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Localism Bill Committee debates social housing clauses

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

This week the House of Commons Committee examining the Localism Bill moved on to Part 6 of the Bill, the part dealing with social housing.  Over the coming few sessions, the Committee will look at the various government proposals for homelessness and allocations, social housing tenancies, mobility, regulation, HRA reform, complaints and the Ombudsmen function.  It is a huge agenda of change, much of it controversial.

In the first debate on this part, Shadow Housing Minister Alison Seabeck set out some general comments on the government’s approach and that of the Labour opposition, extracts are included below. 

Readers interested in the detail of the Bill and the Parties’ stances on the issues coming up can follow the full debate clause by clause through the ‘They Work for You’ website.  Start the housing section of the Localism Bill here.   

The Committee has a coalition majority and its members (all parties) currently are:  

Jack DromeyDavid WardBob NeillFiona BruceHenry SmithGavin BarwellIan MearnsBrandon LewisNick RaynsfordJames MorrisAndrew StunellJohn Howell,  Eric OllerenshawHeidi AlexanderIain StewartSiobhain McDonaghBill WigginAlison SeabeckNicholas DakinStephen GilbertJonathan ReynoldsJulie ElliottGreg ClarkDavid SimpsonAlun CairnsBarbara Keeley

Extracts from speech of Alison Seabeck MP on 1 March 2011

“Social housing is an integral part of the housing mix in this country. It provides secure and affordable accommodation for low-income families, for pensioners and for people who are unable to work or who cannot find a job and are vulnerable. Historically, it has been a safety net ensuring that the most disadvantaged in our community, as well as those in housing need for a very broad range of reasons, retained the human right to a roof over their head. Housing is a human right that was upheld by the Supreme Court in a ruling on Manchester City Council v. Pinnock, and more recently in the case of Hounslow LBC v. Powell, in which the judges who heard the appeal talked about “respecting a person’s home”.

“Most importantly, social housing—I would prefer not to label it in that way—forms an essential part of many communities. They are homes, sometimes occupied by successive generations of the same family, which make up communities. Communities come in all shapes and sizes, but even those that may be seen by the outside world as difficult areas have a sense of strong community.

“The most recent statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that 17% of households in England live in social rented housing; for pensioner households, the figure rises to more than a fifth. About a quarter of ethnic minority households live in social housing. The median household income in 2007-08 in social housing was just £10,900 a year. Those living in social housing are not in a land of milk and honey, as is sometimes suggested. Many are vulnerable, many are poor and any changes to the social housing system need to be approached carefully and with sensitivity. If only the Government had taken such an approach.

“We know that the proposals in the Bill did not feature in manifestos; they were either opposed or denied by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The Miniuster (Andrew Stunell) repeatedly put his name to early-day motions in the previous Parliament on matters which now fall within his portfolio. We want to understand at which point he changed his mind on the importance of security of tenure and affordability. Was it before or after he was appointed to a position within a Government led by a Tory Prime Minister?

“We seek to amend the Government’s proposals in order to increase protections, defend the long-held rights of those in social housing and those who expect to move into social housing, and provide safeguards for homeless families within the framework of the Bill.”