As an inner London MP, housing is probably my biggest area of casework. Availability and quality of housing in London is a real problem, and it’s not only an issue for those on low incomes that rely on social housing but also young professionals looking to get onto the housing ladder. Many people can no longer afford to live in London, let alone Tooting, with some forced out of London, often many miles away from elderly parents or siblings, in turn creating additional social problems.
We British are more obsessed with owning a home than our European and American cousins, who often rent rather than buy. But for many in London while buying is just not an option, even renting is becoming increasingly difficult. A quick glance on any of the major lettings websites shows that for a basic studio flat in my constituency you are looking to pay anything from £600 plus per month, regardless of condition and quality.
I’d like us to consider setting up a London wide lettings agency. The main benefit would be to reduce rents by cutting out the profits of letting agents, some of whom ’rip off’ prospective tenants. Ken Livingstone had a similar idea in his mayoral campaign. This is an easy and quick way of ensuring Londoners have access to good quality affordable housing. The stark reality in my constituency is that there just isn’t enough social housing to support demand (including many families). Equally, those languishing on council waiting lists for years struggle to rent in the private sector because of the vastly over-inflated rents that show no signs of going down. These are hard working people who do not want to be reliant on housing benefit to pay all, or some, of their rent. In fact, one of the reasons why the housing benefit bill is so high is the exorbitant private sector rents, with councils happy to divert people into the private sector rather than build council homes, so that they don’t pick up the bill. This creates a perverse incentive for councils to move people to the private sector, which leads to rent inflation.
Placing a large proportion of London’s rental stock under the control of the lettings agency for the specific use of Londoners in desperate need would have a deflationary impact on rents. Taking away the fear of social cleansing will enable London to continue being what it has been good at for so long – an inclusive, varied city which caters for all types of people regardless of income. The benefits of a good housing stock, available to the many, are huge. Families having a comfortable home and not living, literally, on top of each other, make for a happier home. Homes where everyone can flourish – where kids can study more effectively and play more freely, and the elderly can be sure that their pension won’t be swallowed up by a faceless landlord.
London is only as good as its people, but with nowhere for people to live, London suffers.
While the Labour government did lots to improve the quality of social housing, we have to admit we ultimately didn’t build enough new properties. There’s much more to be done, and by implementing this policy idea we could see a drop in rents, leading to a smaller housing benefit bill and diminishing the prospect of “social cleansing”.
This is not the limit of my ambition when it comes to an important issue like housing. This is just one example of something we could do straight away that would make a visible difference. It shows Labour values at their best.
We want and need mixed communities; not just in ethnic terms but also socio-economically. An integrated London is a successful and vibrant London. It’s the London I’m most proud of.