Yesterday the House of Commons debated a Conservative Party motion on housing waiting lists:
That this House notes that social housing waiting lists have increased to a record 1.8 million families, over 4.5 million people, over the last 12 months; recognises that the Government’s policies have reduced levels of house-building across all tenures; cautions that the number of families waiting for social housing is rising to record figures; expresses serious concern that the number of children living in temporary accommodation has doubled in the last 10 years; warns that the Government’s changes to the system for counting rough sleepers will drastically under-estimate the problem; further notes that the Government’s top-down policies with regard to housing have strangled it with red tape; and is concerned about the implications of the Government’s housing policies for the future supply of housing in general and for families and the most vulnerable in society in particular.
The full debate can be found on Hansard and ran from 12.41pm to 4pm at which point the Conservative’s motion was rejected by 311 votes to 229. There are some very well informed and some not so well informed comments during the debate (in this context Sir George Young, a former Housing Minister, described the Times report on the tenants incentive scheme as “badly informed”, echoing the earlier criticism on this very site).
In typical Westminster style the Conservatives blamed everything on Labour and Labour in turn said that the whole situation is the Conservative’s fault, but amidst all the party politics there were some very good speeches and analysis of the issues from all parties. Yes, even some of them.
Obviously right to buy got a general kicking, but some other brief highlights that jumped out at me were: criticism of the various “homebuy” schemes; a call for reform of mortgage law and for the pre-action protocol to be given some ‘teeth’; s 106 will not help much in the near future; and the target of 3 million new homes by 2020 is still on. Carbon emissions of housing was also raised several times. For more on that see the consultations on Heat and Energy Saving Strategy and Community Energy Saving Programme at the DECC.
Unsurprisingly the Government’s amendment was adopted at the end of it all:
That this House notes that the Government is investing over £8 billion between 2008 and 2011 to increase the supply of social and affordable housing, has invested over £29 billion since 1997 to bring social housing up to a decent standard and has made £205 million available for a mortgage rescue scheme to support the most vulnerable home owners facing repossession so they can remain in their home; further notes that there has been a 74 per cent. reduction in rough sleeping since 1998, that the long term use of bed and breakfast accommodation as temporary accommodation for families provided under the homelessness legislation has ended and that since 2003 the number of people who have been accepted as owed a main duty under the homelessness legislation has reduced by 60 per cent.; further notes that the Government has helped more than 110,000 households into low cost home ownership since 2001; believes that the introduction of enhanced housing options services provides tailored housing advice reflecting a household’s individual circumstances while choice-based lettings schemes give social housing applicants greater choice over where they want to live; and further believes that the Government has taken measures to make best use of the social housing stock such as tackling overcrowding and under-occupation.
Elsewhere the Council of Mortgage Lenders has reported that mortgage lending has hit its lowest level of activity since 1974 and first time buyers in December 2008 had a typical deposit of 22%, the highest proportion noted in 34 years of available date. No real surprises, but a stark reminder of the way things are and why tackling problems in social housing is arguably more important now than ever.