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What does the Queen’s Speech mean for housing?

Despite presenting a large volume of legislation, overall the policy proposals in the Queen’s Speech will do very little to address the underlying causes of our country’s housing crisis.  Labour Housing Group has long argued for systemic change in the supply of genuinely affordable housing (the planning system and housing finance), reform of the benefits system, and regulation of the private rented sector and is campaigning for housing to be set in legislation as a human right. 

The legislation proposed in the Queen’s Speech will not address the challenge of a desperate shortage of genuinely affordable homes, the poor quality and energy inefficiency of all housing stock or the growing problems of homelessness and temporary accommodation.  The legislative programme does not bring forward ideas for the failing social security system which is leaving families having to choose between heating and eating.  I have set out the outline of what is expected in each of the Bills and then highlighted what’s missing.

The Renters Reform Bill is expected to abolish ‘no-fault’ evictions by removing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.  We have heard this before and we must hold this Government to their promise to now deliver this.  The Bill also proposes to reform possession grounds for landlords – it is not clear what these will be or how the Bill will tackle the issues with administration of evictions.

The proposal for a legally binding Decent Homes Standard in the Private Rented Sector is certainly welcome but currently lacks detail for how this will be enforced, how the enforcement will be funded and how the works to ensure the Decent Homes Standard will be administered or paid for. Similarly, the introduction of a new Ombudsman for private landlords to resolve disputes could be a positive step forward but experience from the Housing Ombudsman, under-resourced and under-powered and struggling to keep up with the flow of escalated complaints from social landlords, suggests that unless this is properly funded this will create more uncertainty for renters.

The Social Housing Regulation Bill attempts to give more focus on consumer standards. With plans to enable the Regulator to intervene with landlords who are performing poorly on consumer issues there is hope for the many residents who struggle to secure a decent level of repair service from their landlord.  This is a u-turn from the Coalition Government’s abolition  of the Tenants Services Authority in 2010.  The impact of this Bill will only really be felt by tenants once the new powers and functions come through the Social Housing Regulator. Labour Housing Group will work with Labour MPs to make the case that the Social Housing Regulator is properly funded to deliver this expanded role. 

Enabling the Regulator to inspect landlords is encouraging – the tenants that I represent who receive a poor repairs service would welcome the chance to call for an inspection and to see the outcome of that inspection. This Bill still has gaps.  There is no stated role for Local Authorities or Local Councillors who are often the first to hear about the impact of poor consumer standards.

It is also silent on the role of local authorities with housing association disposals – local authorities have a responsibility to assess housing needs for their local areas and planning powers to secure affordable homes but there is no requirement for housing associations or the Social Housing Regulator to consult local authorities on the impact of disposals. Finally, this Bill is a missed opportunity to invest in tenant engagement including a requirement for tenants to be on Housing Association Boards or to have a say on local management decisions.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill promises mostly administrative changes to monitoring levelling up, alongside tinkering at the edges of the planning system. Anyone committed to seeing more affordable homes built will despair at the lack of ambition from this Bill. The idea of organising votes on a street by street basis to determine planning applications will just bring in unnecessary bureaucracy to an under-resourced planning system.

The focus should have been on supporting clear policies which prioritise affordable homes and high-quality design standards.  We await the detail on how the Bill will support local authorities to bring empty premises back into use and support the high street – currently local authorities have broad powers to support regeneration and so it’s difficult to see what more will be added which would have a meaningful impact.

It is positive that the Energy Security Bill proposes to appoint Ofgem as the new regulator for heat networks. I represent residents in new build homes who have no control over their energy prices and no powers to demand transparency over costs or choice of provider.  The appointment should go further and provide clear local involvement for consumers so that they have a say in their energy provider. There is a huge gap in making plans to insulate and retrofit existing homes so that they are more energy efficient.  Only a street by street, block by block programme, with sustained investment from national Government will secure the reduction in energy use that is needed to get to Net Zero.

It’s clear what’s missing from this legislative programme.  The Government has failed to address the issue of short term lets, which is eroding the availability of affordable homes across the country, particularly in London and areas with a growing tourist economy.  The Government’s failure to really grasp this issue and tackle the impact on housing supply and on communities lets down both homeless families and those hoping to join the housing ladder. 

It is unsustainable for short term lets platforms to continue operating in central London without further regulation.  There is a gap where there should be a long term commitment to investment in genuinely affordable council and social housing.  This should be delivered through Government co-ordination of major new housing schemes alongside a sustained funding stream.

Going forward, Labour Housing Group will work with the Labour front bench and Labour MPs to make the case for the strongest possible action within these Bills to address the housing crisis.

<strong>Rachel Blake</strong>
Rachel Blake

Rachel is a Labour and Co-operative Party Councillor in Bow East and is Vice-Chair of the Labour Housing Group.

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Housing is a human right: how Labour can make it a reality

For anyone looking at whether housing should be considered to be a human right, a blinding light shines on the obviousness of the question. If housing is not a fundamental right, then what is the point of human rights campaigns?

A new publication jointly produced by Labour Housing Group and the Labour Campaign for Human Rights brings together a number of voices showing how this fundamental change could transform people’s lives. At a time of severe housing pressure in this country, fully implementing the UN’s right to adequate housing makes absolute sense.

The publication follows the adoption of the call for housing as a human right into UK laws by the Labour Party at its Annual Conference 2021.

A number of major Labour figures have called on the right to housing to be recognised and treated as a human right. In his leadership campaign, Keir Starmer said “We have to start treating housing as a fundamental human right”. Others including Andy Burnham have stated their support to the principle, and at Labour’s Annual Conference in 2021, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Housing, Lucy Powell, also spoke powerfully about housing as a human right being “at the heart of our New Settlement”.

What may now be different is that the Labour Party could be poised to go beyond just using the rhetoric of human rights, and instead use it as basis to orient our future housing policies and ensure that everyone, everywhere, can access a safe, decent and affordable home.

But what does this really mean, and why is it so exciting?

First, taking a human rights approach to housing starts by recognising that homelessness, unaffordable rents and unsafe housing are not just social ills, but serious human rights violations impacting millions of people. The flip side of this is to recognise that housing policy is not just about choices a government may or may not make, but about obligations they must fulfil. Legitimate political debate then begins to focus on how to end homelessness, not whether to do so.

Second, a human right to housing provides a framework in which progressive policy can de designed. According to international treaties ratified by the UK – and hopefully in the future incorporated into domestic law – governments must outline how they are acting to ensure housing is available, affordable, safe, decent and provides security of tenure. They must ensure this for everyone, and must take proactive measures to ensure equal provision for groups who may otherwise face discrimination or experience inequalities, whether they be women, minorities or people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, or face extra difficulties because of disabilities. Ambitious concrete policies will be needed to achieve all of these things, from mass council house building and abolition of Section 21 evictions, to ending the cladding scandal, getting rid of discriminatory “right to rent” checks, and providing adequate traveller sites.

Third, a human right to housing should ensure that change is not just driven from the top, but also by empowering residents, tenants and leaseholders to drive change from below. In part this means providing ways in which people can be meaningfully involved in developing policies and also have their complaints heard. One of the many human rights violated in the run up to the Grenfell fire was residents’ right to be heard, with safety complaints dismissed with fatal results. It also means identifying ways in which people can hold authorities accountable for their actions, and seek remedy when rights have been violated. In many cases this may mean effective complaints mechanisms, backed by clear information and support to individuals, in others it may mean recourse to courts with the support of adequate legal aid.

 “Housing is a human right: how Labour can make it a reality” sets out the agenda for tackling the implementation of the right into English law, recognising that there is already a move to do so in both Wales and Scotland, and following the examples from elsewhere in the world. Experts including academics, a former UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, and specialist housing lawyers focus on what the right would mean, how it has been adopted elsewhere in the world, and how it could be enforced.

Labour politicians from around the country have looked at how to guarantee the right to an affordable rent, already being worked on in London and Scotland, to good conditions for all tenants, and to access to a home.

Examples from elsewhere in the world show how progress has been made towards implementing the intention set out in Article 25 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in Article 11 of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) for housing to be included as a right for all nations. As Leilani Farha, former special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing has illustrated, enshrining the right in the laws of any country is not simple or speedy. Canada’s National Housing Strategy (2017) committed the state to progressively implementing the right of every Canadian to access adequate housing. A feasibility study recently published in Wales concludes that the UN expects governments to make progress toward the “fullest possible realisation of the right through the application of resources as they become available”.

So the question about whether we can afford to give our citizens this right – a question that comes up pretty soon in any conversation about this issue – can be answered: once we start to make financial decisions based on this right, then we will find that we can not only afford to do it, but it also makes economic sense to do it. And as the Canada Government has found, implementing this right influences a whole raft of other decisions, financial and otherwise.

The UN’s declaration sets out the principle that this should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity, one that the war in Ukraine has highlighted only too painfully in recent weeks.

By recognising that housing is a human right, and committing to incorporate the right to adequate housing into UK law, the Labour Party has taken an important step in framing a progressive and transformative housing policy. There is much more work to do, but together we can do it. It is to be hoped that many others will join with Labour Housing Group and the Labour Campaign for Human Rights to work on how this right can be achieved here in our country.

This article was co-authored by the Labour Campaign for Human Rights and the Labour Housing Group.

<strong>Sheila Spencer</strong>
Sheila Spencer

Sheila is the Secretary for the Labour Housing Group and was one of several authors involved with the contribution.

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Not just in November

Remembrance Day gives us pause to reflect on the contributions made by those who have served or currently serve in our armed forces. It is more than anything, an opportunity to remember those who sacrificed everything for our freedom.

It is important we also think about how we, as a country, want to support our veterans not just in November, but all year round.

The Coronavirus pandemic has shown that our armed forces keep us safe in so many more ways than we can even imagine. It was the armed forces that were deployed to test people at the start of the crisis and who ensured that vital supply chains kept running.  Even more recently, the army will be drafted in to help support with deliveries during the fuel crisis.

Given how each of us benefits from the safety our armed forces community provides, it should be seen as a responsibility and a duty of all of us to support the armed forces in any way that we can.

In the UK today, there are around 320,000 people without a home. Of those without a home, the Royal British Legion claim that 6,000 are men and women who served this country as a member of our armed forces.

Earlier this year, we hosted a fringe event at Labour Party Conference with SME4Labour on how we can tackle homelessness amongst veterans. At that event, the Labour Housing Group highlighted that the pandemic has shown us exactly what is wrong with our housing market.

At the same event, Sarah Church, former armed forces personnel, spoke about how many veterans feel a shock to the system when leaving the army after serving for decades. What is needed, she said, is support to help with the military to civilian transition. It is because of this that Community is committed to campaigning year-round to support our armed forces.

As part of our campaigning, Community has ran, walked and cycled to raise money for a local charity to help end veteran homelessness and between us we raised over £6,000.

We have created a bespoke learning and training offer for veterans and have been setting up bespoke learning plans, and our members up and down the country have been collecting warm winter clothes, toiletries and other necessities to support veterans. We offer skills courses such as CV writing exclusively to veterans, to support them in the military/civilian transition and equip them with skills needed for everyday life.

Earlier this year, Community resigned the Armed Forces Covenant to reaffirm our commitment to the armed forces community.

We want to ensure that those members of the armed forces community who are currently employed by us or will be in the future have the conditions and working environment that suits their needs and their service.

Another one of our renewed commitments is to encourage those employers where Community is the recognised union to also take the step to sign the Armed Forces Covenant.

As a first proactive step to standing true to that commitment, we have written to every employer we have a good relationship with and asked them to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant.

Community also intend, as part of our campaign to end veteran homelessness, to continue to work alongside the armed forces to secure better protections and extended rights for those currently serving or who have served.

As part of a broad coalition of organisations and individuals working together, we will ensure that no one who has served our country ends up on our streets, and instead is offered safety and protection and for those who want it – good quality, highly skilled employment and the safety net that provides in every aspect of life.

Community will be continuing to work with a wide range of organisations and will make supporting our veterans part of the core of our campaigning work. We pledge to support our veterans, not just in November, but all year round.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Melantha Chittenden</span></strong>
Melantha Chittenden

Head of Communications and Media at Community Union.

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Council housing is the missing solution to the housing crisis

LHG’s new report on council homebuilding – called ‘The Missing Solution’ – is launched at Labour Party Conference today.

As a country we have not built anything like enough new homes since Thatcher virtually ended council housebuilding in the early 1980s. The other sectors – private sector and housing associations – have been left to shoulder the burden but have never got close to bridging the gap.

Despite its faults, council homebuilding is a proven model, it is tried and tested, and it works. Grant is put in at the start to make it viable to build and to meet infrastructure costs, but no subsidy is needed thereafter – subsidising investment rather than consumption is the best use of resources. Because rents are much lower than market-related homes, large savings in housing benefit are made over the lifetime of the homes. And huge savings will be made in other services like health and education because so many more people will live in high quality, affordable and suitable homes. It’s a great investment in bricks and mortar that will eventually pay for itself – and contribute hugely to mitigating climate change.  

After a decade in which the government virtually ended support for new homes at council rents, there has been a spirited fight back in defence of council homebuilding. Councils are doing as much as they can to get building again, but they need a better partner in government. Councils must have the confidence to plan, better powers and resources to buy land and regenerate sites, more support from government to manage the risks inherent in a growing programme, and support generally to build the capacity needed to run a large programme. The responsibility is on government to provide sufficient grant and to reform land and planning to make the job doable.

If this government doesn’t act, Labour needs to think through now what is needed to hit the ground running when re-elected into government. There will be no time to lose.

The report makes a big start on this task. Written by a range of political figures who have recent experience of building council homes around the country and a range of experts who have worked in the field for many years, it considers the gamut of financial, governance and organisational issues that have to be tackled, with lots of local examples of successes and challenges.

Lucy Powell’s speech to Conference this afternoon and the excellent composite resolution moved by Labour Housing Group Chair John Cotton, followed by the launch of the report, are a good start. As John said, the aim of all this work is to make a reality of Labour’s commitment to build 150,000 social rent homes a year including 100,000 council homes by the end of a Parliament. Detailed work and a comprehensive plan are needed to make this ambition a reality. We hope the report will help us in these tasks. 

The report is available here: https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Online_20-09-21.pdf

And the Executive Summary is available here

https://labourhousing.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Missing_Solution_Executive_Summary.pdf

THE MISSING SOLUTION: COUNCIL HOMEBUILDING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Is edited by Rachel Blake, Nick Bragger, Steve Hilditch and Sheila Spencer, with additional editing and design by Simon Hilditch, and contributions from Rachel Blake, Steve Cox, Aileen Evans, Paul Hackett, Steve Hilditch, Jenny Hill, Alison Inman, Satvir Kaur, Janice Morphet, James Murray, Julia Park, Steve Partridge, Jerry Swain, Sharon Thompson, Mike Todd-Jones, Ed Turner and Martin Wheatley.

<strong>Steve Hilditch</strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick blog.
Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

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LONDON ELECTION NEWS ‘Fair Deal for London Housing’ campaign now on FB and Twitter!

London Labour Housing Group’s ‘Fair Deal for London Housing’ campaign is getting under way with the launch of a new Facebook Group and a new Twitter feed.
The Fair Deal for London Housing Facebook Group aims to connect people with an interest in progressive housing policies for London who are also interested in campaigning for change.
The Twitter feed @FairDealLdnHsg aims to provide a flow of information and ideas to support housing campaigns in London.
London Labour Housing Group strongly supports Ken Livingstone’s campaign to become Mayor and Labour’s candidates for the London Assembly.   LLHG has helped develop houisng policies for the campaign and welcomes Ken’s early announcements on planning for London housing, the campaign for a London Living Rent, and plans for a London-wide not-for-profit lettings agency.
More information on Ken’s policies and housing campaigning in London can be found as follows:
On the web:
Ken Livingstone’s website: http://www.kenlivingstone.com/
Labour Housing Group webpage: http://www.labourhousing.co.uk/
Labour London spokesperson on housing Nicky Gavron: http://nickygavron.wordpress.com/
Red Brick blog: http://redbrickblog.wordpress.com/
On Facebook
Ken Livingstone http://www.facebook.com/ken4london
Labour Housing Group http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Labour-Housing-Group/247469867388
London LHG Fair Deal for London Housing http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/FairDealforLondonHousing/
On Twitter:
Ken Livingstone @ken4london
Labour Housing Group @LabourHousing
London Labour Housing Group @FairDealLdnHsg
Red Brick Twitterers: @SteveHilditch  @tonyclements1
Other Labour Housing Group Twitterers @RossSHouston @Scarletstand @JackDromeyMP

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Musical tenancies

Labour Housing Group Executive member Graham Martin moved the housing resolution passed unanimously yesterday at Labour Conference in Liverpool.
The resolution notes the growing housing crisis that will be created by the Government’s policies, falling housing starts, huge cuts to the social housebuilding programme, a jump in homelessness, and the rising costs of housing benefit caused by increased dependence on the private rented sector and escalating rents.
Specifically it calls for a shift in financing of private landlords away from buying existing homes, causing unfair competition with first time buyers, towards investment in new properties which would add to the stock and boost growth.
It welcomes the initiative by Ed Miliband and Ed Balls to extend the tax on bankers’ bonuses to invest in new affordable homes. It calls for the defence of the rights of social tenants and the delivery of more social housing to be campaigning priorities for Labour in opposition.
In his speech, Graham warned that the Government’s policies run the risk of triggering ‘an
avalanche of mortgage repossessions
’.  In reference to private renting, he said ‘It is like the game musical chairs but now it is musical tenancies and as your private sector tenancy comes to an end you have to go and move. And as you play musical tenancies, your child has to play musical schools and musical doctors…. And if you are unlucky enough to need housing benefit to help pay the rent, hey presto this government has taken half the empty homes away. And now this government thinks it is such a good idea they are trying to bring in musical tenancies for council and housing association tenants.’
‘Our children need stable homes, strong communities need stable homes, and what is going on is a way to break communities.’

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LP Conference: housing policy comes centre stage on Thursday

As we have reported on Red Brick already, housing has been a big theme at this year’s Labour Party Conference.  Much of the discussion has been good and positive – although unfortunately not all.  The housing debate will come to the main Conference on Thursday morning.  There will be a debate around a ‘composite’ housing motion (ie assembled into one from a number of motions submitted by Labour Party organisations) and it is likely to be moved by Graham Martin from the Labour Housing Group Executive.  There will also be a speech from Caroline Flint.
The debate should be carried live on the BBC Parliamentary Channel (which I much prefer to the BBC2 coverage, where speakers are constantly interrupted by presenters and
commentators who seem to think they are the attraction).
Anyway, to help Red Brick readers follow the debate, below is the composite motion that
will be debated (NB it may be subject to a little grammatical tidying up before Thursday).
I think it is a motion we can all support.
Composite 4 – Housing
Conference notes with alarm the independently-commissioned forecast of the National  Housing Federation (30th August 2011) that the housing market will be plunged into a unprecedented crisis as steep rises in the private rental sector, huge social housing waiting lists, and a house price boom are fuelled by a chronic under-supply of homes.
Conference notes the publication of national house building statistics on 18 August,
showing falling housing starts and completions, and the Home Builders Federation’s ‘Housing Pipeline’ report on 26 August showing that planning permissions for new housing are also falling, the sharp fall in house building to just 23,400 homes last quarter, the 18% jump in homelessness over 12 months and the £1.3 billion pa rise in Housing Benefit payments. In the last five years of Labour Government over 250,000 new affordable homes were delivered in England, while the Tory-led government is aiming to deliver just 150,000 by 2015.
In 2010/11 just 105,000 homes were built in England – the lowest level since the 1920s. These figures are an indictment of the Government which is blind to its inevitable
consequences – increased homelessness and joblessness, rising market rents, and the inability of young and middle aged households the opportunity to either buy or rent a decent home.
Conference believes that by failing to deliver the new affordable housing to buy and to
rent that young people and families need, the Tory-led Government is holding back the aspirations of people up and down the country and failing those in need of social housing.
Conference believes the Government’s plans to abolish secure tenancies, and put social tenants at risk of eviction should they get a promotion or a pay rise will create fear and uncertainty and will create a disincentive to work.
Conference believes that with nearly 2 million households (around 4.5 million people)
nationally on council housing waiting lists and the Tory/Lib Dem government threatening security of tenure, the Government is letting down young people and families who need new affordable homes in the rented sector and in the sales market urgently.
Given the huge increase in housing benefit going to fund private landlords, we also call for a shift of financing of private sector landlord investment away from purchasing existing second hand homes (in competition with first time buyers), and towards investment in New Properties. This will result in an increase in quality supply, and better opportunities for younger and middle aged families to purchase a home.
Conference strongly believes that Labour should be on the side of all those in need of decent affordable housing, whatever their circumstances.  Conference firmly believes that the development of new housing not only meets the needs of our community but is crucial if we are to see the construction sector as a leading player in bringing strong growth back to our economy.
Conference supports measures to tackle the fraudulent sub-letting of social housing, which
deprives many in genuine need of affordable housing, and notes that in Government Labour launched a national crack down on this type of fraud.
Conference welcomes Labour’s initiative to introduce a new tax on bankers’ bonuses to
raise enough money to boost affordable housing supply.
Conference urges the Labour Party to call for a programme of investment in quality new
homes, which will provide employment, generate tax income, reduce homelessness and the cost of emergency accommodation, and reduce expenditure on unemployment and housing benefits.
Conference calls upon Labour’s Shadow Cabinet and the wider Party to make an increase in quality, sustainable, affordable housing supply including social housing and housing for first time buyers, and better opportunities for younger and middle aged families to purchase a home, key themes in policy development, and to prioritise in its housing policy review an allocations policy that is fair to everyone.
Conference resolves that defending the rights of social tenants and the delivery of more
social housing must be campaigning priorities for Labour in opposition.

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Labour Housing Group events in September

There are 2 big events for LHG in September.
London Labour Housing Group
LLHG will hold its first AGM on Monday 12 September at the House of Commons.  The guest speaker will be Jon Cruddas MP who will lead a discussion on London housing policy for the mayoral election and the Labour Party’s national housing policy review.
The meeting is open to members of LHG living in London.  Labour Party members can sign up to join LHG at any time, including on the night.  For membership information, go to: http://www.labourhousing.co.uk/join-lhg
We need to know numbers in advance so if you are interested in coming, please email Steve Hilditch at steve@hilditchonline.com
LHG at Labour Party Conference.
For those attending Labour Conference in Liverpool, below is the information for LHG’s fringe meeting.

Labour Party Conference 2011 Fringe Meeting

Labour Housing Group with SERA and the Co-op Party

Homes  For The Future – reviewing possibilities
for Labour’s housing policy

Sunday 25th September 2011 –– 6.00pm – 8.00pm

Riverside Balcony, ACC BT Convention Centre

Chair Jacky Peacock OBE, Vice Chair LHG

Speakers:
Alison Seabeck MP, Shadow Housing Minister

Leonie Cooper, SERA

Huw Lewis, Welsh
Labour Minister for Housing

Admission is FREE and REFRESHMENTS are provided