Questions to the Prime Minister
May I join the Prime Minister in congratulating the entirety of the Olympic team on their fantastic achievements at the Olympics in Rio and wish the Paralympic team all the very best? Did our Olympic success set off the visit to China in a good way, or was there a bit of tension there, when bragging rights were allowed?
The average house price in Britain is now £215,000—over eight times the average wage. The average price of a first-time buyer’s home has risen by 12% in the past year. Is not the dream of home ownership for many people just that—a dream?
The Prime Minister
In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, President Xi actually congratulated me on the United Kingdom’s success in the Olympic games.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions housing, which he has raised on a number of occasions both with my predecessor and with me before we broke for the summer recess. Let me simply say this. Of course it is important for us to look at helping people to get their first step on to the housing ladder and ensuring that people are able to have the home that they want. That is why I am pleased that house building has been up under a Conservative Government by comparison with a Labour Government. We are not complacent, however, which is why we will do more to see more houses built under this Conservative Government and continue to provide support for people to ensure that they have the financial support that helps them to own their own homes.
Actually, house building under this Government is 45,000 fewer a year than it was under the last Labour Government, and many people are desperate to get their own place. Let me refer the Prime Minister to a note I received from a lady called Jenny whose partner and herself work in a supermarket earning £7.37 an hour each. They are trying to get a mortgage and have been told that they can borrow £73,000—not much hope for them, then. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) promised a one-for-one replacement for every council house sold under right to buy. Sadly, the reality is that there is only one for every five that are sold. Will the Prime Minister give a commitment and tell us when the one-for-one replacement will be a reality?
The Prime Minister
Let me first say to Jenny that I fully understand and appreciate the concerns individuals have about wanting to be able to set up and have their own home. I fully recognise the difficulties some people face in doing that. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that he is wrong about the figures on council houses. We have delivered on the one-for-one replacement under right to buy.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman had asked all his Twitter followers what questions he should ask me this week, so I thought I would look to see what sort of responses he had received. I have to say that the first one was quite good. In fact, he might want to ensure that he stays sitting down for this. Lewis writes, “Does she know that in a recent poll on who would make a better Prime Minister, ‘Don’t Know’ scored higher than Jeremy Corbyn?” What we do know is that, whoever wins the Labour party leadership, we are not going to let them anywhere near power again.
The number of first-time buyers has halved in the past 20 years, and their average age has increased a great deal. There is a housing crisis in Britain. Ten million people now live in the private rented sector, and many are forced to claim housing benefit to cover the costs of rents. Devastating figures released over the summer show that £9.3 billion of public money is paid through housing benefit directly into the pockets of private landlords. Does the Prime Minister think that that £9.3 billion going into the private rental market is really money well spent?
The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman starts off talking about the importance of people being able to be in their own homes, and then challenges one of the measures that actually help people to get into their own homes, through housing benefit support in the private rented sector. It may be that he just has an ideological objection to the private rented sector, but I say to him that this Government are looking across the board to ensure that more houses are being built. We are seeking to ensure that there is a diversity of opportunity for people who want to be in their own homes.
Everything that the right hon. Gentleman says tells us all that we need to know about modern Labour: the train has left the station, the seats are all empty, and the leader is on the floor. Even on rolling stock, Labour is a laughing stock.
The Prime Minister’s predecessor, when discussing this issue, said:
“The simple point is this…every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses.”
“If landlords rent out houses in a very bad state, such as heavy damp, wet walls, no working toilet…they need to be getting a fine. The government has to regulate”.
That is what Joyce wrote to me. The Citizens Advice Bureau says that one sixth of housing benefit goes to private sector landlords who are letting unsafe homes. Does the Prime Minister really think that that is a satisfactory state of affairs?
The Prime Minister
If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that housing benefit is such a bad thing, why is it that, when we changed the rules on housing benefit, the Labour party opposed those changes? He talks about bad landlords. We are making changes. We have changed the rules on selective licensing. We think that giving council’s free rein to impose burdensome bureaucracy on landlords would cause problems in the market that would actually lead to higher costs for both tenants and landlords. We are introducing new regulations in relation to houses in multiple occupation. We are looking at all those issues. I recognise, as will every Member in the House, the problems that people sometimes experience when they are living in accommodation that is not up to the standard of the accommodation in which we would all wish people to live. That is why we are changing the rules and ensuring that the regulations are there.
That is extremely interesting, because only a year ago the Prime Minister voted against a Labour amendment to the Housing Bill that said, quite simply, that all homes for rent in the private sector should be fit for human habitation. Just over a year ago, the Treasury estimated that it was losing half a billion pounds a year in tax unpaid by private sector landlords. So there we have it: £9.5 billion in housing benefit, half a billion pounds not being collected and a very large number of homes that are not really fit for human habitation. Does that not require Government intervention on the side of the tenant and those in housing need?
The right hon. Gentleman asks for the Government to intervene. The Government have, through the Housing and Planning Act 2016, introduced further tough measures such as civil penalties, banning orders for serious offences and the extension of rent repayment orders. We have provided money so that local authorities can conduct more inspections of people’s homes, and we have seen more properties being inspected. Thousands of landlords now face further action. Far from not taking action in this area, the Government have done so.
But I say this to the right hon. Gentleman: he may have a model of society where he does not want to see private landlords, and where he wants to see the Government owning everything, deliberating on everything and doing everything for everybody. That is not what we want: we want opportunities for people; we want to help them to take those opportunities. That is a big difference between him and me.
Of course we all recognise that there is a mixed housing economy, but we want to make sure that those living in the private rented sector are properly treated and not having to pay excessive levels of rent.
Women’s Aid has said that two thirds of women refuges are going to close because of the benefit cap when it comes into force and that 87% of women and children in those refuges will suffer as a result, and that most of those refuges require an income level that comes mainly from housing benefit—90% of their income comes from it. Does the Prime Minister recognise that the women in those refuges are very vulnerable and closure of those refuges would be devastating for them—very dangerous for the most vulnerable people in our society? Will she take action to make sure that the cap does not apply to Women’s Aid refuges in any part of Britain?
The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman raises the very important issue of domestic violence. We should across this House be doing all we can to stop these terrible crimes that are taking place and obviously to provide support to the victims and survivors. That is why we are working on exempting refuges from the cap in relation to what he speaks about, but I would also remind him of the very good record we have on domestic violence. It was a Conservative Government who introduced the new offence of coercive control that put into practice the domestic violence protection orders, who introduced Clare’s law, and who are putting £80 million into support for domestic violence victims in the period up to 2020. We are listening and responding to these problems, and we all take this very seriously indeed.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman as well that it is 50 days, I think, since he and I last met across this Dispatch Box—
Nice to see you.
The Prime Minister
Well, it is very good to see him sitting in his place. Let us just look at the contrast in what has been done over this summer. The Conservative Government have been working tirelessly to support everyone in this country: £250 million of loans to small businesses, the introduction of the racial disparity audit looking at public services and how they treat people, and of course setting the groundwork for new trade deals around the world. What a contrast with the Labour party, divided among themselves and incapable of uniting our country. What we do know is that there is only one party that is going to provide a country, a Government, an economy, a society that works for everyone, and that is the Conservative party.