Thursday 25th April 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
Moved by
Viscount Chandos Portrait Viscount Chandos
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That this House takes note of the supply of genuinely affordable housing, its impact on the economy, and the steps needed to increase supply, particularly for key workers and those on lower incomes.

Viscount Chandos Portrait Viscount Chandos (Lab)
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My Lords, 105 years ago, Lloyd George made a commitment to building houses for those returning from the horrors of the First World War—“homes fit for heroes”—central to the general election campaign immediately following the armistice. The heroes we have applauded more recently, while never forgetting the bravery and dedication of our Armed Forces, have been the NHS workers who through the Covid pandemic displayed a courage and commitment to public service no less than those in the military. Covid’s evolution from pandemic to endemic has not relieved the pressure on the NHS and its workers, who are still widely regarded as heroes in their care for patients. However, for many of them, and other individuals and families on low incomes, truly affordable housing is as scarce as it was for those returning from the front in 1918.

I am privileged to have the opportunity to introduce this debate today on affordable housing, even if it is depressing to confront the sheer scale of the problem. I am conscious of the profound knowledge and experience that other speakers today have in this field, and I am very grateful that they will bring their expertise to bear on this problem. I am truly delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, has chosen today’s debate in which to make her maiden speech, which I look forward to hearing.

There is rarely a day when the problems of the housing market are not central to public debate and news coverage. This week, the Nationwide Foundation and the Church of England led a powerful group of organisations and individuals in the publication of Homes for All: A Vision for England’s Housing System with wide-ranging analysis and suggested priorities, to which a cross-party group of your Lordships contributed.

Much of that debate was around the overall housing market, rather than the affordable and social sectors on which we are focused today. Of course, this overall market is not just relevant to the affordable and social sectors; it is the context for and driver of the underlying problem. If housing costs generally were not so high in the UK, then market rents and purchase prices would be affordable further down the scale of household incomes.

One vivid illustration of the underlying problem has been given by Paul Cheshire, professor emeritus of economic geography at the LSE. In 1955, a dozen eggs cost a little under six shillings—how nostalgic it is to express it in the currency of my childhood—or 28 pence in this newfangled decimal currency. If the price of eggs had increased in the subsequent 50 years or so at the same level as the price of housing land, the price of a dozen eggs today would have risen to £91.

The sclerotic and political planning system lies at the heart of the shortage of housing land and its consequent eye-watering price. I welcome the Labour Party’s clearly and rigorously defined intention to reform the planning system. Even if, later this year, the electorate choose to give the Labour Party a mandate to push through its planning reforms, the need for more affordable and social homes will remain. Even if, in time, a Labour Government can address low pay and the position of those who—through no fault of their own—are on benefits, there will still be a need for more affordable housing.

I promised myself not to overload my remarks with figures, but there are a few which are inescapable in illustrating the scale of the problem. There are 1.2 million individuals or families on local authority waiting lists for social housing. More than 100,000 are in temporary accommodation. Over the 10 years to 2021, the completion of affordable and social homes averaged 50,000 a year. Critically, during this period, homes built for social rent—defined as 65% or less of market rent—fell from around half of that figure to one-fifth. Affordable rent—80% of market rent, which represents a still intolerable burden on the lowest-income households—has become the largest part of this broad sector. The remaining category of shared or low-cost ownership is likely to be way out of reach for those lowest-income households.

In 2019, the Social Housing Commission calculated that more than 3 million social homes needed to be built within 20 years to meet needs—that is more than 150,000 a year. The Bramley paper for the National Housing Federation and Crisis made its own analysis. It reached a very similar figure of 145,000 per year. Is this mission impossible? The challenge, should we accept it, is to triple the level of affordable and social housing built annually, compared to that achieved in the past decade, and to ensure that, of the almost universally accepted total housebuilding target of 300,000 per year, 50% should comprise affordable and social homes, compared to the 25% in recent years.

Should we accept this challenge? Yes, of course we should. Let us unlock our inner Ethan Hunts and Ilsa Fausts and accept this challenge. If we do not, we condemn hundreds of thousands of individuals and families to a life of financial hardship, anxiety and distress. Most importantly, the provision of affordable housing contributes to the well-being, happiness and mental health of individuals and families who are otherwise living insecurely in overcrowded and substandard conditions, while paying a disproportionate share of their income for the privilege.

In addition, there is clear evidence of a wider economic benefit from improved productivity, better workforce participation, greater rates of innovation and, critically, improved provision of public services, in which so many lower earners work—which takes us back to where we came in. These economic benefits—GDP and tax revenue enhancement, and cost savings on temporary accommodation from reduced reliance on short-term agency workers, for instance—in the medium to long term at least mitigate the cost of increased investment in affordable and social housing. In the shorter term, though, there is inevitably an up-front financial cost, as well as the challenge of executing such an expanded building programme cost-effectively and as fast as possible.

I was thinking, “There is no silver bullet”. That reminded me of a consulting firm, a micro-McKinsey that I worked with in the past, rather wonderfully named by its founder the Silver Bullet Machine Manufacturing Company, with the emphasis on the word “machine”. The point that the founder was making in a drily humorous way was that looking for a random large single silver bullet to solve a problem is vanishingly unlikely to be successful, whereas establishing a system or process that identifies and utilises a number of smaller silver bullets is far more likely to be productive.

Central government, local government, housing associations and the private sector each need to play their part and, if necessary, need to be empowered to do so. It should be a true mixed economy. Each party may act alone in some cases or in partnership in others. Each has challenges. Local authorities rightfully aspire to the central role that they have had historically, but the restrictions on their ability to reinvest the proceeds from right to buy over the years have significantly reduced their financial firepower. The increase from 40% to 50% retention recently announced by the Government is welcome, but why not 100%?

The reduction in building activity over the past 45 years, exacerbated by the vicious cuts in local government funding by Conservative or Conservative-led Governments since 2010, has left many local authority housing departments atrophied. It will take time for them to be rebuilt, even under a more enlightened central government regime, particularly as planning departments also need strengthening in many cases.

Housing associations are limited in their capacity to build new homes by their inability to raise equity funding, limits on their gearing levels and the capital investment required to maintain their existing stock. They can still contribute directly and significantly to the 150,000 new affordable homes a year that are needed, but also, vitally, as partners, particularly to private funders and providers and as managers of homes owned and/or developed by others.

The private sector encompasses landowners, commercial developers, the construction industry and specialist, mostly private affordable housing funds and investors. I will touch on landowners in a moment but will otherwise speak briefly about the specialist funds. If there is not to be a Trussian renouncement of all discipline in public borrowing, which your Lordships will know would not happen under my right honourable friend the shadow Chancellor, private equity capital is needed to play its part in achieving the challenging targets for new homes—not just the capital but the development skills as well.

PFI and private equity’s role in the utility industries, notably the water industry, understandably cause concern at the prospect of private capital playing a larger part in the affordable housing sector. We should learn from this history. In the water industry, there has been a toxic combination of a disgracefully weak regulator and unfettered, aggressive maximisation of financial returns by some private equity houses. On the one hand, the Government and Parliament must ensure that the regulator for social housing is strong and robust. On the other, the specialist funds need to behave in a responsible way. I believe this is not a forlorn hope in the light of these funds’ culture and central position in the ESG and sustainable investing movement. We should also ensure that net zero is embedded in all they do.

Finally, central government must drive and co-ordinate all of this, and provide the funding for the grants to local authorities, housing authorities and private funders alike, which are needed to deliver the homes at affordable and social rents. It has to be recognised that much of these subsidies will be for the southern half of England, given that this is where the gap between market and affordable rents is greatest. This needs to be reconciled with levelling-up ambitions.

Should landowners provide more of that subsidy through the imposition of more ambitious Section 106 conditions without choking off the supply of land? That would require cross-party agreement about a long-term policy to remove the incentive for landowners to hang on and hope that a future Government will introduce a more advantageous regime.

A friend with long experience in both the housing association and private sectors said to me this week, “Remember the two Harolds”. Not the two Ronnies, but the fact that only under Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson in recent history have there been material state-driven expansions of affordable housing. My right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition may not be called Harold, although though he is a strong admirer of the Labour Harold’s career. I am confident, though, that he and my right honourable friend Angela Rayner would become honorary Harolds if a Labour Government were elected. I am sorry that we will not have the opportunity to hear today from many latter-day Macmillans from the Back Benches opposite, but I hope the Minister’s reply will make up for that.

Lord Best Portrait Lord Best (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for initiating this debate, I congratulate him on an excellent opening speech, and I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes.

The background to our debate is a rather frightening recent deterioration in the availability of affordable housing. I have just seen the figures out earlier this month, showing a rise of 21,000 children now living in temporary accommodation. The figure has risen from 121,000 to 142,000 over the last five quarters. Temporary accommodation is the best barometer of acute shortages. It is also a hugely expensive alternative to having a sufficient supply of genuinely affordable housing, to use the noble Viscount’s phrase, which is seriously compounding local authorities’ budgetary problems.

The simple reason why tens of thousands of children are being expensively and inappropriately housed in temporary accommodation is that there is just not enough housing to go round. The UK has not been building new homes at an equivalent rate to other European nations. If we had achieved the average new-build output for all members of the European Union, the Centre for Cities estimates that we would have an additional 4.3 million homes nationwide. When there is an overall shortage, it is, of course, those on the lowest incomes who are hardest hit.

The independent Affordable Housing Commission, which reported in 2020, spelled out the twin phenomena of, first, the decline of social housing—namely, provision by councils and housing associations—from 34% to 17% of the nation’s stock and, secondly, the growth of private renting from 9% up to 20%. Simultaneously, there has been the loss of more than 1.5 million social rented homes from sales under the right to buy—more than a third of these are now in the hands of private landlords at much higher rents. The private rented sector is unsuitable or unaffordable for many, so doubling this sector’s size and halving that of social housing has left many households with no options.

To rebalance the market between the private rented sector and the social rented sector, the commonly acknowledged solution is to increase the supply of social rented housing—that is, homes that are let at often half the market rents, according to a formula used for most existing social housing. Several studies have concluded that a figure of around 90,000 such homes should be built every year. Secretary of State Michael Gove told the Lords Built Environment Committee on 6 February this year that

“we need to aim to have a net addition of 30,000 homes for social rent every year”.

This target from the Secretary of State may sound unambitious, but it would mean far greater numbers of social rented homes than have been added in recent years.

However, without major changes, there is no possibility of achieving either the overall government target of 300,000 homes a year or, within that, 30,000 social rented homes. Indeed, rather than there being a growth in supply, output in both the private and social sectors has been falling significantly. Higher interest rates and inflation of building costs mean that social housing grants fund fewer new social rented homes. At the same time, it has become necessary to channel more social housing investment into the existing stock, rather than funding new supply. This follows a number of high-profile cold and mould cases, most notably causing the death of little Awaab Ishak.

With the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 and more powers for the Housing Ombudsman, the housing associations and the stock-holding councils are rightly spending more on retrofitting their existing stock. The result of these trends is a big reduction in the pipeline of new affordable homes. One major housing association, for example, has self-imposed a two-year moratorium on any new development. Overall starts on site by social landlords are expected to fall by more than 30% this year. Meanwhile, because the private sector housebuilders, faced with lower profits, are postponing their developments, fewer new social rent homes are being achieved through planning gain contributions from the developers.

What can be done? I did not declare earlier my housing and property interests, as on the register. A starting point must surely be to have a national housing strategy. This would comprise an agreed vision for achieving the quantity and quality of new and existing homes that we all seek, with a road map to take us to this destination. Following the Church of England’s report Coming Home, a number of noble Lords have been supporting the Church’s subsequent efforts to help create such a strategy. We suggest the establishment of a statutory national housing committee, modelled on the Climate Change Committee. This would provide a long-term mechanism that holds government to account, irrespective of changes of Housing Ministers—we have had 16 in the last 14 years—and Secretaries of State, monitoring progress toward the agreed goals. It would be wonderful if this concept found its way into party-political manifestos.

In the short term, there is no escaping the need for government funding, principally via Homes England and the GLA. Most immediately, more investment is needed for property acquisition and modernisation to switch private rented sector properties into social housing and reverse the shocking rise in temporary accommodation spending—but more fundamental change is needed.

The Labour Party has made bold statements for growth through developing “grey-belt” land and building a new generation of new towns. For initiatives such as these, any Government will need to find ways of making available funding that goes much further and securing a better-resourced planning system. To that end, I advocate adoption of the model spelled out by Sir Oliver Letwin in his excellent report which, disgracefully, has been sitting on the shelf since 2018. The Letwin approach involves ending the dependence on the oligopoly of volume housebuilders, whose interests seldom coincide with the public good, and shifting the initiative for all major housing projects to locally established development corporations. These corporations—which are less susceptible to local opposition—would have CPO powers to acquire land at a price that reflects the content of a master plan that embraces the necessary infrastructure, green space and facilities. The site would then be parcelled out to the appropriate providers, including social landlords, SME builders, community land trusts, providers of retirement housing et cetera. By capturing the uplift in land value for the public good, this model makes possible affordable, quality homes at scale.

In conclusion, I therefore suggest that the way forward begins with establishing a statutory national housing committee, just like the Climate Change Committee, which sets out the path to agreed goals and provides the continuity and persistence to see the job done. To get there, as well as the necessity of more public investment—which is handsomely repaid in lower health, care and welfare spending and improved productivity—there are also bigger and bolder changes of approach to planning and land acquisition that could make a huge difference. It is certainly worth trying, against the backdrop of human misery that the severe underprovision of genuinely affordable housing has created.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chandos on initiating this debate. I am particularly pleased at the terminology used for the Motion; “genuinely affordable” housing is what we are on about. In the Government’s jargon, “affordable” has become meaningless. In many parts of the country and for hundreds of thousands of families, 80% of private rent levels are not affordable. To use that as a term of art in legislation and regulation on affordable rent and in affordable housing statistics is misleading, given the depth of the problem that we have to address.

I likewise look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes; I hope that she can bring a different perspective to this. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, except that he has pinched most of what I was going to say—that is not going to shut me up, but I nevertheless agree with pretty much all that he said.

In the days of Lloyd George, to which my noble friend referred, after the First World War about 75% of people lived in private rented accommodation—most of it pretty squalid and a significant part of it very insecure, with the powers of landlords being strong. We transformed that over most of the last century, until relatively recently when we started to go backwards. By the 1980s we were in a position where, since the 1920s, social housing had provided decent housing and affordable prices for a large section of the population, rising to about 30%. Since the 1980s, however, with right to buy without the proceeds being 100% fed back to new building, with demolitions and with stock transfers, that figure for social housing has fallen; it is now down to about 17%. For those in the property market, the prices of new homes have risen from three and a half times average earnings to something over eight times. Mortgage holders, aspiring mortgage holders and private renters are now struggling. For many people, mortgages are now unattainable, and many who had secured mortgages are threatened by the phenomenon of rising interest rates.

In every part of the housing market, there is insecurity, unaffordability and distress. There is also a decline in physical conditions, which I will come on to. At the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, household formation has continued apace and, according to the figures that everybody has accepted in recent years, we need to build or provide, one way or another, 300,000 new homes a year. We have never attained anything like that figure—the figure that we have from time to time hit 200,000 or slightly over is an exaggeration, as it is a gross figure, not a net one, and does not take account of demolitions.

It has been the case that, for most of the last century, social housing has provided a positive, safe and affordable alternative. Regrettably, that has declined over recent years. There have been a number of scandals in both local authority and housing association accommodation, with mould and damp, unhealthy conditions, and repairs not being addressed. This has made social housing less attractive.

In the days when both the numbers and standards of local authority social housing were improving and setting the benchmark for good housing associations, the relationship between local authorities, social landlords and the construction industry were very different from what they are now, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, has implied. On the one hand, local authorities had substantial in-house staff and architects, and had their own direct maintenance staff in most cases; they were likely to be the main procurers of house construction work in their areas. On the other hand, in the days of Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, the construction sector was highly competitive locally, with a dozen or so SMEs—mainly large family businesses—competing for their local authority’s work. Nowadays, as the noble Lord said, most architect departments and direct works have been dispensed with, and even a competent clerk of works does not exist. The housebuilding sector is dominated by large housebuilders and large developers, which means that the balance of power within the housebuilding market has changed dramatically. We need to do something about that.

There are people who blame the planning system for the lack of new housing provision. It is not perfect, but we do not want to uproot the planning system entirely, because it protects the environments in which people live and the provision of decent housing. It is not the planning system that is the major problem but, frankly, the fact that even when planning permission has been granted there are probably up to a million homes which have not yet been started. It is that, rather than blockages in the planning system, which means that the supply of new homes has been so diminished. The reduction of environmental standards or the loosening of planning restrictions will not speed up that process unless we address it directly, by insuring that starts are made in those areas.

We also have to recognise that the usual figure for new homes completed is the gross figure, not the net figure. In other words, it does not take account of demolitions, particularly those of social housing. I have argued before in this Chamber that the predilection of many developers, and in some cases planning committees, to demolish and rebuild both public and private estates, rather than take the option of retrofit—which is both environmentally more sensible and likely to be much less socially disruptive—is a problem. We need to make sure that, in all major planning permissions, the alternative of retrofit is always considered.

We will need more social housing, and most of it will come from local authorities. As I have said, local authorities have been sadly diminished, financially and in their expert staffing, since their great days. At one point, I thought—or was nearly persuaded—that the idea of having hived-off arm’s-length companies owned by local authorities would help provide social housing, but we have seen local authorities of all political persuasions have their fingers severely burned by going down that road. We need something closer to what the noble Lord, Lord Best, was arguing for—regionally based multi-local authority area corporations to become the major procurer within the housing market and therefore face down the housebuilders in their intentions to, for example, keep the level of social housing low in any mixed development, and then halfway through the project say that they can no longer afford it and get it reduced yet further. That phenomenon must be removed from the housing market.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, that we need a new housing strategy. Whether that is a housing committee, a housing corporation, or a housing Cabinet committee, I do not mind, as long as we have an overall approach that can face up to all these problems.

For many families and key workers, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, has said, it is impossible to find a place to live that they can both afford and be safe and secure in. We need to make a change. I hope the Labour Government will make that change. Whoever is running this country in the next few years, the housing problem for the least secure people must be urgently addressed.

Baroness Smith of Llanfaes Portrait Baroness Smith of Llanfaes (PC) (Maiden Speech)
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My Lords, when my colleague, my noble friend Lord Wigley, made his maiden speech in your Lordships’ House, he spoke of his election alongside the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to the other place in 1974. He said:

“It was once suggested that the two of us entered the place as revolutionaries and departed as mere reformers. But if the objectives which we then had, and to which I still aspire, of a new relationship between the nations of these islands can be achieved by reforming the structures of government, that is all to the good … If the process of devolution allows Wales ... to take appropriate decisions on an-all Wales level, and to have its voice heard when other decisions are taken on a wider basis, that is also to the good”.—[Official Report, 27/1/11; col. 1118.]

As I begin my time in your Lordships’ House, I associate myself with those words. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wigley, not only for his many years of dedicated service in your Lordships’ House but for his decades of public and political service to my party, and to Wales. I can only hope to follow in his footsteps and, in time, perhaps, to earn the same level of esteem in which he is held.

It will not have escaped your Lordships’ attention, and I know that my noble friend will not mind my saying this, that I look rather different from him. Since my nomination was announced, much comment has been made on my age, the colour of my hair and my choice of footwear. I assure your Lordships that I will be proud to wear my Doc Martens in this place. I am young, I am a woman and I am from Wales. Your Lordships know well that that is not the norm in this place. I am now one of only 36 Members of your Lordships’ House below the age of 50, one of only six below the age of 40, and the only one below the age of 30. I am conscious of the responsibility which now falls to me, not only as the youngest current Member of your Lordships’ House but as the youngest life Peer ever to have been created.

My responsibility as I see it is to not just be my own voice, or that of my party or my country, but to be a voice of my generation. My own experience is of growing up on a council estate in Llanfaes in Ynys Môn, as a young carer to my dear late father: battling on a daily basis the kind of prejudices that too many of our fellow citizens still face; trying to find hope and build a future for myself in a world where the odds seem to be stacked against people like me; and burning with anger at the deprivation to which my community had been subjected.

These experiences are not unique to me. My generation has a particular experience, a particular perspective, which deserves and needs to be reflected in this place. We grew up through the global recession at the end of the first decade of this century. We grew up in the shadow of terrorism, at home and overseas. We grew up with the internet and social media. We grew up in the age of devolution. We grew up with the ever-growing threat and reality of climate change, and mankind’s destruction of the natural world. We grew up at a time of increasing and often aggressive polarisation in our politics, in the age of Trump and Brexit, and we became adults in the age of Covid. During our short lifetimes, we have seen inequality grow and poverty deepen.

Despite our protests, we see world leaders still to respond adequately to the climate and nature crises. We see wealth inequality all around us. We see high debts and housing costs, low wages and unstable work. That is why I am particularly pleased to be making my maiden speech during this debate, and I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for moving this Motion today.

In August last year, the Wales Expert Group on the cost of living crisis noted that rising rent and mortgage payments are affecting households’ disposable income, and that low-income households are particularly affected. It also said that the full impact of poor housing security is yet to be felt, and that by May 2023 the number of people placed in temporary accommodation, including children, had increased by a third on the previous year. The housing and homelessness charity Shelter Cymru meanwhile says that:

“Young people are not on an even footing with their older peers. They tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be earning minimum wage, and/or working zero-hour contracts. They are penalised by the UK welfare system, which limits their entitlement to housing benefit, and are routinely discriminated against and exploited by landlords and letting agents when attempting to rent in the private sector”.

Housing is, of course, a devolved subject area, but social security is not. It is the interplay of these two dimensions that is of critical importance. Data shows that, by the spring of last year, around 67,000 people in Wales were on social housing waiting lists, and almost 7,000 were in emergency accommodation. By October of last year, almost 90,000 were on waiting lists, and over 11,000 were in temporary accommodation, of which almost 3,500 were children. Of course, many of us in Wales know all too well the difficulty that so many people—especially young people—face in buying a home in their own community, particularly in the rural and coastal parts of Wales where the Welsh language is the strongest. For these reasons, it is imperative that the voices of young people are included in your Lordships’ deliberations.

Since the announcement of my nomination to this place, I have been quite open in my view that, although I believe that Welsh voices are necessary here now while this place has a say in the laws that govern Wales, I do not believe that an unelected upper Chamber has a place in a modern, democratic society. While I may be in the minority in your Lordships’ House in holding that view, I would not be doing my job if I did not continue to express it. Nevertheless, it is my intention to be constructive in my contributions here, and I look forward to offering my perspective and sharing my voice in your Lordships’ deliberations, and I look for your support as I do that.

In closing, I thank my supporters—my noble friend Lord Wigley and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—and all those noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken the time to welcome me and offer me their advice since my arrival. I have been touched and humbled by the welcome that I have received, and I also offer my thanks to Black Rod, the clerks, the doorkeepers, the security services, the police and the many and various members of staff, both party and parliamentary, who have all been unfailingly warm and courteous in the welcome that they have given me.

I thank my friends in the other place and I look forward to working alongside them in Wales’s interests. Finally, I thank my family and friends for the love and support that they have given me. I am the person I am because of them, and I can only hope to do them proud. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, whom I will call my noble friend because constructive, co-operative politics has to be the way forward in this changing, challenging world. I am delighted to congratulate her on her spectacular maiden speech. The voice of Wales has very definitely been heard, as it so often has been heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The arrival of Doc Martens has been duly noted. We need to hear many more younger voices in your Lordships’ House, and I hope that she will not be the youngest Member for too long. She and her peers are the experts in the experience of being a young person in the world today. It is crucial, and I have no doubt at all that she will bring so much of that voice to us.

As we have just heard, and as the noble Baroness told the Times, she plans to stand up for the people of Wales. Of course, as a former chief of staff for Plaid Cymru in the Senedd, and having worked in the European Parliament, she brings great experience and knowledge from that. We are also talking, of course, about the balance of representation. In respect of gender, we are still a very, very long way from the 50:50 Parliament that the excellent campaign group of that name is calling for. There is also an issue about age. We desperately need these experiences. The newspapers have also got very excited about the noble Baroness’s desire—which I share—to replace your Lordships with an elected body. She, with greater cause than me, has great reason to ensure that she does not have a life sentence in your Lordships’ House.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for giving us the opportunity to debate this absolutely crucial issue, and particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, commented, on the way the debate is titled in talking about “genuinely affordable housing”. That qualifier is needed because, of course, we now have something of a word soup of terms relating to the kinds of housing tenure. There is the Government’s term “affordable rent” and the related “intermediate rent”. Affordable rent was introduced in 2021, set at 80% of market rates, inclusive of charges. Intermediate rent is also available, but at levels of about 20% lower than the market rate, primarily to lower-income households in London and the south-east. We have the London living rent, introduced to help middle-income earners save for a deposit to purchase a house. We have shared ownership—a form of tenure that, all too often, we increasingly hear, is not so much a step up on to the housing ladder as a great weight around the neck of people who are unable to escape from service charges and unaffordable mortgages. We have the first home scheme—a kind of discounted market sale house offered at a minimum reduction of 30% against the market value. We have to hope that there are not too many people in the current level of mortgage rates who find that also a great burden.

We have to look at this in the context of how genuinely affordable housing rent—what has been termed a “genuine living rent”—can be calculated. The general rule is that households should not have to spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent. That is in a broader frame of what is known as the 50:30:20 rule: households should be able to spend 50% of their income on their needs and 30% on their wants, and have 20% available for paying off a debt or saving. There are very few households in the UK today that are in that situation—the situation that we should actually aim for.

If we look at some figures from the National Housing Federation, we see that it estimates that by the end of the next Parliament, one in five households—more than 4.8 million households—will be forced to spend more than 30% of their income on rent. That is an increase of 30% on the figures now.

Of course, the other end of this rather disastrous housing pipeline is rough sleeping. We all see this every day—we see it on the streets around your Lordships’ House. There has been a 20% increase in rough sleeping in the last year, and 280,000 households in temporary accommodation.

I have done the depressing stuff; I want to focus on the positive—just a hint of what is possible. For this I am going to Lewes District Council, and Fort Road in Lewes. In 2020, the council took a disused council office building there and replaced it with an award-winning block of 13 council-owned apartments, providing safe, spacious, bright apartments with a very high level of building performance and a renewable energy strategy. Designed using fabric-first principles, they have a large solar photovoltaic array, with 13 individual domestic batteries. That means that the electricity costs are estimated to be 60% below the normal level. The house also, importantly, has fire safety features which are currently not required but are anticipated for the future, with fireproof materials and cutting-edge suppression systems. These are not only affordable quality homes but are very safe to live in—something we need to think more about.

I point to this because it is not simply a one-off. I go to announcements made by the Green leader of Lewes District Council, councillor Zoe Nicholson, who in March pointed out how the council has purchased brownfield land around the Peacehaven golf club and is hoping to also develop a council-owned brownfield site in Ringmer. Twenty-four homes will be built on the Peacehaven site and more homes on these other sites. The council is also looking at old garage sites: 11 locations that could see 45 new homes.

I focus on that because both the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Whitty, focused on a centralised, national approach to solving our housing crisis. There is no doubt that resources and changing regulations and rules need to come from the centre, but I argue that we need to resource local authorities to provide the housing they need in their local community according to their local desires, rather than having something enforced from the centre.

The need for change in the centre comes to one particular issue that I want to focus on in this speech, which is right to buy. That has been one of the enormous privatisations, continued over decades under Governments of different hues, that has done great damage to our national social structure and our communities, and continues to do so. I spoke about the exciting things happening in Lewes; similar things happened a few years ago in Norwich, in Goldsmith Street, where ultra-low-energy Passivhaus homes just outside the city centre were built in 2019 and won the RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. However, after three years, the tenants have the right to buy, and it now looks as if Norwich will lose a number of those brilliant social homes to the private sector.

Of course, this has happened to 2 million homes since 1980. Norwich has more than 4,000 people on the waiting list, yet there and all around the country, we are still losing more social homes than we manage to build. I have a question for the Minister: what is the current rate of loss of social homes to right to buy? I also have a question that perhaps noble Lords on the Labour Front Bench might like to address: why do they not plan to abandon this disastrous policy of privatisation?

I come now to some of the other costs. I should perhaps declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Councils are spending £1.74 billion a year on temporary accommodation. This situation is a large part of what is driving councils towards bankruptcy. On LGA figures, 10,896 homes were sold in the last financial year under right to buy, and only 3,447 were replaced—a net loss of more than 7,000 homes. Since the scheme began, £7.5 billion has been handed out in discounts through right to buy.

I am not sure that many people know about this, but it is worth highlighting that, in desperation, Wandsworth Council in south-west London is offering £120,000 help to tenants to buy a house anywhere in the UK—or anywhere in the world—provided it is not a council property. The council is so desperate to save its homes that it is offering people this very large sum of money. I note that four in 10 of the homes sold off under right to buy are now owned by private landlords. I talked about the cost of temporary accommodation, but we also have the massive cost of commercial-level rents on what were council homes for which the state is having to pay housing benefit. This is, clearly, a disastrous policy.

We knew that from the start because the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, back at the origins of this policy, said that

“no single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the State”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/80; col. 1443.]

That is, under that ideology, a description of reducing the size of the state, but of course what we are actually doing is making all our communities and our societies much poorer.

What we should be doing is moving towards a housing policy that treats homes as comfortable, affordable, secure places to live, not primarily as financial assets. So my final question to the Minister is about community land trusts, co-operative housing and other alternative tenure models. I absolutely champion council housing, but there are other models that can protect communities from the government policy of right to buy. What are the Government doing to encourage them?

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chandos for tabling this debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a powerful and, if I may say so, very feisty speech. I was moved at the sheer amount of responsibility she has had to take on at so young an age, and I look forward very much to hearing more such contributions.

Two events this week highlighted the timeliness and importance of this debate. In the upper waiting-room above Central Lobby, there is an exhibition of photographs of families living in temporary accommodation in the Manchester area. A mum with three kids said, “After I was evicted … the first temporary accommodation was for two years. It is a long time. The school was three miles away. If I was late or the kids could not get there, it looked bad for school reports and stuff”. Another mum said, “When you look at other children, they are able to eat proper meals and things like that. My son has had infection after infection. Since we have moved after the hotels, I have been to A&E just under 15 times”.

The exhibition is well worth seeing. It was organised by the APPG on homelessness. In opening it, Dame Siobhain McDonagh MP urged the need for a long-term solution that crossed social divides and party-politics. That plea was echoed in the second of the two events I referred to, the launch of the Church of England’s report, Homes for All: A Vision for England’s Housing System, which was referred to by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Echoing the conclusions of other reports, notably from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, the report identified that the housing crisis continues to escalate, perpetuated by a lack of policy stability, ambition and urgency across successive Governments, and a failure to connect the issues through a systematic and co-ordinated approach. The Minister and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage both spoke eloquently at the event.

It is clear that a change in approach is needed. There are currently over 8 million people in England who cannot access the housing they need. For 4.2 million of these—around 1.6 million households—social rented housing would be the most appropriate tenure to address that need. Our failure to deliver the homes we need is breaking down our communities. It is driving families and key workers into financial hardship, and away from work, schools and support networks.

Some groups of people are feeling this crisis even more acutely. Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, and disabled people, are more likely to experience homelessness or live in poor-quality, unsuitable or overcrowded homes. Women’s Aid points to the lack of affordable housing as a primary barrier to those escaping abuse.

Yet, despite our severe housing emergency, the supply of genuinely affordable housing is falling. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, and fewer than 7,000 were built. Many households are now forced to live in expensive, insecure and often poor-quality homes in the private rented sector.

Most damning of all is the impact of this crisis on children. A record number of children are homeless and are forced to live in inadequate temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfasts. This disrupts their education, affects their life chances and puts huge pressure on families, as the exhibition I referred to so graphically illustrates. Some 138,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation, and this is estimated to rise to 310,000 by 2045 without government action. These figures are a stark illustration that a radical change in approach is urgently needed.

I hope the Minister will not respond to this debate simply by asserting the work that the Government are doing, a lot of it good, and the number of homes currently being built. Whatever that number, it simply is not enough. I urge the Minister to focus on the key question in her response: how do we increase supply?

For those at the sharp end of the housing crisis, we need to build 90,000 new social homes every year to keep up with demand. In 2010, the amount of grant funding available for new social housing was cut by 63%. The consequences of this decision have been dire. Does the Minister agree that we need a new, long-term and substantial grant programme that can be used more flexibly to deliver new social homes, regenerate and refurbish existing homes and acquire more existing homes where appropriate?

Does the Minister agree that we need bold planning reforms to deliver the highest possible level of affordable housing, incorporating new, large, mixed-tenure communities? My party recently announced proposals to allow grey-belt development, which includes 50% affordable housing. This is a welcome step in the right direction.

Does the Minister agree that government funding and fiscal rules need to be reviewed to incentivise long-term public investment in social housing? I must also ask the Minister to comment on the need to invest in a skilled workforce if this ambition is to be realised. Does she agree that the Government must ensure that there is resilience within the supply chain and workforce while unlocking innovation in the construction industry, which could include exploring new technology and supporting new methods of delivery?

There are huge economic benefits to be gained. We need to move away from the outdated idea that social housing is a drag on the public purse. In fact, it is a long-term driver of sustainable growth. Every £1 invested in social housing delivers at least double that of wider economic benefits. Recent research from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, carried out by Cebr, showed the positive economic impact of building social housing. These include savings on housing benefit, reduced homelessness, increased employment and improved healthcare.

I have said before in other debates that building social homes that meet local need can offer stability in people’s lives. This helps people to get and keep work, and reduces the long-term scarring effect that being homeless or in temporary housing can have on employment prospects. It also supports children’s education and the mental and physical health of families.

I support the Archbishop of Canterbury’s report in its call for an end to “short-termism” in housing policy and its advocacy for decent homes across England. As the report states, everyone should have a home that is comfortable and safe. Sadly, and to our shame, decades of piecemeal and short-term policy have left us with a failing housing system that is affecting our health and well-being and costing our country billions. It is also holding back our economy and making communities unsustainable.

The housing crisis is a complex problem. It will take long-term political commitment, investment and collaboration across government and with partners across the country. I echo the call from the noble Lord, Lord Best, reflected in the Church of England’s report, for a housing strategy committee, modelled on the Climate Change Committee or the Low Pay Commission, which will hold the Government to account.

Does the Minister agree that, to meet the scale of the challenge we face, there needs to be a comprehensive and policy-led long-term national plan, agreed in its fundamentals across political parties, with the Government in partnership with local authorities and the social housing sector? Perhaps then we can begin to solve this worsening housing crisis.

Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for initiating this important debate and applaud the maiden address from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes. I assure her that the House will welcome now and into the future her spirited advocacy, not least for Wales.

I think the inadequacy of the UK’s housing provision, adversely affecting most in our society—the middle classes as well as the poor—is our most pressing national problem. It is a problem many decades in the making and I do not think that we will resolve any specific aspect of housing difficulty without addressing the totality of housing provision in the round, right across the United Kingdom.

Around 300,000 people—there are some slight differences in the figures that noble Lords have cited, but I am sure we all have good sources—including 200,000 children, are without a home and live in temporary accommodation, in shelters or with friends. One million households are on council waiting lists. According to the English Housing Survey, 4 million live in substandard homes, in the oldest housing stock in Europe. One-third of under-34s still live with their parents and struggle to buy a home. Home ownership overall is in decline. At the same time, our population is growing rapidly. In addition, more of us live longer and young people form single-person households and marry later. For these many reasons and others, overall demand for housing is increasing rapidly. Yet housing provision—as pretty much everybody has said—has manifestly not kept pace with growing demand.

As I think the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, was the first to remind us, just over 100 years ago, just after the First World War, the then Government began building “homes fit for heroes”. I do not think anybody has mentioned that in 1953, under a Conservative Government, social housing build peaked at 200,000 units per year. I think this is the most remarkable statistic. Today, there are 2 million fewer units of social housing than there were 40 years ago. You do not have to look very far to see at least one of the root causes of our housing malaise.

What are we doing to close that awesome deficit? Not much—local authority and housing association build in recent years has been around a modest 20,000 units per year. A huge increase in private renting, which has doubled over two decades, has taken the strain, often with poor quality, underinvested housing.

Many factors, most of which have been mentioned, stand in the way of increased homebuilding, including planning restraints, land hoarding and shortages of skilled labour. Estimates vary on the scale of the overall housing gap—the gap between demand and supply—but all are in the range of 1 million and 2 million homes. That is a measure of just how far behind we are from where we need to be. Despite the recent improvements in housebuilding, it is a very long journey to get anywhere near to filling that gap. The noble Lord, Lord Barwell, put the issue simply and bluntly, and I think everybody here would agree, when he said that building more of every level of housing is what is needed.

I echo what a number of others have said in this excellent debate so far. We need to take out a clean sheet of paper and build a new housing strategy from scratch. What we have been doing in recent decades has simply not been working. We need to create a plan developed from a national, not regional or local, perspective. This is not for housing in our precious green belt, of course, but near where people work. We need a strategy for housing close to services, which is well-insulated, with decarbonised heating, and of beauty—something which the UK has achieved brilliantly again and again in our history and must do again.

We will not solve our housing crisis overnight. It will take 10 to 15 years of systematic hard work to do that. However, we will not resolve it at all without, as others have said, speedily framing a comprehensive national plan that addresses and deals with the many causes of our most pernicious national problem.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to address this very important issue, which affects all of us directly or indirectly. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, in Ynys Môn. She certainly made us aware of the fact that she will represent the interests of Wales during her time here, but perhaps the extra value will come from what she has to say about a generation that many of us have long left behind. It is wonderful to welcome a fellow Welsh person, and on such an important issue.

Many speakers have quoted statistics of one kind or another. Some, by the weight of repetition, have brought home in a focused way the needs of the moment and the dire situation in which this whole area is dragged down. One statistic that has not been mentioned is that we are in the year of the 16th Housing Minister since 2010. Having 16 Housing Ministers in 14 years is not something to glide over or just have a chuckle about; it represents where housing sits on the agenda of this present Government. We must, therefore, as gravely as we can, point to that. We would like to wish the present Minister in our House a long life in her current job, but there is a bit of me that does not want to go that far in this year of grace.

We have to admit that initiatives, programmes and financial packages have been attempted or implemented by the present Government that we should at least recognise as pointing in a direction that we all want to travel in. However, the House magazine issued just a month ago, focusing on housing, recognised that this is a moment of crisis, when the Government are facing unprecedented pressure over their housing record. I like to quote voices other than those of our own parties, to make the points that need to be made as being more general than simply the result of one’s own party-political position.

The wonderful briefing notes that we had from the Library omitted from the title of the report one word which is integral to my noble friend’s Motion before us—the word “genuinely”. As others have mentioned quite properly, if “affordable” just means 20% off the going rate, it is certainly not affordable for the large majority of people. So “genuinely” must claim its place in the phrasing of this Motion and in our discussion of the issues it raises. House prices are 8.3 times higher than the median wage, which means that even people with 20% or 30% discounts will not be able easily to arrange mortgages or pay rents. We have heard how many of them have to resort to alternative forms of accommodation because housing is now beyond them.

I hesitated long and hard before putting my name down to speak in this debate, because I have never owned a house in my entire life. I have lived in tied accommodation, and so many of the issues mentioned here have never been within my direct experience. But I have three children, and these issues lie very definitely within the ambit of my children’s generation. They themselves have come up with mixed responses, and abilities and inabilities, as to how to fashion a housing future for themselves.

It is admittedly a very complex area. National plans and strategies have been mentioned again and again, and they have to take in many diverse and often conflictual strands of experience. I received, as I am sure we all have, briefings ahead of this debate—for example, from Women’s Aid—about not forgetting the needs of women who have been domestically abused, who will have housing needs. Then there is the news that there is no guarantee that the ban on no-fault evictions can be implemented before the election. That took us all by surprise too, and affected radically the way we were thinking about a particular piece of legislation before us at the moment. Then the Residential Freehold Association came in, all guns firing, to have its own particular interest defended too.

It has all left me feeling, in agreement with those who have said it already, that we need some kind of bipartisan national effort for what is a universal need. It is no good having my plan versus your plan; rather, we need to be thinking together to achieve an outcome that would and can, as is the only way, benefit the world at large.

I have a couple of personal examples, which I use not because of the personalities involved but for illustrative purposes. I have been in conversation this week with a young person—although it is some time since I was young. Having graduated during the Covid years, and looking to his future career and the rest of it, he has received a very good offer of a further degree in one of our prestigious universities. But as he says, unless he can find funding, with £48,500-worth of debt already, how does he do it? Some £3,500 of that debt is the interest accrued on the debt last year—what is that all about? We are eliminating this from the frame of young people’s possibilities and needs, by the punitive way that these things happen.

I shall perhaps a bit more personal, if noble Lords will permit me. My parents divorced when I was a child. I still have at home, and I thought to bring it, just to wave it around, the letter from my father’s lawyer that ordered my mother and her boys out of the family home at one week’s notice. It was October. The winter was nigh on. We had nowhere to go. In the little locality where I lived, various neighbours took us in for a week or a few days at a time until my grandparents, who were caretakers in a factory, decided that they would share the three rooms that they lived in with my mother and her two boys, so I was raised in one room in a brickyard. I mention this not to alarm people or to draw attention in some kind of pathos moment, but because I can never forget my mother’s feelings, which were never expressed verbally, of panic, fear, depression, and—what the Centre for Economics and Business Research refers to as being the case for people who have gone through that—long-term scarring. Long-term scarring is what people who have been thrown on the garbage heap carry with them for the rest of their lives. I have to say that in my worst moments I give evidence of it myself. I feel that we must keep in view the needs at large of young people, marginalised people and those who have no hope or stake in society when we utter our fine words, analyse the statistics and form the resolve that as a nation we need to do better than we are doing right now.

Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a tremendous speech, one that I—as someone with forebears from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn, or Anglesey if you prefer, one of the most beautiful places in the world—particularly welcome. She is very welcome, and I am sure will be a tremendous asset to this House. I also thank my noble friend Lord Chandos for introducing this debate. In his and all the other contributions, a powerful case has been made. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply. I hope she will adopt a constructive response to what has been said rather than just defending the Government’s record. We have to look to the future and to what needs to be done.

I am going to talk about the crying need for more council housing, especially but not necessarily for those on lower incomes. This need has become increasingly critical, given today’s housing crisis, which has been so ably laid out by previous speakers. I emphasise that I am talking about council housing: housing that is publicly owned and subject to a degree of democratic accountability, where tenants have secure tenancies and rents are, in general, substantially lower than in other forms of renting. As a result, as has been argued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Council Housing, it offers the only real opportunity for mass affordable rented housing in the whole of the UK. There is obviously a significant role for other forms of social housing, but the long-term sustainable solution to the problems we face relies on council housing.

Extraordinarily, it is one of those areas of social policy where we know what works but, for one reason or another, are blind to what needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, joined us briefly—he is not here now—to make the point from the opposite Benches about the success of the Macmillan housing programme. That depended on council housing; it was not done by private developers. The success of our new towns, to which I hope my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage will refer in winding up, relied on council housing. We know it works. Council housing provided millions of families with their first opportunity of a decent family home. For one reason or another, we choose to ignore that success.

The changes we have seen in housing during the last decades, have resulted in pushing low-income families into insecure, substandard housing, with overcrowding and—to an increasingly worrying extent—homelessness. Council housing has played a crucial role in ensuring a basic standard of living and security for all.

The case for expanding the use of council housing is grounded in both social justice and economic practicalities. First, I believe that housing is a fundamental human right, crucial for personal stability, dignity and family life. By providing more council housing, Governments can directly support those in need, fulfilling their basic responsibility toward their citizens. Secondly, as other speakers have mentioned, low-income families often spend a disproportionate amount of their earnings on housing, squeezing what is available for other essentials such as food, healthcare and education. More council housing, with socially appropriate rents, would increase disposable income levels, leading to greater consumer spending and more contentment with human life, but also economic growth. Thirdly, councils provide stable and affordable homes for low-income families, reducing their risk of homelessness with the associated social costs which come back on all of us. Finally, having a secure living environment can lead to better educational outcomes for children, greater employment opportunities for adults, and overall improved health for families. Not for nothing were health and housing in a single ministry in the Government following the last war. Good health requires and needs good housing.

From a broader perspective, increased investment in council housing can stimulate the economy. Construction projects—of which there are all too few at the moment—generate jobs, boost local businesses and can lead to the revitalisation of undeveloped areas.

Given the manifest need for more council housing, we must talk about the adverse, malign effects of right to buy. While the scheme has allowed many tenants to achieve home ownership and has been popular among those who have benefited from it, its long-term implications for the availability and affordability of housing have been malign. Clearly, there has been this massive reduction in the stock of social housing that has been referred to, but we have seen that many of those properties which were sold to create this property-owning democracy have been bought up by commercial letting agents. We end up with families still relying on rented accommodation, provided more expensively by the private sector and of not such a good standard.

That has led to a reduction in social cohesion and, although there is not time today to go through all the details, an adverse effect on the financial stability of local authorities—it is one of the major factors in why local authorities are facing the problems they are—and to lengthening housing lists and more people in need of accommodation. To address this problem, we require a comprehensive strategy involving the multiple stakeholders involved, but government at all levels must commit to long-term funding and policy support for council housing development. Public support is essential. Community involvement in planning and decision-making can ensure that developments meet local needs and integrate well with existing neighbourhoods.

I particularly emphasise the importance of cottage estates. That is the sort of housing people want to live in. All too often the financial rules on the development of new housing force the building of flats, which are fine for some, but the great majority of people want to live in the cottage estates that we built between the wars and during the 1950s, but which for some reason are no longer being built in the numbers people require. It is a matter of some concern that Goldsmith Street in Norwich, a Stirling prize-winning development that was built as council housing, is now to be sold off to the private sector for right to buy. This simply has to stop.

Increasing the availability of council housing is a pivotal step towards addressing the housing affordability crisis and the support that is required for low-income families. Not only will it provide the basic need for shelter, but it will serve as an economic catalyst and promote social equity. By prioritising this approach, Governments can make significant strides towards a more stable and just society.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I shall say a few words in the gap. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton; he has brought some passion to this debate, and rightly so. I identify with that passion, having just read in the book This Boy by Alan Johnson, a former Labour Minister in the previous Labour Government, about the way he and his sister fought to secure a place to live after they lost their mother in the 1950s in London. Going back to that would be a disgrace, and we have to ensure that that never happens.

I warmly congratulate my noble friend—it is nice to be able to say “my noble friend” in the narrow rather than broad sense in this Chamber—on a memorable maiden speech; llongyfarchiadau. I hope she will inspire many more of her generation, across party-political boundaries, to follow her lead and find a way to get their voice heard in this Chamber. We need a spectrum that includes all the ages that can participate and educate us.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for facilitating this short debate and particularly for his reference to my constituency predecessor David Lloyd George. The fight for social justice ran through the early decades of the century, as in the 1950s and 1960s and indeed in the last century, and we obviously have to grasp it again.

I first entered Parliament 50 years ago, as my noble friend graphically described, and housing remains a pressing issue, particularly for young people, so it is good to have a persuasive voice for them in this Chamber, one who can speak effectively for the needs of Wales and of course for Plaid Cymru. I am glad to welcome my noble friend Lady Smith of Llanfaes to her place in this Chamber. I congratulate her again on her maiden speech and hope that we hear much more from her on these social issues, as well as the battle facing us in Wales.

Lord Taylor of Goss Moor Portrait Lord Taylor of Goss Moor (LD)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my declared interests, as I work in housing and planning in various ways. It is an immense interest of mine. That work came out of policy reviews for successive Governments in this arena.

Before I turn to the issue at hand, I want to address a few comments to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. She made an excellent maiden speech. I remember making my own in the other place rather a long time ago as the then youngest Member of Parliament just elected. She may possibly match one record I think I still have. Ten years later I was still the youngest Member of Parliament. I have a suspicion she may achieve something similar in this place, but we will see.

I have one word of advice. One comes in and people think of you as radical because you are young. Time passes and you are no longer young, but it is very important to remain radical. I have always been a firm believer that the people who should be here, or in the other place or in any other form of public life, should be those who want to change things. Holding on to that is not always easy when you are the beneficiary of the establishment, so I hope—I think she will, to judge by her speech—she will remember that.

Turning to change, it is clear from the speeches across the House how much concern there is, irrespective of party, about the difficulties people have in finding a home. It can be addressed as affording a home, but the truth is that it is finding a home because there are literally millions of people in this country who do not have the home they would wish for. Much of that is hidden. It is young adults living with their parents far beyond the length of time they used to. It is people in inappropriately small accommodation who need larger family accommodation. It is people in flats with children who deserve gardens. It is people in houses in multiple occupation, each of whom should have their own home.

There is a simple fundamental reason for this. It is not addressed by simply saying, “Oh well, the planning system is not really the problem; it is the developers”, or “We need to have more affordable homes”. The fundamental underlying reason is that we have not been building enough homes for decades. We have failed to build enough not by a small amount, but by a very large amount. In the last decade, for all the Government have done, we were about 1 million homes short of what we know needed to be built. In the decade before that, we were at least another 1 million homes short of the numbers we knew we needed to build.

While the 300,000 figure is pretty much universally acclaimed, let us remember what it is built off. Around 250,000 of that is merely addressing the demographic need. The remaining 50,000, which comes originally from work by Kate Barker in two reviews, was a very slow process of building back the undersupply that, at that time, was 1 million or so homes over a decade. It is now 2 million homes over two decades. The figure of 300,000 is only slow progress over many years to address the under-provision that has taken place over so long. Kate Barker said that there is only so fast you can go without causing an impact on house prices that will destabilise household finances. That is properly right. But the truth is that we are coming nowhere near to what needs to be provided.

In my remaining time, I want briefly to address the history of this. Between the two great wars, we were delivering enough homes. It was largely done through the private sector, but also the “homes fit for heroes” policy and the rest of it. Part of the reason for that was that there was a ready supply of land. Anyone who owned land could build on it or sell it to be built on. The problem was that, as people no longer had to walk from home to work or to the shop, and they became able to move more freely, we saw the spread of suburbanisation around towns and cities, and the coastlines and countryside being built up. That is why, after campaigning by organisations like the CPRE, we saw the planning Acts introduced in the 1940s.

However, when they introduced the planning Acts, they knew full well the impacts of restricting the ability to build, so they set out a clear strategy to make sure that enough homes were built. First, they said you should renew the bombed-out cities and the slums—in effect, a form of brownfield first. It was urban renewal, but not with densification and towers; it was on garden city principles of removing the dense slums and giving people decent homes with gardens. You see that in London and the other cities around the UK. We seem to have forgotten that lesson, because what we are building today is not fit for families, as we densify, go up and build flats.

I do not know how many Members of the House of Lords choose to live in a flat as their main home. I suspect some do for second homes. I asked this question when I did a planning review at a time when 45% of all homes being built were flats—it will be similar now. I asked: what proportion of the public did not have to live in a flat because that is all they could afford or because it was a moment in their lifetime? How many actually wanted to live in one? The answer was that, while 45% were being built as flats, just over 1% wanted to live in them.

This is a country where, particularly when you go through the stages of family life, you want access to gardens and open space. Of course there is a role for flats—there is in every country—but we need to remember that those buildings turn to slums very quickly when people who cannot afford to maintain them are in them. Councils could not maintain them and housing associations struggle to maintain them because, over time, their lift shafts, heating systems and windows need to be renewed. All of that is enormously expensive for these properties. I fear that we have forgotten that, the last time we did this, they turned into slums. I fear they will turn into slums again—particularly with offers for the private sector to buy buildings that have been built with 40-year or 50-year lifespans and no intention of renewing them in the long run.

Secondly, they wanted urban renewal around the edges, but they understood that you do not want parasitic development with no facilities and poor-quality housing that destroys historic communities—the towns, villages and cities that we love. They wanted planned urban extensions that would have facilities, schools, hospitals, shops and neighbourhoods. We understand these here in London—we all understand the process of city by neighbourhood, with each neighbourhood in walking distance of the facilities you need for everyday life. That is how they planned those urban extensions, but we have forgotten that. We build housing estates with no facilities at all, cut off from shops and schools. We talk about them as sustainable extensions, but they are anything but; they are just dormitories for people with cars, with no facilities and people struggling to get a dentist or a doctor’s appointment, or struggling to find a school on the other side of town. Everyone in them has to drive because all the facilities are scattered around.

Thirdly, they said that, if you built well in the cities and urban centres on the brownfield sites, there would not be enough homes. If you built well in the urban extensions around the towns and cities but respected people’s desire for them to remain historic places, there would not be enough homes. So you also needed to create new communities, using the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and the new towns programme. Why do we forget that lesson? It is what we need today. The answer is: in the late 1970s, we built enough homes and it worked, but we stopped. When the demographic numbers started to go up again—because people lived longer in their own homes, there was more migration and more babies were born—we forgot all those lessons and started to try to build towers in cities and little urban housing estates around the edges, pretending that you could deliver communities by delivering a minimum number of homes.

We need to go back to the origins of planning and plan long term for place and how places evolve. We need to stop fighting about whether it is 20, 30, 40 or 50 homes this year or next.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I add my welcome, or croeso, to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, and thank her for her excellent speech. I do not share her youth, sadly, or her hair colour —I may have done back in the day—or Doc Martens, but I did grow up in a council house, as she did, and I share her strong passion for housing. I think that she will find quite a good cross-party housing coalition in your Lordships’ House and I look forward to working with her on that. I thank my noble friend Lord Chandos for bringing such an important debate before your Lordships’ House today and all noble Lords who have spoken. My noble friend gave an excellent, thorough and cogent introduction to this very important debate.

I start by emphasising the words in the Motion, “genuinely affordable housing”, as did my noble friends Lord Whitty, Lord Griffiths and Lady Warwick. Unfortunately, the term “affordable housing” has become widely misused in recent years. For example, in my Question for Short Debate last week on right-to-buy receipts and how they should be used—in my view, entirely to replace the social housing from which they accrue—the Minister seemed to use the terms “affordable housing” and “social housing” as though they were interchangeable; they are not. That is particularly so given the rather dubious definition of affordable housing used by this Government, which includes six categories of housing, only one of which would be affordable on average wages in my area.

Shelter tells us that the focus for the definition of affordable housing should be on social housing, which is the only housing with rent pegged to local incomes, is resilient to local fluctuations in house prices and is usually the most affordable type of housing. It also provides secure tenancies, which enable people to secure employment and establish themselves in communities.

Let me say, by the way, that I in no way intend to be personally critical of the Minister in my comments. I have met many of the succession of Housing Ministers we have had since 2010—I think that there have now been 16, which does not help—and this conflation of affordable and social housing happens more often than not. I know that she is committed to using her time in housing to improve matters where she can.

The Government definition means even a private house selling for over £300,000 can be designated affordable. For residents in my area, with an average wage of about £35,000, that is absolutely not affordable. Homes now cost eight times the average salary. The average three-bedroom, private-rented home in my area costs £1,400 a month; that would mean almost 60% of average income being used for housing costs—no wonder we have a cost of living crisis. In contrast, a three-bedroom council home in my area costs £524 a month.

My noble friend Lord Chandos is right to point out that the extraordinary stranglehold that this Government have put on local government has hollowed out both planning functions and housing development teams. We know that the building of social homes has fallen off a cliff. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, including over 10,000 right-to-buy sales, and only 7,000 were built. We have 1.2 million on housing waiting lists and 1.4 million fewer families in social housing than there were in 1980. The cost of this falls significantly on the taxpayer in housing benefit and, secondly, on council tax payers, with £1.7 billion for the cost of temporary and emergency accommodation last year. The outstanding report by Cebr for the National Housing Federation and Shelter, flagged the impressive £51.2 billion benefit to the economy that would accrue from building 90,000 social homes and also pointed to the social benefits of stable, secure tenancies in relation to employment, healthcare, helping people out of the vicious cycle of temporary and emergency accommodation, lower crime and the education benefit for children and young people.

This crisis in social housing delivery is just one of the factors impacting the affordability of housing—I agree with my noble friend Lord Davies that good housing should be a human right. As we have heard, there are many others, including: housing supply, which was not helped by the Government caving in over housing targets at the end of last year; the imbalance of demand; the planning system and its failure to deliver against housing need; quality and sustainability; and the need to meet higher environmental standards, which we welcome but is causing a slowdown.

In the excellent Church of England report, Homes for All, published this week and mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the need for a comprehensive housing strategy with a vision for the next 20 to 30 years is set out very powerfully—and I agree with it. The failure to have a vision for housing and a clear plan of how it should be implemented is at the heart of this issue, and reflects many of the recent discussions in Parliament. It is why we have ended up with a Bill to ban leasehold that ignores 70% of leasehold properties in this country, which are flats, and neither does it scrap the scandalous money-for-nothing regime of ground rent. We will shortly have a Renters (Reform) Bill, which was intended to ban Section 21 evictions but will not do so because, in spite of being years in the planning, the mechanisms are not in place to make the change. There can be no greater indictment of 14 years of Tory housing policy than 142,000 children in temporary and emergency accommodation.

After the Second World War, there was a Labour Government with a real vision for housing, especially when it came to replacing the slums and other housing that had been destroyed across the country with new developments designed to support communities, and with all the facilities that they would need. My town, Britain’s first new town, was the first post-war manifestation of that vision, which built on the tradition of the pre-war Garden Cities. I will not pretend it was easy; the tradition of the nimby goes back a very long way—in fact, I found an example from 1539, but I will leave it for now. Poor John Silkin, the Housing Minister in 1946, arrived in the small market town of Stevenage—population around 6,000—to tell them, at a very noisy public meeting, that the new town would add 60,000 homes. He found that the railway sign for Stevenage had been replaced with one that said “Silkingrad”. Let us hope that better consultation and collaboration can avoid such situations in the future.

It is time to be bold and visionary again. It is time to get Britain building to enable millions to plan their lives, start families, and build a future for themselves and their kids. It is time to meet the needs of those who aspire to own their home and those for whom social housing will be the only affordable option. It is time to make sure that key workers can live wherever they work, across the country—they are our heroes, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, said—and have the high-quality housing that they deserve. It is time to get the economic benefit that can come from reinvigorating construction and development, giving investors the confidence they seek by focusing on the builders, not the blockers, and ensuring that SME builders get the support they need.

That is why my party has set out our vision to get Britain building again, with a package of reforms to the planning system. The aim is to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament, alongside our five golden rules. I will take no lessons from the Green Party, who say one thing in this Chamber while its councillors block building all over the country.

Our plan includes a housing recovery plan, a blitz of planning reform to quickly boost housebuilding for homes to buy and rent, and delivery of the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation. We will ensure that local people have a say in how housing is built, with communities confident that the plans they have worked on will be delivered. We have plans for the next generation of new towns—“Hurrah!”, says this new-town girl—which will be new communities with beautiful homes, green spaces, reliable transport links and bustling high streets. We will work with the local development corporations described by the noble Lord, Lord Best. We will unleash mayors, with a package of devolution with stronger planning powers and control over housing investment.

There will be a planning passport for urban brownfield development, with fast-track approval and delivery of high-density housing on urban brownfield sites. We will prioritise those poor-quality and ugly areas of green belt, so that they become grey belt, which will protect the nature-rich, environmentally valuable land in the green belt. The plans for the grey belt must have a target of at least 50% affordable housing. There will be first dibs for first-time buyers, and support for younger people by giving them the first chance at homes in new housing developments, with a government-backed mortgage scheme.

I end with a quote from the preface of Homes For All:

“What could that vision look like? An end to the stress and worry of being locked out of home ownership. Everyone having a safe, warm home that supports their health. Homes for all that release the constraints of poverty. All of us going into our later years with the sense of comfort and dignity that comes from a secure place to live. Every child having the stable foundation they need to thrive”.

Whoever is entrusted with the confidence of the British people at the general election will have a huge amount of work to do, and some of it will have to be done as a matter of urgency. Let us have the election and get on with it.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Swinburne) (Con)
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I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for introducing the debate on the topic of more affordable homes. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and others, that I am not concerned about my personal career, on the basis that I am covering my noble friend Lady Penn’s six-month maternity leave while she spends some time with her newborn son, and therefore I will be leaving this position in September.

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, to your Lordships’ House, and I congratulate her on her maiden speech. Croeso i’r Farwnes Smith o Llanfaes i Dŷ’r Arglwyddi a llongyfarchiadau ar eich araith—that was awful, and my mother will not forgive me for my pronunciation. I thank all other noble Lords who have spoken in this afternoon’s debate. They raised important points, which I hope to address in my response.

We all agree with the need for more affordable, high-quality homes in this country, to meet growing demand. The Government recognise the real pressures facing the housing market right now. As noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, have said, full-time workers in England expect to spend some eight times their annual earnings buying a home. Private sector rents have also increased by an average of 8% over the last 18 months. We also recognise that housing providers are facing a more challenging financial position. The Government continuously work with their delivery agencies to ensure that the affordable homes programme can still deliver effectively, in the light of this.

All this underscores the need for more homes of all tenures: homes to rent, homes to buy and homes to part-buy. Affordable homes that the average working family can comfortably live in is the ambition that underpins the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, launched in 2020. This represents a significant investment in affordable housing by the Government, and a clear commitment to deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes, for both sale and rent, throughout the country.

I will briefly outline how, and why, they have been broken down, and how the affordable homes programme in different tenures gives us the results. I start with homes for social rent. We recognise, as do many in this House, that these are the vital homes that we need to build to maintain thriving communities. As was so eloquently stated by numerous noble Lords, homes for social rent are a fundamental part of our housing stock—indeed, they are a lifeline for those who would struggle to secure and maintain a home at market rates. With that in mind, it was right for us to bring social rent homes into the scope of the affordable homes programme, which the Government did in 2018. Since then, we have affirmed our commitment to increase the supply of social rented homes in our levelling up White Paper, while improving the quality of housing across the board, in both the social and private rental sectors. We have also changed the parameters of the affordable homes programme to support this commitment, enabling further increases to the share of social rented homes that we are delivering.

Furthermore, the affordable homes programme is committed to funding a mix of tenures, enabling developers to deliver mixed communities. For that reason, we have kept a commitment to delivering homes for affordable rent as part of the programme. Whereas social rent is calculated using a formula, which takes into account regional earnings, homes for affordable rent is where rent is capped at 80% of the market rate—or lower, in London. This is an important way to support mixed communities with different tenures in new developments. It enables the programme to build more of the affordable homes that this country needs, because they need less subsidy than homes let at social rent.

Although social rent and affordable rent are clearly key elements of our approach, we also support aspiring homeowners to take their first step on the housing ladder. We understand what a difference that increased sense of security can make in all aspects of someone’s life and the lives of their family. That is why home ownership continues to be a fundamental part of the affordable homes programme offer. We will continue to deliver a significant number of homes for shared ownership.

This builds on our record to date of helping hard-working families to buy homes under shared ownership and build real capital in their properties. Between 2010 and 2023, we have delivered 156,800 new shared ownership homes, and our ambition is to build tens of thousands more as the affordable homes programme gathers pace. Since 2010, we have delivered over 696,000 new affordable homes, including over 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,600 are for social rent. To put this into perspective, the overall number of new homes during this period has been 2.5 million.

Local authorities are a critical part of delivering on the levelling up White Paper commitment to increase the supply of social housing over time. We are empowering them with flexibilities to make locally led decisions that deliver the best possible deal for their communities. In 2022-23, local authorities delivered over 8,900 affordable homes, representing 14% of the overall affordable housing delivery and the highest recorded number of local authority completions since 1991-92. To support continued delivery, in March last year we announced that local authorities will now have access to a new concessionary Public Works Loan Board interest rate for council house building from June this year.

Affordable housing is not delivered just through our affordable homes programme; around half of all delivery each year is through the planning system. As noble Lords will be aware, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act gives the Government powers to create the new infrastructure levy, which aims to capture even more land value uplift than the current system, continuing our drive to deliver more affordable housing.

I reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, that the Government are committed to the delivery of onsite affordable housing through the new levy, and to delivering more affordable housing than the current system of developer contributions. Under the existing system, negotiation of Section 106 planning obligations can cause significant delay and uncertainty, which often means less affordable housing for communities and uncertainty about when key infrastructure is going to be provided. The new levy will be mandatory, non-negotiable change. It will be clear to developers what they are expected to pay, and this change can be used to secure the delivery of onsite affordable housing as a non-negotiable in-kind contribution, which offers significant protection of affordable housing delivery over the present system.

The technical consultation to inform the design of the levy regulations closed at the end of the year, and we are currently analysing consultation responses. The Government are committed to consult again on the design of the infrastructure levy and I hope that, with the passing of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act, we will actually get this working to deliver more homes.

Finally, it is worth noting that councils continue to benefit not just from the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme that we have discussed today, but from the scrapping of the housing revenue account borrowing cap and greater flexibility in how they can use receipts from right-to-buy sales. I strongly urge councils to make full use of these measures, so we see more homes being built in the places where they are needed the most.

I turn to a number of questions—

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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I rise to make a brief intervention. The Minister is once again using the term “affordable homes”. Does she mean under the current six definitions of affordable homes—five of which are not affordable to anyone where I come from—and can she confirm that we will continue to have a permitted development regime that does not deliver any affordable homes at all?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I will bring forward the question that I was about to answer in response to both the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who asked how I define “affordable”. The Government do not prescribe a definition of affordability. We recognise that the fundamental purpose of social housing is to provide affordable, safe and secure homes to those who cannot afford to rent or buy through the open market.

The purpose is reflected in the definition of affordable housing in the National Planning Policy Framework. This defines affordable housing as:

“Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market”.

So, to fall within the definition, homes must meet one or more other conditions: for example, affordable housing for rent must have rents that are set in accordance with the Government’s rent policy for social or affordable rent, or, alternatively, have terms that are at least 20% below the market rate. It is a very broad definition because there are lots of tenures and lots of people providing this housing for the different audiences that require it.

With regard to planning reform, which noble Lords—including the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—have mentioned, the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023 creates a simplified and strengthened plan-led system. The Act puts local people at the heart of development. This, we hope, will deliver more homes in a way that works for more communities.

Turning to questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Best, I would like to reassure him that the social housing stock has grown by 151,000 since 2010, compared with the previous 15 years, when it fell by more than 420,000. So we have a big gap to make up and we are aware of that.

With regard to the affordable homes programme, this currently allows for 30% of the homes in the programme to be delivered through acquisitions. In practice, this tends to be the conversion of new homes that would otherwise have been sold on the open market to alternative affordable tenure types.

I turn now to temporary accommodation, which many noble Lords have mentioned. Indeed, when it comes to this, the Government are committed to reducing the need for temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness before it occurs. However, the current global context and the significant economic challenges we are facing are making our objectives on homelessness more challenging. We remain committed to preventing homelessness where possible and helping people to stay in their homes. Since 2022, we have provided £104 billion in cost of living support, an average of £3,700 per UK household, helping those most in need while acting in a fiscally responsible way. Where homelessness cannot be prevented, temporary accommodation is an important way to ensure that no family is without a roof over their heads.

However, we appreciate that it is not ideal and needs to be temporary. The £1.2 billion local authority housing fund enables councils in England to obtain better-quality temporary accommodation for those owed a homelessness duty, providing a lasting, affordable housing asset for the future. Indeed, between 2022 and 2025, we are providing local authorities with over £1.2 billion through the homelessness prevention grant.

With regards the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, there are mechanisms by which social housing tenants can receive housing support to help pay their rent. For these tenants, the costs of rent increases are met by their housing benefit or the housing element of their universal credit. Discretionary housing payments can be made to those entitled to housing support who face a shortfall in meeting their housing costs.

In respect of social rent levels, they typically are at between 50% and 60% of market rent, set in accordance with government rent policy for social rent, using a formula that accounts for relative county earnings. Indeed, 90% of the stock is done through social rent. As to affordable rents, they make up some 10% of the rental stock, and they are actually available at 80% of the market value—although the 80% number is much lower in parts of London. So we are talking about the difference between some £98 a week under social rent and £143 a week, although all the social benefits and the DWP benefits are not specific to the tenure.

Turning to the right to buy, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lords, Lord Birt and Lord Davies, the Government believe that the housing market should work for everyone. We believe that those who want to rent their homes should be able to rent their homes, but those who wish to buy them should also be allowed to do so. We remain committed to the right to buy. This, since 1980, has helped more than 2 million social housing tenants become homeowners. We want to support councils to continue to deliver new and existing supply plans, and there is a requirement for replacement homes to be put in place as these are sold.

To help councils deliver more replacement homes in the current economic context, the Government have frozen the cap on acquisitions. Councils will be able to continue to deliver up to 50% of their right-to-buy replacement homes as acquisitions each year until 2025, with a focus on the purchase of new-build homes. From 1 April 2024, the Government are also increasing the percentage of the cost of replacement affordable homes that can be funded from the right-to-buy receipts, from 40% to 50%. We have listened to calls from councils to increase this cap, which some have said is making some build schemes unviable due to higher build costs.

With regard to the statistics that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked for, in 2022-23, local authorities sold 10,896 homes; they built 8,900. With all sources of affordable homes considered, there was a net increase of 14,680 affordable homes for rent.

Turning to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, I agree that we need to do more. All measures to increase the rate of housebuilding for the provision of affordable homes should be considered, and we are including things such as the preferential borrowing rate for council house buildings from the Public Works Loan Board, which we have extended to June 2025. We have tried to allow them to retain, on a temporary measure, 100% of their right-to-buy receipts for 2022-23 and 2023-24, and indeed we have therefore allowed them to increase their capital buffer to provide more homes in the short term. Abolition of the housing revenue account borrowing cap, alongside the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, I hope means that local authorities and housing associations are supported to maximise the delivery of new homes, and we strongly urge them to mobilise and utilise these flexibilities in order to do it quickly.

I have another question, from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, who asked me about the skills set with regards to construction. The Government recognise that there are challenges in the sector due to skill shortages in the housebuilding workforce and construction more broadly, which will become a greater challenge without active work to augment skills development. We are therefore committed to ensuring that the right skills and training are available for apprentices and others considering a career in the construction industry. For example, the Government are currently reviewing the work of the industry training boards and will be publishing the findings of these reviews along with any recommendations later this year. The Department for Education is improving training routes into construction, creating opportunities for workers to retrain, and the Government are increasing the funding for apprenticeships across the sectors, including construction, to £2.7 billion in the 2024-25 period.

On the report from Women’s Aid, which I believe came into all our inboxes earlier this week, it is critical that victims of domestic abuse get support, especially when they are in a housing need. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has given those who are homeless as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse priority need for accommodation secured by the local authority. Statutory guidance encourages local authorities to make exceptions from any residency requirements.

I will also no doubt be having numerous discussions at this Dispatch Box over the coming weeks as we bring the private Renters (Reform) Bill to this House. I understand that we will have that on Tuesday next week, so I look forward to discussing the details with many of your Lordships then.

In closing, I thank your Lordships for prompting this important debate. It is clear that, although we may disagree regarding different approaches, all of us here agree on the underlying mission: to drive up affordable housing supply—truly affordable housing—for those who need it. This is a clear part of our mission to level up the country; indeed, it was a key tenet of our levelling up White Paper. The figures I have outlined today—more than 632,000 affordable homes built since 2010—show that we are making real progress towards it. However, I agree that more needs to be done.

Today we have also discussed the wide-ranging challenges that are facing us, and indeed the changes the Government continue to make to boost the social housing numbers over the medium to long term. Of course, through our Levelling-up and Regeneration Act and the simplified infrastructure levy, these will take time, but I hope your Lordships will work with me and the rest of government to ensure that this issue cuts across party-political lines. It is an issue I am certainly committed to working on with noble Lords across this House, as I said earlier this week at the launch of the Church of England’s report. I am confident that, working together, we can get the right homes built in the right places for the people who need them most.

Viscount Chandos Portrait Viscount Chandos (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all the speakers who have made such extraordinary contributions today; I can show that appreciation best by speaking extremely shortly. I have to say I am in awe of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I will leave her place name out this time because I believe she is scoring we English on our Welsh pronunciation, and I do not want to confirm my position at the bottom of the list. My street credibility with my Welsh friends will be enormously enhanced by the privilege of having the noble Baroness speak in this debate. One of them, who shares her hair colour but lives in Seattle, asked how a girl from the valleys can manage to go and work somewhere where it rains even more.

There has been an extraordinary diversity of knowledge and views expressed, but there is a common theme, which is the scale of the problem and the crisis. My noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe put it best when she posed a question to the Minister: whatever your briefing, can you give the House the confidence that the Government really appreciate the scale of the crisis and what needs to be done? With due respect to the Minister, and acknowledging the box that she must work in, the jury is out, at least as to whether that sense of urgency has really been recognised and communicated today. With that, I commend the Motion to the House.

Motion agreed.