Martha Mackenzie
Martha Mackenzie

By Martha Mackenzie

37 days to win the election; 100 days to make it count

Yesterday, the General Election 2015 officially launched.

Over the next 37 days we can expect plenty of bold statements, lots of partisan accusations and endless footage of battle buses and rolled-up sleeves. The fight to win over the UK’s 42 million voters is well and truly on.

If politicians are clever, they’ll talk about fixing our housing crisis. Voters in the marginal seats – those key seats that will decide the outcome of the general election – are more likely to be suffering from housing blues.

But if we are truly going to fix this crisis, it is the first 100 days after the election that are crucial. The next government will have a once in a generation opportunity to confront our housing crisis head on – but only if they hit the ground running. Piecemeal measures will not work; the country needs a serious plan to transform housing.

A transformative first 100 days

First things first, we need a Secretary of State with responsibility for Housing. Someone who is visible, accountable – and has the authority to fire the starting gun on a serious housing delivery programme.

Second things second, a Housing Bill in the first Queen’s Speech will show that the government is committed to:

  • Building the affordable homes we need
  • Making private renting more stable, safe and decent
  • Helping people at risk of losing their home

Followed by a detailed plan that faces up to tough choices, this will set the tone for political generations to come.

And what should this plan look like, you ask? Well we’ve got a pretty clear idea:

1) Building the affordable homes we need

At the heart of our housing crisis lies a severe shortage of affordable homes.

What to do How to do it
Get land into the hands of those who want to build 
  • Give councils the power to create ‘New Home Zones’: strategic growth areas earmarked for high quality, low-cost development. This will require more effective compulsory purchase powers.
  • Levy council tax to unlock stalled sites.
  • Build high-quality garden cities and urban extensions.
Increase public and private investment in affordable housing
  • Commit an additional £1.2bn per year to affordable housing, including direct investment in social and shared ownership homes.
  • Capitalise a new Housing Investment Bank that will leverage more private investment for affordable homes and kick-start garden cities.
Ensure homes built meet the needs of those on low and middle incomes

 

2) Making private renting more stable, safe and decent

Over 1.5 million families with children now rent privately, yet short-term contracts and unpredictable rent increases can force families to leave their homes at just two months’ notice. At the same time, conditions in the sector are notoriously poor compared to other tenures.

What to do How to do it
Make renting more stable and family friendly
  • Legislate for a new default 5-year tenancy with inflation-linked rent rises. Alongside measures to professionalise the eviction process, this will improve renting for tenants and landlords.
Stamp out dangerous and poor conditions in rented homes
  • Introduce a National Landlord Register with minimum legal requirements and mandatory training. This register will pay for itself and additional funding for local authority enforcement could be provided through reform of the wear and tear tax allowance.

 

3) Helping people at risk of losing their home

The housing safety net has been cut back to its limit and has taken on a disproportionate share of responsibility for deficit reduction. We should reduce the housing benefit bill by investing in genuinely affordable homes via the steps above – but in the meantime, we need to protect people at risk of losing their home.

What to do How to do it
Provide an adequate safety net to stop people losing their homes 
  • Commit to a review of current levels of Local Housing Allowance support, with a view to re-linking rates to actual rent inflation. At the very least, housing benefit must provide enough to tide people over in decent private rented accommodation.
  • Our existing safety net can work: a combination of fair homelessness legislation, decent housing benefit, affordable housing and legal aid keeps people off the street. The next government must protect this package; any further erosion will put many more people at risk of losing their home.

 

The task ahead is daunting, but it is also achievable. Any government that can tackle our housing crisis will be rewarded by voters. But in order to achieve the transformational change that is needed they must make housing a priority during those crucial first 100 days.

For more detailed information, just get in touch – martha_mackenzie@shelter.org.uk.  

Comments are closed.