Early this summer, I was lucky enough to take part in a talk hosted by Shelter, in which I was joined by a number of talented speakers. One that stayed with me in particular was a Head Teacher of a West Midlands-based primary school, who described from her own first-hand experience the effect that housing (or lack of), has on a child’s education.
Unfortunately, this didn’t come as a great shock to me. During my time as a Member of Parliament I have never shied away from my own experience of poor-quality housing as a child. Indeed, I have spoken many times in the chamber about my childhood experiences of inadequate housing, sofa surfing at five years old and years spent on council house waiting lists.
At times, I have become rather emotional about the matter which has earned me the (somewhat) endearing nickname of ‘Shouty Shaun’ from my colleagues, following some rather impassioned debates.
Furthermore, as a constituency MP, I represent some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country, with Sandwell listed as the UK’s 14th most deprived borough. Indeed, 30 per cent of my constituents live in social rented accommodation (that is 11 per cent over the national average) and 85 per cent of the correspondence that fills my post bag is related to housing. Therefore I know, more than most, the domino effect that poor quality housing can have on lives, including health, education, and opportunity.
Now, I was one of the lucky ones. Whilst my family did spend a considerable amount of time on a social housing waiting list, we were eventually successful and re-housed. I have previously mentioned my gratitude to social housing, stating, when questioning the Housing Minister on the planning process, that “I was saved by social housing, if it were not for social housing I would not be here”. These are sobering words for someone – MP or not – to utter.
Whilst as a Party we often speak about the success we have achieved in building houses (for which I commend the Government), we need to refocus our attention on building social houses, and more importantly, good quality social housing. The Conservative Party has, and always will be, the party of opportunity, yet we need to wake up and realise the correlation between good quality housing and life opportunities. More social houses need to be built, and most importantly, remain social entities.
There is nothing anti-Conservative about being pro-social housing. It suits our political philosophy of ensuring everyone gets a fair start and is able to achieve all that they could. I often must remind colleagues that the left has no right to a monopoly on social empathy and it was a Conservative Government, under Harold Macmillan, who passionately championed this issue
I would also mention that the ambitions of home ownership and the need for social housing can co-exist, with residents of social housing (like myself) striving towards the dream of owning their own home. Opportunities, such as good quality social housing, just need to be made available to allow people to reach those goals.
I am living proof that housing effects so much more than just where you lay your head at night. I am confident that with an increase of social housing being built, kids like me – with a start in life like mine – can end up joining me on the green benches of Westminster.
Shaun Bailey is MP for West Bromwich West. This article was published on ConservativeHome on 12 September 2021.