On 11th May 2022, the House of Lords debated the Queen’s Speech. The Bishop of Chelmsford spoke in the debate:
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, I am delighted to follow my right reverend friend the Bishop of Guildford and I congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. I warmly welcome him to the House and to these Benches, and I have no doubt that he will have a significant contribution to make, drawing not only on his long ordained ministry in a diverse range of social settings, as we have already heard a little about, but from his wider life experiences. It may well be that he has been a loss to the world of law and music but definitely a gain to the world of the Church. I very much look forward to working with him here in the future.
Last year I was appointed to be the Church of England’s lead bishop on housing, so I was especially pleased to see the references in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech to the needs of our social housing sector. I welcome the opportunities that the social housing regulation Bill will provide in this Session to make some valuable progress.
Social housing plays an incredibly important role in providing security and stability; this has been brought into increasingly stark relief as the cost of living rises. Measures previously set out in the Government’s social housing White Paper to help ensure that social housing is safe and of good quality, and to bring about greater transparency and accountability, were a step in the right direction. The removal of the serious detriment test and the cap on fines for landlords’ non-compliance, the emphasis on having safety as a fundamental objective of the Regulator of Social Housing, and the setting up of an advisory panel to amplify tenants’ voices will be significant, positive developments. I also commend the principles set out in the Together with Tenants work of the National Housing Federation.
Research by the charity Shelter has found that
“250,000 people are homeless, stuck in temporary accommodation”
and that in total 17.5 million people are
“living in overcrowded, dangerous, unstable or unaffordable housing.”
I urge Her Majesty’s Government to be ambitious in their response to this crisis. The strengthening of tenants’ voices is welcome, but it must be coupled with significant investment in new social housing. As recommended by the Commission of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on Housing, Church and Community in last year’s report, Coming Home, for there to be adequate housing support for low-income households, there needs to be a review of how the social security system operates here.
The Coming Home report, which I commend to all noble Lords, describes our housing crisis as “neither accidental, nor inevitable”. It sets out recommendations for action and change, for the Church as well as for the Government—all of which it would be good to discuss with the Minister. At the centre of these is the critical need for a long-term, cross-party housing strategy to bring about more truly affordable housing and healthy communities, and to ensure that no one has to live in unacceptable housing conditions. It is essential that all key stakeholders are part of that process, including central and local government, landowners, developers, landlords, homeowners, housing associations and faith organisations, including the Church of England. We all have a valuable part to play and we in the Church are eager to play ours.
We need more housing, but that on its own is not enough to address the housing crisis. Good housing needs to be
“sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying”.
Houses are not simply buildings; they are homes built to enable flourishing lives in thriving communities. As the prophet Isaiah affirms, “People will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings and in quiet resting places”.
Public land should be used in such a way as to maximise long-term social, environmental and economic value, not simply sold to the highest bidder. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to apply that lens to their housing policy.
I applaud the work taken forward across this House and the other place, in debates in previous parliamentary Sessions on the Fire Safety and Building Safety Acts, to address the cladding crisis. I hope and trust that the Government will act with urgency to remove all unsafe cladding on residential blocks.
I could say much more, but I will conclude by saying two things briefly. First, the ongoing energy crisis brings home once again the importance of improving the quality and sustainability of housing stock, including meeting decarbonisation targets for existing and new homes. Fitting adequate insulation and heat pumps to replace gas boilers will be key here. Secondly, and more generally, so many of the social problems that we encounter in this country, from poor mental health to high crime rates, from school exclusion to domestic abuse, and many more, have their roots in or are exacerbated by poor housing. If we can find a way of addressing the housing crisis, I believe that we will see an easing of pressure on the NHS, prisons and other social services. I look forward to working with noble Lords across the House on all these matters.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Baroness Pinnock (LD): Equally, the housing Bill misses the main issues. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford spoke about the need for a long-term strategy on housing. There are over 1 million families on social housing waiting lists, yet there is no plan to increase dramatically that provision, as my noble friend Lord Shipley described so eloquently. The type of housing built at the moment is determined largely by developers and therefore often fails to meet local needs. The developers’ motive is profit, of course, but that does not meet what many need and want. For instance, older people may wish to downsize or move into extra-care housing. How do the Government intend to meet housing need rather than allow developers to determine what is built?
Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab): We welcome the announcement of the social housing regulation Bill in the Queen’s Speech but will be looking very closely at the detail once it is published to consider whether it will noticeably drive up standards in social housing, ensure that tenants are really heard and that they finally have a means of redress. We agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, who said that a social housing regulation Bill is a step in the right direction but drew attention to the need for significant investment in new social housing and the importance of a comprehensive housing strategy.
Lord Greenhalgh (Con, Minister of State – Home Office and Levelling Up): Both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, wanted to see commitment towards social housing. I point to the affordable homes programme of some £11.5 billion, which is looking to deliver up to 180,000 affordable homes and a record number of social rented homes—some 32,000 are committed over that period, which is more than the previous period.