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Council tenants will be 'forced away' in bid to tackle poverty

Published 13/01/2016

Jeremy Corbyn says David Cameron does not understand the concerns of council tenants
Jeremy Corbyn says David Cameron does not understand the concerns of council tenants

David Cameron has refused to guarantee that people who live on "sink estates" will be able to return to their old communities after they are bulldozed under Government plans to tackle poverty.

The Prime Minister instead accused Jeremy Corbyn of being a "small c conservative" who wants people to remain "stuck" in dysfunctional council estates.

But the Labour leader said Mr Cameron does not understand the concerns of council tenants and those on the estates who have bought their homes under Right to Buy, who will be "forced away" from their communities.

The PM "hasn't thought this through very carefully" because an average of only £1.4 million has been allocated for each of the 100 estates earmarked for demolition, Mr Corbyn added.

But Mr Cameron hit back: "I accept this isn't as carefully thought through as your reshuffle.

"It's still going on, it hasn't actually finished yet."

The Prime Minister then defended his plans for sink estates accusing Labour of wanting people to "stay stuck in poverty".

During Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said: "We're not going to be able to deal with these sink estates unless we get the agreement of tenants, unless we show how we are going to support homeowners, unless we show how we are going to support communities.

"But isn't it interesting, here is the small c conservative who's saying to people 'stay stuck in your sink estates, have nothing better than what Labour gave you after the war'?

"We're saying if you are a tenant, have the Right to Buy, if you want to buy a home, here's Help to Save, if you're in a sink estate, we'll help you out and that's the fact of politics today.

"A party on this side of the House that wants to give people life chances and a Labour opposition that says stay stuck in poverty."

Mr Corbyn had pointed out that the sink estates will include people who have bought their council homes under Tory Right to Buy policies and asked for guarantees that they could return to the rebuilt properties.

The Labour leader said: "You haven't clearly thought this thing through very carefully.

"Because on every estate that you announce you wish to bulldoze will include tenants and people that have bought their homes under Right to Buy.

"Will those people, the leaseholders, will they be guaranteed homes on those rebuilt estates that you are proposing to do?"

Mr Cameron replied: "What we want to do is go to communities where there are sink estates and housing estates that have held people back and agree with those local councils, agree with those local people and make sure that tenants get good homes, make sure homeowners get rehoused in new houses.

"That's exactly what we want."

He added: "They (Labour) have got absolutely nothing to say about people trapped on housing estates and want a better life."

Mr Corbyn added: "You don't seem to understand the very serious concerns that council tenants have when they feel they are going to be forced away from the community where they live, where their children go to school and their community is so strong."

The Labour leader then questioned Mr Cameron on his plans to build hundreds of thousands of "starter homes" available to first-time buyers under 40 for at least a 20% discount.

He claimed that starter homes would be unaffordable in 98% of council areas for people on the new higher minimum wage, dubbed the "living wage" by the Government, according to research from Shelter.

"So instead of building more affordable homes, aren't you branding more homes as affordable which is not a solution to the housing crisis," Mr Corbyn said.

"Will you confirm that home ownership has actually fallen since you became Prime Minister ?"

Mr Cameron again pointed to policies such as Help to Buy and Help to Save, before challenging Mr Corbyn: "You own your home, I own my home, why won't we let those 1.3 million (housing association tenants) own their homes?

"Why not? What are you frightened of?"

Mr Corbyn was forced to wait until Tory backbenchers had quietened down before hitting back: "I thank the Conservative backbenchers for their deep concern for the housing crisis in this country, it is noted."

Turning to the PM, he went on: "You gave no assurances to tenants, no assurances to leaseholders , no assurances to low paid people who want to get somewhere decent to live."

He then asked Mr Cameron about the problems faced by people who want to downsize their council home as they get older but can no longer benefit from lifetime tenancies if they move.

But the Prime Minister attacked Mr Corbyn, claiming the Labour leader "does not believe in Britain".

He said: "Isn't it interesting what this exchange has shown?

"We've now got a Labour Party who have got a housing policy that doesn't support home ownership, just as they've got a defence policy that doesn't believe in defence, just as we've now got a Labour Party that doesn't believe in work, and a Labour leader who doesn't believe in Britain."

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said later: "Prime Minister's Questions proved that the Prime Minister has woken up to the fact that there's a housing crisis, but doesn't know how to deal with it.

"Home ownership is down, house-building is at its lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s, and - as the Shelter report proves - only in 2% of local authorities can people on the so-called National Living Wage afford a starter home.

"The so-called plan the Tories have announced doesn't have any real answers. The lack of funding clearly shows, He may not even be able to bulldoze the houses, let alone invest in new ones."

The spokesman said millions of households were "frightened" that their homes may be demolished without any guarantee they would be rehoused in the same area.

"If you talk to the people living in the areas David Cameron is talking about and people living in social housing, they are very frightened about what's happening under the Tories," he said. "The lack of security of tenancy is one of the biggest hits on people.

"Nobody is sure what will happen when they demolish these estates. There has to be a suspicion of social cleansing. There's already areas in London which are under pressure to be knocked down and replaced, and I think everyone in those areas treats this announcement as suspicious."

The Labour leader's spokesman described Mr Cameron's claim that Mr Corbyn was a "small-c conservative" as "bizarre", adding: "Jeremy is standing up for millions of working people, millions of people who can't afford to buy a house, millions of people who are now in fear about the security of their tenancy.

"These people are watching Prime Minister's Question Time and recognising that Jeremy Corbyn is speaking for them, not a Prime Minister who's out of touch with the housing crisis in Britain."

A senior Downing Street source said a new advisory panel was being set up to draw up "clear guarantees" to offer reassurance to people living on estates that they will be rehoused.

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