Tim Morton of SHOUT spoke at the London Labour Housing Group Conference ‘2015 – the Housing Election?’ – in Paddington on Saturday 25 October. This is what he said.
Thank you for inviting me today
SHOUT is a cross party, some would say a very cross party, volunteer campaign that grew from Twitter conversations following John Healey’s Guardian blog last year when he wrote that social housing would be lost unless people stood up to defend it. A group of us found ourselves on Twitter and agreed a manifesto in the spring which we launched at the House of Commons with all party support in June.
John Healey spoke, alongside Gary Porter a Conservative councillor who grew up in council housing and built council houses under the Prescott challenge. John Leech, Lib Dem MP for Manchester Wythenshaw called for the removal of the borrowing cap and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party and Camden resident called for the abolition of the right to buy. Lord Victor Adebowale a cross bench peer talked of his childhood when his family was refused housing in the private rented sector under the “No Blacks, No Irish No Dogs” policy.
My background is that I have spent 30 years working with social housing tenants around tenant control, governance and holding landlords and other agencies to account. I know that the people I work with are passionate about improving their neighbourhoods and ensuring that their providers deliver decent services. I have got increasingly angry at the media portrayal of who lives in social housing as I do not recognise the stereotypes regularly paraded on television and in the tabloid press.
Like everyone in this room SHOUT knows that there is a housing crisis in the UK, and that we need to build at least 200,000 new homes a year and half of those have to be for social rent whether built by councils or housing associations. The last time this country built such numbers was in 1968 and half of the homes were for social rent. The private sector simply cannot build enough homes to meet the need on its own.
How can this be achieved? By removing the borrowing cap for local authorities and changing the accounting rules on public sector borrowing to bring us into line with the rest of the world. The government needs to use public investment up front to enable Housing Associations to build homes at scale – in other words we need Bricks not Benefits.
What impact will this have? We can charge lower rents, and thus a lower housing benefit bill, alongside tenants having disposable income which they can spend in local economies creating more jobs.
We believe that Affordable Rent is a scam predicated on the idea that providers can build homes without subsidy. They may well build them, but they don’t rent them without massive housing benefit subsidy. While the idea was sold as renting to a different group of tenants, in practise the tenants are the same, it’s just that the Housing Benefit claims are bigger. Furthermore there have now been 40,000 conversions of social rented properties to higher Affordable Rent properties, but tenants living next door to each other get no different level of service, their housing officer doesn’t have shinier shoes or better buttons compared to the social rent officer. Finally the affordable rents are tied to the market rent – a market rent which rose 19% in London last year, so adding inevitably to the rise in the Housing Benefit bill.
SHOUT welcomed the Lyons Report as it is full of analysis and data about the housing crisis, we believe it assembles compelling evidence and much of its analysis is correct, but it swerves at the last in its recommendations and its final conclusions are wrong 50,000 social homes by 2020 is simply not enough to address the problem of affordability. We need to invest in bricks not benefits.
Finally what can you do as councillors and Labour Party members? Well the Labour Party is famously a resolutionary party so you could follow Cambridge, Gateshead and Sheffield City Councils and pass a resolution in support of SHOUT. You can continue to argue the case for more public investment and the lifting of the borrowing cap within the Labour Party, and crucially you can encourage tenants to register and to vote.