Motion to Take Note
My Lords, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Addison Act of 1919, which first gave general powers for local authorities to build and manage council housing. For decades, council housing was the ambition of millions of families in all walks of life, and for many it still is.
For my main text I have taken the recent report from Shelter’s Social Housing Commission. It starkly sets out how we got here, what are the consequences, and makes proposals for drastic and strategic action to restore the central role of council housing in our housing provision.
I am of course grateful that such a large number of speakers wish to speak in this debate, but I am particularly pleased to see a member of that Shelter commission: my noble friend Lady Lawrence. I look forward to her speech, as well as to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Osamor.
It is still the ambition for millions of people in the often exploitative and squalid private sector to obtain social housing provided by local authorities and housing associations. That is why 1.1 million households in England—about 4 million people—are on council waiting lists and desperate for a council house. In London, the ratio of those households on the lists to available property is over 20:1, and in central London it is even higher. Lest this is seen as a purely urban issue, the CPRE estimates that at the present rate it will take 133 years to clear the current waiting lists in rural counties of England.
In the last few decades, from the 1980s onwards, social housing—council housing in particular—has been first disparaged by Governments and media, then curtailed, and then directly attacked. Successive Governments share some of the blame, but the inheritance of the 1980s has done the greatest damage.
Building of social housing has fallen from an average of 126,000 per annum to a few thousand a year—fewer than 7,000 last year. Originally, the Thatcher Government’s right to buy saw 3 million council homes lost, without the proceeds being used to provide for their replacement. Stock transfers and allocation of management to ALMOs has also often removed councils from their housing management role, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Successive Governments have championed the growth of home ownership, and I do too, but that growth has reached saturation point and gone backwards. It has fallen from 70% to 63% in recent years. In the private rented sector, renting privately often means unaffordable housing costs. Indeed, even within the social housing sector, the insistence on “affordable rent”—which in practice works out at up to 80% of rapidly rising local private rents—has meant that housing costs have been too great for many families. In the private sector, it has meant multiple tenants in overcrowded rooms or even, in some cases, in sheds and outhouses. At the end of this line, it means the tragically burgeoning number of homeless on our streets, which has doubled over the past few years and, as we have seen in the figures today, has gone up again. Those figures are regarded by almost everybody as an underestimate.
Meanwhile, from the Government’s point of view, over the past three decades, state support for housing has not diminished but has shifted dramatically from subsidies for building, improving and managing homes to providing welfare benefits for tenants. Instead of the Exchequer investing in building for the future, state spending goes on an escalating benefit bill, a large proportion of which is now going to private landlords, increasing housing shortages in town and countryside alike.
I often feel angry about this, and the last time I intervened in a housing debate, I just had a rant because I had only four minutes. Colleagues today have only three minutes, so I expect some more of those as well. I was blaming successive Governments, but also the overconcentration of housebuilding and developers, so that their ability to evade any social housing targets has grown. The difficulty that arises for local authorities and housing associations when dealing with private developers is that developers are in a position of strength to argue for a diminution in social housing.
Many simply blame the right to buy; I do not completely. In principle, the right to buy gave the possibility of home ownership to a lot of people who would not otherwise have had it, but local authorities need the right to suspend it and, as noble Lords will know, in Scotland and Wales it has been abolished. The main opposition to right to buy as it has been practised has been because of the failure to use the proceeds to develop new social housing. If we had ploughed all that money back, we would have thriving mixed tenure communities, instead of which we have monolithic areas and misery in the private rented sector.
We often talk about social housing in terms of individual tenants and families, but homes also form communities. I am in favour of mixed tenure communities, but I am not in favour of new developments and regenerations drastically reducing the provision of social housing. For three decades, provision of housing overall in all forms of tenure has been inadequate; the Government acknowledge this, as do all political parties. We have created homes at only about half the rate of the creation of new households, but the social housing sector has suffered most, particularly council housing. Of course, other forms of housing provision ought, in a progressive policy, to play a significant part. Housing associations have a key role to play, as do the various schemes for shared ownership, and there is some scope for bringing back empty homes into use and conversion. But unless we have a strong and clear commitment to a long-term programme of building and converting for new social dwellings at social rent, we can solve neither the housing crisis, nor the social crisis, nor the problem of escalating housing benefit, nor ultimately the problem of homelessness on our streets and of hidden homelessness in many families up and down the country.
The recent Shelter report sets this problem out squarely and comes up with some proposals. In recent months and years, the Government have shown some recognition of the need to build more council homes, particularly in their recent document with a foreword by the Prime Minister herself, but the reality is that the number of homes being brought into being by councils has continued to diminish. The Shelter report calls for a major long-term programme; it envisages 3.1 million social homes being built, mainly by councils, over the next 20 years. That requires a drastic shift to capital and management investment in council housing, away from the growth in housing benefit now caught up, regrettably, in the difficulties surrounding universal credit.
That target is ambitious but it is shared by almost every housing commentator. I was slightly surprised to find, for example, the Centre for Social Justice—normally seen as a right-wing organisation—coming out with not quite the same but rather similar targets and propositions on land reform. Most experts in this field realise that we cannot reverse the current problems in the housing market without councils playing a major role in the building programme. Since the 1920s, they have not: council building has fallen drastically and is now close to zero. The problem has got worse and other solutions, such as the growth of home ownership, are now grinding to a halt.
The situation has been aggravated by two other aspects. The Government have started to address one: the absurd restriction on local authorities building and investing in social housing. That was partly reduced in the recent Budget but it will take some time for that to have any effect. The other dreadful consequence of austerity has been local authorities losing a lot of expertise in their housing, architecture and planning departments, meaning that they are less able than they were in the past to commission new builds and improve their existing estates. That also needs to be reversed; the Government need to see that the money provided to local authorities is there to do just that.
This issue requires a long-term strategy, as Shelter and others have recognised, but the Government and everyone involved in the building industry and housing provision must ensure that the strategy starts now so that we build enough homes for the next generation—homes that families can afford and in which they can be safe and create effective and functioning communities. I will give other speakers an extra four minutes because my voice is going but I hope that they will support the provisions of the Shelter report and my speech. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the leader of South Holland District Council and the chair of the Local Government Association. I am also a small-scale private landlord, for what it is worth. I thank the Opposition for using their time to control the agenda of the House and use it for this most important of subjects.
It is an undisputable truth that every child in this country deserves to be born in a decent, safe, secure and affordable home. For the vast majority, council-owned or social landlord-owned properties are probably the only way to meet that affordability criteria. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, successive Governments over the past 40 years have fallen out of love with council houses for various reasons. That has not gone well for those of us who believe that safe, secure and affordable homes are best provided through the social sector. We saw at the start of the coalition Government and the recession that the post-war consensus that we would always invest in bricks and mortar was changed to an investment in tenants. That is why we are now spending, or wasting, more than £20 billion a year on housing benefit.
Probably the most reassuring statement from the current Prime Minister was made two years ago at the party conference. She is the first serving Prime Minister that I can recall to have a positive conversation about council houses. She talked about the benefits to children if they are able to grow up in a council house. That is the first time I can remember such a statement. She followed it up at last year’s party conference by doing the one thing that will mark her out as probably one of the best Prime Ministers of the 21st century: she reversed the actions taken by successive Governments to prevent councils borrowing against the assets they already own. Our councils own a few million houses and we should be able to sweat that asset. She is the first Prime Minister to turn this around and she must be remembered for that. However you dress it up, she will be largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of children in this country being able to grow up in decent, safe, secure and affordable homes.
I agree with most of the other comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Like him, if I stand up for too long I will rant, so I will add one of my minutes to the four that he has already offered back to the House.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitty on securing this debate and I look forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Osamor. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation.
I too want to refer to Shelter. Its social housing commission—my noble friend Lady Lawrence was a commissioner—recently set out graphically the damning consequences of poor provision of social housing, including increased homelessness. This is clearly a crisis and the true cost is staggering. The Government spend billions of pounds a year on housing benefit, much of it going to private landlords. Councils are spending hundreds of millions on housing homeless families. In stark terms, the housing crisis costs lives. Recently a homeless man died just outside this building.
The National Housing Federation and Crisis have shown that, to meet demand, we need to build 340,000 homes a year, but numbers alone will not solve this. The type of tenure is vital to tackling the root of the problem. We need to build 145,000 affordable homes a year and 90,000 must be for social rent. Last year, we built just 42,000 affordable homes. There are no quick fixes. We need a long-term, joined-up plan to build vastly more homes for social rent.
I want to use my three minutes to identify briefly some key issues and ask the Minister some questions. Housing associations will play their part as the largest providers of social homes, and the Government too have made a commitment to build 300,000 homes. How many of them will be genuinely affordable? How much investment has the Treasury calculated will be needed? Each area faces its own unique challenges, which require local solutions. In some places regeneration is needed, not new build. Does the Minister agree that different solutions are required, including investment for regeneration? Partnerships with local authorities are vital. The removal of the housing revenue account cap should empower local authorities and housing associations to work together to tackle the crisis. However, barriers remain. Will the Government reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 so that a fairer proportion of the uplift in land value can be shared with the local community, including for affordable homes? Will the Minister commit to delivering 50% of affordable housing across public sector land?
The freezing of working-age benefits, the design of universal credit, the spare room subsidy and changes in the way benefits are paid have all made life harder for many tenants. They have certainly contributed to, if not driven, the huge rise in homelessness. I am pleased that the Government have promised to provide impact assessments in their rough sleeping strategy. Can the Minister tell the House what data he and/or DWP have on the impact of benefit changes on homelessness?
The Government have taken positive steps to invest more in social housing, but to provide a sustainable solution they must act on longer term funding for genuinely affordable homes and on access to land. My final question therefore is: will the Minster commit to doing so in the upcoming spending review?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on securing a debate on such a significant issue. For too long, in all political parties, social housing has been the poorer cousin of affordable housing—which, as we know, is no such thing, being 80% of market rate. Having spent over 30 years plundering stocks of social housing—with the high peaks of sales in 1981, 1989 and 2003—all political parties have failed abjectly to replace those stocks. Every political party has been guilty of inaction when in power and has failed to properly acknowledge that. The change in policy in 2012 to replace properties sold with affordable housing was in effect sticking a broken finger in a dam long since washed away. From the JRF to the IFS, calls for yet greater numbers of social housing properties to solve this are matched only by the Treasury’s increasing deafness.
Gordon Brown’s golden rule was but one example of the negligence the Treasury has shown for over a quarter of a century. The IFS suggests that this has suppressed social housing build over a long period. In 1996 I met with Gordon Brown and lobbied him on this issue. He was on the eve of an historic win, with an eye-watering majority and money to spend. The lack of commitment to turn this issue around, in spite of progress in other areas such as homelessness, was tragic. Today we have a housing benefit cost of £21 billion, down from £25 billion because of harsher criteria. Any normal business would look at these swingeing levels of ongoing current expenditure and ask: why is there no capital expenditure to turn this around?
So what of the future? First, all parties must accept that we have failed over a long period on this crucial policy. Secondly, all parties must work together with a real target for social housing instead of the usual arguments over the least lamentable record. It often sounds like a dispute about the size of the head of a pin rather than the sledgehammer required. Only yesterday we saw this in a speech from James Brokenshire promising £500 million—money that is not new and certainly not enough. Thirdly, the Treasury must be held to account and use the forthcoming spending review to make substantial change. Fourthly, no plans by any political party will deal with the immediate and urgent shortfall. The private sector must therefore be supported to be fit for purpose. Given that the main cause of homelessness is the end of an assured shorthold tenancy, this requires urgent attention and I look forward to hearing the results of the Government’s current review.
The long-awaited ban on fees for tenants is a great first step, but more needs to be done. Failure to act urgently on this, on a huge scale, means another Christmas with 130,000 children in Britain in temporary accommodation—a number that shames us all.
As Bishop of Chelmsford, I am also proud to be the Bishop of Becontree, Harlow and Basildon, three of the nation’s boldest attempts by policymakers in the last century to address the housing needs of London and the south-east. When Becontree was built in the 1920s, it was Europe’s largest public housing development. The Government were then building homes fit for heroes after the First World War, and London County Council had a bold vision for 27,000 new homes and the infrastructure that went with them, which we do not see in housing estates today. There are many being built across Essex. It is great to move in, provided that you do not own a car—there is nowhere to park it—and provided that nobody who ever visits you has a car, because there is nowhere for them either.
The era of large housing estates has gone, but so has the vision to build proper communities. I therefore very enthusiastically support the Motion from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the need to increase our commitment to provide social housing. This debate is very timely. We all see the reason for this in the terrible rise in homelessness. I pay tribute to the work done by churches and charities up and down this country to support those who are homeless.
Until fairly recently, most of us would grow up, live, work and raise a family in the same place, but we now live networked lives. We therefore end up gravitating towards living beside people who look and think as we do. But the danger is that a networked, aspirational society becomes a disintegrated society, a society with rising levels of aspiration but correspondingly higher levels of discontentment and unhappiness. Let me put it plainly: there is something wrong and we store up great trouble for ourselves when people cannot even aspire to live in the communities where they grew up.
Creating more diverse but integrated communities is challenging but it provides a better context for human flourishing, so please forgive me for making a theological point: you cannot be yourself on your own. The only way we can fully be what we are meant to be is in community with each other. The answer is plain and it is, of course, our common expectation: builders and developers must ensure that a significant proportion of the dwellings they build is affordable social housing.
However, we know that this is not happening. Let me point out one reason that we could address. Using what are known as viability assessments, developers can avoid or reduce the proportion of dwellings set aside for social or affordable housing, arguing that such housing undermines the overall profitability of the development. I am not suggesting that builders develop sites without profit but we could look at this—it could be more transparent—and then we could build not only housing developments but communities.
I too join my noble friend Lord Porter in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for using the Opposition-day debates to focus on this important and topical subject.
It is clear to us all that successive Governments have not done enough to build more affordable and social housing since the stock was depleted by the right to buy. With only three minutes, l am going to focus on the present and ways in which the Government could create a more sustainable model for the provision of social housing than currently prevails.
There are three elements to the cost of housebuilding: the land, construction and the profit margin. As the costs of both land and construction have escalated, profits—the incentive to build—have declined. When those are added to the many problems within the planning system, it is difficult to see how the Government will meet their target of building 300,000 new homes per year without both a new financial model and changes to the planning system.
The London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s worthy but ill-advised aim to require 50% of new homes built to be affordable or social makes the finances of a scheme completely unworkable and has resulted in a 23% decline in housing starts.
Of the three component costs, we must find a way of reducing the cost of land and ensuring that public land is used for future social housing needs, particularly in London, where 80% of boroughs report that access to social housing for their homeless clients is very difficult. I do not see an argument for subsidising or fast-tracking land acquisition by the private sector in return for an increased proportion of social housing. This merely leads to a perpetual housing shortage and escalating rents.
If the aim is to provide genuine social and affordable housing, then public land should be treated as the Crown Estate treats its land—as a long-term asset which is managed and looked after for long-term benefit, in this case of the community. It can be used for the provision of housing, and the nomination rights of who can occupy this housing should remain with the local authorities or housing associations.
A potential model is that of a community trust partnership. This model is based on using long-term institutional funding—say 25 to 35 years—to provide multi-tenure housing in urban and metropolitan areas. The CTP would bring funding and expertise to assist a local authority to develop land that it already owns. However, the local authority would retain ownership of the land, guaranteeing a return to the investor over the long term in the form of rents, retaining enough income to cover maintenance and fees. The CTP would not need to allocate a majority of housing for private sale; rather, it would enable a balance between private first-time renters, affordable rents for key workers and social housing.
Finally, to address the component of construction costs, I direct noble Lords to the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee in its excellent report on offsite manufacture for construction. The Government have a welcome presumption in favour of this in the construction sector deal. Benefits include faster delivery; better quality, lower cost, low-rise buildings; fewer labourers; increased productivity; improved sustainability of buildings and infrastructure; and less disruption to communities.
I hope that the Government’s commitment to offsite manufacture will be backed up by specific measures enabling this sector and its pioneering technology to flourish here and abroad, whilst at the same time introducing welcome competition to the housebuilding industry.
My Lords, it is most unfortunate that the terms of this debate, so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Whitty, are so broad that our time to speak on such important matters is so limited. As a result, I shall focus my short remarks on the pressing need for the Government to resolve this housing crisis, so that we can see an end to the diabolical increases in homelessness and the deaths of homeless people that we have seen over the past eight years.
By the Government’s own figures, the number of people sleeping on the streets has more than doubled since 2010, and charities warn us that this is a strong underestimate. It is shocking beyond belief that the Government started publishing only last December the numbers of people who have been dying in this situation. The news that 600 people died while homeless in 2017 should chill us all.
The factors contributing to this are clear. We have a chronic undersupply of affordable housing following 40 years of failure in housing policy, driven in part by the ideological selling-off of our council houses. This Government have pushed the situation to breaking point, with their record lows in council housebuilding. Their cruel austerity measures and the capping of local housing allowance have exacerbated people’s inability to pay expensive private rents.
Councils are struggling to find social tenancies for the homeless, and more and more people are becoming homeless because they cannot afford to pay their rent. When serving on Paddington council in the early 1960s, I witnessed the inhumane activities of a certain Peter Rachman towards his housing tenants. Rachman has gone, but the spirit of Rachmanism is alive today in the extortionate rents of this housing crisis and the increasing number of people forced to live in shocking conditions. The Government’s attempts finally to address this crisis of their own making come too late. We must tackle the root causes of homelessness by committing to a long-term vision for the building of social housing, giving greater security to renters and ensuring that people have access to the benefits and support they need to help them keep their homes. If the Government cannot facilitate the most basic human need in our society—for people to have shelter—they must move aside for a Government who will.
I welcome this opportunity to talk about social housing and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling the question for debate. Harold Macmillan responded to Rachman, who had died a few years before, by having a unified House that brought in the rent tribunal. The rent tribunal meant that people like me could rent a flat, disagree with the rent, go to the rent tribunal and spend three or six months playing around so that the landlord did not get his money. This led to a 40% fall in the amount of cheap housing in the private sector. Until that point, only 30% of the population of the UK was in social housing. Enormous pressure was put on social housing, which meant that local authorities, and then the increasing number of housing associations, dealt only with the desperate. That ended social housing once and for all. You then have a new form of social housing, full of ghettos of profoundly needy people, instead of it being sociable housing, as it was before, with a mix of tenants, including working people.
I was born in a London Irish slum. We eventually got a council flat in Fulham in 1956. In the block of flats that we lived in, there were policemen, teachers, our first parking warden, caretakers and lorry drivers, and mixed in with them were the needy—people who were disabled and so on. It was sociable housing. We lost sociable housing when, with the best will in the world, the Rent Act took out of circulation a large amount of private housing, putting enormous pressure on local authorities. The local authorities, unable to meet the housing need, said that people had to fulfil the most dreadful criteria to be given social housing. So the next generation of my family, who lived in Fulham, never got social housing. We have to avoid that situation.
We also have to avoid what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when we pulled down the crap put up in the 1950s and the Ronan Points that went up in the 1960s. We have to be very careful how we do this. We can call for all the social housing that we want but let us make it sociable. When only 0.5% of children living in social housing will get to university, it means that we have the worst form of social engineering possible.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to make my maiden speech in this very important debate, secured by my noble friend Lord Whitty. I wholeheartedly support the aims of his Motion: I believe that a safe and secure roof over one’s head is a basic human right.
Since my introduction to this House, I have received a warm welcome from all sides, including from House officials and staff. I thank them all for that. I also extend my gratitude to my sponsors, my noble friends Lord Harris of Haringey and Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, and to my mentors, my noble friends Lady Wheeler and Lady Lister of Burtersett.
I am proud of my title: Baroness Osamor, of Tottenham in the London Borough of Haringey and Asaba in the Republic of Nigeria. It is a tribute to my late husband, Joseph, who died in a car crash, and to my father and mother.
I have been a proud member of Unite, my union, for over 40 years. It has afforded me many opportunities and I owe so much to it.
I was born in Nigeria in an era when very few girls went to school. My father, a progressive man, invested equally in all his children’s education, breaking down all cultural and social barriers when he ensured this for us. I left Nigeria in 1963 to join my husband in the UK. Against all odds, he had managed to rent a room in Tottenham, a place I still call home. I was a fully trained teacher and my husband was training to be a lawyer. On arrival in the UK, I experienced at first hand the hatred and discrimination against black people.
It was commonplace to see discrimination in housing in the 1960s, with adverts that stated, “No Dogs, No Irish, No Blacks”. During that era, the only viable housing option on offer for a young black couple was to accept very poor housing from landlords who exploited the bad situation. Most homes had no heating, no indoor toilet and/or no bathroom. We, like many others, felt the isolation and desperation of being on the receiving end of countless doors being slammed in our faces.
In contrast, back in Nigeria there were military coups, followed by the Biafran war, which initiated the displacement of my family. My family’s home was taken over by the Nigerian military. These defining factors delayed the well-thought-out plan that my husband and I had to return to Nigeria.
Finally, my husband made that long voyage home but it proved his last ever journey. Sadly, we lost him in a fatal car accident. My husband’s untimely death meant that I was now a widow in the UK bringing up a young family. When I look back at that time of mourning, it was the solidarity from my neighbours and friends that kept me afloat. I have nothing but admiration for the people I lived side by side with.
It was at that juncture that my personal and political life collided, leading me to work on building improved social connections with my neighbours for the betterment of all our communities. Collectively, as a community, we lobbied and addressed the primary issues of concern that impacted on us all. My lived experiences of getting involved in community activities provided dividends and led to my securing a job at Tottenham Law Centre, which did lots of housing casework, including on disrepair and homelessness. One of my many duties was to work with the families affected by the sus laws of the 1980s. The law centre continued to work with these mothers and families to help improve their lives. Together, we established and facilitated the creation of jobs for many left-behind families. I am proud to say that together we set up enterprise workshops, a co-op, a defence committee, a mothers’ project, a nursery and a youth association.
I look forward to sharing my lived experiences and knowledge in future debates. My commitment to change is a motto that I believe underpins my life. I finish with this quote from Maya Angelou:
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution”.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow and welcome my noble friend, whose inspiring maiden speech, rooted in her lived experience, showed how much she will bring to our deliberations.
I strongly support this Motion, in particular with regard to homelessness. The National Audit Office drew attention to the,
“unquantified cost of homelessness to wider public services”,
including health. Unquantifiable is the cost to the physical and mental health of homeless people themselves, and to their lives, with ONS statistics showing a 24% increase in the number of deaths of homeless people over five years. For the growing number of female rough sleepers, some of whom have fled domestic violence, these health problems are often aggravated by sexual harassment.
The other week, the Nottingham Post headlined the health costs of homelessness in the city. It quoted Suzey Joseph, an outreach nurse employed by Framework, a local homelessness charity, who said:
“They get infections, organ failure and get sicker and sicker until they die on the streets”.
I met Suzey recently and was impressed by how she is helping homeless people to get the healthcare they need. Will the Minister undertake to look at this initiative as a possible model to promote through the Government’s rough sleeping strategy?
The causes of homelessness are of course multiple, and it has suited Ministers to hide behind the mantra of complexity when challenged on the role played by their own policies. But complexity does not absolve them of responsibility. Like my noble friend Lady Warwick, I am particularly concerned about the impact of social security cuts and restrictions, including the cap, the two-child limit, the housing and other benefits freeze, punitive sanctions, universal credit and devolution to local authorities of responsibility for emergency assistance—at least 28 have abolished their schemes and almost all the rest have cut back drastically.
The evidence from organisations on the ground, research and the NAO all points to,
“the impact of welfare reform on homelessness”,
to quote the Public Accounts Committee. The PAC thus recommended that DWP write to it,
“to set out what work it has undertaken to identify any elements of welfare reform that are having an impact on homelessness and what steps it has taken to mitigate them”.
The report back—a full half page—is totally unilluminating and says nothing about mitigation.
In December, the Secretary of State for HCLG denied that the rise in rough sleeping is a political failure linked to government policies but, a week later, he acknowledged that there may be a link to social security cuts and that we,
“need to ask ourselves some very hard questions”,
as to why there are so many more people on the streets.
What progress have Ministers made in coming up with answers, over a year since the PAC asked them to investigate the link between homelessness and so-called welfare reform? As social security cuts push more and more people further and further below the poverty line, they are undermining the Government’s own rough sleeping strategy and thereby contributing to the rising death toll on our streets.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. From these Benches I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, to the House. I am sure that her authentic voice will ring through for years to come. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for this opportunity to contribute in a very small way to this really important debate.
I am in no doubt that the Government are committed to increasing the delivery of new homes—the legislation and consultations over the last four years have been quite prolific—but my questions are as follows. Are the Government committed mainly to increasing home ownership as the core plank of their housing policy, or do they recognise that the country needs a strong social rented sector? If it is the latter, is that actually being left to local authorities to provide only if they choose to do so? How are the Government working to overcome the well-documented affordability crisis?
A quick calculation shows that the majority of government housing money is spent on schemes to promote home ownership, including shared ownership, starter homes and Help to Buy, to name but a few. The amount of money spent on housing benefit is also rising as the private sector as a provider is expanding, while the amount spent on social housing has significantly decreased. I acknowledge that the lifting of the borrowing cap in October was helpful, but I do not believe that local government alone can transform the social rented sector without considerable subsidy and a real plan of action. I fear that we are being set up to fail despite our best endeavours and some excellent innovative schemes, such is the scale of the task nationally.
My own authority has been fortunate in receiving grant in the last round of funding, which will help us to build 55 socially rented homes. That is small beer, though; we were averaging 200 a year before the damaging viability clause mentioned by the right reverend Prelate was introduced. To make those 55 homes viable we have had to gift the land, borrow £6.7 million and contribute £2 million, and we have received £3.3 million in grants. That level of borrowing and contribution is beyond many district councils and small housing companies.
Many councils are reluctant to build for social rent when properties can be lost to them via right to buy within three years. Will the Government consider allowing councils to set their own right-to-buy policies for their area, or at least allowing councils keep 100% of right-to-buy receipts? In future assessments of housing need, will the Government specify for all local authorities the need for social housing and set clear objectives for the number of social homes that they wish to see built?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for this debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her powerful maiden speech. I draw attention to my housing interests on the register.
I spoke last week about social housing in the valuable debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, so I will concentrate today on a single issue: land value capture. Sir Oliver Letwin, in his radical report of last December, recommends that for future large sites local planning authorities should have the power to acquire sites at a maximum of 10 times their existing use value—for example, not £1 million or £2 million an acre but, say, £80,000 or £100,000 an acre. This would make it possible to provide thousands more genuinely affordable homes without frightening the Treasury.
The authority would create master plans and design codes. To deliver those, it would deploy a special development company to put in the infrastructure of the land being parcelled out, with individual parcels sold to builders and social housing providers to create housing of different types and tenures. Sir Oliver recognises that when landowners are unwilling to sell on these terms, compulsory purchase will be necessary.
The current CPO system needs overhaul, not least because it requires, under the Land Compensation Act 1961, that the valuation of sites subject to compulsory purchase must include “hope value”—the prospective uplift which could follow from a change of use. To achieve the Letwin model, a new Act of Parliament to amend the 1961 Act will be necessary. In the meantime, can land value be captured in any other ways?
The Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer, is doing deals with landowners to secure sites at just eight times agricultural value, rather than 100 to 200 times, and the mayor will switch locations for development if landowners are recalcitrant. However, planning decisions will often be pre-empted by infra- structure constraints, emboldening some landlords to hold out for wildly inflated prices.
An alternative opportunity is to use legislation that already exists. In 2016 and 2017, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, and I secured two amendments to planning Bills, with government support. These retain the still operative power in the New Towns Act 1946 which enables the Secretary of State to acquire land for a new settlement at existing land value, and now gives that power to development corporations set up by local authorities.
The Government are now canvassing bids from councils to use this route to capture land value and create sustainable mixed-tenure new communities. These can demonstrate that, if only land value can be captured, all our housing developments could be far better and far more affordable social housing could be created without overwhelming the public finances. An update on this issue from the Minister would be much appreciated.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for securing this debate and congratulate my noble friend on her maiden speech. I would like to lend my voice to this debate. This topic is broad and complex, so I feel that I can only touch upon one or two aspects of this matter, as time is limited today.
The subject of social housing is especially valued to me, as I am fortunate enough to be part of the independent commission put together by the charity Shelter to address the current public housing crisis in the UK. As part of the commission, we urge politicians not to remain idle at a time when half of young people are forced to live at home longer because of the shortage of affordable housing, as they have no chance of ever buying a house. The report also shows that private renters on low incomes spend an average of 67% of their earnings on rent. In our findings, the commission found that there can be a certain stigma attached to social housing. However, I believe that social housing can be seen as the key to a stronger community. In fact, many would say that social housing is essential in helping to rebuild society.
Moving forward, access to social housing is crucial for those in greatest need and should be a priority. Through various case studies, the commission also heard many circumstances where tenants, both private and social, are being continuously overlooked by landlords and legitimate grievances are being routinely ignored. Red tape and indifference mean that many tenants are waiting for unacceptable lengths of time before their cases are considered. Some tenants have talked about waiting up to eight months before their complaints can be looked at.
Surveys show that many private tenants who raise any issues regarding inadequate living conditions are then likely to be asked to move on by their landlord. Research by Citizens Advice found that 46% of private renters who made a complaint about the condition of their home, such as about damp or mould, were issued with an eviction notice within six months. Tenants are asking for complaints to be taken seriously. As such, part of the solution would be the formation of a tenants’ panel. It seems that there is a distinct lack of regulation in the housing sector, and reform is clearly vital. It is imperative that the Government should actively support the formation of a tenants’ panels to share good practice.
We cannot fail to see first-hand the dire situation of the homeless epidemic in this country. I am sure I am not the only person who passes the unfortunate individuals at the entrance to the corridors of power each morning. Sadly, I learned that a gentleman passed away in the underpass that leads to the Palace of Westminster just before Christmas.
Shelter’s report indicates that 277,000 people in England are homeless, with eviction from a private tenancy the most common cause. The report indicates that, without increased levels of social housing, this number is likely to increase. Ultimately, if more social housing is not delivered, it will have a devastating impact on people’s lives, above all the continuing tragedy of homelessness.
In conclusion, I know we will not solve the housing crisis overnight. In fact, our reports suggest that a 20-year programme is required to deliver the scale of social housing reform needed in the UK. However, once implemented, this reform would allow the benefits of social housing to be accessible far more widely, thus benefiting those in need. We would like to see the Government accept the report and reform launched earlier this month as a solid proposal for building a just society for all those who seek better living conditions for themselves and their families.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for introducing the Motion and above all congratulate him on the tone in which he introduced it. The challenge society faces in the social housing sector cannot be laid at the door of one political party but is the responsibility of the whole political class over the last 30 years. That point was eloquently made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grender, and my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. I also join other Members in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her maiden speech.
It seems that the Government are beginning to get their teeth into this challenge that society faces: first, by their commitment to commit £1.2 billion to homelessness reduction; secondly, by the undertaking to back local councils to build more social homes; and, above all, by removing the borrowing cap from them. They have also committed, I think, £2 billion to housing associations. I would be very interested, as I am sure that the whole House would be, if my noble friend the Minister, in summing up the debate, could give us some indication of whether these policies are moving in the right direction.
I will ask my noble friend two questions. First, I think he was quite active in something called the rough sleeping initiative in the early 1990s. Rough sleeping is one of those ghastly things that brings home to us all the challenge we face in social housing. Has his experience in that area given him ideas and initiatives that will make it rather more hopeful this time round that we will begin to tackle this very serious problem?
Lastly, when we compare not just the city of London but major cities right across this country with major cities in other countries, one contrast that comes home is the fact that in the United Kingdom we have rows and rows of terraced houses, whereas most major cities abroad have blocks of apartments. My understanding is that the cost of housing in a block of apartments is better than in individual terraced housing. If we were able to divert some of our efforts into that area, it would also relieve some of the pressure that the green belt is facing. I would be very interested to hear my noble friend’s comments on that.
My Lords, I join in the general congratulations to my noble friend Lord Whitty on instigating this debate on a subject which is of great importance to our nation, facing as it does a major housing crisis. I also join in the congratulations to my noble friend Lady Osamor on her fine and feisty speech in the cause of social justice.
Back in 1987, I became Labour’s first chair of Brighton’s housing committee, and as such I had a caseload of sometimes epic proportions covering housing repairs, rents, private landlord complaints and inquiries by homeless families. One of those who contacted me was a young single woman, with a small child, who was living in a room in a bed and breakfast just off Brighton’s seafront. The room was not much bigger than her single bed and had barely enough space for a cot and a few belongings. It was heated by an electric fan that consumed most of her income. The room was damp, miserable and depressing. The poor young mother asked if I could get her rehoused and I said that I would try, and that I could at least ensure she got more active consideration. I took a full note of her circumstances and made a description of the conditions in the appalling bed and breakfast. I then wrote to the housing manager, setting out her case and ensuring that she got active consideration for a new home. Not long after, she was allocated a flat, and she sent me a very kind note thanking me for my assistance.
Just after the 2010 general election, I received a slightly mysterious email from someone who said that I had helped them in the past. They wanted to update me and seek my advice. The email’s author asked to see me and said that she would bring someone along with her. I made an appointment and when they arrived, I realised that we had met before; the young woman looked familiar but it was actually her mother who I had met over 20 years before. The young woman was the daughter in the small cot, aged four months; now, aged 23, she had not long since got a first-class degree and her first job. Her mum said that she simply wanted to meet me to say thanks, not just for my help all those years before but because that simple act had, in her view, turned her life around. It had given her hope and a home, and led to her daughter’s success in life—a heart-warming story.
It is for reasons like this that I believe in not just social housing but council housing. I grew up on a council estate and I am proud of that fact, but since I left those homes have been privatised and the stock of council housing nationally run down, as we have heard. Right to buy has turned into one of the biggest housing swindles of all time, with housing once owned collectively now owned purely for profit. In Brighton, 50% of our council houses sold through right to buy are now owned by private landlords, and we have the obscenity of the council having to rent them back from those private landlords to house homeless families. That is madness.
In 1980, 30% of our stock was publicly owned; now, the figure is 17%. Council housing starts last year were just 6,000, while housing associations managed 35,000. But as we have heard from the National Housing Federation, we need at least 145,000 affordable homes. Government policy focuses exclusively on home ownership. I believe in home ownership but not at the expense of all else. Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a property-owning democracy is exactly that—a dream. We have to get real and channel our investment where it works, and works fastest.
As housing chair in a local authority, I could summon up the land, pave the way for planning permission and build the homes. That was the reason why, even in the late 1980s, Brighton built 400 new homes a year. We could set targets for construction and we could meet them. It is why the single mother living in a bed and breakfast had a reasonable expectation that the council could help, and why she and her small family were able to thrive and grow, while having the reasonable expectation of, and aspirations for, a good life. We need to return to that dream and find ways to make it a reality. Council housing is, in my view, the route to that end.
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a district councillor in Lancashire, and I too used to be chairman of the housing committee. I agree with every word that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said, and am absolutely sure I would have agreed with every word he would have said in his last four minutes.
For all the faults of local authorities over the years and some of the major mistakes that were made, council housing is one of the great success stories of the last century. The more that that is said, the better. I remember when social housing was a new term introduced from America and we did not like it, because in America it meant housing for the down and outs and people at the bottom of the pile. The problem, as some people have said, is that that is what it is turning into in many places in this country. Council housing at its best was housing run by and provided by the local community for the local community. It provided so many families with a decent quality of life.
The same was true of local housing associations when they started. They were set up as locally controlled and relatively small, providing for local needs. Nowadays, a lot of housing associations have simply turned into large non-profit-making housing companies. Why it is thought that affordable and social housing should be provided by companies like this, rather than by democratically elected local authorities, is a mystery to me. Yet many local authorities, including my own I regret to say, were bribed and bullied—by the Labour Government in our case—into a stock transfer to a housing association. We were bribed because of the vast amount of money the Government gave us. Some of it was for housing improvement, renovation and repairs, which was fine, but a lot of it was just money handed out to the council to bribe us to do it. We were bullied into doing it because, if we did not, we would not even get the money to repair the housing. Initially, it was okay, and it was a local housing association with local representation, but it has now become part of a large north of England housing company.
There are two major scandals associated with this. One is the fact that something like two out of five houses—probably more now—sold under right to buy are owned by private landlords. This is not a property-owning democracy where people own their houses under owner-occupation. It is simply a policy of the Tories handing over all this stuff to their mates and to private landlords. I have mates who are private landlords, and there are lots of good ones. But the large private landlord companies, particularly in the big cities, are responsible for a shocking deterioration in the housing stock occupied by the poorest people.
I do not have time to discuss the second scandal, the question of land, but it was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, and the noble Lord, Lord Best. Until the question of land is sorted out—in the cost of a new house in London and the south-east, something like 70% or more of that is for land; it is payment for nothing other than the uplift to the people who own the land—it will remain an absolute disgrace. The land ought to belong to the people. It does not, but we need some policies that move in that direction.
My Lords, I refer to my local government interests and join others in congratulating my noble friend on her maiden speech. The housing problem is not just a question of numbers, although that looms large. It is also a question of what we build, especially in the private sector, where space and energy standards lag badly behind those in much of Europe. It is also a question of tenure. Of course it is right to promote owner-occupation, but there is something terribly wrong with a system in which councils are compelled to sell council houses to tenants at knockdown prices—40% of which end up in the hands of private landlords, who then charge significantly higher rents. Latterly, councils have been unable even to retain the proceeds of sale and use them to build new houses, while delivering £3.5 billion in discounts to tenants purchasing their homes.
Moreover, the Government’s interpretation of affordability in their promotion of new building is unrealistic, pitched at 80% of the values prevailing in a market inflated by the lack of new building. In addition, there is the problem of the bedroom tax, which forces up the rents payable by council tenants occupying properties larger than they are deemed to need. How many of us would wish to see elderly friends or relatives, or ourselves, induced in this way to move to smaller accommodation, possibly in a different area, or pay higher rents for the privilege of remaining in the home that one has occupied for many years, with all its accumulated memories? Three thousand and fifty-six Newcastle households were affected by this last year.
Homelessness is another product of the lack of a serious housing policy. It has increased nationally by 400% due to the loss of private rented tenancies since 2010, with rough sleeping up by 169%. Yet the National Audit Office reports a reduction of 21% in housing services and of 59% in Supporting People funding, while there has been a 60% increase in the number of households in temporary accommodation, with all the problems that causes, especially to children and the elderly. In Newcastle, these figures translate to the following facts: 40,000 residents affected by welfare reforms could risk homelessness, 18% of debt advice clients last year had unsustainable budgets and council house rent arrears last March stood at £3.6 million. The council helped 19,000 people last year to secure £30 million of unclaimed benefits and 6,500 received debt advice. Sadly, 254 people were found sleeping rough in Newcastle in 2017-18; 80% of them had drug addiction issues, 55% had mental health problems, 25% had learning disabilities and 25% had been in care.
This is not just a housing problem, although housing is clearly an issue. Like many others, the council has a goal of being a homelessness-free city. That requires support from central government, its agencies and the NHS. We need action and funding to achieve this goal in housing provision and other services.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for tabling and introducing this important debate. I concur with what he said and the Shelter report. I draw attention to my interests, particularly as a board member of a housing association, and join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her humbling maiden speech.
In the excellent Library briefing on the topic, we are reminded that the number of socially rented homes has been falling consistently in England since the 1980s and that in 2016 only 17% of homes fell into this category, compared to 25% in 1981. At the same time, the number of households in privately rented accommodation has risen and statistics show that private renters spend a much higher proportion of their incomes on rent than social renters. Renters in London, particularly those in the younger age group—between 25 and 34—are facing increasing housing costs. This affects in particular key workers in the public sector, who need to be near to hospitals, schools, ambulance centres and other places in which they serve. Crisis argues that insecure tenancies in the private sector have led to an increase in the cases of homelessness and the placing of some young families in bed and breakfast. At the weekend, I looked on the Mayor of London’s website for a socially rented home with two bedrooms in south London. None is available.
The Government acknowledge these issues and in 2017 committed with local councils to build more social homes, as outlined in last year’s Green Paper. The Government say that they will promote ambitious new pro-development deals to build more social housing, yet a quick review of flats for sale in London at reasonable prices—between £150,000 and £500,000—revealed 18,000 properties, some of which were doubtless sold under right to buy. Many such properties are being sold by older people who wish to sell and move to smaller properties, often outside the metropolis, or by families who want to leave London. Could not a government capital scheme be devised to encourage housing associations and councils to buy back many of those homes, possibly at a slightly discounted rate of, let us say, 90% of the estimated value, and refurbish them quickly to house many of those families in desperate need of two or three-bedroomed social rent properties? Housing associations could carry out this regeneration quite quickly while still undertaking to build new homes, including smaller units for people whose families now live independently and are themselves ready to downsize.
While I have used housing in London as an example, it is equally important to consider how redundant stock in rural communities, or stock that has been for sale for a long period without being purchased, could be redistributed as social housing if a capital scheme enabled councils and housing associations to buy back properties. This would be particularly useful in expensive housing areas such as rural villages in Devon and Cornwall, where holiday home ownership has sent property prices soaring. I would welcome the Minister’s response on this matter, as it could provide a catalyst for increasing provision in tandem with the provision of new-build homes.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the Orbit group, a large housing association. Few areas of public policy are more pressing than the crisis in the supply of social housing. There has been a terrible failure by successive Governments to address it. Since 2010, the situation has worsened. Both the coalition and Conservative Governments have not taken it seriously enough. Recently, there have been some welcome changes in policy, but they should have been introduced much earlier and they are not nearly ambitious enough.
Decent housing is vital to the quality of life of our citizens, which is greatly damaged if their homes are damp, cold, squalid and overcrowded. It is disgraceful that many children grow up in such homes. The experience will often damage them permanently, denying them the ability to reach their potential at school or beyond. Government investment in social housing should be seen as an investment in well-being and better economic outcomes.
It is also shocking that in a country as rich as the UK there are so many homeless people. The shortage of social housing means that local authorities struggle to meet their statutory duty to provide homes for people sleeping on the streets.
I want to make four points about the Government’s policies. First, the decision to raise the cap on local authority borrowing is welcome, but it is not sufficient. Why not allow local authorities to keep 100% of the receipts from sales to invest in new homes? I hope that the Minister will reply to that. Secondly, why not curtail the right to buy altogether, as has happened in Scotland? We have heard today the figures on the outcome from right to buy. Thirdly, new government grants to both local authorities and housing associations need to be very much higher if the supply of new social housing is to meet the agreed targets. The reduction in the shedloads of money going on housing benefit would in the longer term outweigh the extra investment via government grants—I am sure that the Minister will agree with that.
Finally, as others have said, the availability of land is vital. As my noble friend Lady Warwick implied, the Government need to reform the Land Compensation Act 1961 so that a fairer proportion of the rise in land value is shared in the community. Will they produce a transparent database of land ownership, including that owned by government departments or their agencies, with a view to enforcing the sale of some of that government land for new housebuilding, especially for social housing?
My Lords, for the record I will take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend on her maiden speech. She has much to offer your Lordships’ House. I also thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for securing this able and timely report.
It is timely for a number of reasons, but I shall draw to the attention of the House the report from Shelter that tells us that more than 250,000 people are now homeless in England on any given night. Many are in temporary accommodation or are sofa-surfing, as it is candidly put. More than 4,000 people are sleeping rough.
In 1967 the first English housing survey was published. Some 50 years later, the Department for Communities and Local Government reported that the social rented sector was down 30% from its target. In response to the post-war housing need, local authorities and housing associations built nearly 4.5 million social homes at an average rate of more than 126,000 a year. That figure stands as a challenge, but in 1980 local authorities’ ability to build and manage social housing was restricted. That year, just over 94,000 social homes were built. Three years later, supply had halved. Last year, it was down to a shameful 6,463 homes. That is an indictment of the nation and of decision-makers.
Instead of spending on building social housing, the Government are spending billions of pounds on housing benefit, much of which goes to private landlords. There is no return on that sort of public spending. Councils are now spending more than £996 million a year on temporary accommodation—a rise of 71% in the last five years. Those figures tell us that the problem is getting progressively worse. The effects of bad housing do not stop at the doorstep. It increases costs to the National Health Service and to education, and much more.
I commend Shelter’s housing commissioners, who have called in support and professionalism to make an assessment of the scale of the problem as they see it. They are seeking to recapture the original purpose of social housing, and I am sure that this debate will energise their efforts. I am also sure that noble Lords taking part in this debate will look to see what precisely Shelter will produce, so that we can take the benefits of this debate and integrate them as practical policy promotions.
I conclude by paraphrasing the President of Harvard University: “If you think solving the housing problem is expensive, try the cost of homelessness”.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, to this House, and wish her a long and happy sojourn here.
I have arrived at this issue as a relative newcomer, and now realise how fiendishly complicated it is. To state the obvious, the final objective of social housing policy is to reduce, and eventually abolish, the terrible scourge of homelessness. This requires the provision of enough housing to give everyone a roof over their head.
However, the path towards this nirvana is not straightforward. Simply building hundreds of thousands of houses all over the country is not feasible. Who will pay? The local taxpayer or the central authorities? What happens if local inhabitants object? What happens if building houses conflicts with other objectives, such as protecting wildlife or rural amenities?
Various schemes have been adopted. Council tenants have been encouraged to buy their own house, liberating cash that can be recycled into building new homes. Builders of commercial or free-market housing estates have been told to earmark a proportion to be sold cheaply to provide social housing.
Housing associations and non-profit organisations have also been very active. Families have even been parked in hotels and hostels. None of this completely solves the problem. In areas near this House there are at least three such hostels—but of course they only provide temporary accommodation.
In practice, a buoyant economy has meant that house prices have risen and rents have gone up, but the money available from the state has remained static. This is particularly true in London and the south-east. As an aside, social housing in London and in the south-east typically comprises 30% to 40% of any new houses built. In other areas, where social housing is often more needed, the total may be between 15% and 20%.
There is a paradox here. While the softening of house prices in London has helped the aspirational, just-managing classes, those dependent on social housing have suffered. This occurs because the profit margin on free-market housing estates has fallen, allowing less for the social sector.
The private sector does not have much incentive to understand or deal with poverty. It regards this as the domain of the local authorities. While universal credit could respond to this challenge, there are the issues of the first five weeks of the scheme before a payment arrives, and of the regulation that payment will normally go to the individual tenant, rather than direct to the landlord—a disincentive to the private sector.
Help, however, is at hand. Tackling homelessness has become a government priority. This has taken several forms. First, planning regulations have been simplified and, perhaps more importantly, enforced; secondly, the cap on local authority borrowing—as many have mentioned—is being lifted; and, thirdly, technology has become increasingly involved. The proper technology is available, which can map, price and plan for the outbreak of poverty and its consequences. Administrative data, which is beginning to bear down on these issues, both in the private and in the public sector, can now prevent rather than cure the problem—and, as we all know, prevention is better than cure.
The combination of the high priority put by the Government on the abolition of homelessness and the increasing role of technology can and should improve the productivity of the sector and, naturally, the lives of those affected.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitty on securing this debate, and my noble friend on her moving maiden speech.
I wish to raise one group in society that is often overlooked in debates on housing and homelessness—the elderly. By 2040, as many as one-third of all 60 year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point. They could be living with insecurity and in poor accommodation, with increasing numbers relying on housing benefit.
The elderly should have the right to a safe, secure and comfortable home, especially when they may be ill, disabled and less resilient. The charity Age UK has highlighted concerns about the 1.9 million pensioners in the UK living in relative poverty, 36% of whom are private tenants. It wants to see laws to improve the take-up and availability of the disabled facilities grant—only 7% goes to the private rented sector. Security of tenure needs to be extended to five years so that private tenants can access these grants.
The private rental sector cannot meet the needs of vulnerable elderly people, many of whom live in terrible housing conditions that affect their health and well-being. Lack of security of tenure prevents them accessing repairs, improvements and adaptions because of a fear of losing a tenancy or being subject to unfair or abusive behaviour.
Only by providing more social housing of good quality and affordability can we help keep older people healthy and living independently, and reduce the need for residential care. We need consistent standards for all sheltered and extra-care housing in the social rented sector, and all new build should comply with the lifetime homes standard so that the need for adaptation is lessened as tenants age.
Homelessness among the old is also on the increase, rising by 40% in the last five years. The Centre for Policy on Ageing estimates that in England on any one night, around 400 older people aged 55 and above may be sleeping rough. Age UK is concerned by some local authorities’ reliance on the private sector to meet their duties under the new Homelessness Reduction Act by offering financial help to access housing, resulting in people who lose one insecure private tenancy being helped to find yet another insecure private tenancy. There must be more affordable options in the social rented sector.
Shelter’s commission is correct in calling on the Government to invest in a major 20-year social house- building programme, culminating in 3.1 million new social homes. Labour is committed to a major council house-building programme. We must as a country meet the challenge and create a new generation of housing equipped to meet the needs of an ageing society.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for introducing this debate. Its quality so far shows how right he was to choose this subject. I also thank most warmly my noble friend Lady Osamor for a powerful and moving speech. I believe she has a great deal to offer this House in the future.
I want to make a plea: I hope that in our concern about housing we do not underestimate the significance of the rural housing crisis. The sale of council houses and the subsequent profiteering is an indication of the difficulties and challenges, but also an indication of how misguided a policy can be. I would like to put to the Minister a specific question on the part being played by the Land Compensation Act 1961 in England. It has obviously gone wrong, and it seems that unless we tackle the ground it covers, we will be in difficulties with whatever housing programme we want.
My experience in politics says that what matters most in all this is the political will to do it, which means not just one Minister but all the interrelated Ministers. We have the problems of health, mental health, poverty and acute unhappiness in old age. All are related to housing, and unless we get everybody behind this and a determination that we are going to do it, it will not get done.
In particular, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for his terrific speech. He reminded us that a house is not just a house but a home. That means that in our programme and determination, we must think of the social issues, integration with health and schools, the police and the probation services—all these things—so that we make an integrated society where people are not stigmatised but part of the community, and so that we enable people to live rich lives.
I too add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, on securing this debate; the number of speakers, balanced across all sides of the House, is testament to the severity of the subject being considered. I of course congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her maiden speech, which was powerful and quite emotional. I declare my interest as a small-time landlord, as declared in the register.
This debate is about stark facts. We have heard shocking statistics repeated in several speeches. I will not add to the facts, but they are pretty shocking. There is the number of council houses sold; the lamentable replacement numbers; the affordability of the housing constructed; the rental cost discrepancy between affordable housing, as deals are done with private developers, and council or social housing; waiting lists—here I will add a statistic: Shelter told us that over 1 million households were on waiting lists in 2017; and homelessness. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, made an inspired comment about the cost of homelessness, which is huge. These are all stark facts. While it may be difficult to add to the statistics, this is a take note debate. I hope that the Minister will indeed take note of these shaming numbers coming from all sides of the House.
I think we all agree that there is no quick fix. We need a cohesive strategy and a long-term programme, and we need to reflect regional differences and needs. Perhaps we also need to replace the emphasis on, or reconsider, the right to buy. I have not heard references to the staircasing shared ownership programme, which has been around for many years. It allows the owner of social housing to buy a small percentage of the equity in their property, perhaps 20%—something they can afford. They do not need a big mortgage but something that they can manage, at market value, and when they are ready and if they wish, they can buy some more at the current market value. That should be looked at more carefully. New borrowing powers for local authorities will take time to mature; there is no quick fix.
On cost, clean sites are expensive. The noble Lord, Lord Best, an acknowledged authority, has referred to an interesting proposal to reduce the costs, but why not try harder with brownfield land? It is frequently serviced and centrally located, with good access to transport, hospitals, schools and shops. It needs cleaning up, so get on with it—clean it up anyway. Much of it is in indirect government ownership. It is morally unjustifiable to develop green space, particularly greenfield space, when this is the case.
My three minutes are nearly up. Steadily selling stock without replacement is a spiral—a sure way to make the problem worse. The population is not declining. I have two questions for the Minister. Why are sales not being replaced, and why is there so little funding for local authorities?
My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for organising this debate and my noble friend Lady Osamor for her excellent maiden speech; no doubt there are many more to come, especially if she sits next to this fellow—he can teach her a trick or two. I also thank my noble friend Lady Lawrence for being a member of the Shelter commission. Its report is one of the best on housing I have ever read, and this could be a watershed moment if Ministers are prepared to read it and put it into effect. That is a big if, but it is a great report, so well done. It lifted my spirits to come and speak in this debate, because they were not high today.
We are getting towards the last speaker, and, let me tell you, when you are the last speaker you listen carefully to all the debate—more so than if you are the first speaker and you pop out to the loo. But I have the weight of this debate. There have been some outstanding speeches, and I started to write them down. I thought, “I’m going to write down all the great speeches”, but the list was too long—there have been some great speeches from all sides.
What is the story? I am sorry to say that it is a story of pain, misery and unhappiness, to echo the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow. Homelessness, drug addiction, mental health issues, insecure tenancies, dreadful private landlords—dear me. What a mess we have got ourselves into, and what are we going to do to get ourselves out? It is a shocking state of affairs that I have sat and listened to this afternoon. I can tell your Lordships that if I was the Minister, I would go back to No. 10 and kick some backsides to get something done about this.
What about us? We are not doing too badly. I hope we all live in the homes of our choice, in warm and safe homes, exactly as we like to live, and that whether we own them or rent them, we are all okay. We are like the majority of people in this nation, and that is how the majority should be. That is how everybody should be, not just a majority: able to live in their home of choice—a warm, secure place. The gap between those people we talk about in our debate and us is enormous. It is like two different planets, and we must do something about it—close it down, tackle it and put it right—because it is a shame on our nation.
My noble friend Lord Beecham mentioned Newcastle, which is a great place. I say in passing: Man City 1, Newcastle United 2. If you can believe that, you will believe anything, but it is true. He said that Newcastle had a policy of a homelessness-free city. I hope that the Minister will say this afternoon that it is the ambition of the Government to have a homelessness-free nation.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Whitty for initiating this debate and congratulate my noble friend Lady Osamor on her wonderful maiden speech.
Shelter’s report recommends a political consensus on social housing. Perhaps we could just agree to adopt it and its recommendations, and then we can all go home. As someone brought up on a council estate, and who was horrified by the right-to-buy policy in the 1980s, with the loss of 3 million homes from the social housing stock, any political consensus cannot come soon enough. I was part of the generations for whom, as Shelter describes,
“social housing played a vital role in meeting the housing needs of ordinary people”.
It was not an ambulance service. The aim of the report is to recapture this purpose. The explosion in the private rented sector has led to seemingly contradictory outcomes: an increase in housing benefit costs and an increase in homelessness. Capital Economics has stated:
“Over the past decade this rising proportion of housing benefit caseloads in the private rented sector has cost nearly £14 billion in additional benefits and rental payments in real terms”.
Turning to private renting, which has doubled since 1997 and comprises 20% of all households in England, more than a quarter of such properties fail to meet basic standards. The Minister will be aware of the selective licensing scheme, under which all privately rented properties must be licensed with the local authority. The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Chartered Institute of Housing have published a joint report entitled A Licence to Rent, looking into the effectiveness of such schemes. It finds that in areas with selective licensing,
“high numbers of serious hazards and defects”,
are “being identified and addressed” as a result of property inspections. I understand that the Government are conducting a review of selective licensing, and I hope the Minister will be able to tell us how that is progressing and whether the Government will consider the recommendations of the two chartered institutes’ report, including setting up a national landlord register in England.
Finally, the National Housing Federation and Crisis have produced a report that shows that our housing backlog has reached 4 million. They have called on the Government to make ambitious, comprehensive reforms to the land market, including prioritising the sale of public land for social housing. What plans do the Government have to tackle the land market issue?
My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. First, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor, on her excellent maiden speech, which was rooted in a strong sense of public service and community. It is a delight to see her take her place in your Lordships’ House. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for enabling us to have this debate. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, there was nothing to disagree with in what he said. He drew attention to the excellent report from Shelter and he called for drastic and strategic action in his detailed analysis of the reasons why we need many more homes for social rent over the long term—two very important words.
As my noble friend Lady Grender said, all parties have failed over the past 30 years and we must start to work together. I entirely agreed when she said that the Treasury needs to be held to account in the spending review for investing in revenue subsidy through housing benefit at the cost of investing in social housing as part of our capital infrastructure.
The evidence given in support of the Motion has been there for all to hear in today’s debate. Despite a stream of government announcements over the past two to three years that they would act to solve the housing crisis, in practice, very little has been done to achieve it. The long-awaited Green Paper on social housing remains just a Green Paper.
The result is that today we have 320,000 people sleeping rough or living in temporary accommodation, which is a rise of 13,000 on the previous year. Local councils have to meet a bill of just under £1 billion to pay each year for temporary accommodation, and the social housing waiting list amounts to more than 1 million households. We have a private rented sector which now accommodates one household in five across the United Kingdom, up 50% in the past 10 years. As we have heard, we have a housing benefit bill that has risen to £21 billion today and, as I said, about which the Treasury seems to show little concern, when it could turn that current expenditure into capital infrastructure spending. Crucially, three times as many social homes have been sold in recent years as have been built.
In October, I led a debate in this House on affordable housing—that is, housing that is genuinely affordable. As I said then, the cost of home ownership can never be met by very large numbers of people. Average home prices are eight times annual workplace earnings; 20 years ago, the figure was just three and a half times. Private renters are now on average spending 41% of their income on housing, so saving becomes very difficult for them. Those figures come from the latest English Housing Survey.
The Government’s White Paper published in February 2017, called Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, stated:
“The starting point is to build more homes”.
Perhaps the Minister will note those words: it is about building more homes, not simply converting other dwellings outside the usual planning system, without the appropriate number of affordable homes being included, let alone social homes.
My noble friend Lady Thornhill pointed out the imbalance between government subsidy for owner occupation and for rent. As she said, the removal of the housing cap will help, but we cannot just leave it to local authorities. They need considerable subsidy and a real plan of action. They need the right to limit the right to buy, including the right to keep 100% of receipts from sales. There must be a debate about that issue because, as has been said, there is a real danger that local councils are simply being set up to fail.
The Chartered Institute of Housing, in a report in November 2018, said that £8 billion of government support is going into the private housing sector up to 2021, with half going into private owner occupation over that period, when social housing support is less than £2 billion a year. Two billion pounds is the sum of money that London-listed housebuilders declared as dividends in 2018. It is broadly the same sum as was spent by the Government to support social homes. I hope that noble Lords on all sides of the House will find themselves very concerned by those figures.
Help to Buy has finally been changed to assist only first-time buyers. As reports have shown, Help to Buy has encouraged higher house prices. A 2017 report from JP Morgan showed that it has led to higher profits, higher share prices, higher dividends and higher bonuses for builders. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, asked who would pay for this. I think that the answer lies in the debate we need to have about the balance between government subsidy of private housing and owner occupation and the cost of public housing and social housing. We should recognise that, in recent years, public money has been spent on subsidising owner occupation at the expense of building social homes for rent. Surely the time has come to redress that balance.
My noble friend Lord Greaves reminded us that council housing is one of the great success stories of the past century: locally provided for local people. He also reminded us of the originations of housing associations, which were similarly local. I agree with him: we must go back to greater local accountability in the provision of affordable housing. Mention has been made in the debate of the uplift in land value caused by planning permissions. Across all parties, there is huge concern about this matter; I hope that the Minister will be in a position to say something further on that. I am convinced that the Land Compensation Act 1961 must be amended, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, reminded us.
Now that the Shelter report is out, many other reports are out, all saying the same thing. We need a debate about the kind of social housing we want to build. It needs to be accessible. We need lifetime homes and decent space standards. We need to know where the social housing will go because different numbers are required in different parts of the country. Above all, we need an action plan for delivering solutions to the problem that has been identified so clearly. We need to think about key workers. We need to work out ways to reduce the high housing costs faced by so many people. We need a means to get young people on to the housing ladder. In saying that, I believe that we need a new generation of homes for social rent for those who need help with housing, such as key workers and those on low incomes, and for those for whom renting is a step on the ladder and who aspire to own their own home. I was very struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bird, who said that this should be about not just social housing but sociable housing. I concur.
In October, I said that our current housing crisis represents the biggest failure of public policy in the past 20 years. Today’s debate has shown that to be true. We have built more than 2 million too few homes across the UK, resulting in high prices, high rents, fewer social homes and serious difficulties for younger people wanting to buy their own home. One in five households is now in the private rented sector, where conditions can be very poor and tenure insecure. We have an imbalance and a major problem to solve. It is the duty of any Government to solve that problem.
My Lords, I thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Whitty on securing the debate. I draw the attention of the House to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Osamor on her excellent maiden speech; I look forward to hearing from her many more times. She brings a wealth of experience to our debates, as we heard today, and I am delighted to welcome her.
We all accept, I think, that we are in the middle of a housing crisis. Today’s debate is focused on the part of the housing crisis in which we see people in the most desperate need imaginable. You would have hoped that the Government would have focused their primary policy action there, but that is not the case and this failure is paid for by the taxpayer through increased housing benefit bills and other costs.
The Government understand that there is a problem. I accept entirely that successive Governments have not done as much as they should have. However, we have a crisis and despite all the evidence before them, the Government cannot bring themselves to take measures that would make a real difference to help those in the most desperate need and, at the same time, reduce costs and make housing more affordable for all, across all tenures. They are caught up in starter homes, pushing more right to buy with no programme for the replacement of the social homes lost, and the ridiculously named “affordable rent” model, which is totally unaffordable for many people. The result is a booming housing benefit bill and an increasing private rented sector with no real support for local authorities to deal with the rogues that operate at the bad end of the market; I am well aware that many excellent private landlords also want the rogues dealt with.
We need to hear more from the Government on a real commitment to building more social homes on proper social rents: a commitment that also involves housing associations being enabled to do the same and being encouraged to live up to and return to their founding principles—a commitment to make housing costs cheaper for everyone, whatever the tenure. The noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, raised the issue of community trusts and offsite-manufactured housing. I agree with her that such initiatives can make an important contribution to housing needs. I also think that the co-operative sector could play a much bigger role in an expanded sector, providing much-needed social homes where tenants have direct and real control over their homes.
The Prime Minister deserves credit for dropping—certainly quietly forgetting about—some of the worst provisions of the dreaded Housing and Planning Act, which must be a contender for one of the worst pieces of legislation. Written on the back of a cigarette packet, it was the biggest piece of ideological rubbish brought forward by the Government in recent years. We will all be better off for a commitment from the Government. I just do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to do more of what could make a real difference. To be fair, the Government have taken a positive step with the lifting of the borrowing cap to enable councils to build more homes. I congratulate them on that, but we need local authorities to be able to keep 100% of the receipts for council homes sold under right to buy. The Government should at least do that, if they are not going to suspend right to buy, as has happened in Scotland and Wales.
I want to see a rise in home ownership but not a decline in the council homes available for rent. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was right to point out that the intent behind the right-to-buy policy was probably to increase home ownership, but 40 years on many of those homes have found their way into the private rented sector and, in an act of madness, councils are having to rent back the homes they sold in the first place at vastly increased prices. It is a matter of regret for us all.
As I have told the House before, like my noble friends Lord Bassam and Lady Donaghy, I grew up in council properties; in my case, in the Borough of Southwark, on the Aylesbury and Pelier estates, which are very close to where the noble Lord, Lord Hayward—he is on his place on the Government Benches—now lives. The properties I lived in as a child were warm, safe and dry; they were good for our family and helped us to thrive, as the noble Lord, Lord Porter, made reference to in his speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Bird, was absolutely right when he described council housing in the 1960s and 1970s, and my own experience was very similar. We had teachers, office workers, young families, retired people and unemployed people all living together. That is not the situation now on many of our council estates. Moving forward to today, I and all my siblings are home owners and we recognise how lucky we were as children to have a decent home to live in. My noble friend Lord Sawyer was right to say that the story now is often one of pain, misery and suffering. I think that life is very tough for people with young families trying to make ends meet while paying the market rent for a private rented property or, as I have said, the unaffordable affordable rent model. The year before last, I actually wrote an article for the Fabian Society about how living in a council home had helped my family to thrive. At this point, I should mention that I serve on the executive committee of the society.
Looking at government statistics, we have new housing completions in 2017-18 reaching 163,000, a 16% increase on the previous year, but looking at the figures in detail, only 27,410 were built by housing associations and just 1,700 by local authorities. One must ask how many of those homes that were built in the social sector will be let at truly affordable rents. I fear not enough, even among the small number of homes being built.
The noble Lord, Lord Fraser of Corriegarth, made an interesting contribution, although I did not agree with very much of it. However, I agree with him that prevention is better than cure, but to deliver that we need to see more initiatives, policies and resources being targeted at prevention; otherwise, the taxpayer and society as a whole will pay many times over for this policy failure. We need to deal with the problem in the first place.
The removal of the borrowing cap is obviously welcome, but that on its own will produce around only an additional 9,000 homes each year, nowhere near the 100,000 social homes that I believe need to be built every year to deal with this problem. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe made the point about the need for new social homes to be genuinely affordable. As I said earlier in my contribution, this is a really important point.
Can the noble Lord tell the House whether the Government will look at removing housing borrowing from contributing to public debt? What plans do they have for local authorities with no housing revenue account to enable them to access borrowing in order to build homes to meet local housing need? The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, also made a good point about looking at making more use of brownfield sites. We need to do much more of that.
One of the most shocking things we have seen in recent years is the rising number of people who are homeless. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford paid tribute to the work of churches and faith communities in supporting homeless people, and I join with him in paying my own tribute. Homelessness is of course in plain sight outside this Palace. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe told the House about the homeless person who last year died literally feet away from this House. I think that that is absolutely tragic. Indeed, you cannot walk from a mainline station to get to the Palace without seeing homeless people sitting in doorways through these bitterly cold nights. It is a shocking and shameful scandal that has grown substantially since 2010. Despite the Homelessness Reduction Act, unless we provide realistic money to local authorities to pay for interventions and thus deliver on their new obligations, what is a well-intentioned piece of legislation will not have the impact it could have to help towards solving the tragedy of homelessness.
I also think that housing policy and good intentions are often frustrated by the work of other departments and a lack of joined-up thinking across government. This is a trap that all Governments can fall into. I think that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions need to be looked at carefully to see the damage that they are inflicting on other government programmes and initiatives. Can the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, tell the House how the policy decisions and proposals are discussed across government in order to avoid these problems?
In conclusion, I thank my noble friend for bringing this Motion before us. It has been an excellent debate with great contributions from across the House. We all want to solve this problem and we want to support the Government in doing that.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very constructive debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just said. In particular I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for choosing it and for introducing it with a very eloquent non rant.
It is almost 40 years since my first speech as a housing Minister in 1981. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, was then working for the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union prior to running the Labour Party. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was a Newcastle city councillor keeping tabs on the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who was entering his middle period as the leader, and a youthful noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was waiting to be able to vote in his first general election. Affordable housing was a priority for the Government then and it remains a priority for the Government today.
It was during my time as a housing Minister in the 1980s that I met the noble Baroness, Lady Osamor. She was campaigning for the renovation of the Broadwater Farm estate and, as important, for the empowerment of the local community and an improvement in its relations with the local authority and with central government. I remember meeting community leaders, of whom she was one, and the charismatic Dolly Kiffin. It is good to renew her acquaintance after all those years. I commend her on her speech and look forward to her future contributions.
An occasional partisan note has crept into our debate. As noble Lords know, I am the least partisan of Ministers. Perhaps I may just put one or two statistics before your Lordships to redress the balance; this debate is about social housing. Between 1997 and 2010, the stock of social housing fell by 420,000. Since 2010, the overall stock of social housing has increased by 79,000. Some 12,440 local authority dwellings were built between 2010-11 and 2017-18, up from 2,920 over the previous 13 years. The briefing we all got from the Home Builders Federation said that housing output was up by 78% in the last five years and that the supply has risen to its fourth highest level since 1971. For the year ending March 2018, the planning system granted permission for 359,000 new homes. There is more in my brief which I will not deploy because I want to answer the debate and because we are in no way complacent about the task ahead.
I would like to make two general points about social housing. First, there has been much emphasis on the need for more housing at social rents, a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Shipley, as opposed to affordable rents. I understand the case, but there is a trade-off between rent levels on the one hand and the number of homes that can be built on the other. For the sake of argument, let us assume that an extra £1 billion became available. On average across England, we would expect either to build 12,500 homes at social rents or twice that number—25,000—at affordable rents: double the number of homes to house those in housing need. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of social housing tenants receive housing benefit to support the payment of their rent. So I understand why housing Ministers want to maximise supply, and I plead guilty to this. More recently, the Government have recognised the case for social rents in areas of high demand, a point made in this debate, and we have turned the dial back to provide a minimum of 12,500 new social rent homes. But those who call for a major reversion to traditional social rents must recognise the cost in lost output, and that is true whatever the level of investment available.
The second general point is one that has not been made at all in this debate: if you are in housing need, of course the number of new social homes built is relevant and the more the better. But someone in housing need is eight times more likely to be rehoused through a re-let of an existing social home, than through a new home. So increasing the number of re-lets is a key ingredient in helping those in need. Without changing the rules on security of tenure, I am all in favour of a dialogue between social landlords and their tenants where the tenants’ circumstances have improved substantially, partly as a result of having a decent home, so that they are now in a position to consider home ownership and explore Help to Buy, shared ownership, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and other home ownership options.
That is also why I have always been a keen supporter of portable discounts—basically, turning the discount that a social tenant is entitled to under right to buy into cash so that the tenant can buy a home. It has a number of benefits. It widens the choice of home that the tenant can buy beyond just the one he is in. It secures a re-let at a fraction of the cost of new build, and of course it does so more quickly. Moreover, it does not erode the stock of social houses, a point made by many noble Lords. The concept is being tested through the current voluntary right-to-buy pilot for housing association tenants in the Midlands; the discounts are funded by central government. I hope housing associations consider whether this has a greater role to play in tackling waiting lists.
On this, and in response to points made by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I was interested to read in last week’s Inside Housing an article by Mark Henderson, the chief executive of Home Group, supporting voluntary right to buy. He said that 87% of his tenants wanted to own their own homes. He went on to say:
“At Home Group, for example, we want to go a step further”,
than the national federation’s offer of replacing one for one.
“We will be able to build two homes for every home sold, including at least one for social or affordable rent. This means that”,
voluntary right to buy,
“will lead to a net increase in the amount of affordable homes in an area, alongside helping customers achieve their aspirations of homeownership”.
I hope other housing associations might consider following his lead.
This brings me to right to buy and the points made by many of those who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the use of right-to-buy receipts. Since the reform of the housing revenue account and the introduction of self-financing in April 2012, a proportion of receipts is paid to the Treasury to reflect the reduction in the amount owed to the Treasury and as part of the self-financing settlement, but also to tackle the budget deficit. However, noble Lords will know that we have just undertaken a consultation on the use of right-to-buy receipts. We are considering the responses and how to take these forward. I will ensure that all the points made by noble Lords about more flexibility and the use of capital receipts are taken on board before we come to a final decision on that. Capital receipts could be used for the purposes the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, suggested, namely, regenerating existing local housing stock. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked whether local authorities that have transferred their stock can borrow. Yes, they can. They can borrow through their general fund in line with the prudential code. If they want to, they can then on-loan to a third party for housing development.
I turn to rough sleeping, a topic covered by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lawrence and Lady Warwick, and others. Many referred to the tragic death of a rough sleeper on our own doorstep a few weeks ago. Under the first rough sleepers initiative, which was launched in 1990 and which my noble friend Lord Garel-Jones mentioned, the number of people sleeping rough in central London fell by more than half—from an estimated more than 1,000 before the initiative began to around 420 in November 1992. The model was taken forward by the incoming Labour Government and extended to other parts of the country, but the challenge today is as acute as ever.
In response to my noble friend, there are four ingredients to a successful strategy. The first is prevention. The Homelessness Reduction Act, backed by £1.2 billion and piloted through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, should give people the help they need earlier and reduce homelessness. Secondly, we need outreach workers with the skills to build up confidence and trust with the rough sleepers and persuade them to abandon that lifestyle. Thirdly, we need direct access hostels with all the necessary support services such as health—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister—and the resources to deal with the underlying problems. Fourthly, we need move-on accommodation so that people can put their lives back together and re-enter the mainstream.
I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford in praising those who do heroic work: Centrepoint, The Passage, St Mungo’s and Change Grow Live. Initiatives such as No Second Night Out are particularly important and worthy of support. I pay tribute and wish every success to my ministerial colleague in the department, Heather Wheeler, committing to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and—in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer—end it completely by 2027. It is an ambitious agenda, backed up by £100 million in funding for the first two years, and in December we published a delivery plan showing how we intend to deliver on the 61 commitments made.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for his contribution outlining the consequences of ending rent control. When I bought my copy of the Big Issue today from Phil in Great Peter Street, he asked to be remembered to the noble Lord. Phil suggested that those in the Victoria area who are recruiting staff could do well to call in on the nearby hostel where Phil stays, where they would find some motivated and hard-working employees who deserve a break, like him.
Many noble Lords spoke about encouraging local authorities to build, and we want to see councils deliver a new generation of homes. We have abolished the housing revenue account cap, and my noble friend Lord Porter deserves credit for the role he has played in securing that freedom. We hope that will enable them to double delivery to around 10,000 homes per year by 2021-22.
The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, criticised stock transfer, when a local authority transfers its stock to a housing association. This can happen only where the tenants have voted for it. In many cases, after they voted for it, the regeneration of a stock took place at a faster rate than would have taken place under the local authority— so I do not think that is a fair criticism of housing policy.
Removing the borrowing cap will help to diversify the housebuilding market, with councils better able to take on projects and sites that private developers might consider too small. To further help councils build, we are providing a longer-term rent deal for five years from 2020 that provides local authorities with a stable investment environment to deliver the new homes.
I was struck by the phrase “long-term” in the noble Lord’s Motion—a challenge to all Administrations accused of short-termism. I agree with him that if we are to make faster progress we need to give those who supply social housing greater certainty. That is why in September the Prime Minister announced a £2 billion long-term funding pilot, starting in 2022, which will boost affordable housing by giving housing associations the long-term certainty they need and will move away from the stop/start delivery that has characterised previous approaches to funding. This funding certainty makes it more viable for the larger housing associations—many noble Lords have key roles to play in housing associations—to take risks and invest in more ambitious projects and larger sites, with the funding guaranteed beyond the current spending review.
We recognise that our commitment to increase the supply of homes requires a modern construction industry—a point raised by my noble friend Lady Bloomfield, who talked about off-site construction. The strategic partnerships we are developing with housing associations are being used to promote modern methods of construction. This is supported by our £4.5 billion home building fund providing support to builders using modern methods of construction, which will, we hope, help to address the shortage of skilled on-site construction workers in addition to encouraging custom builders and new entrants to the market.
My noble friend Lord Garel-Jones suggested that we should build up rather than along and pointed to the difference between our cities and many in Europe. It so happens that yesterday the Secretary of State for Housing announced that, as part of a fresh initiative, 78 homes will be built on London’s rooftops by the summer after Homes England agreed a £9 million funding deal with Apex Airspace Development. This follows our revised NPPF supporting opportunities to use the airspace above existing buildings. These will be built off-site then winched into position to minimise disruption to existing residents.
Many noble Lords referred to poor standards in the private rented sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, asked about selective licensing, which is basically a scheme to drive up standards and safety in the private rented sector, where they are known to be poor. Last year, at the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I got up very early one morning and went to Newham with the noble Lord, the Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, and the police to see how selective licensing was enforced—basically, by going into premises that are as yet unlicensed but suspected of being tenanted. What struck me—and, I am sure, the noble Lord—was the appalling conditions many tenants were living in, paying extortionate rents, but also the sensitivity of the team from Newham in explaining to frightened tenants exactly what was going on and what their rights were. I was deeply impressed that morning.
Since 2015, eight schemes have been approved by the Secretary of State for Housing: one was rejected but it then successfully reapplied. In response to the noble Baroness, a review is under way: we are due to publish it in the spring and I will make sure that the chartered institute report to which she referred is fed into it before we come to any conclusions.
My noble friend Lady Bloomfield raised a number of important points on planning, investment and construction. Last year we updated the NPPF to tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas across the country. The framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing needs of their local communities. We are working closely with other government departments and local authorities to identify and free up public sector land to maximise the amount of affordable housing built on it. The community trust partnership mentioned by my noble friend is one model that can help bring private sector investment alongside local authorities and provide experience to increase affordable housing.
One of the key points that has arisen during the debate—which I will certainly raise with the Secretary of State—was the cost of land and the Land Compensation Act 1961. At the moment we have the CIL, the infrastructure levy, and Section 106, both of which seek to capture the value of land. Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lords, Lord Shipley, Lord Best and Lord Judd, said that we ought to go further and do more. We are committed to capturing increases in land values to reinvest in local infrastructure, central services and further housing. That is why we are at the moment making important changes to ensure that the existing mechanisms for securing funding for infrastructure and affordable housing work as effectively as possible. I take seriously the comments and suggestions made during the debate.
I am conscious that I will not be able to get through everything in the time available but, quickly, on public sector land, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the aim of the programme is to release land with a capacity for at least 160,000 homes in England from the central government estate by 1 March 2020. The noble Baroness asked what the percentage of affordable might be. The answer is, as I think she knows, that local authorities set their own percentages in their local plan. It is a matter for them, having assessed local need, to judge what should happen on new developments.
On supported housing, I was interested in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Healy. There is a need for specialist and other supportable, affordable housing for older and vulnerable members of society. We have delivered 34,000 new supported homes in England since 2011 and, together with the Department for Health and Social Care, we continue to make funding available for investment in new supported housing. Our announcement last summer that the housing costs for supported housing would continue to be made by housing benefit has been greatly reassuring to those active in the market. I hope it will be welcomed by the sector and unlock fresh investment.
I apologise for not dealing with all the questions. I have many good replies in front of me which, sadly, I do not have time to read out but which I will answer.
The Government support the case for delivering more affordable housing and are committed to doing so. We want to support the delivery of the right homes, be they for rent, ownership or supported housing in the right places. We have listened to the sector and to today’s debate. We have introduced a number of measures to create a more stable investment environment. We have abolished the HRA borrowing caps; announced longer-term funding; increased our affordable homes programme to £9 billion; announced social rent funding; and set long-term rent certainty. We are not complacent but now is the time for councils and housing associations to step up and deliver the affordable housing that communities need. I thank all noble Lords again for their contributions to this debate.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. I particularly appreciated the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Osamor.
Until the Minister spoke, I was going to say that we have a wide consensus in this House. I know the Minister’s heart is with that consensus but he felt obliged to read out—unusually for him—large chunks of his report to defend the Government’s position. However, all Governments have failed on this front and we are faced with a colossal problem. We are in the midst of an enormous housing crisis in general and we will not get out of it without a substantial contribution from council housing.
Yes, that has to be afforded and directed towards the priority areas. The noble Lord, Lord Fraser, asked where the money was coming from. There is a huge amount of money effectively being wasted in housing benefit, which, over a 20-year strategy—if the Treasury was slightly more strategic and intelligent—we could begin to transfer back into building and improving the fabric of housing available to everyone.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Bird, reminded us that social housing has to be sociable and the right reverend Prelate said that this is all about community, which it is—absolutely. This is not only about individuals but about community. For social housing to meet the needs of people and to become a community, it must be available to more than those who are emergency and urgent cases. That used to be the case and should be again.
Some words have changed their meaning. The word “affordable”, in relation to rent, rapidly needs replacing. I do not disagree with some of what the Minister said but it means that the exorbitant rents that exist in the private sector are now reflected for new tenants in the social sector as well. That is not going to solve any problems.
Finally, as my noble friend Lord Sawyer, said, we are in danger of exacerbating the gap in our society between those who own and those who rent. I would remind my noble friend Lord Sawyer that the most important football result was Millwall 3, Everton 2. However, he makes an important point.
There are wider issues than bricks and mortar in housing—wider even than the safe and secure conditions we seek—because housing has an impact on health, our society as a whole and the dreadful scourge of homelessness. I remind the House that Nye Bevan was Minister for Health and Housing and it may be that a broader remit for the Ministers and the civil servants involved in this field is necessary. For the moment, I thank everyone who has participated and broadly supported the recommendations of the Shelter report. I beg to move.