By Cllr Sam Stopp, Chair of The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness
The Housing and Planning Bill is a flagship Tory policy and includes measures to introduce the Right to Buy for Housing Association homes, funded by the sale of high-value council homes, in what amounts to a devastating attack on social housing.
But the Bill does nothing to correct the causes of the five years of failure under the Tories and, in many ways, it will make the housing crisis much worse. The Bill will lead to a huge loss of affordable homes to rent and buy, which will intensify the spiral of ever increasing housing costs.
It also introduces ‘Starter Homes’ in place of affordable housing requirements for new developments. These starter homes are supposed to be an affordable option for first-time buyers. But they are for homes up to £250,000 across the country, and £450,000 in London.
Shelter estimate that you would need an annual income of £50,000 in England and a deposit of £40,000 to be able to afford one of the starter homes. Elsewhere in the Bill, the Tories pretend to be on the side of tenants in the Private Rented Sector, by introducing a new database for rogue landlords and letting agents, but only after they have committed a crime.
The Bill sees a massive overhaul of the current planning system, with a huge power grab by central government away from towns and communities. It will lead to a big loss of control for local communities to have their say in how their area is shaped.
More than anything, the Bill is a missed opportunity to tackle the housing crisis head on. A missed opportunity to provide greater security, stability and safety to tenants in the private rented sector. A missed opportunity to offer a genuine hand-up to those trying to get on the property ladder. A missed opportunity to embark on a radical programme of affordable housebuilding.
The Labour Movement must fight against the worst bits of the Housing and Planning Bill. We need to make a strong case for secure and safe housing in the private sector, more affordable housing and support for those wanting to own their own homes, and a focused plan to build more homes to increase supply.
A lot is written about the housing crisis, but it’s not just a crisis for those who are homeless or those who are living in overcrowded areas of high social deprivation. It’s a crisis for all of us. Decent homes make for a decent society and, without a stable home, education and health are affected and family cohesion shattered.
The housing crisis is not just about bricks and mortar. It’s about people and their life chances. It’s about the children who have been in 3 schools before they are even 10, and the teachers who are struggling to deal with the effects of classroom churn every month. It’s about the children who grow up unable to build the roots and childhood friendships that are vital to self-esteem.
It’s about the local GPs who cannot build patient relationships because patients by their 1000s move on and off the register each year as they get shifted from one private rented home to another. It’s about the isolation of the elderly couples who have spent their whole married lives in a street that now has numerous “houses of multiple occupancy” in it and they no longer know their neighbours.
It’s about the 3.3 million adults under 34 who were living with parents in 2013, and it’s about the parents of those adults who worry that their children will never have a home of their own. Losing your job shouldn’t mean losing your home, but for many families it does.
The life of the private renter is typically unstable, insecure, and blighted by anxiety. It is now commonly accepted that we need to build more homes, but we also need to regulate the private rented sector.
Some private landlords have, for too long, been able to take the money without accepting the responsibility whilst the rest of us pick up the costs of unstable communities, marriage breakdowns, and children with no secure home life. Given the private rented sector is likely to keep expanding, we need to create a reputable industry that protects the vulnerable and ensures renters are not at the mercy of some unscrupulous landlords.
In my work with GMB Young London and as the Chair of The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness, I have fought hard against this Government’s neo-liberal assault on private tenants and the homeless. Upon this Bill rests the Tory failure to address the housing crisis. But Labour has the answers. Answers to do with fairer rents, fairer wages, and a fairer housing deal.
The challenge now is to stop the worst excesses of the Housing and Planning Bill, to reverse it where possible, and, in the meantime, show solidarity with thousands of homeless people the length and breadth of this country.