I beg to move,
That this House has considered housing.
As we forge a new relationship with the European Union, building the homes our country needs is a mission more important than ever, because a home is so much more than a roof over your head; it speaks directly to your hopes and dreams—[Interruption.]
As I was saying, a home speaks directly to your hopes and dreams and gives your children a good start in life. It is about moving to take up a better job and anchoring yourself in a strong and confident community. However, for too many, particularly young people, a decent, affordable and secure place to live can feel out of reach. We remain determined that that must change.
Housing is this Government’s chief domestic priority, and our progress is already clear. For the first time in 10 years, home ownership among 35 to 44-year-olds is up. We have helped over 500,000 people into home ownership since 2010 through Government schemes such as Help to Buy and right to buy. Last year, we built more homes than in all but one of the last 31 years, bringing us closer to our ambitious target of 300,000 new homes a year. However, there is much more to do if we are to meet people’s aspirations.
I have many times, at this Dispatch Box and elsewhere, accepted the fact that Governments of all stripes over the past three or four decades have failed to build the houses that the country needs, and we all share some culpability in the housing crisis we are now facing. The question is not how it came about, but what we are doing to address it.
When I took on this role last year, I made my task a simple one: more, better, faster homes. I will begin with “more”, because we are taking bold action on a number of fronts to increase supply. We are putting billions into housing and infrastructure—at least £44 billion over five years. We are reforming planning and we have empowered Homes England, our new national housing agency, to take a more strategic and assertive approach to increasing supply. We have recently announced the award of £1.2 billion of grant funding from our £5.5 billion housing infrastructure fund. The seven successful schemes have the potential to unlock up to 68,000 new homes, and we look forward to announcing further awards in the coming months.
We are not looking only to the market to deliver; we have paved the way for a new generation of social housing by removing the Government cap on how much councils can borrow, so that they can start to build a new generation of community homes.
I congratulate the Minister on staying in post for as long as he has, which I should say is quite unusual for Conservative Housing Ministers. What, however, can he say to Greater Manchester, which has apparently been told that the Government are withdrawing their offer of £68 million to remediate brownfield sites?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are in ongoing discussions with Manchester about its housing ambition, but one of the frustrations in that conversation is the unwillingness of the Mayor of Manchester to take responsibility for housing figures in that city. As I say, if he is willing to be ambitious, we would be willing to support him as well.
In addition to our affordable homes guarantee scheme, which gives £3 billion of guaranteed support, making it cheaper and easier for housing associations to raise funds and get building, we are increasing supply as the means to make the most of the space we already have, including land that has already been built on. With that in mind, the planning proposals and consultations announced in the autumn statement aim to give people more flexibility to build upwards on existing buildings and in converting commercial properties. This is a positive step that ensures we conserve precious land, accelerate supply and help to revive our high streets.
We are also looking at how we can close the gap between planning permissions and homes built, and we will be taking action on the back of the review by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) to do just that.
I want to take my hon. Friend to one particular issue. One of the big problems we have had is that the building regulations are set against a new type of homes—prefab homes made of wood or steel—which can be built throughout the year, which would accelerate the whole building programme and which are ecologically far better than brick-built houses. Yet people always tell me that they have to make all sorts of adjustments just to meet the building regulations. Will my hon. Friend undertake to look at that, because these homes would accelerate the whole process of house building and make it much more affordable too?
My right hon. Friend, with his usual wisdom, has prefaced the part of my speech I am moving on to. He is quite right: we believe that modern methods of construction hold enormous potential not only to produce more homes but to produce them faster and better. I recently visited a factory in Walsall, in the west midlands, where Accord is building 1,000 homes a year using modern methods of construction. So good are the environmental standards that those homes for social rent have lower arrears, because people can afford to heat them.
That is something we are backing through our £4.5 billion home building fund, £2.5 billion of which is to champion small and medium-sized enterprises, custom builders and more diverse builders to get modern methods of construction and other cutting-edge tech into the mainstream. The fund has already allocated all of the original £1 billion of short-term funding. Over 94% of the funding contracted to date has gone to SME builders. We expect the fund to deliver more than 30,000 homes—around 5,000 more than the original target.
The Minister is quite right that we are going to need a whole variety of different types of houses and tenures to hit the 300,000 target. How many homes does he think will be built for social housing—not affordable housing—in the rest of this Parliament? What is his plan?
Well, 12,500 is the minimum amount that is due to come out of the affordable homes programme. We hope and believe that the aspiration may be more, not least because we have taken the cap off the housing revenue account. It is therefore up to the ambition of councils whether they do this. As the Chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), knows, I would love to sit in my office in Whitehall and plan the country—the Malthouse period of planning. I could plan in his constituency, as I could in mine, and decree what all these targets might be. However, as he knows, there are numerous housing markets in the UK —there are probably 30 or 40 in the capital alone—and they all operate in a different way, with lots of variable sites that all have their own issues and problems that need to be dealt with, so we are setting a standard target across the country as an aspiration. However, by setting councils free to build a new generation of social homes and investing enormous amounts of money in the affordable homes programme, which can also be for social homes, we hope and believe that that tenure will advance and increase to play its part in the 300,000 homes that are, we hope, coming in the years ahead.
I am mindful that, with such a dramatic increase in supply, the more we build, the more important it is that we get it right. That is why we are focused on building better. A key part of that is communities having a bigger role in shaping the future of the places they call home. We are making changes to our planning system, and in particular the planning rule book, so that they can do this. We are providing greater clarity and certainty for developers and communities alike, by giving local areas more options and the freedom and flexibility to make effective use of the land they have. That is crucial if we are to reassure communities that promises made on the provision of affordable housing and infrastructure will be promises kept. Keeping promises is the only way to ensure that communities will continue to have faith in new developments.
In March last year, the Secretary of State wrote to 15 local authorities that had not submitted local plans. I understand that, as of now—a year later—10 of those have done so. Should the Government not be doing more to pressurise all local authorities to make sure they submit local plans to plan housing for their areas?
Yet again, my hon. Friend shows his legendary impatience to build the homes that the next generation needs. He is quite right that we are urging, cajoling and pushing councils across the country to get their plans in place. We hope and believe that a plan-led system will produce more and better homes across the country, and also that, when a local authority puts its weight behind a plan and starts to think in decadal terms, perhaps, about how its area should look and how it should plan for homes, we will be able to help it with infrastructure. We have seen that in parts of the country from Carlisle, to Exeter, to Oxfordshire, where forward-thinking civic leaders are able to think 10, 15 or 20 years ahead. They are then able to come alongside us for big infrastructure asks, assistance, and, frankly, large cheques to assist them with that sort of ambition.
On neglected areas of housing that do not get much ministerial airtime, can I first ask the Minister about new homes for people who are elderly? What further funding does his Department intend to allocate? Also, housing co-operatives rarely get any attention in this House. Does he—
Order. That intervention is too long. Before the Minister answers the hon. Gentleman, I must point out to the House that, for obvious reasons, this is a very short debate. We have to finish in an hour and 20 minutes. Fifteen people have indicated to me that they want to speak. At present, that gives each Backbencher three minutes. If people who do not intend to stay for the whole debate and do not intend to speak make interventions of more than one minute, there will be people at the end of the list who will not get to speak at all. It is not up to me; it is up to the House as a whole to decide how we will conduct this debate.
The hon. Gentleman raises a pertinent point. As I tour the country, I go to lots of places in all parts of the country with significant brownfield land. One of the cries I hear from people in meetings is, “Where have all the bungalows gone?” That is a proxy for: where is the move-on space for older people whose children have left home and feel they need to downsize? We are keen to try to stimulate and encourage an, if you like, less than prime market that provides the kind of homes that older people would like to occupy. Key to that will be encouraging more participants in the house building market, as well as giving local authorities, as we have in the National Planning Policy Framework, the power to devise in their plans the type of housing that they need. It is perfectly possible for the hon. Gentleman’s local authority to signal in its plan that that is the kind of housing it requires.
We have also seen how community support increases when we build homes that grow a sense of place, rather than undermine it. It is why we are championing design and quality through the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. We reinforced that in February when we hosted a second national design conference. It is increasingly important as we create new settlements across the country, such as garden communities. Last month, we announced support for a further five garden towns with the potential to deliver up to 65,000 homes, in addition to the 23 locally led garden communities we are already supporting.
It is not just about getting numbers up, however. We are determined to put fairness back at the heart of the housing market. Our commitment to restore the dream of home ownership remains as strong as ever. That is why we have committed to a new Help to Buy scheme, which will run from April 2021 to 2023. We have cut stamp duty for first-time buyers and put a call out for evidence on innovation in shared ownership. We believe that the private rental market can be a stronger platform for those aspiring to home ownership, turning “generation rent” into “generation own”.
When I met the Minister recently, he assured me that Government housing estimates were not a target. Yet within hours of that meeting his own Department informed the Greater Manchester Combined Authority that its housing deal was being scrapped because the new housing estimates were not sufficient. How does the Minister justify that contradictory statement?
I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing two things. He is quite right that the standard assessment of housing need is meant to be a starting point from which councils assess, plus or minus, what they think they can address, subject to constraints and their other duties in the planning system. That, however, is separate from the Government’s housing deal. We are using the money available for those deals to stimulate ambition. Local authorities should deliver more than would otherwise be delivered in their plan and can justify the need for infrastructure on that basis. We have done successful deals, for example with Oxfordshire, and we are having a number of conversations. Critical to that is stimulating and encouraging every part of the country to play its part in building the homes the next generation needs by being ambitious about their targets.
I accept that we need to build a hell of a lot more homes of all types and that is exactly what we are trying to do. We are in the process of creating a situation where everyone who wants to build can build and can seek assistance from the Government to do so, if they are willing to be ambitious—from the private sector to housing associations, councils or anybody who wants to build. We think that this problem is so acute that we cannot be partial about who gets to build the homes.
I am sorry that I came into the debate a bit late; I was held up. On encouraging local authorities to build, exactly what help can the Government give local authorities to build social housing? I have had a number of people who are homeless—I have had families—coming to my surgeries desperate for accommodation. The local authorities do not have the resources. How is the Minister going to provide them?
As I hope the hon. Gentleman knows, we lifted the borrowing cap on local councils so they can now borrow to build a generation of new homes. We have opened up the affordable homes programme to councils to bid in for Government money—grant funding—so that they can seek to build social homes. I am more than happy to write to him with details of how his council can access that.
Turning back to ownership, as I said, I wanted to turn “generation rent” into “generation own”, but we also believe that fairness should not stop once people get the keys. That is why the Secretary of State unveiled a new industry pledge last month to bring an end to onerous lease terms, such as the doubling of ground rents. More than 40 leading developers and freeholders have signed that pledge and I encourage others to follow the lead. We are bringing forward legislation to require developers to belong to a new homes ombudsman to champion the rights of home buyers and to ensure that they get the quality build that they rightly expect. We will soon consult on how this will work so that we can ensure that consumers’ problems are resolved faster and more effectively.
On behalf of Members on both sides of the House, I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, and I thank the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend for their work on this. Will he or one of his colleagues make a statement as soon as Homes England approves commonhold houses for the Help to Buy scheme, and will he make a statement on when the Land Registry can easily register commonhold associations? At present, there is one development on the way, but it is being blocked because the Land Registry has forgotten how to do it.
Does the Minister accept that “generation own” is particularly challenging in areas such as South Hams in my constituency? It has the highest property price to earnings ratio in the south-west—11.7—and part of that is driven by second home ownership. Will he touch on what can be done where the impact of second home ownership is particularly high to make this an affordable dream for young families?
The hon. Lady raises an issue that, in certain parts of the country—including in my constituency —can have an impact, albeit that I think it is sometimes overstated. Having said that, the Government have taken steps, such as giving councils the power to charge premium council tax on empty homes and second homes, which should help with that issue. In the end, however, in areas such as the hon. Lady’s, most of the problem will be solved by increasing supply. I recently attended a meeting with the Campaign to Protect Rural England down in her part of the world, where I tried to explain to 240 people who were not best pleased at the idea of having a significant number of homes in their area that this was their moral duty to the next generation and that they needed to accept the homes, control them, design them well, and make them fit in and enhance their local communities. We have a growing population and in popular areas where people want to live and from which young people are often driven out, the solution will be to build more homes.
Happily, the picture is also improving for renters. We are cracking down on rogue landlords and from 1 June, the Tenant Fees Act 2019 will come into force, banning unfair letting fees and capping deposits. These vital steps will protect tenants and save them millions. We will also set out our position shortly on longer-term tenancies, because those in the private rented sector can face a high degree of insecurity. It is time that we put that right. Indeed, landlords could also benefit from more stability. As well as feeling more secure, nothing is more important than people being safe in their homes, so we will also be implementing a new regulatory framework for building safety. It is no small task but it is the debt we owe to those who suffered so terribly from the Grenfell fire, because everyone must be safe and feel safe in their home, no matter where they live.
The Minister knows that I have residents in New Providence Wharf who are being pressured by Ballymore to pay for the removal and replacement of defective cladding. He has kindly looked at that issue. Will he assure us that the Government will continue to press companies to accept their responsibility and the cost? Can he tell us anything about progress, particularly in New Providence Wharf?
The hon. Gentleman has met me to press his constituents’ case. In turn, I have raised the matter face to face with the representative of Ballymore. We continue to put pressure on the industry generally to do its duty to leaseholders and critically, to remediate to ensure that everybody is safe in their homes. However, I am more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman in the next few days about the progress we are making generally on the issue.
Sadly, I cannot quite confirm that. We are very close to completing the rehousing of everybody who was involved in the Grenfell Tower fire. At the moment, the numbers remaining are small and the cases are often complex, and we are making significant progress.
I am also mindful of those without a place to call home. When I reflect on what we can do better, I am clear that we must do everything possible to confront rough sleeping and the broader challenges of homelessness. Our cross-Government, £100 million rough sleeping strategy is helping our rough sleeping initiative reach more parts of the country—now more than 75% of local authorities in England. As part of that, we announced £46 million to support people off the streets and into accommodation in 2019-20, because we have already seen how that can work and make a real difference. Recent figures have shown the first fall in the number of people sleeping rough in eight years. However, we should make no mistake: one person sleeping rough is one person too many and we remain more determined than ever to end rough sleeping for good. That means combating homelessness, and our ambitious £1.2 billion package of support will help tackle it in all its forms, giving some of the most vulnerable people in our society the security and dignity they deserve.
While the Minister is on the subject of homelessness, will he urgently review permitted development, which allows some homeless families, including those who live in Terminus House in Harlow, to be housed in wholly inappropriate accommodation and bring up their children in a new slum? The permitted development regulations need to be looked at urgently.
We have made a commitment to review the implementation of the permitted development rights policy. However, alongside that, I urge local authorities to use the maximum power available to them through their building regulation powers and other forms of inspection to ensure that the homes people inhabit are suitable. I also urge local authorities that place people in those homes to reassure themselves that they are suitable for occupation. We have often found that people in unsuitable homes are placed there by councils that frankly should know better and should seek higher quality accommodation for their residents.
As I hope I have shown, we are making every effort to get everyone on board to deliver not just more homes but stronger communities. My triple challenge—more, better, faster—is the key to the country’s happiness, health and prosperity and the work is starting to pay off. The number of homes built is up, rough sleeping is on the turn, there is greater fairness in the rented sector and more beautiful and innovative places to call home should start to appear. We have every reason to be confident and optimistic as we look forward to our future outside the European Union. A stronger, fairer, more diverse housing market can be the bedrock of our future success—a way to spread opportunity and ensure that no one is left behind. We remain focused on delivering that and fulfilling the basic promise that each generation must make to the next: that their life will be better than ours.
I am glad that so many Members are keen to speak in the debate, which has been delayed for too long and is unfortunately too short. It has been almost a year since we had a housing debate in Government time. The Secretary of State told us in December:
“Housing remains the Government’s top priority”.—[Official Report, 10 December 2018; Vol. 651, c. 18.]
It is a pity that he has not made it the top priority in his diary today.
It is good to see the Housing Minister speaking for the Government today. He not only told the House that housing was the Government’s chief domestic priority, but told an industry conference in February that
“once we get beyond Brexit, housing will be the Government’s priority.”
Given the mess that the Government have made of Brexit for more than two years, and given that the Prime Minister is in Europe today begging for an extension just so that we can move on to the next stage of the negotiations, that bodes badly for the Government’s future focus on housing. I have to say to the Minister that Brexit is a very feeble alibi for a totally non-Brexit Department with six Ministers and 2,000 civil servants.
I enjoyed the Minister’s speech, but the story that he tries to tell is so at odds with the experience of millions of people up and down the country that he and his colleagues risk sounding complacent. They risk sounding as if they just do not get it. They do not get the public’s anger and frustrated hopes of a housing market that they feel is rigged against them. They do not get the despair at being one in a million on council housing waiting lists when the number of new homes for social rent built last year was just 6,453. They do not get the lives blighted by bad housing—children growing up in temporary accommodation hostels, renters too scared to ask landlords to do repairs, young couples stripped of the hope of home ownership and prevented from starting a family or putting down roots—and they do not get the fact that a systematically broken housing market demands wholesale change and cannot be fixed without big action from Government.
Is the current situation not ridiculous? In Hartlepool, for instance, we have in-house poverty. There are people who have lived behind boarded-up windows for more than a year, just because they are scared of raising the issue with the local authority or their landlords.
Unfortunately, although there are good landlords and many tenants are satisfied with the homes that they rent, my hon. Friend has described the experience that too many of the country’s now 11 million renters face from day to day. After nine years in office, the Government just cannot carry on talking about what they are going to do. What they are doing at the moment simply is not working.
The right hon. Gentleman has mentioned nine years, and what we are going to do. Does he not accept that the number of housing starts is roughly 100% higher than it was at the lowest point under a Labour Government in 2009? If he is not sure about that, he need only speak to any brickie, chippy or sparky. They will tell him that they are a lot busier than they were back then.
The hon. Gentleman has a very short memory. In 2009 we were in the direct aftermath of a global financial crisis and recession. It was the action that the Government took then that kept house building going and helped to pull the country out of the crisis. More than a decade on, under this Government, the level of house building has still not reached the pre-crisis peak. We have seen a pitiful performance over the past nine years. The public have lost patience with a Government who, nine years on, try to blame their Labour predecessors.
The Government’s record is now very clear. The rate of home ownership is lower, with almost 900,000 fewer under-45s owning a home now than in 2010. The level of homelessness is higher: the number of people sleeping rough on our streets has more than doubled since 2010. Private rents are higher, with the average tenant paying £1,900 more than in 2010. The rate of social house building is lower, and in the last two years it has been the lowest since the second world war. Let me say this to the Minister. If the Government had only continued to build homes for social rent at the same rate as Labour did in 2009, there would be 180,000 more of those homes—more than enough to house every family in temporary accommodation, every person sleeping rough on our streets, and every resident in every hostel for the homeless.
The Minister said, in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), “We are very close to completing the rehousing of everybody who was involved in the Grenfell Tower fire”. I have to say that, nearly two years on from that shocking national tragedy, the Government’s action is still on go-slow. He would not give the House the figures, but one in 10 of the residents from the tower and one in three of the residents from the wider estate who were involved in the fire still do not have a permanent new home. Eight in 10 residents of other high-rise blocks across the country that are covered in Grenfell-style cladding have still not had it removed and replaced. Those are residents in 354 high-rise blocks across the country, nearly two years on from the fire.
I want to correct the right hon. Gentleman on the rehousing numbers for Grenfell, not least because I hope he would never seek to use it as a political football. We are putting enormous efforts into rehousing residents. Of the 202 households from Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk that required rehousing, every one has accepted an offer of either high-quality temporary accommodation or permanent accommodation, 196 have moved in, 181 have moved into their permanent home, and 15 remain in temporary accommodation. Six house- holds remain in emergency accommodation—two in hotels, three in serviced apartments, and one living with family or friends. There is a constant and ongoing conversation with those people about their needs and requirements. We are taking this very slowly and sensitively. We cannot compel anyone to do anything. We are working closely with them to try to ensure that they get the homes they need. It is unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to try to make out that we are being dilatory in that effort.
It is the most obvious sign of a broken market, when house builders are making bumper profits and bumper bonuses building homes that ordinary workers cannot afford to buy. These are the fundamental facts. These are the hard truths about the Conservatives’ record on housing, which Ministers cannot deny or disguise, and which, come the next election, the Conservative party will not be able to dodge.
Given that record over nine years, it is little wonder that, when asked, three in four people say that they believe the country has a housing crisis. They are right, of course. Everybody knows someone who cannot get the home they need or desire. They say that the crisis is getting worse, not better, and they are right. Even many Conservatives have lost faith in the free market fundamentalism about housing, because it is failing on all fronts. That is why the Conservatives have been losing the argument and have been forced to cede ground to Labour, from legislating to outlaw letting fees, to banning combustible cladding on high-rise blocks and lifting the cap on council borrowing to build new homes.
However, those are baby steps. The biggest roadblock to the radical changes needed to fix the housing crisis for millions of people is the Conservative party itself. It is largely the same ideologically inflexible Conservative culprits who are making the Prime Minister’s life so difficult over Brexit who will not countenance the Government action that is needed to deal with the other big challenges our country faces: social care, falling real wages, deep regional divides and, of course, housing. So after nine years, we must conclude that the Conservatives in government cannot fix the housing crisis, and that it will fall to a Labour Government to do that.
Here is the plan. We will build 1 million genuinely affordable homes over 10 years, the majority of which will be for social rent, with the biggest council house building programme in this country for nearly 40 years. We will reset grants for affordable housing to at least £4 billion a year. We will scrap the Conservatives’ so-called affordable rent and establish a new Labour definition linked to local incomes and not to the market. We will stop the huge haemorrhage of social rented homes by halting the right to buy and ending the Government’s forced conversions to affordable rent.
We will end rough sleeping within five years, with 8,000 new homes available to those with a history of rough sleeping and a £100 million programme for emergency winter accommodation to help to prevent people from dying on our streets. We will legislate so that renters have new rights: to indefinite tenancies; to new minimum standards; to controls on rents; and to tougher enforcement. We will give young people on ordinary incomes the home ownership hope that they deserve, with first-buy homes, with mortgage costs linked to a third of local incomes and with first dibs on new homes in their area.
I am sure this is already on my right hon. Friend’s radar, but disability groups in Bristol are worried about the shortage of accessible homes in the UK. They say that something like 1.8 million households require some sort of adaptation or the addition of access features to their homes, but very few of them get that at the moment. Is it part of the future Labour Government’s plan to build more accessible homes?
It is indeed, and if my hon. Friend looks at the big Green Paper plan that Labour has published, “Housing for the Many”, she will see that we talk not only about building more but about building better. We talk about doing what the public sector has often done in the past—namely, building to better standards. We want these to be the highest standards of design, accessibility, energy efficiency and high tech, so that in future, Labour’s affordable homes will become people’s best choice, not their last resort. Finally, we will create a fully fledged new Department for Housing, both to reflect the scale of the crisis and to drive our national new deal on housing. This will be Labour’s long-term plan for housing that will help to fix our country’s housing crisis. Where this Government have failed, a Labour Government will bring in the radical change that so many millions of people now want and need.
This Minister does get it; he works day and night to ensure that he delivers the homes that the nation needs. He knows that I am a champion of community-led housing, and I was delighted that the Government responded so positively to the campaigning of myself and colleagues for the establishment of the community housing fund. It was first announced in the 2016 Budget with a commitment to invest £300 million over five years, with the money coming from the proceeds of extra stamp duty on second home sales. Money was allocated to 148 local authorities, roughly in proportion to the number of second homes and affordability issues.
I believe that the fund will transform the community-led housing sector. It is expected to deliver 10,000 homes by 2021. However, the fund ends with the end of the current spending period. With more than 3,500 homes now in the pipeline, it is essential that the fund is extended to the next spending review period so that those homes can be delivered. Because of the delay in the spending review, there will now be a significant period of uncertainty for groups. Money must be spent by March 2020, so few bids will come forward from this point on. The spending review will not conclude until the autumn statement, at the earliest, and there could be further delay and indecision following that. So groups, including those in Cornwall, face an invidious choice. Should they continue to work on their projects and hope that funding will come through, or should they wait and potentially stall and collapse?
In the social housing Green Paper, the Government acknowledged that housing associations could deliver more if they were given more time. That is more true for this sector than for any other. To illustrate my point, the Cornwall Community Land Trust, a well-respected enabler of community-led housing, estimates that the discontinuance of the community housing fund could put up to 230 community-led homes in jeopardy.
I am sure we all agree that we need to deliver more genuinely affordable homes for local people in beautiful coastal communities where there are very high house prices, such as those in Cornwall, where it is so attractive for people to buy second homes. We need those affordable homes to sustain communities for generations to come, so I urge the Minister, who I know wants to ensure that my constituents and people all over the country have high-quality homes to live in, to make an urgent statement about the continuity of the much-supported and much-needed community housing fund.
Thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker; it is a wee bit sooner than I had expected to be called, but I am glad to speak for the SNP in this debate. Our record on housing in Scotland is excellent and far outstrips the record of the Conservatives in England. I am sure there is much the UK Government could learn from what Scotland has done.
Part of the problem with the Conservatives’ approach is its ideological underpinning. They insist on the dream of everyone owning their own home, totally undermining the fact that many people can live long, happy and productive lives in social rented housing. For many of my constituents, a social rented house is an aspiration, and they are perfectly happy to live in one. Indeed, my gran lived in social rented housing her entire life and never owned her home.
The Tories’ record on housing is one of their failed promises. The UK Government talk big but deliver very little, with flagship manifesto pledges disappearing almost as soon as they are made. House building in England has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, while evictions are at a record level, the lead cause of people becoming homeless is the end of a tenancy, and a mere one in five council homes is replaced when it is sold.
Contrast that with Scotland, where we have ended the right to buy for social rented housing, securing social rented housing stock for the future. No longer do houses disappear from the social rented sector and reappear almost instantly in the private rented sector at inflated rents that people cannot afford to pay. We have secured that investment, which has meant a huge amount to many of my constituents and to people right across Scotland.
In England in particular, hundreds of thousands of people are stuck on social housing waiting lists because new stock just is not being built and houses that are sold off are not replaced. All the while, homelessness is up by 50% and rough sleeping has risen for seven consecutive years. I note that the Minister said rough sleeping has fallen recently, but that is on the back of huge spikes.
The Scottish Government’s house building record has been excellent. We have a target to build 50,000 new homes during this term of the Scottish Parliament, and houses are being built right across the country. The hon. Gentleman will remember from our time together on the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee how well the Scottish housing sector was spoken about by those who came to give evidence to us. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) should pay no attention to his colleague the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who, as he often does, has his own axe to grind on all this.
It is widely recognised that the Scottish Government are leading on housing policy. Our legislation on secure tenancies and in other areas has given renters in the private rented sector huge security. Ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to the Scottish Government’s vision of a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. People cannot get on in life if they do not have a secure tenancy, a warm home and a roof over their head.
The SNP remains on track to deliver on our target of building 50,000 affordable homes during the lifetime of this Scottish Parliament, which is backed by more than £3 billion of investment in the sector. There were 18,750 new build homes completed across all sectors in the year ending September 2018, an increase of 4%, or 635 homes, on the previous year. The latest statistics show that the Scottish Government have delivered nearly 82,100 affordable homes since 2007, which is significant. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire chunters from a sedentary position, but things are not going nearly as well in England. We are building proportionately more homes, more quickly, and he would do well to listen to us about this.
That is all in the face of the challenges of austerity. Housing associations tell me they are deeply concerned about the Government’s social security policies. For example, the roll-out of universal credit has negatively affected both tenants and landlords due to the major increase in rent arrears. I hear that from housing associations in my constituency and across Scotland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) could tell the House how housing debt has soared astronomically and how the Government have not learned the lessons.
A report this month from the Scottish Government shows that in East Lothian, for example, 72% of social housing tenants claiming universal credit are in arrears, compared with 30% of tenants overall—that is happening across England, too—and with a trebling of evictions for non-payment of rent over the year since universal credit was rolled out.
Some 88% of local authorities expect an increase in homelessness as a result of welfare reform over the next two years, and 75% expect that the roll-out of universal credit will increase homelessness. We are doing what we can in Scotland, and we have introduced a full mitigation of the bedroom tax, which people in England still have to pay. Without that, 70,000 individuals would lose, on average, around £650 a year. We also provide additional funding for direct mitigation of welfare reforms, direct support for those on low incomes and advice and other services.
Further, concerns remain on the UK Government’s right-to-rent scheme. There is a lack of clarity on what will happen with the scheme, and the Scottish Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, has been in touch in light of the recent High Court ruling. What is actually going to happen with the right to rent? We need to know for the security and safety of our tenants in Scotland.
We are still waiting on the courts to see whether Serco’s lock change policy in Glasgow of August 2018 is unlawful. The policy has led to huge distress among those in the city of Glasgow with insecure immigration status, and we need to know the answer so that those affected have some certainty.
In Scotland, we are also taking a range of actions to bring empty homes back into use. There are many empty homes that could provide people with good housing and a secure future. Since 2010, the Scottish empty homes partnership has been instrumental in bringing more than 2,800 empty homes back into use, each and every one of them hugely valued both by communities that do not want empty homes and by those now living in them—the homes are no longer going to waste. Empty homes partnership funding is to double from £212,500 in 2018 to over £400,000 in 2021 to bring those empty homes back into productive use and to make homes for people who need them very much.
We have also created an ending homelessness together fund of £50 million over the five years from 2018-19 to support the prevention of homelessness and to drive sustainable change. Scotland has some of the world’s strongest rights for homeless people, but we are not resting on our laurels.
We are doing much more to tackle rough sleeping. We have a national objective to eradicate rough sleeping, and we have established a homelessness and rough sleeping action group chaired by Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis. The group has developed 70 recommendations on the actions required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation. The Scottish Government accepted those recommendations and are now taking them forward. Jon Sparkes has said he is
“very pleased the Scottish Government has given in principle support to all of the recommendations on ending rough sleeping from the Homelessness & Rough Sleeping Action Group. The members of the action group have gone above and beyond to dedicate themselves to bringing forward the right recommendations that will have the biggest impact on the way people sleeping rough can access and receive services.”
In that light, we have been piloting Housing First. This is hugely important, and it will have a huge impact on reducing homelessness.
The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mrs Wheeler), has been to Scotland to hear about what is happening, and she has noted that she is pleased with what Scotland is doing—she said so at Question Time, so I assume she still is.
A recent documentary visited various cities, and the connectedness of services in Scotland—different services speaking to one another and taking action—was well commended, but we do not rest on our laurels. When there are still people sleeping on the streets of Glasgow, we must do more to ensure rough sleeping is ended, and ended soon. The Scottish Government’s strong direction of travel is key. We need to prioritise that, but it takes a lot more than warm words and things said in statements and manifesto pledges to make that happen.
Before coming here, I was reflecting on the number of housing developments in my constituency in the past few years. Off the top of my head, new houses have been built for social rent in the Gorbals, Pollokshields, Govanhill, the Toryglen transformational regeneration area, Oatlands, Calton, Bridgeton, Dalmarnock, the city centre, Anderston, Kinning Park and the Laurieston transformational regeneration area. None of them happened by accident. They happened because of the work of community-based housing associations, which strive to develop, build more and house their local communities. That comes on the back of the Scottish Government supporting them in everything they do and ending the right to buy to ensure that their investment is sound and can continue. The UK Government would do well to learn from what has happened on housing in Scotland, because our record is a good one.
The residents of the Witham constituency are concerned about a wide range of housing matters. Ministers might be familiar with some of them, but I want to pick on three examples.
First, the issue of how the five-year land supply is calculated affects communities across the country. In planning applications and appeals, we see developers trying to pick apart the declared pipelines in councils’ local plans. To be frank, highly paid consultants and advisers are producing lengthy reports for applications and appeals, and the public struggle to contest them because they do not have the resources. I have seen many cases in my constituency of developers trying to pick apart the council’s supply pipeline and go against local community planning and the council’s planning objectives. That is not good enough.
We all recognise that the delivery of land and housing can sometimes be beyond councils’ framework and mandate. I urge the Government to look again at how much weight is applied to the five-year supply. We must ensure that councils and communities have more protection. Developers think that by ripping apart five-year supply calculations, they can develop almost anywhere. That is a major issue across the board.
I thank the Minister for that point. I will come on to that. Like all Members of Parliament, I want to see my communities empowered in planning decision making. In Witham town, there was recently an application for Gimsons—a site at River View in Witham—which is deemed a visually important site and is highly regarded by everyone in the community. The current local plan protects it from development. The draft local plan, which could be two years away from adoption, recommends approximately 40 dwellings, but an application for 78 came along and was granted permission. The residents were appalled that their views were ignored.
I am a great believer in neighbourhood plans and I encourage all my parishes to develop them. We want much more support for community-based planning and neighbourhood plans, particularly with parish councils. I urge the Minister and his team to give more resource to parishes and communities so we can ensure that they are protected from developers, who sometimes come along wanting to rip up the five-year land supply and to challenge councils and communities. Importantly, we must ensure that there are resources and that place-shaping can happen. The Minister has already spoken about that.
My final point is about the ways in which we can support housing and development. The Minister spoke about garden settlements. We have had many conversations and I urge him to ask the Secretary of State to reply to me—we have some outstanding correspondence. There is a huge opportunity for all Departments to work together to ensure we have integrated planning. That means that we have the right infrastructure, including road and rail, health, schools, and public amenities and services. That is a great programme that our Government could take forward. I urge the Minister and his colleagues across Government to work in an integrated way so we can drive the right kind of local community outcomes on housing and planning.
I take the Minister back to my intervention about social housing. Let us go back to 2010. The biggest cut in expenditure that the coalition Government brought in was a 60% cut in social housing capital funding. If we are to build the 300,000 homes that I think both the Government and the Opposition are now committed to building, we shall not get them built unless at least 100,000 or more come from the public sector. Just look at the figures since the war. We have built 300,000 homes a year in this country, although quite a long time ago, but in no year when 300,000 homes were built were fewer than 100,000 built by councils and housing associations—and mostly by councils. That is the reality. The Minister says that the housing revenue account cap has been lifted. That is really welcome and I applaud the Government for that, but that of itself will not get the houses built.
The Minister should not sit back and say, “I sit in my office and I cannot tell councils what to do.” It is not just about borrowing the money but about being able to fund the borrowing. The Government will have to look at more revenue support for councils and housing associations to get those numbers up. Of course, there will have to be developments such as modern methods of construction, which the Select Committee is examining at present but, in the end, revenue funding is crucial.
I also say to the Minister, in terms of the HRA, the funding does not only go to build new homes; it is vital to make sure that existing homes are properly maintained. In 1997, when the Labour Government came in, there was a £19 billion backlog of disrepair in the social housing sector, which the decent homes programme had to deal with. So councils have that responsibility. They will need extra revenue support to build the homes.
I shall make a couple of points about the private rented sector. There are now more people living in the private rented sector than in the social housing sector. Hopefully, we might reverse that in future by building more social housing. I say three things to the Minister. First, let us have some more tough powers to deal with bad landlords. The Select Committee recommended, in extremis, confiscating the properties of landlords who put the health and safety of tenants at risk. Let us go for that. Secondly, let us give councils more freedom: selective licensing can work. If councils want to do it in their area, they should be free to do so. The Minister reviewing the whole process of selective licensing––I hope that is where we get to––but, in the end, selective licensing works where councils can go into properties proactively and seek out the problems and the problem landlords, and deal with them. Thirdly, the difficulty for councils is that selective licensing needs resources. Since 2010, the funding for private sector housing teams in councils has been cut by 60%, and it is not possible to deal with bad landlords proactively, constructively and properly without more money.
I say to the Minister, therefore, that there is a major financial challenge, both in terms of building social housing and of properly dealing with the problems in the private rented sector.
It is a pleasure to speak after my Select Committee Chair; we agree on much, although I am not sure about selective licensing, which is too often a licence to print money for some local authorities. It is also a pleasure to speak with the Housing Minister on the Treasury Bench. I feel, from my short time in Parliament, that he has got at least as good a handle on these issues as anyone I have seen.
We need to build more truly affordable housing, both to rent and to buy. We cannot simply do what Labour would do—put more pressure on an overburdened taxpayer. We must do it in different ways. The best way to do it is to cut out the middlemen or middlewomen; I speak as a middleman who has been involved in the property market for 30 years. There are a couple of simple ways we could do that that are simply too good to miss. The Housing Minister is familiar with some of my ideas on this, particularly on delivering more affordable homes to purchase through the section 106 system.
Every year, we deliver around 25,000 affordable homes through section 106 requirements. They are typically sold to housing associations at 50% of market value. The housing association then rents them out at 80% of market value and puts them on their balance sheet at 100% of market value; nice work if you can get it. Why, instead of doing that, do we not simply sell those properties—or half those properties—to first-time buyers on low incomes, at 50% of market value? That would be in perpetuity and those first-time buyers could pass the properties on to the next person. There is no cost to the taxpayer whatsoever. It is good for them. It is good for the developers, who are dealing direct with their customers. The only people who probably will not be too keen on it are the housing associations, but that is not who we are here for; we are here for real people.
This proposal is also good for the community because people are buying those houses rather than renting them, which is very popular locally. To give a local example, in the town of Easingwold where I was born and brought up, 656 homes are being delivered, 279 homes affordable, all for renting, and only eight are two-bedroomed properties for young first-time buyers. That dynamic could be changed, and tens of thousands of homes delivered for first-time buyers on low incomes.
The second way to cut out the middlemen is through the pension system. Currently, residential property cannot be put in a pension. If we change that rule, lots of empty or unconverted space above shops could be changed overnight. We should allow those properties to be put in a pension, as long as—this would be the catch, but it is a fair one—those properties were made available at a social rent. We would widen the pension system to allow people to buy property to put it into a pension, as long as they let it out at a social rent. That would be good for the owner as a tax break and great for the tenant, and great for the taxpayer because the burden of housing benefit is reduced. Everyone wins, apart from the middleman.
I was staggered to hear the Minister’s complacency about homelessness, which is wholly misplaced. In my region of the West Midlands, which is under a Tory Mayor, homelessness or rough sleeping is up by 333%. Homeless people are dying at the rate of one a fortnight. I want this House to hear, to know and to remember the names of those who have died in the past 15 months alone: Paul Williams, Laura Cairns, Steve, Daniel Hutton, Alain Simmonds, Daniel Clements, Terry Taylor, Jayne Simpson, Michael Hill, Peter Mbugua, Simon Holmes, Linda Grimes, Remigiusz Boczarski, Peter Corker, Joby Sparrey, Julie, Thomas Pulham, Kane Walker and two men whose names are known only to God.
The homeless people I see on the streets of Birmingham often live in medieval conditions. I have met people in subways in their hospital gowns and people with rat bites fighting and fearing sepsis, and yet the homeless people in Britain’s second city, in the sixth richest economy on earth, face a health system that is rated inadequate and a mental health service in which the caseload is rising four times faster than funding, and where only 1% of the money promised to the West Midlands combined authority for housing has actually been paid over to build new homes.
That roll of names is a roll call of shame. I hope that in our city, if not elsewhere, we build a permanent memorial, so that we are confronted every day with the names of those who died, the names of those whom we have collectively failed. The best memorial of all, however, would be to end this scandal for good and to sweep the disgrace of homelessness into the history books once more.
On no issue save housing is the chasm more evident between the platitudes we heard from the Dispatch Box and the reality that MPs experience every week in their constituencies. One in seven homes in my borough is overcrowded, and housing conditions are the worst I have seen in 30 years, in particular in the private rented sector. That is why we needed the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck), to call out those absolutely disgusting and appalling conditions in which families are living every day in my constituency.
As for affordability, for the bottom quartile of homes—that is, the ones that should be most affordable—the average price is more than £500,000 in my constituency. Average monthly rent is over £2,000, and the ratio between house prices and earnings is over 20:1. And yet, because of the way in which the Government implement policies like the benefits cap, the reality is that people simply cannot afford to live in areas where they, their families and their communities have lived for decades. The only remedy is the sort of radical programme that my right hon. Friend the shadow Housing Secretary has set out.
It is possible to make a difference locally. We do not have local elections in my area this year, but for those who do, I will just outline the difference between having a Labour council and a Conservative one. My council was Conservative until 2014. In its last four years, it sold off more than 300 empty council properties because they had become vacant. That included three and four-bedroomed houses, and many two-bedroomed houses and flats. These properties were sold off on the open market, putting them out of reach of families forever and a day. Cynically, that council then took a housing waiting list of over 8,000 families and reduced it to over 1,000, simply by knocking families off the list. In many cases, the council did not even have the courtesy to tell them. That degree of cynicism and that type of social engineering has gone on not just in my borough, but in many boroughs across London and elsewhere—and it is a moral crime, not just bad policy.
I contrast that situation with the position of my council under Labour. This issue is one of the reasons that Labour was elected in Hammersmith and Fulham, and was then re-elected with a landslide last year. Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham Council stated this month that it
“has recently secured more than 1,600 genuinely affordable homes in the borough at zero cost to taxpayers after negotiating a series of deals with developers.”
That is the difference that Labour makes in local government, and I believe that in national Government—with this sort of programme of housebuilding, and the crackdown on poor landlords and poor conditions—we can actually tackle this crisis. It is not just that this Government are complacent; as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) said, they simply do not care to solve the housing crisis in this country.
Land Registry figures estimate that 19% of property sales in my constituency in 2017 involved leasehold homes. That is nearly one in five homebuyers who are experiencing the injustices of the leasehold process. I have received 54 responses to a consultation that I launched on this matter, and there was an overwhelming sense of injustice and frustration with the leasehold process, in line with the findings of the Select Committee. Constituents made comments such as:
“I feel stuck in a loop”,
and said that they felt that they were “being held hostage”. Others said:
“I’ll have nothing to leave for my children”.
One of the most common situations I have heard about is when homeowners wish to move home in order to downsize before retirement, but no company will offer a mortgage on the property because the lease is not long enough. Those people either have to find someone to buy the property cash in hand, or extend the lease. But extending the lease costs at least £10,000 and is frankly not an option for many of my constituents, who want to use that money to live on for the rest of their retirement.
The Minister has stated many times that at least there is choice in the property market for those who may not wish to buy freehold, but the evidence collected by the Select Committee and the heartfelt responses I have received suggest that this so-called choice is anything but. It is not a choice if there is a lack of information about what leasehold means, and 36% of the responses to my survey indicated that people were unaware of what leasehold meant at the point of sale. It is not a choice when homebuyers are not told that the property is leasehold until the very day that they are signing for their new home, which is what three of my constituents told me had happened to them. It was also not a choice for 13 of my constituents who told me that, after saving up and wishing to buy the freehold, and paying numerous administrative fees—in the hundreds of pounds—the freeholder simply said that they were not willing to sell at that point. It is not a choice for those families.
Another injustice is that of leases being sold by the freeholder to third-party companies, without any consultation, correspondence or notice given to the leaseholder. Where is the accountability? My constituents are telling me of their increased anxiety at the fact that their property does not “feel like their own”, and saying that
“outside people control their destiny”.
Does the Minister agree that this is not a healthy situation for any family to go through? This is the home that people have worked for, saved for and are paying for. I hope that she understands that this is not just a case of a few people feeling a little disgruntled at the system. I hope that she will really take into consideration the well-researched Select Committee recommendations, and specifically consider an investigation into the widespread mis-selling of leases.
I urge everybody here to have as the backdrop to every single decision we make the emergent climate change emergency that our country and our world face. In the short time available, I will make a plea to the Minister to look specifically at modular homes, which offer an environmental and energy-efficient solution. The Labour Front-Bench team has committed to build 1 million affordable homes, and we should make sure that we build them in a way that does not harm our environment any more than it has already been harmed.
Because of its affordability and its green footprint, I think the future should be modular. In my constituency, I have had the pleasure of watching modular social housing coming up just outside my office. They are some of the most energy-efficient homes in the country. Not only are they providing people with a beautiful place to live, but they are helping them save money.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, Hull is the caravan building capital of the country. We have fantastic skills in my constituency, with an industrial base and knowledge that have developed over generations. I urge the Minister to look seriously at the businesses in Hull and to give them a secure funding stream and stability, so that these modular building companies have the capacity to develop and invest. These are uncertain times and there is uncertainty for business investment, but having a promise from the Government that they see modular homes as the way forward and are willing to invest in innovation would give those businesses the security they need.
Finally, the Minister or anyone else is always welcome to come and see the beautiful modular social homes in my constituency, because I really think we need to look at them again if we are serious about protecting our planet.
The Minister spoke of the difficulty of quantifying Government targets for different types of housing. This is what can be quantified: the 1.25 million people on the waiting list for social housing, the 123,000 children living in temporary accommodation, and the fact that more than 99% of homes to rent in the private sector in Lambeth and Southwark have rent that is above the local housing allowance cap.
This Government are failing, as the coalition did before them, by cutting the subsidy for new social housing, redefining affordable housing to make a mockery of the word “affordable”, penalising residents with the bedroom tax, and lining the pockets of shoddy developers such as Persimmon and unscrupulous private sector landlords. The Government are also presiding over the disastrous relaxation of the rules on permitted development rights. In the time left available to me, it is this policy that I will focus on.
The expansion of permitted development rights is delivering poor quality homes in former office buildings up and down the country, resulting in children playing in industrial estate car parks, poor fire safety standards, and homes that are not homes but essentially hotels by the back door that are let out through Airbnb and other platforms for short-term lets. Most shockingly, having introduced this major planning reform, the Government have undertaken no evaluation of its impact and propose further expansions that would enable developers to demolish and rebuild office buildings without planning permission.
This policy is removing quality control and democratic accountability from housing delivery. Councils and communities have no say, and the developers who profit from these developments make no contribution to local community needs or the delivery of genuinely affordable housing. In many areas, the expansion of permitted development rights is delivering the slums of tomorrow and the fire safety horrors of tomorrow. This is happening on the Minister’s watch.
I therefore urge the Minister to do one small practical thing: to halt the expansion of permitted development rights while a full evaluation of its impact is undertaken, and to restore housing delivery to the full democratic control of local authority planning departments, which can decide where their communities need new housing, say where it should be built, and secure affordable housing contributions and funding for community facilities, so that we build not the slums of tomorrow but the high-quality, sustainable, affordable communities that this country so desperately needs.
I am sure we all welcome debating a subject other than Brexit. If I was to use the issues that constituents come to see me about in my surgery as a guide to what else we should be talking about, housing would come at the top of the list every time. From the parent facing eviction from their private tenancy with no permanent housing options on the table, to the tenant coming back to me for the fifth time because the damp still has not been fixed, to the young couple whose kids have to share a box room totally unsuitable for them, it is very clear that we do not have enough housing at the right prices or of the right tenure.
On a positive note, my local council, Chester West and Cheshire Council, is now building council housing, the first for nearly 40 years. I am delighted about that, but we still have less council housing than we had a couple of years ago, due to a huge increase in right-to-buy applications. Who can blame people for wanting to take advantage of 70% discounts? The policy, however, is short-term in the extreme. It is, of course, the Government’s stated aim that every council property sold under the right to buy should be replaced, but the reality is that, rather than one-for-one replacements, it is more like one new property for every four sold. The situation is clearly unsustainable.
There needs to be a wholesale change in the culture of and approach taken by developers. There seems to be general agreement across the political spectrum that we need to build more homes, but those good intentions are at risk of failing because there is an over-reliance on the market to deliver those aims. To date, the private sector has shown itself incapable of working in a way that chimes with the needs of the country. To put it mildly, I remain to be persuaded about the altruism of the house building industry; one need only look at the £100 million Persimmon bonus to see where its priorities lie. Plc house builders that help themselves to more than £8 billion of taxpayers’ money through the Help to Buy scheme show their true colours when they rip off their own customers through “fleecehold”. They have a lot to answer for.
The reliance on a small group of developers has been a very poor deal for the taxpayer, and that is the backdrop against which the leasehold scandal emerged. I look forward to the Government’s response to the excellent report by the Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government. I hope concrete action will be taken soon.
Many in the industry have signed a pledge to move away from onerous leases, but to be frank I think that has happened only because there has been so much bad publicity against the people guilty of this wholesale scam over the years. The pledge also seems hollow to those of my constituents who have been notified in the past couple of weeks that their freehold has changed hands again, from one opaque company based in Guernsey to another opaque company based in Guernsey. The industry pledge intends to make the whole process
“cheaper, easier and more transparent”,
but actions such as those in my constituency will make it more expensive, more difficult and less transparent for people to buy out their freehold. The only way these rapacious people will be brought to order is through changes to the law, and the sooner the Government get on to that, the better.
The biggest developers in the country have not just ripped off millions of homeowners; they have ripped off all of us. We should not rely on them to solve the crisis we face. The housing market is broken and needs radical intervention, and it certainly needs a Labour Government.
I was delighted to hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). She spoke about the damage that right to buy caused in Scotland, so I will not focus on that in my short speech. Instead, I will focus on investment in new socially rented stock.
After years of under-investment in social house building, work is now under way to deliver 50,000 affordable homes in Scotland by 2021. People around the east end can now see the tangible results of that investment—whether on Cranhill’s Bellrock Street, Easterhouse’s Auchinlea Road or Shettleston’s Wellshot Road—because work is under way to invest in new housing, which will go some way towards meeting the demand we face.
That 50,000 target, though, should only be a starting point. I have been very clear with the Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, that we need to keep up our investment in new build social housing. I was encouraged to hear him say at a recent Tollcross Housing Association event that, for so long as associations can keep up the house building, he will be happy to sign the cheques.
The reality, however, is that we will quickly run out of space to build those new properties, which is why we must also protect and preserve our existing tenement stock housing. As the MP for Glasgow East, I am acutely aware that about one third of my housing stock is made of tenement properties. A quick drive along Tollcross Road, Baillieston Main Street or Westmuir Street will demonstrate that. The fact is that Glasgow’s tenements have become a rich part of the city’s architectural heritage, and my local housing associations genuinely understand the importance of maintaining them to meet the demands of their waiting lists. They want to invest in and preserve those buildings for generations to come, but that comes at great cost and there is a role for the British Government to assist with that.
This morning I suggested to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that VAT could be reduced on tenement repair work. Currently, an association wishing to undertake costly works to preserve tenement properties will have a 20% VAT charge slapped on to the invoice. If the Chancellor was willing to look sympathetically at a reduction in VAT for that type of work, it would allow associations to invest in tenement stock and simultaneously provide a fiscal stimulus for the construction industry.
In Glasgow, the city council, Scottish Canals and housing associations are working together to promote self-build, not least along the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal. This is affordable self-build, which is another way of helping to stimulate investment in the local economy, as well as providing suitable housing.
Absolutely. I am conscious of the constraints on time, so I will just conclude by saying that Glasgow is a city bursting with ideas about how we can progress housing and meet the challenges head-on. I urge my hon. Friend to take that forward, and I urge the Minister, in summing up, to touch on the point about reducing VAT, particularly on tenement properties.
On average, house prices are 10 times wages, and we know this skews our local economy but also drives the housing poverty that is so damaging to my city of York. The Lib Dem-Tory council has presided over this housing failure, with a fall in social housing when there is such desperate need, while at the same time developers have made their millions building luxury apartments that our city just does not need. City of York Council should be getting to grips with what is happening in housing, but it has failed, and I am glad the Government have rejected its local plan.
Just last Monday, the council failed again when it signed off a 72 acre brownfield site for over 2,000 luxury apartments that our city does not need. I would juxtapose that with the 11 homeless people who lost their lives in our city last year, and with the people I see in my surgeries who are living in box bedrooms—whole families are in that situation—with adults and children sleeping on sofas. That is the reality of York, as so many people in housing poverty know. Not only that, but the council has handed over its influence over the future of that site, through a commercial agreement, while contributing £35 million to the site. This must be stopped and reviewed. Residents are rightly angry. They are being driven into deeper housing poverty, while the elite moves in on their space. They are being driven out of their city, and they are being ignored. While people invest in their assets and purchase their commuter and second homes, my local families are cooped up in unsuitable, cramped and damp housing. York, which calls itself a human rights city, is the most inequitable city outside London, and this latest development will simply make it worse.
The Lib Dem-Tory council’s plan just supports corporate greed over local need, and it must be changed. That will start with a Labour council, which will build the housing that our city desperately needs. It will put right the local economy by ensuring that we have the skills our city needs. We need 500 people in the NHS, and there are also those needed in the care workforce, but they cannot afford to live in our city. We will relive the dream that Joseph Rowntree planted in our city as he built the houses fit for heroes and the housing developments that set the agenda for the garden villages and sustainable green homes that will ensure people across our city can live in and enjoy our city. Labour will make the difference in York: it is time for change.
This has been a short but good debate—quality not quantity. We have heard from Members across the country from the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). To pick out a few, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) spoke with great authority, as always, about the need for real revenue funding and for a substantial change in the private rented sector. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) was absolutely right that we should look at locked-in discounts for first-time buyers. He will be pleased to hear that this is indeed a Labour policy, and if he votes Labour at the next election, his idea may well come to fruition. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) talked about the need to tackle climate change through housing and how important the role of modular housing is.
The Government are not just failing to address the housing crisis; they are actively making it worse. I do not know whether it is incompetence, mismanagement, complacency or deliberate policy, but this Government are wilfully exacerbating the housing crisis. Whether it is homelessness, private renting, leasehold, home ownership or fire safety, the story is always the same: things are getting worse, not better. The problems can be traced to bad Government policies. In government, Labour managed to successfully tackle these issues. As a Government in waiting, Labour is the party with the solutions to these problems.
Things are getting worse, not better. Rough sleeping has doubled. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) that rough sleeping has gone up by 333% and that someone is dying every fortnight. Only 6,500 homes for social rent were built last year. Home ownership is supposed to be the thing the Conservative party cares about, but nearly 1 million young people are unable to access it. My hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) was absolutely right to talk about the overwhelming sense of injustice felt by leaseholders.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) eloquently talked about the plight of permitted development—something the Government want to increase. The problems can be traced right back to the Government. Ministers have stretched the term “affordable housing” to breaking point, to include homes that are let at up to 80% of market rents. We are building the wrong homes, as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) said.
The Government have repeatedly ignored fire safety advice that sprinklers are essential. They have also ignored advice following the Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower fires and refused to intervene in other blocks with aluminium composite material cladding. We have 40,000 people still trapped in deadly buildings. We have also lost more than 170,000 affordable council homes through poorly designed policies.
In government, Labour managed to successfully tackle these issues. As a Government in waiting, Labour is the party with the answers to solve these problems and the ability to deliver the change we need. It is the Government’s job to solve the housing crisis, and it is the Government’s shame that they have failed. This country has a right to expect better, which it will get under a Labour Government.
This has been a really excellent debate. I have this wonderful speech here, which is obviously way too long, so we are not going to worry about that. The contributions made by so many people in the House make it clear why housing is the No. 1 domestic priority for the Government. We all want Brexit done, so please vote for the deal, and then we can get on with dealing with this stuff.
The important thing to me is talking about community land trusts, as my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) did, and sorting out what we are going to do in the private rented sector, with the changes to electrical standards and carbon monoxide—
That is why it is important that it is coming through. The important thing here is that the guidance is coming through now, and there has been great respect for that, which I am very pleased about.
I am appalled at the way in which issues are turned into political footballs. There is no stronger Department in trying to deal with such issues one by one, in a logical way, so that nobody ends up sleeping rough or dying on our streets. The important thing is that the Government totally get this. We are spending an awful lot of money to change things around, because that is what is important. People out there realise that changes are being made in the private rented sector, changes are being made for tenants, and changes are being made to professionalise the professional services—the letting agents and managing agents. Leasehold changes are on the way. There are all sorts of things in our country that are wrong; they need to change, and it is this Government who are going to change them.
I am delighted that our ministerial team is on the case, looking at how many houses we need to build in the year; looking at giving councils the freedoms to build more council houses; encouraging social housing to grow; encouraging first-time buyers; encouraging veterans to get on the housing ladder once they leave the armed forces; making sure that veterans are not sleeping rough and that they get the help they need; and looking after people in Scotland, where there are innovative ideas—I looked at rough sleeping issues and Housing First in Glasgow. All these ideas are very important to the Government; no one should be left under any illusion about the fact that only the Government are making the changes that will get these things right.
People’s lives are at risk. People’s happiness is at risk. We want to make sure that fairness is sorted out for the future. I pay huge tribute to the teams of civil servants that are going round the country making sure that people get the help they need. In Medway and Cornwall, there has been a 40% reduction in rough sleepers. These are huge changes, and I am very proud of what the Government are doing.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).