Prime Minister’s Questions – Housing

Jeremy Corbyn: I join the Prime Minister and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) in paying tribute to Harry Harpham, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough, a former miner, who passed away last week. Just a short time ago, Harry used his last question here to ask the Prime Minister about Sheffield Forgemasters and the steel industry. I hope the Prime Minister will reflect on his diligence in representing that industry and his constituency.

Yesterday, I had a chance to have a very nice conversation with Harry’s widow, Gill, and his family. I asked them to say how they would like to remember Harry. She gave me this message, which I will read out:

“We have admired the bravery and courage he showed in his life which was formed during the miners’ strike, and carried him forward for the rest of his life”.

I am sure the whole House and many in the much wider community will remember Harry as a decent, honourable man absolutely dedicated to his community and his constituents. We are very sad at his passing.

Also following the hon. Member for Eastleigh, I have a question on housing. I have an email from Rosie. She is in her 20s—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, the Rosie who has written to me does not have the same good housing that the Chief Whip of our party does, but aspiration springs eternal. The Rosie who has written to me is in her 20s, and she says:

“I work incredibly hard at my job, yet I am still living at home with my parents”.

The lack of housing options is forcing her to consider moving—even leaving the country. She asks the Prime Minister what action he is going to take to help young people and families suffering from unrealistic house prices and uncapped rents to get somewhere safe and secure to live.

The Prime Minister: First, let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that when you get a letter from the Chief Whip, that normally spells trouble. What I would say to Rosie—the Rosie who wrote to him—is we want to do everything we can to help young people get on the housing ladder. That is why we have got these help-to-save ISAs, and I hope she is looking at that. We are cutting Rosie’s taxes, so this year she will be able to earn £11,000 before she starts paying any taxes. If Rosie is a tenant in a housing association home, she will be able to buy that home, because we are introducing and extending the right to buy. And, of course, she will have the opportunity to register for Help to Buy, which gives people the chance to have a smaller deposit on owning their own home. If Rosie is not earning that much money, but wants to be a homeowner, shared ownership can make a real difference. In some parts of the country, you will only need a deposit of some £1,000 or £2,000 to begin the process of becoming a homeowner. But I recognise, in this Parliament, building more houses, following those schemes, we have got to deliver for Rosie.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am very pleased that the Prime Minister wants to help deliver decent housing for Rosie. She lives and works in London, and as the Prime Minister knows, London is very, very expensive. He talks about people getting on the housing ladder, but the reality is that home ownership has fallen under his Government by 200,000—it actually rose by 1 million under the last Labour Government. His record is one, actually, of some years of failure on housing. He said that council homes sold under the right to buy would be replaced like for like. Can the Prime Minister tell us how that policy is panning out?

The Prime Minister: First, let me start with what happened under Labour with right-to-buy sales. What happened was one council home was built for every 170 council homes they sold. That is the record. We have said that we will make sure that two homes are built for every council home in London that is sold. That is because my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) insisted on that in an amendment to the housing Bill. Now, these take some years to build, but they will be built, or the money comes back to the Treasury.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister ought to be aware that just one home has been built for every eight that have been sold under his Government. People are increasingly finding it very difficult to find anywhere to live. The Chancellor’s crude cuts in housing benefits for those in supported housing are putting at risk hundreds of thousands of elderly people, people with mental health conditions, war veterans, and women fleeing domestic violence who need support. Can the Prime Minister tell the House what estimate housing providers have made in terms of the impact of this policy on supported housing?

The Prime Minister: First, we are going to increase housing supply in the social sector through an £8 billion housing budget during this Parliament that is going to build 400,000 affordable homes. When it comes to our reforms of housing benefit, yes, we have cut housing benefit because it was completely out of control when we came into government. There were families in London who were getting £100,000 of housing benefit per family. Think how many people—think how many Rosies—were going to work, working hard every day, just to provide that housing benefit for one family. We support supported housing schemes, and we will look very carefully to make sure they can work well in the future, but I make no apology for the fact that in this Parliament we are cutting social rents, so Rosies who are living in social houses and going out to work will have lower rents under this Government.


Jeremy Corbyn: I am pleased the Prime Minister finally got on to the question of supported housing. Housing providers estimate that nearly half of all supported housing schemes will close. One in four providers is set to close all their provision. This is a very serious crisis. I assume the Prime Minister is not content to see the elderly, people with mental health conditions and others with nowhere to live, so can he assure the House now that the warm words he has just given on supported housing will be matched by action, and that he will stop this cut, which will destroy the supported housing sector?

The Prime Minister: We will continue to support the supported housing sector. The report that the right hon. Gentleman quotes from was an opinion poll with an extremely leading question, if he actually looks at what he was looking at. The changes that we are making are reducing social rents by 1% every year for four years. That is good news for people who go out to work, who work hard and who would like to pay less rent. That goes with the lower taxes that they will be paying and the more childcare they will be getting. The other change that we are making, which does not actually come into force until 2018, is to make sure that we are not paying housing benefit to social tenants way above what we would pay to private sector tenants. The simple point is this, and this is where I think Labour has got to focus: every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses. So let us take this right back to Rosie, in the beginning. She wants a country where we build homes. She wants a country where you can buy a home. She wants a country with a strong economy, so you can afford to buy a home. All those things we are delivering, and you will not deliver them if you go on spending more and more money on subsidised housing and housing benefit. One day Labour has got to realise that welfare bills have to be brought under control.

Jeremy Corbyn: Shelter estimates that the measures in the housing Bill will lose 180,000 affordable homes over the next four years. The Prime Minister is actually overseeing a very damaging housing crisis. It is pricing out people from buying and it is not providing enough social housing. Therefore, many people are forced to rely on the private rented sector. Those on the Benches behind him recently voted against an amendment put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce) for homes to be fit for human habitation. Labour invested £22 billion in government in bringing social homes up to the decent homes standard. There are now 11 million people in this country who are private renters. Does the Prime Minister know how many of those homes do not meet the decent homes standard?

The Prime Minister: In the last five years, we built more council houses than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. Where was the right hon. Gentleman when that was going on? Thirteen years, and an absolutely hopeless record on housing. What we are doing is this: an £8 billion housing budget that will provide 400,000 new affordable homes, a target to build a million homes during this Parliament, getting housing benefit down so we can spend money on housing, and having a strong economy that can support the housing we need.

Jeremy Corbyn: I was asking the Prime Minister how many of the 11 million renters are living in homes that do not meet the decent homes standard and are, therefore, substandard. I will help him. One third of homes in the private rented sector do not meet the decent homes standard. Shelter has found that six out of 10 renters have to deal with issues such as damp, mould and leaking rooves and windows. It is simply not good enough.

Millions are struggling to get the home that they deserve. More families are slipping into temporary accommodation. The elderly are threatened with eviction. Homelessness is rising. Too few homes are being built. Social housing is under pressure. Families are being forced into low-standard, overpriced private rented accommodation. Young people are unable to move out of the family home and start their own lives. When is the Prime Minister going to realise there is a housing crisis in Britain? His Government need to address it now so that this dreadful situation does not continue.

The Prime Minister: Let me just take one of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman mentions. Homelessness today is less than half what it was at its peak under the last Labour Government. There is a simple point here. You can only invest in new houses, you can only restore existing houses, you can only build new houses and you can only support people into those houses if you have got a strong economy. We inherited mass unemployment, an economy that had completely collapsed and a banking crisis. Now we have got zero inflation, wages growing, unemployment at 5%, an economy growing and people able, for the first time, to look to their future and see that they can buy and own a house in our country.