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Curry: Housing and the Conservative Society

Speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference 2004

"I want to talk about housing.

Actually I want to talk about something much more personal than that.

I want to talk about having a home of your own.

Of all the aspirations of people in Britain perhaps this is the most basic of all.

That is why that great Thatcher invention - the Right to Buy - has created one and a half million new homeowners - empowerment in bricks and mortar.

Let's take a couple - perhaps around 30 - wanting to set up home and have a family. First time buyers.

Your kids. My kids. Our kids.

For them buying a home has never been so expensive and never so difficult.

Just look at the figures: last year the average price paid by FTB topped £100,000 for the first time.

And there were fewer of them - fewer than 360,000 - down by a third from the previous year and a fraction compared with the 960,000 FTB in the bad old days of 1986.

So FTB are getting older - aged 34 in England; 36 in Scotland and Wales. We know that grown-up, working children live for longer with their parents because they cannot find a place of their own - how they will love the Liberal Democrat local income tax when it hits three or four wage-earners in a household!

This is a London problem. We are familiar with the problems of trying to buy in London and the South East. House prices there are between 7 and 8 times the earnings of key workers like teachers, policemen and nurses.

But the crisis is far from being confined to London and the South East. The crisis of affordability is spreading out from the deep South like a great stain. According to that great Yorkshire Institution the Halifax eight out of 10 towns in the UK are now unaffordable.

Do you know which region has led the house price explosion over the last two years - well, you're sitting in the middle of it - Yorkshire.

And where the biggest single inflation occurred - not in Bath or Solihull or Kensington and Chelsea or the smart bits of Cheshire where the footballers live - but in a little market town in the Calder Valley about an hour from here - Brighouse.

And if the North led the charge with a 35 per cent rise in house prices Wales was not far behind - 31 per cent.

It is not just the price of the house. It is the cost of the price. Rising prices has pulled people into higher stamp duty - whose threshold has not been increased for 10 years.

A decade ago a FTB may have had to pay stamp duty in London. Now the tax hits the FTB right across the UK. In fact, with an average FTB price in London of £200,000 inflation could soon take buyers into the 3 per cent band.

If ever the way a tax was applied defied logic, stamp duty comes top of the league of perversity.

It is no easier managing the costs of the home. Council Tax has soared under Labour. The average Band D level is now £1,200- a sizeable chunk out of taxed income.

But what about older people who still aspire to own their own home - the people empowered by the Thatcher revolution and the right to buy?

John Prescott has got an answer - stop it. John Prescott is not a joke - he is a threat. Labour has pursued a policy of undermining the right to buy in the name of ideology dressed up as rescuing social housing.

But if social housing were so important how is it that the last set of figures show just 14,000 social houses built under Labour - and it has got worse year after year after year.

And, with the exception of the second world war years, we are building fewer affordable houses now than at any time since the first world war.

Labour's answer to that is a blitz on the countryside which will bury communities in Bedfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire and Kent under regiments of high-density housing, delivered by authoritarian planning bodies which don't even pretend to listen to the local voice.

There is not the remotest guarantee that the infrastructure and services necessary today will be delivered let alone the services to manage housing growth measured in hundreds of thousands.

What about the people in the greatest need- people whose aspiration is limited simply to a roof over their head - the homeless, the people who have bumped down through society onto the street? People who really do have to sleep on park benches

Under Labour priority homelessness in England has soared by almost 30,000 to over 129,000 whilst homeless people in bed and breakfast accommodation now number more than 10,000 compared with the 4,100 when we left power. A failure to help the most vulnerable in society.

Homes are not just shelter: they are the starting point for the engaged, the active citizen, the person anxious to contribute to his or her community.

We often talk about communities as if they defined themselves by bricks and mortar. That is often only part of the case.

There are communities of faith; communities committed to supporting a school, or raising funds for a scanner for the hospital, or restoring the local music hall or clearing out the canal or providing support and hope for victims of illness or accident.

Our cities and towns and villages are where we find multiple overlaying communities and it is by enrolling these communities,

listening to their experience,

tailoring what help we can give to their needs not expecting them to conform to the convenience of government habit,

that we can often empower government to be effective, at local or national level, by empowering people to engage.

Homes, community, citizens, engagement, commitment - there is an essential thread binding these things together.

It is the essence of the active society, the generous society, the Conservative society."

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