Wera Hobhouse argues for more social homes for rent

99 families stand to lose the chance of a socially rented home in Wera Hobhouse’s Bath constituency after the Planning Minister failed to call in a planning decision. In what Wera described as “social cleaning”, these families will be forced out of the city.

In an adjournment debate last night, Wera took her argument directly to the Housing and Planning Minister. She outlined the direct consequences of the lack of social housing provision:

What about the 99 most vulnerable families, who will now simply be moved out of their home city of Bath? They cannot stay because there will be 99 fewer social homes for rent under the current plans. This sort of social cleansing is unacceptable and it gives the Government the reputation of being uncaring. The Minister will know that I requested him to call in the planning decision that reduced the number of social homes for rent by 99, but he refused to do so. The implication is that this reduction in social homes for rent is in line with Government policy, but on Monday the Secretary of State, in a quick reply, said it was not Government policy to reduce the number of social homes to rent. It cannot be both things in this specific instance, so what is the answer?

Wera outlined the scale of the problem. The number of houses being built for social rent is plummeting:

Government statistics show that nearly 40,000 social homes for rent were built in 2010-11, and the figure for 2016-17 was just 5,380. In the 2016-17 financial year, 12,383 council homes were sold under the right-to-buy scheme. Year in, year out, the number of social homes for rent is being reduced.

The human consequences are horrific:

If the Government think this safety net of social homes is working just fine, Grenfell Tower stands as a tragic example to show that it is not. Today, the homelessness charity Shelter has given the facts and figures on homelessness and those in temporary accommodation as of now. Its report reveals a trend that is getting worse each year. A shocking 128,000 children in Britain will wake up homeless and in temporary accommodation this Christmas. That is one in every 111 children in this country and their parents, living in emergency bed and breakfasts and hostels, which are widely considered by experts in this field to be the worst type of temporary accommodation. Let us be clear: one in every 111 children in Britain would not be living in emergency B&Bs or hostels this Christmas if there was more social housing. All the Government’s talk about affordable homes does not house a single one of these children and their parents.

Wera was aided and abetted in her debate by Jamie Stone. He comes from a very different constituency to Wera, vast and rural. Both he and Wera are former councillors so understand the pressure councils are under to service their housing debt.

Jamie asked:

One problem we have in Scotland, as my hon. Friend will know, is the housing debt that Scottish local authorities are landed with—it is like a colossus. We spend our time trying to service this debt, which gets in the way of building houses for people who need them, as she says. I hope that at some stage Her Majesty’s Government will look at getting rid of this housing debt, which is crippling and is standing in the way of homes being built for people who need them.

You can read the whole debate, and the MInister’s totally inadequate response, here.

The lack of social housing for those on the lowest incomes should actually be the top priority of a government. If people have security of housing that helps with every other aspect of their lives. Somewhere decent to live at a rent that doesn’t cripple you financially should be a basic right. We should be very angry that we fail so many. Instead , we’re going to be spending the next few years prioritising a Brexit which will make it even less likely that we can afford the sort of investment in social housing we so desperately need.


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  • Watched Wera’s speech on BBC Parliament Channel – and support from Jamie Stone.

    Very impressive. Well done Wera and Jamie. Begins to restores one’s faith in the Lib Dems

  • Neil Sandison 7th Dec '17 - 12:52pm

    These figures are being duplicated right across the country so much for the promise of one for one replacement .We have also got a problem of deteriorating existing housing stock that is not fit for purpose and many of existing housing estates and retirement housing schemes are no longer able to meet identified need . regenerating old estates built post war is the only land some local councils where they may have where there is a shortage of brownfield sites.Trickle down from new build schemes is not working with many developers being let off the hook under commercially sensative criteria not available for planning councillors to inspect or challenge .

  • Andrew Toye 7th Dec '17 - 2:36pm

    The government continues to perpetuate the lie that they are providing “affordable housing” by using the fictitious definition of 80% of market value. That’s not affordable to most, any more than a 20% discount on a Rolls Royce is affordable transport. Housing cost linked to median earnings would be closer, but even that does not help people on below-medium wage incomes. We need social housing to rent at a cost affordable to those who need it regardless of what the “market” determines.

  • Richard Easter 7th Dec '17 - 4:03pm

    “Somewhere decent to live at a rent that doesn’t cripple you financially should be a basic right.”

    100% correct.

  • Helen Dudden 7th Dec '17 - 5:54pm

    There is a very big problem in Bath at present. Housing being built in areas far from the areas, these people are coming from. Some of the housing stock having standards below Decent Homes. Old costly heating, like storage heating wasting large amounts of energy. Heating or eating, make your choice. I feel flat pack housing could be an option, similar to after the war years. We need to build healthier homes, and also look after the young who seem to miss out on housing. I’m sure if it’s simply the change in benefits or lack of housing. We need both quick answers and to build. There are houses being built in the city that will cost well above an average wage. I agree with Wera, we need desperate help.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Dec '17 - 12:06am

    TV programs ‘Grand Designs’ and ‘House of the Year’ share a lot of experience about building homes. Many have difficult sites, large cost overruns, unfortunate weather during construction, unfriendly neighbours, etcetera. Projects range from a co-operative construction involving self builders who would otherwise be unemployed and homeless to large projects for the very rich and revisits to mature sites.
    This year’s winner is a large, new building in Kent. Kent has a recent tradition of converting unused oast houses into residential, often in attractive rural locations, near farmhouses and with attractive green views. Many oast houses are circular and have a special top designed to rotate according to the wind direction, basically a slow cooker the size of a house, usually with one skin of red brick and often a white top.
    The architect claimed that the newly built house drew on this tradition, including red brick but without cowls on top. The building is unique in that it has a central hub with four satellite houses, presumably for an extended family which has also planted acres of fruit farm. Hopefully the family will cohere over decades to come. This does not provide a template for others. The judges could have chosen any one of several interesting projects. The programme could and hopefully will do more to provide examples, such as factory built houses of steel, or Finnish slow grown timber, possibly more would have no need for heating if they are very well insulated. Large nu/mbers of new housing units are needed. Where is the often cited Harold MacMillan? or modern successor?

  • Helen Dudden 8th Dec '17 - 8:00am

    I’m so pleased to see the many positive thoughts on the subject. I have seen young people, move to living on the streets, a downward spiral. It must pretty awful to live in a shared house with other families. I was told, that is temporary accommodation. I agree, the above posts many options available, it would be a very exciting project housing those who need housing. Perhaps a thought, a think tank and a regional committee of those interested to implement those ideas. I’m sure Wera could see ideas as being a positive step forward. This problem has been made worse by the student housing need. That’s another problem to be looked at.
    I hope by the next holiday, we could see families have somewhere to put a Christmas Tree and their children enjoy a warm, affordable home, that’s as permanent as possible.

  • Katerina Porter 9th Dec '17 - 5:29pm

    There will always be people who will never be able to buy and their situation should now be a priority. Renting at any level used to be the norm. Buying became accessible when mortgages became and for a while lasted as tax deductible. Mrs Thatcher’s
    ” property owning democracy” was of course very attractive but the right to buy should be stopped – it has been a disaster for social housing supply. Apparently many council flats are now owned by private landlords and let at market rents. As I remember she also
    said that social housing should be let at market rents and this led to a majority of tenants having to be those with the right to housing benefit and this led to less mixed communities.
    I do not remember that private landlord were controlled on rent levels or standards but where as taxpayers we give support, and we do and should give support, should be
    studied. THere was a lot of idealism in planning post war council estates though it faded,
    and it should all be studied again.

  • Katerina Porter 11th Dec '17 - 10:24am

    PS A good example of the idealistic approach was Alison and Peter Smithson’s Robin Hood Gardens council estate with very carefully designed public space. It is now being demolished.

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