I am honoured to have been asked to serve the country as Shadow Secretary of State for Housing and I look forward to working with you all to campaign for strong housing policies that will improve lives across the country.
In this national crisis and the effort to limit the spread of Covid-19, our homes are becoming more important than ever – and inequalities are ever starker. The lockdown is much more difficult for families living in cramped, unsafe flats, people with precarious jobs and victims of domestic violence, for example. All these groups need urgent support.
As a first priority, I will be pushing the government to help the many thousands of people who are now unable to pay the rent and are threatened with homelessness once the government’s three-month freeze on evictions expires. I’ll also be challenging them to work constructively and supportively with local authorities, homelessness organisations and others to ensure that the people who have been accommodated in emergency accommodation during the crisis are not pushed back into homelessness but are provided with the housing and the support needed to prevent further homelessness.
I will scrutinise every proposal the government makes on housing and homelessness and offer constructive suggestions during this crisis. We all need the government to succeed and this is not a time for political point scoring. The government has asked us to offer challenge and suggestions and that’s what I’ll be doing.
However, as we all know, even before the current crisis, there were huge problems to solve. We have a chronic shortage of housing, including social housing and affordable homes. Homelessness has spiralled upwards in the last decade of Tory governments. And we urgently need to make homes more energy efficient and incorporate renewable energy technologies as we tackle climate change as well as Covid-19.
I have always been interested in housing, one of Labour’s most important policy areas. The last five years as MP for Bristol West, with huge inequality in housing, has taught me a lot about this complex and fascinating subject. It’s reinforced my belief that everyone should have a decent home which is truly affordable, safe and secure, environmentally efficient, powered by renewable energy and at an appropriate tenure.
Housing has chronic, long-term problems requiring systemic changes and significant investment. This would help with economic recovery and employment as well.
Every Thursday evening we clap for key workers but many of them live in homes which are overcrowded, unsafe or expensive. As we come out of this health crisis we cannot go back to business as usual. We need to fix the crisis in the housing market so that everyone has a home which is safe, secure, environmentally sustainable and truly affordable.
Labour councils across the country have shown that we can do a lot on a local level to provide social and truly affordable housing schemes. We need to build on successes like these from across the country, both in opposition and during the next Labour government.
As you can see, I am going to be an extremely busy. I’ve met and spoken with many of you already and I look forward to working with all of you in Labour Housing Group.