I wrote the following article for
Roof Magazine in June 2006
The Tories left us with a shocking legacy including a £19 billion repairs
backlog in social homes, a huge rise in rough sleeping and run-down city centres -
so said the Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper, in a briefing to Labour MPs prior to the
local elections setting out the Governments achievements. No one could dispute
that the Government has put in more money but this is woefully inadequate to deal with the
scale of the inherited problems.
Sadly, the decline in the availability of social housing has continued, not only
as a result of right to buy sales but also as a result of demolitions of homes that cannot
be brought up to the decent homes standard without a greater commitment of resources than
the Government has been prepared to give. Is it not shocking that, after 9 years of
Labour Government, waiting lists for council housing in England have risen by 50%, to one
and a half million, higher than at any time in the last 20 years since comparable figures
During most of this time, priority homeless acceptances were also rising until
last year when, for no obvious reason in terms of the supply or affordability of housing,
they dropped by 20%. The Government explains this as being achieved by the use of
innovative ways of preventing homelessness. However, if the experience of
constituents seeking my help with housing problems is anything to go by, a contributory
factor is the increasingly hard line taken in refusing homeless applications or applying
the intentionality rule (numbers of applicants considered as intentionally homeless have
almost trebled since 1997). The most likely explanation for this is, as Roof
reported last year, that local authority staff are being pressurised to reduce the number
of people they accept as homeless. Strategies are employed to delay even considering
an application (a process that can take several weeks unless someone is literally
roofless) by demanding further information or by requiring tenants in temporary private
rented housing to contest hopeless cases against landlords serving a notice to quit.
Increasingly I find myself in the position of having to explain to constituents,
who approach me with their housing problems because you are our last hope,
that I cannot help them. I know many other MPs find themselves in the same boat.
How do you respond to someone who tells you I keep telling my wife we need to
be strong for our son
but it is hard for me to be optimistic after so many years of
waiting and getting no-where? Nine years ago, I could blame the Tories.
Now all I can do is point to the times I have pressed the Government to improve its
housing record on behalf of those who are neither able to afford good quality market
housing nor are amongst the fortunate minority who live in council or housing association
housing that meets their needs. These are households living in non-decent or
overcrowded social housing, those sharing with friends and relatives and those living in
unsatisfactory and insecure housing in the private sector. Ironically many of the
latter have been placed there by the local authority. Between 1997 and 2005, the
proportion of homeless households placed in private sector temporary housing has gone up
from 17% to 60%. It is all the more poignant when such housing used to be owned by
the council, as in one recent case that came to my attention. A family sought my
help because they are about to be booted out of temporary accommodation in an ex-council
house, rented on their behalf by Birmingham City Council at £300 a week.
The continuing inequality between those who have adequate housing and those who do
not is blighting Labours good record and is creating great resentment. At the
local elections we saw how extremist political parties are tapping into the search for
scapegoats. In response to Kate Barkers 2004 recommendation that an additional
23,000 social homes a year should be built, the Government said that it will set out
ambitious plans for increasing the social housing supply in the 2007 spending review.
Voters at the next general election, less than 4 years away, will judge on the
record, not on the plans.
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