A Bristol renter has made an impassioned speech at the Labour Party conference in Brighton calling for a radical change to housing policy.
Laura Hallsworth, a member of Bristol East Labour Party and ACORN community union, described the current system where housing benefits were paid to private landlords as a ‘shocking scandal’.
She said it was ‘obscene’ that renters were paying the mortgages of rich landlords and said the system had been skewed to the ‘super rich’.
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Shadow housing secretary Lucy Powell said Labour is “the party of home-owners and tenants” while the Conservatives are “the party of speculators and developers”.
Opening a conference debate on housing and transport, Ms Powell said a Labour government would “fix the housing crisis with a new settlement” for housing, adding: “The Conservatives see housing as a commodity, to be traded, profited from, part of an investment portfolio, a pension pot, not as the bedrock of stable lives and life chances.”
But Ms Hallsworth told the thousands of delegates at the conference that the Labour Party motion did not go far enough to fix the problems that people like her were facing.
She said: “I would just like to mention my lovely mum Hazel who works as a debt advisor in a homeless prevention charity. You would not believe the dire situation that people are in and the fights she has every day to prevent the most marginalised and the most dispossessed in our society losing their homes.
“The stress of this literally keeps her up at night and the work increases week on week but the biggest thing I have learned from my mum is something very specific.
“It is a shocking scandal which no one seems to talk about and that is that our taxes go straight to to the pockets of landlords via housing benefits. The landlords own the houses, they can charge what they like and those who can’t afford it – those who are in full time work, I might add – they are paid benefits that you and I pay for.”
Her voice filled with emotion, Ms Hallsworth continued: “We literally pay the landlords mortgages. This is obscene. It doesn’t make any sense. Housing is not a commodity. It is not a way of the privileged people consolidating their wealth and getting richer.
“Frankly this motion doesn’t actually go far enough. We need to take back housing stock from the establishment. It is immoral that so few own so much.
“We need rent caps. We need radical socialist policies and we need a planned economy which works to give people dignity.
“Good quality housing is dignity. We cannot control what we don’t own. We allow foreign oligarchs to hide their money in empty housing stock. Look at London, it is all over the place. It’s a scandal that no one talks about.
“There is a myth that there is not enough housing for our needs. The whole system has been skewed by the super rich. We need to be radical. We need to take back what is ours. It doesn’t make any sense tinkering around the edges.
“My student landlord owned streets and streets of houses in Liverpool and let me tell you he did not care at all about us tenants as long as we paid the mortgage. We need to be radical here!”
Recent stories on the housing crisis in Bristol:
Labour Party on housing
Ms Powell said Labour would create “a Building Works Agency” to “assess, fix and fund and then certify all tall buildings” to prevent another Grenfell disaster.
She also said Labour “can’t continue” with Right to Buy, adding: “I see no contradiction in us also promoting home-ownership – not for more landlords or second homes, but for ordinary working people.
“Central to this is bold action on restoring the link between wages and housing costs, and tackling the thorny issues of quality, affordability and security in private rentals, ending rough sleeping and no-fault evictions.”
Councillor Phil Waker, from Dagenham and Rainham Labour Party, welcomed calls for more social rent homes, which he argued would leave people with money to spend.
On affordable housing, Mr Waker said: “I know people often mean well when they use it but it can mean 80% of market rents.
“And even genuinely affordable means different things to different people.
“And when I tell people in Dagenham that we’re building flats that are at an affordable rent of £240-£280-a-week, they look at you blankly or get angry or fall over laughing.
“Affordable was described to me as an Orwellian term in the way it’s not being used.
“You know what I’d like to see the Labour movement do? Ban the word affordable in relation to housing.”
Lisa Phillips, of Warwick and Leamington Labour Party, said: “I am 27 years old, I’m a single mum, I’ve got a two-year-old little boy, I work full-time, I’m about to have my Universal Credit cut and I’m six weeks away from being evicted from my house.”
Ms Phillips said her council had informed her it was unlikely they would be able to find her any social housing, adding there are “hundreds of thousands” of other people in her situation.
She said: “I’m here to say we need to do better. We need more socialist green council housing, we need to cap private rents for properties, we need to take back control from property developers, we need to take a stand.”
Labour delegates approved a motion which, among other things, called for councils to be fully funded to deliver the building of 150,000 social rent homes each year – including 100,000 council homes.
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