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Housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision

We have a mountain to climb to win the next election, but housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision as the best country to grow up and grow old in

Labour is the Party of safe, secure, affordable homes to rent and buy. We have a proud record in national and local government, upgrading social homes to make them decent and warm and building new truly affordable homes for local communities.

I’m delighted to have been appointed Shadow Housing Secretary. It’s a huge brief, with lots to do. I’m keen to work with colleagues in the Labour Housing Group to engage with voters and members on the key challenges and opportunities. 

A decade of Conservative government has made the housing emergency worse. 

The failure of the government to build social housing has pushed many into the private rented sector which has exploded in size, and cost. Taxpayers now pay billions of pounds in housing benefit to landlords, getting very little in return. Private tenants pay expensive rents, have few rights, and are often at the mercy of unscrupulous practices. The pandemic has brought renters’ plight to the forefront.

The government should make good on their promise that no one should lose their home because of the virus. I challenged Ministers to bring forward a plan to tackle the Covid rent arrears crisis recently in Parliament. We’ve argued for emergency legislation to end Section 21 evictions, yet government have kicked the Renters Reform Bill into the long grass. 

We’ve seen homeownership plummet, whilst house prices have surged, pricing first time buyers out of the market, and creating huge inequality in housing wealth. The government’s stamp duty holiday has pushed up prices wiping out the benefit whilst making it more expensive for everyone, including first time buyers, to get on or up the ladder. 

Fixing the Building Safety scandal is another priority. The Government’s approach to building safety has been ineffective, blighted by inertia, and is beset by increasing costs. I’ll work with anyone to get homeowners out of the fix they’re in. It’s wrong that leaseholders and tenants are being forced to shell out money for faults they didn’t cause, all the while living in unsafe, unsellable, homes.

Social landlords have been excluded altogether from the Building Safety Fund, using up valuable funds that they would have invested in new council/social housing after being abandoned by government. As the Building Safety Bill goes through Parliament we’ll work to get leaseholders a cast iron guarantee that they won’t have to pay for fire safety works.

We’ve also called for the government to establish a new Building Works Agency – a crack team of government-appointed experts and engineers in direct charge of resolving this crisis, going block by block, assessing risk, commissioning and funding works, certifying buildings as safe and flats sellable. 

The BWA would work closely with local authorities and fire chiefs, who have been gathering data and are well placed to know how to manage projects in their areas. The Agency would also have the legal powers to pursue those responsible for costs through the courts. 

Our Building Works Agency follows the model in Victoria, Australia. The big lesson from there that our government needs to learn fast, is that the Government needs to be interventionist, or the work will never get done. 

In Victoria, the government carried out a full-scale audit, proactively going to every building over two stories high, rather than waiting for building owners to report themselves. Cladding Safety Victoria was set up, an organisation with powers to fix dangerous buildings. Each building has a dedicated officer, and they appoint a project manager directly.

Cladding Safety Victoria uses a trusted set of fire engineers to assess the works that will be necessary. They organise the insurance, which is otherwise too hard to get on the market. Cladding Safety Victoria releases funds according to milestones and inspections. Vitally, they ensure that a fire engineer sign off the building as safe at the end. In the meantime, homeowners can sell because they have a proof that the works will be done and paid for.

For too long the government has had its head in the sand, we need to see real leadership to challenge vested interests and get the job done. 

There are lots of other issues in the in-tray too – from future proofing our homes to tackle the climate emergency and create good green jobs, to tackling homelessness, to giving social housing tenants a voice and redress in a system which undervalues them. 

My aim is to put Labour at the heart of the debate on the future of housing. We need a housing system that is safe, affordable, that works for people not simply for profit, and brings Keir’s leadership pledge that housing is a human right to life. 

We have a mountain to climb to win the next election, but housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision as the best country to grow up and grow old in. I look forward to working with you to achieve this. 

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Lucy Powell</span></strong> <strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">MP</span></strong>
Lucy Powell MP

Lucy Powell is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Manchester Central and Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary.

2 replies on “Housing has to be at the heart of Labour’s vision”

With the London Mayor refusing to listen the Planning Inspectorate and review the Green Belt , you cannot purport to be caring about providing housing . London Is a disaster zone providing less than half the need . The Green Belt needs to be reviewed .

Hi Lucy,
I 100% agree with you that housing needs to be at the heart of the Labour offer; as we move out of Covid and leave Brexit behind, I believe that this will be the big issue of the next few years.
I do worry, however, that all the talk of the ‘housing crisis’ concentrates too much on the South, and London and the Southeast in particular.
Here in Hull for example, affordability is not really the big issue, and neither is dangerous cladding. Our main issues are the size (25% of all housing in Hull) of the PRS and the quality of the PRS … most of it owned by out of town, buy-to-let landlords.
We are also seeing neighbourhoods slowly becoming ghettoised as more prosperous people move out and bad landlords/supported housing accommodation providers move-in, bringing further stress to already stressed neighbourhoods.
It is also worth saying that our neighbourhood, along with many more across the North, are still recovering from Labour’s ‘big idea’ of the noughties – namely Pathfinder – an unmitigated disaster, that Labour never acknowledged.
I think Labour also needs to explain why it did not rescind ‘Right to Buy’ during its 13 years in power. This policy continues to move property from Social Housing to the PRS, which let’s face it, is one of the major structural problems with the UK housing market.
I was fortunate to have been one of the commissioners on the ‘Affordable Housing Commission’ established by The Smith Institute and The Nationwide Foundation and chaired by Lord Best. Its work can be found here: https://www.affordablehousingcommission.org/
The Commission identified this structural problem whereby the imbalance between the PRS and Social Housing was too great and getting bigger – exacerpated by RtB.
We simply must find ways to increase the UK stock of genuinely affordable housing/Social Housing and reduce the size of the PRS (even the National Landlords Association agreed with this finding!)
I am the CEO of a Hull Housing Charity. We have been renovating empty properties in our neighbourhood for over 35 years. We work with a lot of disadvantaged people, giving them work experience and support, in the process of the house renovations. We see ourselves as a neighbourhood regeneration scheme, based in the heart of our community.
Please do come and visit … we can give you a tour of our neighbourhood, and an insight into our work.
https://giroscope.org.uk/

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