The past few months working on amendments for the Housing and Planning Bill has been an intense period as I have pressed for positive changes to the bill. Some of you may of have noticed I have been a bit slower than normal with my replies to your queries, so I appreciate your understanding and things should be getting back to normal soon!
On Tuesday, the bill left the House of Commons making its way to debate in the House of Lords. Unfortunately, despite the key questions raised and amendments put forth by the Labour Party, a huge opportunity to help ordinary families struggling with a national housing shortage and lack of affordability is being missed.
The Tories chose not to adopt most of our amendments which is a great shame as they would have improved what is a really awful bill. No bill with such wide ramifications for the welfare of people across England and Wales should be pushed through the House of Commons at such a quick pace without due process for consideration and review.
The Housing and Planning Bill, leaving the Report Stage in its current form, has several devastating measures that will affect the future of affordable housing. Secure tenancies for life will be ended, councils will be forced to sell off high-value stock without a proper guarantee of replacement, and a precedent for a new dangerous definition of affordable housing will be set with the introduction of starter homes.
According to Shelter, starter homes will be unaffordable to families earning average income in more than half of local authorities across England by 2020. While I am not against starter homes, this measure will take the attention off of desperately needed affordable housing to low and middle-income people. The Government has altered the definition of ‘affordable’ housing through a new clause to the bill, added late in the day, which meant that it went without effective Parliamentary scrutiny. This is an appalling way to make policy that will significantly alter the life chances of many people.
Whilst we weren’t against the right-to-buy in principle, what Labour was trying to do was achieve one-for-one, like-for-like replacement in the same area. Unfortunately, the Government rejected an entire set of amendments we proposed that would have ensured this. What the Tories chose to do instead was a policy of two-for-one replacement for each council home sold. However, this policy is not what it seems. The replacement could inadvertently turn out to be two starter homes valued up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 outside London, which will be unaffordable to most. For families earning the National Living Wage, only starter homes in two percent of local authorities will be affordable.
The Tory government must stop hiding behind the false rhetoric of helping low and middle-income people into homeownership. Their bill will do no such thing! Under David Cameron’s watch, housing investment has been cut in half since 2010 with the lowest amount of homes built since the Second World War and new plans have been announced to demolish an already scarce supply of affordable housing. With councils being forced to sell of their highest value homes and the reintroduction of right-to-buy, more than 190,000 council homes will be lost by 2020, or one of every eight council homes.
Even worse, the Tories voted down an amendment that would have required landlords to ensure homes are fit for human habitation. How can a government deny such a basic right to adequate shelter for its people? The government also refused an amendment that would have addressed the end of secure tenancies in England and Wales. Secure tenancies are critical for the stability of families and children. As I can attest to from my own personal experience growing up in a council home, security of tenure leads to a stable education which can make for greater opportunities for social mobility later in life.
I understand the dangers this bill will have for my constituents. In the North, homelessness is on the rise as people face increased financial instability, paying a higher proportion of their income in rent or mortgage payments. Recent figures from Shelter reveal that 1.8 million people this month across the North of England will have problems to pay their rent or mortgage and heat their home, often having to choose between the two.
As the Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning, I have worked tirelessly to urge the government to consider amendments that could have helped those with the most need into housing. I have heard the many concerns from my constituents about the Bill and will continue in my efforts to push government for a housing policy that addresses the needs of all, not just the select few! Labour will continue to introduce amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords, carry on scrutinising the Government’s failure to truly tackle the problem at hand, and will put forward a comprehensive plan for housing.
I will be sure to continue paying attention to your concerns as I work towards securing a truly equitable future for housing.