We have struggled to keep housing issues at the top of the political agenda in the era of Brexit followed by the coronavirus era. But the housing and homelessness crisis has worsened. On top of everything else, the disaster of Grenfell three years ago led to a new crisis for social landlords needing to replace dangerous cladding, and a new generation of leaseholders facing penury. Yet the short-term arrangements to help street homeless people showed what can be done when there is a strategy backed by finance and determination. And the debate around evictions – which we saw again last week when the coronavirus ban came to an end – has rekindled fundamental conversations around tenants’ rights and the way that the benefits system works for people in and out of work.
We need to argue for policies that will help owners and tenants who have been impoverished and threatened with insecurity because of the Covid crisis. But we also need to think longer term about the housing policies that are essential to the UK’s economic and social recovery. Labour’s objective should be to make the recovery as smooth and equitable as possible with progressive housing policies. We need far more genuinely affordable and green homes, designed to the highest, safest standards, more flexible to meet the needs of people working from home but also with a better external environment and community facilities.
We need policies fit for all tenures and all parts of the country. We need to make sure that councils can take the lead in defining and meeting the needs of their areas. But we must also ensure that our policies are attractive to the electorate and help to build support for Labour in all areas and across all tenures. We have much to offer private tenants whose lives have become far more precarious during the pandemic. We must have a focus on helping people into home ownership, whilst realising that route is now closed to many who need high-quality alternatives. We should work closely with newly-emerging leaseholder groups to look at ending this feudal system. We need to support better regulation, and council and housing association tenants’ rights to ensure they get a good service from their landlord and have a bigger say in decisions.
Labour Housing Group is determined to lead the renewed debate about housing policies that can lead the recovery. Our upcoming online conference is a good start. We will hear from new Shadow Housing Secretary Thangam Debbonaire, who will explain what Labour is doing now to combat the Tories and how we can build future campaigns. As a lot of housing policy is made in the Treasury, we are also delighted to host an interview with Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds. She will be interviewed by Steve Hilditch – one of the founders of LHG – who will be drawing out Anneliese’s thoughts on how a future Labour government could improve the operation of the housing market for owners and renters, how we should prioritise public investment in new and greener homes, and whether we can switch spending from ‘benefits to bricks’.
Eight workshops will cover the whole gamut of housing policies (other than homelessness, which was the topic of LHG’s fringe meeting at Connected 2020). Speakers at the workshops include four MPs: Clive Betts and James Murray talking about building public housing once more, and Mike Amesbury and Abena Oppong-Asare reflecting on what we can learn from the appalling Grenfell disaster and its aftermath. We are also pleased to welcome speakers from three different areas talking about how racial disparities and inequalities in housing provision have affected BAME communities. And we will hear from local authority cabinet housing leads, academics, lawyers and campaigns such as the Labour Campaign for Council Housing, the SHOUT campaign for social housing and the National Leasehold Campaign. Working together across our movement, now is the time to build socialist housing policies for a recovering Britain.
LHG is holding an online conference on Saturday, open to all Labour members, in partnership with the frontbench housing team, socialist societies and Labour campaign groups. You can see more about the conference here and register here.