Monday, July 04, 2011

UNISON NDC 2011: Motion 54 The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing

This was to have been my speech to NDC moving our branch motion 54 but we ran out of time. 

"President, Conference, John Gray, Housing Association Branch, Greater London Region moving motion 54. The Death and Rebirth of Public Housing.

Conference, 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 conference our branch delegation accepts and supports the NEC amendments to the motion. The Havering branch amendments we also accept, with one very important qualification which I will address later.

Conference, our branch has over 3500 members who all work in public housing in London and Southeast England. So 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 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 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!

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

To counter this ideological 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.

So let us look at the alternatives. Let us research the impact of reintroducing rent controls, 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.

Such is the scale of the problem that there desperately needs to be a massive house building programme 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.

Now Conference, regarding the amendments put forward by Havering. Our branch delegation accepts these amendments with one very important qualification. One of their new points suggests that the best provision of social housing is that provided by local authorities.

Now, I am a passionate believer in local government and a defender and supporter of local authority housing. However, many thousands of members in the new Community Service Group work in social housing but have never worked for a local authority. The organisations they work for – long established housing charities, housing co-ops or other mutuals have never been under the control of the local authority and they have no interest in being so.

Many of these members will be very concerned that it is implied that their hard work can only be 2nd best. Now I think that this was never intended and just the result of poor drafting and I appreciate that this point was based upon previous conference policy. But this is something I think that the new Community Service Group will have to take up via the union structures and bring back to NDC. We cannot have 2 tiers of membership in our union.

Finally conference, let us go back to 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 government to give birth to a renaissance of public housing.

Good quality homes, affordable, accountable and secure. And most importantly of all conference – make sure that we build enough of them.

Conference – I move".

(Picture Dan McCurry - A lovely shot. Dawn/Rebirth etc)
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