LibLink: Tim Farron – Why has the plight of the overcrowded and the homeless not been prioritised?

In a hard-hitting article in today’s Guardian, Tim Farron hits out at David Cameron’s “lack of humanity in face of basic need” on housing while outlining what Liberal Democrats want to see done to make sure that there are enough affordable houses for people.

He outlines the scale of the problem first:

The real divide in modern Britain is not between strivers and shirkers, but between those who were lucky enough to buy homes before 1997 and those who were not. Unless we tackle the housing crisis, homelessness is going to become a mainstream problem. Working families can’t afford to buy, and aspiring homeowners are trapped renting. As the number of homeless families in B&B grows, the safety net will become more dangerous for those it is designed to protect.

No council wants to stick families into appalling conditions, but previous administrations have left little choice. Labour talks about the cost of living, but did nothing about the cost of housing for a decade. Our broken housing market is Labour’s legacy as much as the Tories’ – under Labour, the number of affordable homes fell by 420,000. This year Lib Dems secured enough money – £3.5bn – to increase the number of affordable homes by 55,000 a year.

Liberal Democrats stopped the Conservatives from taking Housing Benefit from under 25s. Farron demolishes the Tory arguments for that measure:

However, the only people who would suggest this cut are those who have never experienced housing need at a young age (at least not without a bailout from well-off parents). Cameron has chosen to ignore the fact that just under half those under-25s have children themselves, or are ill, disabled, from abusive homes, or care leavers. To cut off housing benefit would be to punish them for circumstances outside their control. Perhaps if Cameron came from a home like this, he would think before he speaks. He can’t be blamed for his upbringing, but he can be blamed for his lack of humanity in the face of basic need. The Lib Dems have fought to protect housing benefit for young people.

This was something that Nick Clegg explicitly and vociferously stopped. If I could change anything about that article, I would have made that very clear. Nick doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for stopping the Tories doing stupid things and we all need to be much better at saying what he personally has done.

He goes on to argue for two things – more houses and for young people to be able to move to where the jobs are:

Put simply: we need to build a lot more homes. Investing in housing is a golden opportunity for the UK – each extra home built each year creates three to four jobs. So I’m clueless as to why the plight of the overcrowded, the stuck-at-home and the homeless has not been prioritised. It could have been win-win.

Second, we need to protect the ability of young people to move to where jobs are. Graduates looking for hi-tech jobs shouldn’t be frozen out of the market just because their parents don’t live in London or Cambridge. What better way to widen social, regional, rural and urban divides than to prevent young people moving?

Tim ends by summarising Liberal Democrat aims:

The Lib Dems will continue to make the case for housing that works for everyone – to protect the vulnerable, to ensure mobility and security, and to tackle housing benefit with new homes, so that supply meets real human need.

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  • Paul Pettinger 6th Nov '13 - 2:09pm

    Where were you when we needed you at Conference when housing was debated in the Economy motion?

  • Isn’t the basic problem the expanding population in precisely the region of the UK – London and the South East – where density is already highest?

    It’s the law of supply and demand, and unless Tim Farron can suddenly find another few hundreds of square miles of land, the supply is not going to go up enough.

    We need to start to have a bit of honesty in this debate, and at the moment I don’t think we’re getting it.

  • We didn’t have that many overcrowded and homeless people before, but now we do, hurray. No.. wait. Er..

  • Helen Dudden 6th Nov '13 - 5:03pm

    The working class who can’t afford to buy, can’t afford “affordable housing.”

    Read the online “inside housing” the information that is available is meant for those who are landlords in the Social Housing Sector.

  • Eddie Sammon 6th Nov '13 - 5:22pm

    I respect Tim has to be careful what he says, but no housing policy is complete without addressing monetary policy. I know this is a matter for the Bank of England, but their approach should still be discussed in order to answer questions and improve confidence.

  • David Evans 6th Nov '13 - 5:34pm

    @RC “unless Tim Farron can suddenly find another few hundreds of square miles of land, the supply is not going to go up enough.” Actually at current housing densities a mere one hundred square miles would produce a bit over a million homes at current housing densities. That would be a good start.

    Perhaps it is true “We need to start to have a bit of honesty in this debate, and at the moment I don’t think we’re getting it.”

  • Tony Greaves 6th Nov '13 - 8:20pm

    The term “affordable housing” has become a hindrance to debate.

    On the one hand it means what it means, and whenever it is used most people will assume it means what it means.

    On the other hand it means what the government has defined it to mean (building on an original Labour Govt definition) which in the renting sector means rents lower than market rents but higher than social rents. For many people they are not affordable at all.


  • A Social Liberal 6th Nov '13 - 10:09pm

    I agree with Tonys point – in addition, the reducing of HAs building grants and forcing them to raise rents to 80% of the market has exacerbated the lack of affordable housing (of which social housing is part)

  • Richard Dean 7th Nov '13 - 8:50pm

    I suggest that “the plight of the homeless and the overcrowded” has not been prioritized because it may be less of a problem than Tim thinks. Here is a quote from the sometimes reliable Wikipedia on “Homelessness in England”

    … on average 498 people sleep rough each night, with 248 of those in London. There are a total of 84,900 households (which may contain more than one person) that are classified as homeless.

    These are very small numbers compared to a population of 60 million and an electorate of something like 40 million – meaning that fewer than 1 in 500 people are “homeless”.

    Most of us are not homeless. Most of us probably don’t regard homeless people with much more than pity and fear. Some of us perhaps anyway only want the homeless problem to be solved if the solution includes solving a quite different problem – being in a home but paying to much for it. And homeless people don’t make up a big section of the electorate and most perhaps don’t vote anyway.

    All these things suggest that politicians are unlikely to get much credit for anything more than finding a way to sweep the problem under a carpet.

  • Buy to let is a major problem.

    Buy to let landlords are sitting on working people like giant bloated mosquitoes, extracting every drop.


  • Oh but thanks for choosing to make people homeless rather than control rents.

    For gods sake where’s your sense of priorities ?!

  • Richard Dean 8th Nov '13 - 9:14pm

    @CP – your issues with “buy to let”

    The opposite is true. Think about it. If people could buy, they would. If they can’t, they need to rent, which means there has to be someone able to let. Buy to Let landlords provide that service.

    And it’s not as if the service is without cost. Buy to Let landlords need to put up the cash to buy. They are entitled to a fair return on their investment plus a fee or wage for the work they do in that regard.

  • A Social Liberal 8th Nov '13 - 10:02pm

    Richard Dean

    Wow – rough living has gone down by thousands in just one year. You can chalk this one up to the coalition eh?

    Actually, it’s a load of rubbish. Government figures have rough sleeping at 2309 as of autumn 2012.

    There is a database on rough sleepers called Chain (Combined Homeless and Information Network), the information of which is filled in by outreach workers. this has recorded “6,437 people slept rough at some point in London during 2012/13, an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year’s total of 5,678 and a 62 per cent increase over two years. ”

    I have to thank Crisis for the information, which can be found here.

  • Little Jackie Paper 8th Nov '13 - 11:08pm

    Richard Dean – Many years ago my Dad told me that the people who loved Council Housing the most were the people who had never had to live in it. The circle has turned, and I am thus wondering if you yourself have ever lived under a BTL shorthold tenancy or would you willingly expose yourself to one now? I’ve lived in one and I have never truly loathed anyone, but I make an exception for the landlord and his mother.

    Knock the rose-tints off man. Current day rents are the freedom to be made homeless and the freedom to be gouged by those seeking nothing but rent-extraction. The slap in the face that the young face is that they are hosing their wealth and earnings into the property and pension funds of people who largely had mortgages eroded by hyperinflation. Risk? Are you seriously telling me that as hyperinflation has minimised risk and eroded debts the benefit of that has trickled down in lower rents and better tenancy agreements for the poor? If so you are treating reality with contempt and mocking the young.

    Houses at the moment are a vast funnel of wealth and those on the sweet end of the deal are not the socially-minded heroes you would have us believe. We need a huge house-building programme specifically designed to bring about a reduction in housing costs for all. Landlords should compete for tenants. And to save you asking I’d be very happy for the building to start outside my house.

  • Richard Dean 8th Nov '13 - 11:55pm

    @A Social Liberal
    I wonder whether you might need to look again at the first link that you quoted. It says “London had 557 rough sleepers which accounted for 24% of the national figure”. While that is certainly larger than the sometime reliable Wikipedia data, it’s still not a very large constituency. Certainly much less than 1% of the electorate.

    @Little Jackie Paper.
    Dads aren’t Gods, we all realise that when we grow up and become parents ourselves, they’re human, they can be wrong. I enjoyed living in a council house for the first 18 years of life. Hyperinflation is not something that minimizes risk.

  • A Social Liberal 9th Nov '13 - 7:19pm


    Are you seriously saying that only Londons figures count? Mind you, I shouldn’t be suprised – the north south divide is alive and well in politicoland.

  • Richard Dean 10th Nov '13 - 1:16am

    @A Social Liberal
    Are you seriously claiming that you didn’t understand that I was quoting verbatim from the link you referred to? Perhaps you should have actually read the link yourself?

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