We are unique amongst the main political parties in having a democratic internal structure. This weekend is our opportunity, denied to both Labour and Tory members, to decide the future of our party and proclaim what it means to be a Liberal Democrat.
In addition to major policy announcements, there are six possible emergency motions listed in Conference Extra. Only one of these will be chosen for debate on Wednesday morning, following a ballot of conference attendees on Sunday.
Bermondsey and Old Southwark have submitted one of these emergency motions, and it is not without controversy. It is in direct response to comments made by Prime Minister David Cameron on 3rd August, when he floated the idea of fixed term tenancies for council housing.
This is a superficially appealing idea. Millionaires should not be occupying valuable social housing stock when 1.7 million families are languishing on waiting lists. However, not only will fixed term tenancies have little effect on housing availability, they will also have serious negative effects on community cohesion.
Only 5% of households living in council housing have combined earnings of over £30,000. So only a tiny minority of homes would be freed if wealthier residents were compelled to move on after a fixed term tenancy ended. 71% have a combined earning of less than £15,000.
If the minority of tenants who earn a decent wage are forced to leave, then you create a cycle of deprivation where only the very poor live on council estates. This removes role models for local youngsters to look up to, and can lead to the severing of family ties.
Opposition against fixed term tenancies has come from the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, and even some Tory MPs (including Nadine Dorries, one of the few to have grown up in a council flat).
Make no mistake; there is a serious lack of affordable housing in this country. But fixed-term tenancies are not the solution. The coalition government needs to do what Labour did not, and build more homes.
We must show the lead on this issue. We must politely but firmly send a message to the Prime Minister that fixed term tenancies are not the way forward. We need to remind voters why Liberal Democrat participation in the coalition is so important for the country. It is partly a question of politics (almost a quarter of Liberal Democrat MPs have an above average number of social housing tenants). But most importantly, it is about evidence-based policy.
Decent housing is a basic social and economic human right. Sadly, the coalition agreement had too little to say on it. It is vital that we fill that gap.
Emergency Motion on Fixed-Term Tenancies for Council Housing
Conference notes the comments made by the Prime Minister on the 3rd August 2010, with regard to proposals for fixed-term tenancies for council housing.
Conference recognises the chronic shortage of affordable homes and regrets the lack of progress made by the previous Labour government in this area, with over 1.8 million households currently on housing waiting lists.
Conference notes that less than 20% of council tenants earn an above average wage and that fixed-term tenancies would lead to a lack of incentive for council tenants to work hard and earn more for their families.
Conference affirms the positive effects of secure tenancies in improving social cohesion, supporting family networks and providing stability.
Conference believes that forcing successful families to leave will lead to a revolving door that concentrates poverty and vulnerability, with all of society paying for this policy.
Conference proposes that the solution to the current shortage of social housing is to increase the building of affordable homes.
Conference calls on the coalition government to:
1. Rule out removing secure tenancies for current and future council tenants.
2. Investigate alternative ways of managing occupancies when circumstances change, such as different levels of rent.
3. Urgently investigate ways to fund an increase in the building of social housing, either by local authorities or housing associations.