Monday, February 13, 2017

"Why we need to build a new housing Consensus for affordable and decent homes for all"

This was my speech to Greater London UNISON Regional Council AGM 1.2.17 on our branch motion. It was passed and selected to be a regional motion to this year's National Delegate Conference.

"Chair, Council, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, moving motion 2 on why we need to build a new housing consensus for affordable and decent homes for all.

Council, I don’t have to tell those of you who live or work in London that we live in a housing crisis and that millions of us live expensive, overcrowded and often insecure home miles away from your workplace, your family and your friends.

How many of you here today have grown up children or even grandchildren living with you not through any choice but because they simply cannot afford to move out.

This is not just the low paid. I recently met a young engaged couple who have had to give up their rented flat and move back into their respective parent’s homes to save money for a deposit. One of them was a NHS radiography and the other a junior manager. They had a joint income of over £50,000 but they had worked out that they could not afford to buy or rent anywhere in London. Full stop. The only property they could possible afford is a cheap shared ownership flat but to get this they needed to save £20,000 to cover moving expenses, legal fees and furniture and fittings.

This is not a crisis only in London and is not a new crisis either. Governments of various political colours have in the last 30 years announced a number of different grand schemes which they claimed would solve the housing crisis. Council, they have all failed.

Council, why have they failed? The simple truth is that there is no longer a political consensus in this country that it is the duty of the state to make sure that its people are adequately housed and most importantly that the state would provide the resources necessary to make sure that its people are adequately housed.

While the state being prepared to stump up the money to build homes and make sure they are affordable is of course really important. The need to have a political consensus that this is the duty of the state to provide shelter for its citizen is absolutely key since without this consensus, as we have seen in recent years, you have no chance of getting the money in the first place.

Council, this is not just wishful thinking, this is not “LaLa” land. In my lifetime different political parties and governments used to compete about how many homes they have built and how they will build more homes than anyone else once they were in power. Conservatives as well as Labour.

In London local elections even the conservatives ran on a platform of building more and making sure that rents were less than 25% of average wages.

Council. We must rebuild this consensus and the role of our union in rebuilding is crucial.

We must work with other unions, stakeholders and residents to campaign and make the case for more money, more investment in public housing.

We must work with our Labour Link to make a new housing consensus a top issue within the Labour Party.

We must make the case that the huge amounts of public subsidy wasted on housing benefit should instead to be redirected into building homes. Building homes will put the unemployed into work and give our young people skills and a trade.

If you increase the supply of public housing you will help drive down the costs of homeownership and private renting.

Council. This is not going to be easy. We have to have a government willing to tax the wealthy properly and make sure they pay their bit.

There are huge vested interests who make money out of hoarding land and high rents. We also want to make sure that new investment is in homes that are well built, environmental efficient and also that landlords are accountable and democratic.

Council, this can be done. We could afford a mass house building programme after 6 years of total war in 1945 then as the 4th richest country in the world we can afford one now.

We have to be blunt but persuasive and build a consensus again that the only way that people in this country have any chance of a housing future is for the state to take the lead and once again take responsibility for its people.

Council please support this motion. I move.
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