Emma Lewell-Buck MP: What people need is a place to call home

Rough sleeping numbers have risen.
Rough sleeping numbers have risen.

On Valentine’s Day morning, when many of us were waking up to Valentine’s Day cards and perhaps breakfast in bed, a homeless man was pronounced dead in Westminster Tube Station.

I was one of the few MPs who used to stop on my way to work and speak with him, offering him money or food. His passing was not only heart-breaking but an indictment of Tory Britain.

Persistent rising levels of rough sleeping, homelessness and the overall housing crisis are symptomatic of this Government’s neglect when it comes to housing policy.

Theresa May’s speech earlier this week was yet more evidence of this neglect. She once again identified a problem, failed to acknowledge it was a problem of her Government’s making blaming local authorities and private developers, then stated something must be done but made it clear nothing would be done soon!

The set piece of the speech was reforms to planning, reforms that were already announced last year, reforms that won’t be introduced until after consultation and she announced another review for later this year.

Home ownership is at a 30-year low and the number of new low cost homes to buy has halved since 2010. Young people continue to struggle to get on the housing ladder, stuck in a trap where rents are high and homes are unaffordable.

Theresa May is correct when she said young people, who are spending three times more of their income on housing than their grandparents, have a ‘right to be angry’.

The Tories have also presided over the lowest ever number of new social housing for rent. The number of new genuinely affordable social rented homes being built has fallen by 98% since the last year of the Labour Government.

Under the Tories, homelessness has also spiked with 60,000 people in temporary accommodation and rough sleeping rising by 134% since 2010. What the Government doesn’t understand is that low pay, pay freezes, insecure work, rent rises, punitive welfare reform measures, housing benefit cuts, and the bedroom tax all lead to people struggling to pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads, it is no coincidence that their inaction on low pay and their aggressive welfare reform agenda has occurred at the same time as rising homelessness.

Their record on housing, as with so much else, is one of total failure and inaction.

Under a Labour government, new social housing for rent would be a priority, building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year, introducing secure tenancies and curbing excessive rent rises as well as reserving homes for first-time buyers to help young people get on the property ladder.

Labour is also committed to ending rough sleeping within the next parliament.

This speech was more empty words from a Prime Minister and a Government who are increasingly detached from the lives of those they represent, blaming others for their failings announcing more reviews and consultations when what people really need is some action and a place to call home.