Along with the other SHOUT campaigners I was pleased to attend The Homes For Britain rally on Tuesday 17th March 2015. It was fascinating to see a great mix of housing group representatives, campaigners, politicians and tenants pouring into the Westminster Central Methodist Hall, and we were proud to add our voice to the diverse chorus calling to end the housing crisis.
It is our intention to make the provision of social rented housing a core element of any offering to solve the housing crisis. We therefore found it really encouraging that the loudest cheers and applause from the audience came when speakers mentioned that it was clear the only way to meet the level of housing supply required to solve the housing crisis would be through reinvigorating government investment in building social housing.
As a group, we're lucky to feature a number of eloquent writers, and Colin Wiles, Tom Murtha and myself have all had our say about the Rally over at 24Dash. None of those blogs have really covered what it was like to be at the rally, so I thought I'd share a little bit about how the day went for us.
Some of the SHOUT group had a meeting before the event in the Café at the hall. Being keen disruptors, we pushed two tables together and set about an unmeeting which had notes taken by two people. We talked about the noise we've already made, and the things we still have to SHOUT about.
There were a lot of positive things for us to reflect on from the opening parts of our campaign, and the sense that there's an immediate, pressing need for us to push for a little bit more fundraising so that we can meet our first goal – to commission a piece of economic research to make the case for bricks, not benefits.
We're really close to finalising the shape this economic research will take, but are keenly conscious that it needs to be a piece of independently verified, reputable research. There is already widespread consternation from many people within the UK Housing community, and politicians, that for every £100 of taxpayer's money spent on housing in Britain, £95 goes towards the ever-increasing Housing Benefit Bill and only £5 is used for building homes.
We're really close to meeting the financial target for this research, but we need a bit of a push to get us over the line, so as well as supporting the broader call to end the housing crisis within a generation, a lot of our communicating on the day and into the evening was about securing the funds we need to solidify the plans that were repeatedly called for during the event itself - to get government investing effectively in the provision of homes again.
Tom Murtha, Lorna Fielker, Kim Wharton, Rob Gershon, Jon Daley, Kate Murray, Peter Bond, Lucy Ferman, Aileen Evans and Tim Morton meeting and greeting on the green outside the Hall.
We were excited to add our voice to the hundreds of other people outside on the green before everyone went inside the hall. Rules about heckling made it clear that it wasn't going to be a rowdy day, but we sold badges and swapped business cards, and made off with Homes For Britain wristbands. We gave interviews and between us spent time on the green speaking to old friends and new allies, and explaining the key messages of the campaign.
As with all housing communications, it's easy to get bogged down in details, so we handed out our SHOUT business cards with some of the key campaign requests:
1 - To invest in at least 100,000 social rented homes per year.
2 - To revolutionise Right To Buy so that if it stays as a policy, every home sold must be replaced.
3 - Recognise the contribution social housing makes to economic and social wellbeing.
Once inside the hall, there was some lively debate amongst the SHOUT members as we considered what each of the speakers said. As was a common feeling on the day, we all felt that it was a positive thing that even if the parameters of solving the housing crisis within a generation seem a bit difficult to pin down, that there was a seeming consense from a lot of disparate groups about solving that crisis.
Although the ban on heckling in the hall stood largely unchallenged, I was quite pleased that we still managed to vocally support or vocally question some of the things presented to us on the day. Not all SHOUT members stayed to hear all of the political speakers, but the passionate support shown for tenants by the hall's support for binning the removal of the spare room subsidy and building more homes people can afford to live in, in the form of grant subsidy for social rented homes was clearly felt.
Having heard a consensus from speakers Owen Jones, Tim Montgomerie, Caroline Lucas, Ken Loach and others that the way to truly solve the housing crisis is to provide social rented properties, we came away feeling positive about our message and with a few more pledges from housing providers keen to make the case for the most efficiently priced, highest quality homes in the form of social rented housing.