To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose any action to assist first-time property buyers following the publication of the English Housing Survey Headline Report 2010-11 on 9 February, showing that the level of owner-occupation in England has fallen to its lowest level since 1988.
This Government are committed to supporting people’s aspirations to own their own home and are sensitive to the particular challenges facing first-time buyers. That is why we are supporting initiatives that we have started such as the FirstBuy scheme, shared ownership schemes, the NewBuy guarantee scheme and the reinvigorated right to buy.
I thank the Minister for her Answer. Is she aware that around 40 per cent of people living in London and parts of the south-east between the ages of 20 and 39, whose salaries are just above the limit for social housing, are still priced out of the open market because they cannot afford to buy or to rent at existing prices? These include nurses, teachers, firefighters, police officers and others who are essential to our well-being and who need to live in the city near to their jobs. Apart from the various schemes mentioned, for which I thank the noble Baroness, is she aware of any proposed changes in the planning system that might encourage the private sector to produce some sort of solution to this problem?
My Lords, the national planning policy framework, which my department introduced recently, opens up many doors to planning and housing initiatives. That will release land for house building to support both affordable housing and houses for purchase, which should begin to solve the problem raised by the noble Lord. Another issue is that some people can afford the mortgage but cannot afford the deposit. Those are two areas, and I am sure that we will hear more about both.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that first-time buyers in the north-east of England are returning to the market, and that there are more than there were in 2009? Have the schemes that she outlined in her earlier replies assisted first-time buyers in the north-east, and are there any other initiatives specifically designed to help first-time buyers?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her question. With regard to the north-east, I can give her only the figures for FirstBuy, because the NewBuy scheme, which is the latest scheme, cannot identify figures yet as it has not been going for long enough. There were 129 purchase completions by first-time buyers in the north-east recently. Of course, the north-east is really important. As we heard earlier, there are different schemes and different worries. There are also other schemes that help with mortgages. A number of authorities and banks are helping to support mortgages, and the NewBuy scheme will come into that as well. Not only in the north-east but across the country we are beginning to see a solution to what has been a very difficult problem.
My Lords, what is the noble Baroness’s response to the construction industry figures that were released this morning, which demonstrate that the industry is desperately in need of a boost? Does she agree that the Prime Minister should focus on alleviating the current housing crisis rather than on future Conservative policies that might include a housing benefit cut for the under-25s? That would have a detrimental effect on many young people, including those on low wages.
My Lords, the construction industry is dependent on land that is available to buy. As I am sure noble Lords know, the Government are releasing their own land as fast as they can. There is a very big programme of land release, most of which is to be designated for housing, both private and public sector, along with the infrastructure to support it. Many schemes across the country have already been identified for these initiatives, and the construction industry itself is all ready to go. We know that builders are ready to take up the land that is available, so I am sure there will be a boost to housing in the near future.
My Lords, I believe that there is great common cause across the House that everything should be done to stimulate the building industry. It is one of the great motors of the economy and is a perfect contracyclical investment because housing, once built, is there, so the money is not wasted. Will the Government assure us that they are using every opportunity to help to fill the huge gap in the demand for housing by stimulating in every possible way the housing market and the construction industry, thereby creating many lower-paid jobs for people who would not otherwise be employed? It is a great key to our prosperity.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend, who I know takes a great interest in these matters. I answered him to some extent in my response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We are hoping and expecting to stimulate the construction industry through our programmes for new housing. It is absolutely essential to the growth of the economy that the construction industry should get going again, because it is in that sector where skills and training will be required for new jobs. I agree completely with my noble friend.