In the debate on Monday, Tim Farron MP argued against the Government’s plans to dismantle social housing by selling off council homes calling it an “all-out assault on social and affordable housing”.
He said: "We have a national emergency in housing. Millions of people suffer daily from poor housing, or from the uncertainty of not knowing where they will be living from one month to the next and whether they can send their children to the same school one term after the next. Across the country, we have soaring house prices several times higher than a median earner can afford, and a rental sector in which many people spend over half their income on rent."
He went on to outline a Liberal Democrat vision for delivering the house-building that Britain needs and tackling problems such as second homes.
The full text of the speech is below:
Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). I politely differ from his colleague, the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). As a Member of Parliament for a constituency in the north of England, where the average house price is 12 times the average income, I would say that this is clearly a national problem. Of course it varies in different areas, but we have a national emergency, even, in housing. Millions of people suffer daily from poor housing, or from the uncertainty of not knowing where they will be living from one month to the next and whether they can send their children to the same school one term after the next. Across the country, we have soaring house prices several times higher than a median earner can afford, and a rental sector in which many people spend over half their income on rent.
There is a need for Government, first, to show that they understand this emergency, and then to show the ambition to make real change that improves people’s lives. However, this Bill is disappointing and unambitious at best, and brutal and counter-productive at worst. It does not make a significant attempt to tackle the housing crisis or show any signs of being written by anyone who even understands that crisis. Instead, it is an all-out assault on social and affordable housing at the very time when those homes are most needed. It seems to be driven by a narrow, dogmatic belief that home ownership is the only thing that matters in housing, and it demonstrates a total absence of any grasp of the real issues facing families in housing need in in Britain. It will have long-term consequences in breaking up communities through selling off homes, and those consequences will be damaging and irreversible.
The Bill barely even addresses those crucial issues and certainly does not tackle them. It forces councils to sell off higher-value homes and makes no commitment to replace homes sold off under the extension of right to buy to housing association tenants. It allows developers off the hook from providing affordable homes and instead prioritises so-called starter homes that were not affordable in the first place and certainly will not be after their first owner. While it has positive aspects on rogue landlords and speeding up planning processes, it is mostly an eclectic jumble of initiatives that miss the point of the housing emergency before us.
Access to housing is fundamental to our liberties, our opportunities, and our hopes for the future; that applies to every person here. We therefore need a positive vision for housing that meets existing needs and gives security to the most vulnerable. We need more homes of all tenures—affordable homes that must live up to their name and be genuinely affordable. We need an ambitious plan that increases home-building to 300,000 properties a year, that is forward-thinking, and that sets us up for the low-carbon future that is essential for the sustainability of our planet.
The Liberal Democrat vision is based on understanding this emergency and having ambitions to solve it. It is a vision of 10 new garden cities strategically placed where new communities can grow and thrive; of empowering councils to manage their housing stock effectively, enabling them to borrow what they can and build what they need; of stimulating private sector investment in housing through the creation of a housing investment bank; of supporting and sustaining rural communities to ensure that young families can afford to continue living in the place they call home; of strengthening local communities by bringing empty homes back into use; and of tackling the excessive second home ownership that damages communities in rural areas such as the west country and Cumbria.
Instead of that, this Bill will cause the break-up of communities as homes sold off under right to buy and the forced sale of council homes are lost to local people. Its provisions will significantly reduce the number of social and affordable homes, leading in turn to a rise in homelessness and adding to the already huge waiting lists totalling 1.6 million people. With more people in expensive temporary accommodation or in the private rented sector because there are not enough affordable homes, there will be extra costs for the housing benefit bill.
The flaws in this Bill are clear and the unintended consequences are extensive. Britain needs a radical, ambitious, compassionate housing policy that addresses the needs of supply and affordability and strengthens, not dismantles, communities. This Bill is worse than a wasted opportunity. It will inexcusably make the housing emergency worse. That is why we will oppose the Bill tonight and speak up for the millions for whom the housing emergency is not a political issue, but a daily reality.