Having a secure place to live is absolutely fundamental to the ability to lead an enjoyable, law-abiding and productive life. The lack of housing in what is still the fifth largest economy in the world is at the root of our failure to be the country we can and should be – not just for the most vulnerable, but a growing proportion of working people who can hardly afford their private sector rents, and do not currently expect to be able to afford to buy their own house.
If a person is homeless, they will have far worse health, and will cost the NHS far more than the average person with a home. A homeless person is less likely to hold down a job, more likely to rely on benefits, unlikely to be paying taxes. Homeless people are more likely to fall into addiction, to drugs or alcohol or both. Addiction can lead to committing petty crimes to feed the addiction.
And then if they are convicted and imprisoned, they are far more likely to be thrown back out onto the streets when their sentence has finished than in other European countries. The lack of a comprehensive and coherent housing regime for ex-offenders goes hand in hand with one of the highest rates of re-offending in Europe. Unless we are willing to house ex-offenders we are most certainly NOT being tough on the causes of crime.
Conservative Government decisions since 2010 have led to increased homelessness: freezing of Local Housing Allowance since 2016, making assessments for benefits ruthless and compulsory even for people with lifetime conditions, introducing Universal Credit with long waiting times during which people have no money to live on, allowing private sector landlords to evict tenants when there is no fault on the tenant’s part, and so on.
Being placed in so-called bed and breakfast accommodation seriously limits a family’s ability to live their lives – children cannot study, parents cannot relax, there is very little space to put your things, inadequate or non-existent cooking facilities, and very often visitors are not allowed. So I am very pleased that Ipswich Borough Council has its own purpose-built homeless family units at East and West Villa, providing more than 80 households with high quality, safe flats, giving residents the help they need to get their lives back on track.
When families are homeless, what they actually need is a permanent home. We must build at least a million homes across the country – homes that are at an affordable rent, with a landlord that is democratically accountable both to the tenants and to the wider community – in short, council homes. Until we build those homes, far too many young families will continue to struggle with huge proportions of their income disappearing into ever-increasing private rents, or end up camping in their own parents’ homes, often having to share a bedroom with their children or to sleep on a sofa in the living room. A Labour Government will build those homes.
Labour councils like Ipswich are already building some of those homes. But the current government are not making it any easier – far from it: not only have they kept Housing Allowance down, but now they have increased the rate of interest that councils have to pay on their capital borrowing by 50% which will knock a huge hole in the council’s business plan for building homes.
Even when the Borough Council have found the land and the finance to build some of the homes we need, the Government has found other ways to stop them. There are 97 families in Ipswich who do not have the good quality affordable rented homes that they would have had if my Conservative predecessor had not called in the development in Ravenswood because he thought there were too many affordable rented homes. Even now, the proposed council housing on the Tooks site will have less homes at affordable rents, because the Government insists on having some housing in every development at market rates. There will be houses side by side, built to the same specification, with a family in one paying a social rent and in the other a higher market rent. The Council doesn’t want this, but the Government insists.
Everyone needs a Home. We will never be able to improve people’s health, bring down crime, give every child a good start in life, start to tackle climate change, if we do not also deliver good quality housing for all. It is absolutely disgraceful that there was nothing in this Government’s Queen’s Speech to make it happen.