The Covid crisis exposes weaknesses at the heart of our housing system. The emergency ‘all in’ policy for rough sleepers, temporary eviction ban, lifting of Local Housing Allowance rates are all life-saving measures. But we should all be ashamed that our housing system is so broken that such interventions were needed.
Access to a safe, secure and affordable home is no longer available to hundreds of thousands of children and their families. Our whole housing system has to change and alongside national investment in genuinely affordable homes, major reforms to the private rented sector must be a core part of that change.
Labour Housing Group Patron Karen Buck MP, has done outstanding work on improving rights for renters, including bringing forward the Homes for Human Habitation Act in 2019. Labour needs to campaign for a private rented sector where renters pay a fair rent, are treated decently by their landlord, get their repairs done on time and can put down roots in a community.
There is hope that this is a moment to reflect on the powerful impact that our housing situation has on our health and inequalities in our housing system but this Tory Government is not bringing forward the legislation needed. For a decent and fair recovery, where no-one is left behind, we need urgent measures to keep renters safe and a programme of long-term reforms.
Renters need secure homes – this is better for them and for economic recovery. It is a huge relief for renters that the eviction ban has been extended to the end of August but there is so much more to do. Following years of collective action, the Government has scheduled the Renters Reform Bill, but we must continue to press them and our representatives in Parliament to make sure that it is debated and enacted as soon as possible. The sooner that Section 21 ends, the sooner that tenants can feel secure in putting down roots in their community.
Private renters have very few rights to information about their landlord or new home. It is not right that renters cannot check whether landlords have met certain standards. Mayor Sadiq Khan’s blue print for renters in London sets out how we can improve access to information for renters and we should campaign for devolution to local and regional authorities to establish accountability locally for landlords. For Labour activists, preparing for local elections in May 2021 will be a key moment to speak to private renters, listen to their experiences and work on local policies to support private renters.
As a local Councillor, I know just how hard it is to use the legislation available so that repairs are done on time, homes are properly maintained and renters are treated decently. The powers to take action on these issues rest mostly with local authorities who have endured a decade now of funding cuts. For a fully functioning private rented sector, which works for renters, landlords and the economy, we need a transparent and standardised funding settlement for local authority enforcement services.
The connection between housing and health was cemented in public policy nearly 150 years ago in 1885 in the Royal Commission on the Housing of Working Classes. This relationship was maintained when Nye Bevan became the Minister for Health and Housing in 1945. The Covid crisis reminds us just how linked our health is to our housing. We cannot afford to wait another 75 years before this connection is renewed in policy.
Many renters report not just a detrimental impact of insecure housing on their physical health but also a strain on their mental health. Not only are some of our most vulnerable households living in insecure homes but many of the key-workers who care for us, feed us and nurse us are spending their already low wages on private rented homes with very few rights. We urgently need transformation of the private rented sector, for a recovery that leaves no-one behind.