Labour’s housing minister, South Yorkshire MP John Healey says “We can fix this”, and as housing minister for the last year under Gordon Browns’ government, he says he’s keen to pick up where he left off.
In an interview with James Millar for PolitcisHome, THEHouse magazine for Parliament, Mr Healey says he’d start his next tenure with a new definition of affordable housing.
A rare ‘animal’ in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, Mr Healey’s been in government and actually held some responsibility, and his ambition is to become the next secretary of state for housing under a Labour government.
He claims that as prime minister, Jeremy Corby would be very well placed to take action on voter concerns about housing issues, because it’s close to his heart and he’s been “banging on about it for longer than most.”
Of his leader in charge, Mr Healey says:
“If you look at Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches from the very moment he was elected to the House of Commons, housing has for nearly 40 years been his top domestic priority.
“He’s made this commitment that he would create as prime minister a fully-fledged housing department. That’s why I’m not shadow housing minister; I’m shadow secretary of state for housing.
“Another good indication is our plan for ending rough sleeping that we’ve said we’d do in five years – the course of a parliament. At the moment there is a rough sleeping working group within government which is chaired by the most junior minister in the MHCLG. The task force we’d set up would be led by the PM, Jeremy Corbyn.”
“The rise in homelessness is the most visible manifestation of the housing crisis,” says Mr Healey, claiming that the Blair governments all but wiped out the problem 20 years ago. Mr Healey claims he now knows the answers, given his past experience and his full support from the top:
“The root causes lie in a failure to build enough low-cost homes, a failure to step in to give better rights for private renters – the biggest single cause of homelessness now is the end of, or eviction from, a private tenancy…”
He doesn’t explain how he would square this with private landlords who are stuck with non-paying tenants, running up massive rent arrears?
The Labour party, says Mr Healey, has a range of bold and radical policies to be introduced in Westminster. There’s the pledge to build a million more low-cost homes, and a “new definition of what affordable will be”.
“Affordable”, he explains, under Labour, will be linked to income not the market. Mortgage costs, he proposes, will be linked to around one-third of average local incomes, varying from location to location, with the “discount” locked in for future buyers. This discount “is there for future first-time buyers not just first first-time buyers.”
The party also intends to “cap private rents in line with average local incomes”, and it is proposing indefinite leases that would appear to “tilt the balance in the private rental market away from landlords and in favour of those in need of a home.”
“For private renters it’s hard to think of any market that is failing so systematically where you’ve got so many people paying such a big part of their income for what is often unsatisfactory and substandard accommodation. There’s no reason why in England we can’t have a rental market that works well for landlords and works well for renters as well,” says Mr Healey.
He thinks it’s those renters that fuelled Labour’s 2017 election result, giving the opposition a healthy lead in the polls on the issue, and sees housing as a major battleground topic if there’s an election in 2019.