Thursday, 27 June 2013

Owning your own home

Last night I sat next to a young activist at the meal with Chris Bryant and we came onto the topic of buying a house and getting on the housing ladder.

As a relatively young person (30 year old) I know how getting onto the housing ladder is increasingly difficult; many young people in my generation (born in 1980s) are simply priced out of the market across the South and the problem is worsening because of stagnant wages and a lack of supply. 

Housing is an emotive issue for me; I still find it distasteful that some MPs who live within commuting distance (from all parties) find it fit and proper to get subsidized second homes/flats; distasteful when we have a whole generation of people for which the first home remains totally and utterly out of reach. It is partly this reason I have as candidate pledged to commute (as I do now) from Medway if elected. 

A decent home at a price people can afford is essential for a healthy, happy family life. Yet too many people in Chatham and Aylesford have to struggle too hard and too long to achieve that, whilst for many others it is simply out of reach.

I am not a parent but i’ve spoken to young couples - some still living with mum and dad - and they are worried. I am fortunate as a single man working in a relatively well remunerated industry in that I was able to save several years to get onto the housing ladder (and pay off my student debt) but I am unusual, and I know it. I run tight budgets and when I lived in London after I first graduated I did live in some questionable housing conditions (which is why I dislike unscrupulous landlords!). 

Sadly though for many of my own age cohort and many under they may never be in a position to get on the ladder.

People do aspire to own their own home and it is quite clear that token measures by central government are not cutting the mustard. 

New figures published by Shelter show that hard-working young people are locked out of buying new homes for up to 10-20 years because of sky-high property prices fueled by decades of Britain failing to build enough houses (and that includes Labour).

This has led to the biggest housing crisis in a generation with some development land being hoarded unnecessarily instead of being built on. I understand that developers need to maintain a certain amount of land for the future but there are firms sitting on land with planning permission, waiting for it to accumulate in value and not building homes on it. 

Planning permission has already been granted for 400,000 homes in England and Wales – equivalent to a city the size of Birmingham – which have not yet been built. And yet in the latest quarter, only 18,380 homes were completed by the private sector – the lowest quarter in 23 years.

We desperately need more homes in Medway and Aylesford but have spent almost three years dithering – even today the measures announced are piecemeal; It is why Labour is looking at a range of measures to encourage land-owners to start building, get construction workers back into jobs and provide decent homes for local families.

We are looking at giving local authorities real powers to charge developers fees for unnecessarily sitting on land – which would be helpful to both Medway and Tonbridge & Malling - with planning permission and to say to the worst offenders that they should either use the land, or lose the land. Permission to build homes should mean land-owners build homes. 

Local government does need to get more powers; but it also needs to be competent. Medway Council does not help itself; we have been sitting on the Local Development framework for years and we have just seen £35m wasted by the Medway Conservatives on the second Core Strategy document which now leaves open the door for lobbying from developers on cherished greenfield sites. Building new homes need not threaten our cherished green spaces; but incompetence by Conservatives dithering in Gun Wharf is causing concern. Years after cross-party petitions were submitted to safeguard Capstone Valley the threat is now very much real given Lodge Hill is off the cards.

But these options are just a starting point. Nobody should be in any doubt about Labour’s determination to rebuild our country, get our construction industry working again and give families a chance of owning a decent home but not at the expense of cherished green spaces and certainly not at the cost of £27m.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Labour is the party of work

Whilst meeting small business

There are far too many people in Medway and Aylesford without a job and the Tories’ economic failure means their potential is being wasted. But we are also wasting far too much money on a social security system that is no longer fit for purpose.

A future Labour Government will have to govern with much less money and if we want to protect the NHS and turn our economy around then we have to be laser-focused on how we spend every single pound.

Ed Miliband has this week outlined a new approach to social security with four main points - finding work for everyone who can work, tackling low pay, rewarding those who have contributed more and spending money on houses instead of housing benefit.

Firstly, this country needs to be a nation where people who can work, do work and not a country where people who can work are on benefits. But the Tories have allowed long term worklessness to rise to its highest level for a generation while youth unemployment alone cost Britain £5 billion last year.

Labour would control social security spending by limiting the amount of time people can spend out of work through our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee and help unemployed parents prepare for the world of work as soon as their children reach the age of three or four.

But reform of social security needs to work both ways. People often don’t get paid enough in work to make ends meet and the taxpayer is left to fill the gap through tax credits. There are far too many people who are in work but also in poverty and this needs to change so that welfare spending is no longer a substitute for decent jobs and decent pay.Today the welfare state, through housing benefit, bears the cost for our failure to build enough homes. When not enough homes are built it is inevitable that tenants end up paying over the odds and so does the taxpayer through the housing benefit bill. 

We can’t afford to pay billions to private landlords who can charge ever-rising rents when we should be building homes to bring down the bill instead. We have to start investing in homes again and unlike the Tories, this is a Labour priority.

Finally, parts of the public are often distrustful of a social security system that appears to give some people something for nothing and other people nothing for something. For example, somebody who loses their job gets the same job-seeker support whether they’ve been in work for two years or forty. That can’t be right so we’re looking at ways to reward those who have worked for longer, paid into the system and suddenly found themselves out of work.

It is only by controlling social security spending that we’ll be able to limit costs and ensure the next generation in Medway and Aylesford inherit a sustainable social security system that always rewards work. 

Labour is the party of work, and it is our job to make it happen.