Baroness Cathy Bakewell’s maiden speech

It is a tradition for LDV to bring its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Last Thursday, Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville made her maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on housing. Her words are reproduced below.

My Lords, it is a privilege to be able to address your Lordships’ House on a subject so dear to my heart, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for presenting us with the opportunity. Like many before me, I suspect, I am somewhat surprised to be here at all in the first place. I thank my sponsors, my noble friends Lady Brinton and Lord Ashdown, whom I worked with for 10 years, for their patience and continued support in helping me to settle in. Everyone who has entered this noble House in the past has commented on the warm welcome they have received and the help and directions given by the staff. I add my name to that list. I also want to place on record my gratitude to my husband, daughter and son for their tremendous support and encouragement throughout my political career.

Next year is the 40th anniversary of when I joined the Liberal Party. During my political career I have been the leader of Somerset County Council and a vice-chair of the County Councils Network. I remain involved with the Local Government Association as a trustee of the leadership centre. I am now a councillor on South Somerset District Council, leading on troubled families, and chair its strategic partnership, so I am aware of the impact of the lack of affordable housing in rural areas.

I was born in a bomb-torn Bristol after the Second World War. Returning servicemen such as my father found that there were no homes for them to buy for their growing families. My parents, like others, lived with a parent, accumulating points to move up the list to buy a house. When I was three, we moved into a road of newly built houses taken entirely by young families. Today the issues are more complex and, in Somerset, the rising demand for housing and number of waiting applicants is growing. The average house price is many times the average wage. It would be extremely helpful if the Government saw fit to introduce an improved grant regime to support further investment for those unable to afford home ownership. It is important for the planning system to be pro-housing. The economic case is proven; the contribution, regionally and nationally, brought by housing associations building new affordable homes is £6 for every £1 of government grant. These developments create jobs, skills, apprentices and support local supply chains.

The consequential impact of the additional burden of ending the spare room subsidy may not have been adequately assessed before its introduction. There has been a disproportionate focus on the out of work, when the reality is that a high proportion of those affected work in low-wage economy areas, such as south Somerset, some in part-time employment, because full time is unavailable, or on zero-hours contracts, relying on housing benefit top-up to balance their budgets. The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened. This is unacceptable in Britain in 2013.

There appears to be a misconception around the difference between a house and a home. Creating a home requires effort and investment which will be made only if there is some certainty about the future. I am sure that the Government do not wish to destroy any idea of investing in homes or communities except for those able to afford a mortgage. In April, the number of households in arrears with one of our registered social landlords was 65. This has now risen to 397 for those affected by the charge. Most have managed to make some payment, but debt and arrears are rising, as, sadly, is the demand for emergency charitable food parcels.

It is important that the DWP considers whether there is a sufficient supply of appropriately sized properties available to those wishing to downsize. Those requesting to downsize have combined with those seeking to enter the affordable housing market, creating a high demand at one and two-bedroomed level. Meanwhile, families with a comparatively low-level need are being housed in three-bedroomed properties. Where no suitable property exists, there is the option of leaving affordable housing and moving to private rented property. However, rather than reducing the housing benefit bill, this is generally leading to an increase.

Rural exception housing in our smaller villages is largely two or three-bedroomed homes to ensure this meets the long-term needs of the community. Many communities make their homes in villages for life yet now some will be required to leave if they are unable to pay for underoccupancy as children leave home. Allocation of these houses is ring-fenced to those from the community or surrounding villages. Families with two children of different sexes, say aged seven and eight, will not be eligible for a three-bedroomed property in their village and may be forced out, while the three-bedroomed property they will require in two years’ time would be allocated to a family from outside the area.

Another impending contributing factor to the housing supply is the recent, welcome announcement on Hinkley Point C. According to EDF, the construction of Hinkley Point C will involve 5,600 construction workers and a further 20,000 to 25,000 support jobs over the seven years plus of the project. Of those, 5,000 jobs will be filled by existing Somerset residents. Beyond temporary accommodation for some construction workers, a high proportion will be housed within the existing rental market and through holiday accommodation. The impact across a 90-minute travel-to-work area will be marked, as the higher wages of EDF workers impact on the local housing market. EDF’s gain could mean the collapse of the private rented market for local people. Already, rents in this area are rising and will continue to rise as the low-wage economy of the region is priced out by the high-wage economy of Hinkley Point C. I look forward to speaking to my right honourable friends the Housing Minister, Stephen Williams MP—himself a Bristolian—and to the Secretary of State for DECC, Edward Davey, to see what solutions might be found to these local issues.

I fear that I have painted a somewhat gloomy picture but felt it wise not to underestimate the issue. It is only by realistically assessing the situation that we can find suitable solutions to take us forward.

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3 Comments

  • Robert Wootton 7th Nov '13 - 10:42am

    The decision to build Hinckley Point C, the growth in the number of people in arrears with rents, the rise in the need and use of charitable Food Banks, housing prices rising and being many times more than the average (not just the minimum) wage.
    These are not merely “consequential impacts” of any given policy, of benefits policy,energy policy, housing policy, taxation policy or economic policy. Consequential impacts and unintended consequences of any policy initiative are predictable outcomes resulting from the interactions of a policy implementation by any one department of state on all the other departments.
    The “Yah Boo” politics of adversarial debate in the House of Commons where one party or government department is blamed or scapegoated will not solve the problem of insufficient or sub standard housing stock or any other social, economic or political problems that the country faces.
    The generally accepted way of doing things is through the mechanisms of the market economy. The market is not perfect, to state the obvious.
    To make it a “perfect market” in economics jargon, it is necessary to lessen the inequalities in economic and legal power between the poor and the rich, i.e. benefit claimants and the billionaires. But I have already written about that.
    To create more affordable housing and bring down house prices, consign poverty to the bin of history and limit mortgages to a maximum of 3.5 times the current average wage. But test that last proposal in model of the economic system and run a five or ten year projection to see what would actually happen to house prices. That way, policy initiatives can be tried without disrupting people’s lives.

  • nvelope2003 8th Nov '13 - 11:50am

    Demand for housing is rising and so is the cost but incomes have not risen because immmigrants seem to be willing to work for lower wages as they are much higher than what they are used to, and those born here have to compete with them for jobs. This is unavoidable as we have to compete in a world inhabited mostly by much poorer people than those who live here and this will continue for many years until the incomes of the very poor have risen to match ours which will continue to fall.

    There will always be the rich and powerful and those with skills such as doctors and lawyers will always be able to rip off those who need them but do not have those skills because they do not have the capacity to acquire them and even if they did the state education system would make sure they did not in order to preserve these jobs for the offsring of those who do . Not many of our elite send their children to the local comprehensives but continue to tell us what a wonderful system it is, like those who tell us to use public transport so the roads will be clear for their cars.

    No doubt there will be demands for the nationalisation of utilities etc but this will just make things worse as they will be even less well run than the privately owned ones as there will be no incentive to do otherwise. It is a gloomy future.

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