows of the previous decade, and in the next five years we intend to push it up further to levels not sustained since the 1980s. The challenges that we face today have been many decades in the making.
Our focus moves us from rescue to reform. We must address the deep structural weaknesses in the way that this country plans and builds for the future. A better housing market will be vital for raising the productivity of our country and rebalancing the economy. Above all, it will ensure that Britain is a country of opportunity, where everyone who works hard can realise their dream of home ownership—the housing association tenant, the young family who want to settle down, and the retired couple who want to build their own house. They all voted for a better housing market and that is what this Government are determined to deliver.