Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Conference review: Funding the social housing crisis

This is part of a series of review articles from Labour 18 conference

At times, discussion about the housing crisis can feel abstract and disconnected, but fundamentally, it is about stability. A whole generation now feels like the idea of having a secure place to call home is out of their reach. Progress’ event on addressing the social housing crisis had a lot of detail about potential solutions ­– both local and national – but also addressed those anxieties.

The panel included Jim McMahon, member of parliament for Oldham West and Royton; Farah Hussain, councillor from the London borough of Redbridge; Steve Scotthorne, councillor from Bassetlaw district council; Chris Downing, managing partner at Asprey; and it was chaired by Joanne Harding, councillor from Trafford council.

With so many young people now renting in the big cities, Farah’s perspective was particularly interesting and was a great way to frame the discussion. Often these conversations can be accused of being too London-centric, but London serves an example of the excesses of this crisis. As Farah pointed out, for ‘someone on an average income in London, it is impossible to buy a house’, and for those looking to rent, ‘the market is saturated and insecure’.

The event also explored how we ended up in the crisis that we are in. There are many explanations for the housing crisis, some which are not political, but the role that Margret Thatcher and John Major’s governments played in leading us to where we are now, could not be ignored. ’30 years ago, the Tories put in legislation that largely caused the housing crisis we face today. Legislation that removed two million houses form the social housing sector,’ explained Chris.

It wasn’t just causes that were explored – the panellists also made it clear how elected representatives need to approach the issue.  Steve put the question to the audience: ‘I want to know why the people of Bassetlaw, our local people who we represent, have to take the hit from developers making all the money? Social housing is the backbone of our country.’

Jim took this a step further, setting out clearly what a Labour government should do about housing standards in the rental sector. ‘This is what I think we should do: put all private landlords on notice. Five-year notice period. We think it’s immoral to be housing people in houses that don’t meet a basic safety standard. Most landlords will do it overnight.’

At times passions ran high during the event, with strong contributions from both panellists and audience members. Despite the disagreements about the detail, the shared direction was clear: the system is not working, and we need a radical, progressive government to fix it.

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This event was in partnership with Asprey

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