Sunday, July 10, 2011

UNISON National Labour Link Forum 2011: The Death & Rebirth of Public Housing

Yesterday at UNISON National Labour Link Forum    motion 11 "The Death & Rebirth of Public Housing" was passed.  This was similar to motion 54 that just failed to be reach the NDC agenda. This was my speech moving the motion (as amended).  Good result for Labour Housing Group.

"Chair, Forum, John Gray, Greater London Region moving motion 11. “The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing”.

Forum, I want to describe how this Tory led Government is intent on the destruction of public housing in this country and how we need instead to argue for its Rebirth. 

Firstly Forum, our Regional delegation accepts and supports all the helpful amendments. 

Forum, I don’t think many of you will be surprised at the content of this motion.  

It condemns the cuts in Housing benefit which attacks not only the unemployed, the elderly and disabled - but also the working poor.  

It points out that our members who provide front line housing services are horrified at being expected to deal with the resulting class cleansing of the poor from richer middle class areas.

It condemns this government for decimating new investment in public housing while millions have to endure overcrowding and substandard living conditions while languishing on never ending council waiting lists.

That new tenants and the homeless could lose the right to secure and permanent accommodation. While those who wait for years for a tenancy may find themselves paying near market rent for two years - after which they could find themselves evicted if they find a good job.  

In London currently the average rent for a 2 bed HA property is £102 per week. A so-called Tory affordable rent set at 80% of the market would be a staggering £2-4-8 per week. Every week!  

Forum, this motion does not only condemn the actions of this Tory led Government. It also agrees with what many of you have been saying in previous motions about how this attack on public services is ideologically motivated. This government has an ideological hatred of all collective provision and is therefore trying to kill off public housing.

To counter this attack we not only have to protest and campaign but we have counter the underlying neo-liberal and Orange book ideology. There is a Battle of Ideas in housing, that at this moment, progressives have not been winning. We need to win this Battle.  

UNISON Labour link and our members in the Labour Party need to play their part as well in the very same Battle within the Party to reclaim it as the Party of Public housing.

Forum, the only immediate way to begin to deal with our housing crisis is to reintroduce rent controls, to bring down rents in both the public and private sector to affordable levels. 

Next, such is the scale of the problem that there desperately needs to be a massive house building programme to house the 4.5million waiting for homes. Which will have the added benefits of getting the unemployed into work, giving them wages to support the local economy and paying tax rather than claiming the dole. We need to champion and explain these arguments. 

Let us look into the replacement of council tax with a continental style Land tax and let us debate such ideas as community land trusts. We need convincing arguments to persuade the public and indeed many of our own members that we should reverse the unhealthy British obsession with home ownership and disdain for renting. 

Forum, one important way of winning this battle of ideas is for UNISON Labour Link to affiliate to the Labour Housing Group, both nationally and regionally. UNISON is of course is the biggest union in public housing by far. So it is proper that we play a full part in the Labour Party Socialist Society for Housing. In London recently a regional branch of the LHG has been set up and has held successful events bringing together UNISON levy payers, Labour Party members, Cllrs, tenants, residents, practitioners and academics in a campaigning and policy alliance.  

Finally conference, let us always remember what will unite all of us. Decent housing is a basic and fundamental human right. We don’t believe that public housing is the “tenure of the last resort” nor the Tory libel that they are “barracks of the poor”.

Let us work for and call for victory in this Battle of Ideas with the Right - and for the next Labour government to give birth to a renaissance of public housing.  

Good quality homes, affordable, accountable and secure. And most importantly of all Forum, make sure this time, we build enough of them.

Forum, I move".
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