Homelessness is a growing problem nationally and that is true nowhere more than in Kettering with the monthly figures increasing every month. The increase is caused by a number of things but in particular Government policies in welfare cuts. These have seen not only more people sleeping rough but more and more now having to live in temporary accommodation – or at the very least living under the threat of their tenancies being at risk.
In Kettering I am a trustee of two local charities. The first is Accommodation Concern who offer housing advice, support and legal expertise to those caught up in the current housing crisis. The second is Kettering Community Unit (KCU) who among other things operate the Kettering and District Foodbank. These two roles as well as my position as a local councillor give me a real and sometimes painful insight into the current problem.
The increasing problem shows itself not only with the number of rough sleepers we see on our streets, who are in actually in fact only the tip of the iceberg, but with the number of families and others in emergency temporary accommodation. The figure for the Borough of Kettering is that the Council currently house over 50 families with children in emergency accommodation because they have nowhere else to put them.
This then brings us on to the fundamental problem. There is a massive shortage of social housing (council houses and housing association property) in Kettering. Time and time again the current Conservative administration claim they recognise the problem, and say they want to build council houses to help deal with it, but time and time again they do nothing! There have only been five new council houses built in the last twenty years or so! Nationally, under the Conservatives, affordable housebuilding has fallen to a 24-year low and this is clearly replicated in Kettering.
As leader of the opposition Labour Group of Councillors on Kettering Borough Council, my colleagues and I have been putting forward suggestions and plans to build more housing only to have them shot down and voted against again and again.
It is true that central Government policy make things harder because clearly a fully affordable business case is needed for any kind of public investment, but it is not impossible and Kettering Borough Council should be doing more!
Please see below for some of my recent blog posts on the issue:
So what do Labour plan to do if elected?
Since 2010 housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, rough sleeping has risen every year, rents have risen faster than incomes, there are almost 200,000 fewer home-owners, and new affordable housebuilding is at a 24-year low.
Both main parties plan to build more houses and at roughly the same sort of numbers. The difference is the Conservatives plan is based on an assumption that the private building industry will be able to provide the 200,000 plus homes they are looking for. This is despite the sector having never providing anything like that figure before, even in the boom years. Everybody else recognises that the only way this country will get anywhere like the number of new homes it needs is if local councils play their part.
Labour therefore accepts the need to build over a million new homes. We plan to be building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year by the end of the next Parliament for genuinely affordable rent or sale. This will be done by removing current Government restrictions making it hard for Councils to build homes (this has been called for by Councils up and down the country, both Conservative and Labour, for some time).
We will therefore begin the biggest Council building programme for at least 30 years and this should cure Kettering’s problem that I mentioned above.
On homelessness and rough sleeping specifically Labour will set out a new national plan to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament. We will start by making available 4,000 additional homes reserved for people with a history of rough sleeping. We will also take action to tackle the root causes of homelessness, including safeguarding homeless hostels and other supported housing from crude Conservative cuts to housing benefit.