” Unless we can address the power balance within the existing housing market, whether someone is decently housed will always be at the whim & under the control of the corporate housebuilders & landlords.”John McDonnell
We are pleased to publish below John McDonnell’s speech to Claim the Future’s Housing Meeting on August 21:
Introduction to the Claim the Future Initiative
Thanks to all of you joining us tonight in this discussion.
Some of you will have attended the launch of Claim the Future a couple of weeks ago.
The velocity of political developments is such at the moment that the launch seems ages ago.
So let me remind people who were at the launch and for those that weren’t let me explain briefly what Claim the Future is all about in three points:
First, the loss of the election in December was extremely tough for so many people who had placed their hopes in securing a socialist transformative government. So there was a need to discuss and determine where progressives go next
Second, in the meantime the Covid pandemic hit us and has created not just a tragic loss of life and human suffering but it has also brought about an accompanying emerging social and economic crisis.
Our underfunded public services under immense stress, economy going into recession and people losing their jobs and incomes.
The result is an inevitable questioning of the way our society operates, how it is organised and how it is governed.
Third, indeed the crisis has prompted a more fundamental consideration of what we value and what sort of society we want to live in.
There has been some recognition that this could be a paradigm shifting moment, when our whole view of the world and the world we want to live in could be transformed.
Lessons from the Last Crisis
Many, many commentators have looked back at the last major crisis, the banking/financial crisis of 2008 and argued that by failing to seize the moment, progressives allowed the right to hegonomise the whole narrative of that crisis to their advantage.
The result was a decade of austerity imposed upon us and vast wealth and power concentrated even further in the hands of the rich and corporations.
Claim the Future
So how do we avoid this happening this time?
One advantage that we have this time round is that the resources on the Left are so much greater.
We have a new and extremely competent, creative and professional architecture of think tanks and policy experts and researchers.
We also have a mass membership in the Labour Party, a range of active social movements, Momentum, the World Transformed and a flowering of mutual aid groups and a renewed, extended range of engagement by trade unions in active campaigning and industrial action.
What became a key question for some of us was how can we facilitate the connection of the analysis, the ideas, the policy options for transformative change with the campaigns on the ground and how if necessary can we create new campaigns around some of these new ideas, [in other words, it’s about] Praxis – connecting theory and practice.
If we can do that, we can mobilise so much more effectively to achieve change.
We could potentially achieve a shared understanding of the political, economic and societal change that is necessary.
This discussion on housing:
Tonight’s discussion on housing is an ideal example of the interventions that are needed if progressives are to seize the moment, force immediate change and create the agenda for the future.
Housing is such a fundamental need that it has to be a central issue to be addressed if we are to construct a new society based upon people’s real needs.
So we brought together a whole range of housing policy experts, tenants representatives and campaigners to talk together about the housing issues we face and the solutions needed.
Andrew Fisher has drafted a paper, which we have published on our Claim the Future website, which sets out many of the issues raised and the policy options that people and groups have proposed.
What are we saying?
What are we saying as a result of these discussions?
First, we know that housing was in crisis before the pandemic hit.
The facts are pretty stark.
700 of our fellow citizens died homeless on our streets in the last year.
125,000 children are being brought up in temporary accommodation.
Families were discovered to being housed in metal shipping containers.
Others were forced to live in squalid, often unsafe accommodation.
The benefit cap, cuts in housing benefit and the bedroom tax were forcing poorer families out of whole districts of our cities.
The legal process of Section 21 no fault evictions undermined the security of tenants, producing, for some, levels of stress leading to mental health problems.
Second, the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic has exacerbated the risks to renters and the threat to their homes as wages have been cut, jobs lost and high rent levels continued.
Pressure for a basic level of protection from eviction during the Covid crisis resulted in the court ban on possession orders in March.
The extension in June was also secured in recognition that the impact of the pandemic had not disappeared.
Until this afternoon we were faced with the ban being lifted and, according to Shelter, nearly a quarter of a million renters being at risk of eviction.
At the same time local councils have exposed that given the scale of their financial crisis, they are already unable to cope with the homelessness and demand for housing they face in their communities.
The IfS confirmed that councils are looking at a possible £3.5 billion financial shortfall this year alone as a result of the Covid impact.
Yesterday, the BMA and the health Royal colleges warned the government that the failure to prevent evictions and homelessness “could significantly contribute to an increase of Covid 19 infections.”
The campaigning by renters groups and their supporters has forced another government u turn with an extension of the ban until 20th September. I pay tribute to the campaigners.
Third, even with the ban on evictions extended, renters whose incomes have been affected by the pandemic are at risk of carrying high levels of unmanageable debt.
Unless support is provided the result is simply eviction postponed.
Fourth, as it has in many other policy areas, the Covid pandemic has exposed the fundamental failure of the operation of our housing system.
So let’s talk tonight about solutions. Immediate solutions.
First of course, the eviction ban needs extending not just for a few weeks but as long as the Covid crisis has an impact.
That looks like at least another year.
Second, Johnson promised to reform the Section 21 no fault eviction procedure.
We demand he fulfils that promise and scraps it once and for all.
Third, financial support has been given in direct cash grants to businesses to help them survive and get through the pandemic.
Let’s provide that direct financial support to renters to ensure that they are not burdened by debt.
Fourth, most businesses, the self employed and workers have all taken a hit as a result of the pandemic.
There is no reason that landlords should be exempted.
So let’s use this moment to introduce fair rents, a system of rent controls that ensures that housing is no longer used for profiteering.
Finally in the immediate term, it should go without saying that the bedroom tax and the benefit cap must be scrapped and housing allowance linked once gain to the local 50th decile.
Long Term Fundamental Change:
These are all immediate measures that could readily be introduced in the short term to respond to the pandemic pressures but we need to seize this opportunity to lay the foundations of a housing strategy that provides everyone with a decent roof over their heads.
To achieve that we need a fundamental challenge to the existing system.
To challenge the notion of housing as a source of profit rather than a response to need.
In recent decades the role of housing as a profit making asset rather than response to need has dominated.
At the heart of this profit making is on the one hand housebuilders managing the housing market and land ownership and supply to maximise profit and on the other hand the revived growth of large scale landlordism with landlords buying up properties, forcing up house prices, and controlling rents.
Unless we can address the power balance within the existing housing market, whether someone is decently housed will always be at the whim and under the control of the corporate housebuilders and landlords.
The basic foundations of a housing strategy based on need not profit are:
* A public housing programme that builds the council homes we need for rent at rents that people can genuinely afford, breaking the dominance of the corporate housebuilders over housing supply.
* Land ownership reform that takes into community ownership the land that needs to be freed to house our people.
* Ending landlordism by limiting the number of properties that any individual can own and introducing rent controls.
- Find out more about Claim the Future at https://claimthefuture.today/