In the past few weeks despite the euro crisis and the Leveson Inquiry dominating the headlines, housing has been a constant feature in the news as a series of reports and figures lay bare just how deep the housing crisis has become.
On affordable house building we learnt that new starts had dropped by 68 percent in 2011-2012 compared with the previous year. This disastrous collapse is not just a simple matter of figures; it reveals the true extent of the tragic failure of the Tory-led Government’s housing and economic policies.
The £4 billion cut to the affordable housing budget not only led to this huge fall but hit the construction and housebuilding industries hard, helping tip us back into double-dip recession.
Only days later we learnt of growing homelessness, a tragedy that is resulting from the Government’s failure on the economy and to build much needed homes. Statutory homelessness rose by 14 percent in the last 12 months while the number of families in bed and breakfast-type accommodation rose an astonishing 44 percent over the same period.
The housing minister’s response to these figures was disappointing but all too predictable. He described the figures on affordable housebuilding as “impressive” and a “dramatic increase” and the news that homelessness had risen for the fifth quarter in a row was met with an announcement of funding which had been announced twice previously.
It is easy on housing to get lost in figures and stats. Indeed it is the solutions to the housing crisis that really matter. But in order to begin to solve the housing crisis it is vital that the
Government recognises that its current polices on housing are failing. That’s why I took the step of asking the UK Statistics Authority to take a look at the housing minister’s use of statistics. I did so with no small regret. I do think, given the consensus that there is a housing crisis, we should all be working towards solving it. But we can’t do that while the housing minister spends more time creating confusion and chasing headlines than he does delivering the homes we desperately need.
Two recent reports, one from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the other commissioned by the Resolution Foundation and Shelter, set out the consequences if the Government continues in its failure to get a grip on the crisis.
We face a stark reality over the coming decade with potentially one million young people locked out of home ownership and a growing number of young people and families coming to live in the private rented sector (PRS). That’s why, as well as looking at how we build badly needed homes, Labour is looking at how to ensure the PRS provides families with homes that are affordable, of a decent standard and offer stable tenure.
Despite the growing crisis I was pleased to attend two events recently that confirmed the quiet determination of the housing sector to get on with providing its own solutions.
The first was a House of Commons event where I was made a Parliamentary Patron of the YMCA, which plays an outstanding role in supporting homeless and disadvantaged young people across Britain. Homelessness, along with unemployment, is one of the most devastating events that can happen in a person’s life and organisations like the YMCA are vital in helping young people get back on track.
It was also a pleasure to address the CIH conference in Manchester on the politics of housing alongside the BBC’s Mike Sergeant, Manchester City Council leader Cllr Sir Richard Leese,
and Lara Oyedele, Chief Executive, Odu-Dua Housing Association. It was a fascinating session in which the speakers were asked to set out what will drive housing up the political agenda.
For my part, as well as setting out my commitment to ensure housing is centre-stage at the next general election, I also set down a challenge to the sector to help me get it there. We
might know the vital importance of housing to the economy, to health and to education. But as the depth of the current crisis demonstrates, housing has not commanded the centrality it deserves for many years. I am confident we can change that.