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Bishop Guli’s speech to the House of Lords during the Queen’s Speech Debate

11th May 2022

Speaking in the Queen's Speech Debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani has urged the Government to be ambitious in its response to the housing crisis.

 

Queen’s Speech Debate Day: 11th May – Levelling Up, Communities and Transport, Speech by the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, 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. I have no doubt that he will have a significant contribution to make, drawing not only from his ordained ministry over many years and across a diverse range of social settings about which he outlined a little in his speech but also from his wider life experiences, including legal and musical. I very much look forward to working with him here in the future.

My Lords, last year I was appointed to be the Church of England’s lead bishop on housing, and so I was especially pleased to see the references in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech to the needs of our social housing sector. And I welcome the opportunities 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, and 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 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’, the removal of 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 set-up of an Advisory Panel to amplify tenants’ voices will be significant, positive developments. I also want to commend the principles set out in the ‘Together with Tenants’ work of the National Housing Federation.

My Lords, Research by the charity Shelter has found 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 its response to this crisis. The strengthening of tenants’ voices is welcome, but must be coupled with significant investment in new social housing. As recommended by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission 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 Government, all of which it would be good to discuss with the Minister.

My Lords, at the centre of these is the critical need for a long-term, cross-party housing strategy to bring about more truly affordable homes and healthy communities, and to ensure no one has to live in unacceptable housing conditions. It’s 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 isn’t enough to address the housing crisis. Good housing should be ‘sustainable, safe, stable, sociable and satisfying’. Houses are not simply buildings – they’re 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” [Is 32: 18]. Public land should be used in such a way as to maximise long-term social, environmental and economic value, not simply be sold to the highest bidder. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to apply this lens to its housing policy.

My Lords, I applaud the work taken forward across this House and the other place in previous parliamentary sessions’ debates surrounding the Fire Safety Act and Building Safety Act to address the cladding crisis. I hope and trust the Government will act with urgency to remove all unsafe cladding on residential blocks.

I could say much more but let me conclude by saying two things briefly. First, that 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. And fitting adequate insulation and heat pumps to replace gas boilers will be key here. And second, and more generally, so many of the other social problems 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 exacerbate by poor housing. If we could find a way of addressing the housing crisis, we would I believe see the 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.

 

ENDS.