Tag Archives: housing

Scottish Lib Dems pass policy to make it easier for domestic abuse victims to stay in their homes

I was really pleased that Scottish Conference passed a motion I proposed which aims to ensure that victims of domestic abuse don’t have to suffer the added nightmare of going through the homeless procedure when they finally seek help. It should be much easier for them to be able to stay in their home and for the perpetrator to leave.

Commonspace reported on the debate:

Across the UK, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week.

Scottish Lib Dem member, Vita Zaporozcenko told the conference of her personal experience of being raised in a house with domestic abuse.

She said: “I have always wondered why my mum did not leave and I have come to the conclusion that she had simply no where else to go.”

Zaporozcenko added: “I want you to support this motion because I don’t think anyone who has gone through this at whatever age can understand the emotional strain that this puts on the person or the people who have been abused and the fear of leaving. We should not be making it harder and by removing the perpetrator is the right way to do it.”

Specifically, the conference backed calls for the Matrimonial Homes Act – where abusers can be swiftly moved out of the family home – to be updated, claiming that it is not fit for purpose.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP told the conference how the rollout of Universal Credit has impacted on those who are victims of domestic abuse, saying the ending of split payments within the household was “a tool of coercive control” for men.

Below is the speech that I made proposing the motion.

“Why should we have to move everywhere and everything because of him?”

That question is on the front of Change, Justice, Fairness, a Scottish Women’s Aid community research project into homelessness caused by domestic abuse in Fife.

Too often, the trauma suffered by victims of domestic abuse is exacerbated when they are forced to leave their homes, often with their children. It is not acceptable that they should be forced into this situation.

It is unlikely that the event that led to them seeking help was the first incident. Safe Lives suggest that someone will endure 50 incidents of abuse or violence before getting effective help.

So you have very vulnerable, traumatised individuals, the vast majority of whom are women, having to declare themselves as homeless. That means that they are put in temporary accommodation, perhaps for short periods into bed and breakfast accommodation with no cooking facilities, where they don’t have the comfort of having their own things around them, the children don’t have their toys. They are perhaps in an unfamiliar area away from their support networks. They could get moved at any time to different temporary accommodation. That instability and insecurity piling even more distress on to them.

Those who aren’t married and aren’t named on the tenancy face a lengthy and complicated battle to gain occupancy rights if they wish to stay in their home.
The process of transferring a tenancy can also take time, during which the victim can be homeless. This needs to be sorted with greater speed. The Scottish Government needs to produce guidance that strengthens the rights of the victim to prevent them going down the stressful homeless route.

Conference, this motion demands better for victims of abuse.

We call on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that they have the right to stay in their own home if they wish to do so.

If they are to be moved, that should be done in a planned way. We recognise that the statutory homeless route is not appropriate for families who are suffering the effects of abuse.

We call on housing associations to do more to support people in this situation. I was surprised to learn that not al social housing providers have stand alone domestic abuse policies.

The Women’s Aid research identified serious flaws in the way victims were treated. Women described how they had to talk about what had happened to them in an open plan office.

One said:

“having to repeat my circumstances over and over again was humiliating and distressing to me. I was also worried about a negative reaction of not being believed every time I had to explain to a new person.”

A third of the staff who dealt with disclosures of abuse said that they had not had any training.

Particularly troubling was the fact that the majority of service providers didn’t have any idea that the moment of leaving an abusive partner was the most dangerous for the victim.

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Paul Scriven: We need to fund Councils properly and give them the powers to create great communities

Local Government is an issue of paramount importance to Liberal Democrats. Last week in the Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Paul Scriven led a debate on the essential services that local authorities provide. He outlined how chronic underfunding of local government, combined with rising demand for services was creating unsustainable problems.

Here is his speech:

I am very pleased to be leading this debate because to me it is a vital issue that affects every village, every town, every city and every region: local government has a positive power to change people’s lives. Just think of the older person who is becoming vulnerable and possibly losing their independence. With good public health, good housing services and good social services that person can continue to lead an independent life with dignity. Just think of the young man who might be on a crossroads between violence and going forward to have a fulfilling life. With good youth services and education services that young person can be supported to make the correct decision and have a successful life.

Local government can facilitate enterprise and business locally with good business development services, planning and support services provided by local authorities. They can help to create vibrant, successful and sustainable communities: libraries, parks, clean air, shared spaces and bringing people together to give them opportunities to achieve. That is the vision that I think most people have of a good local service: bottom up and delivering for people—not just a service provider of last resort but a local democratic hub that facilitates and brings opportunities for people and businesses to succeed.

I will mention my own journey in Sheffield in the local authority, first as a back-bench councillor helping individual constituents, then as leader of the opposition, ​many times clashing with the then chief executive, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake—I am not sure whether he will raise that—then as chair of scrutiny, holding the executive to account, and then having the great pleasure of leading that great city and that great council. I was then put on early retirement when I lost my seat and am now back again as a local councillor. I saw the power that local authorities can have to affect individuals and communities and make a real difference to people’s ability to succeed in their life.

That is what the situation should do, but we must look at what it has now become in many cases. Sadly, in some cases local authorities have not just become the provider of last resort but are struggling to be even that—we only have to look at Northamptonshire, Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire County Councils, and the National Audit Office warning that reserves are running out. In some cases they are not just unable to provide the opportunities that I talked about but are unable to provide the very statutory services that they are there to provide in an emergency as a safety net.

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LibLink: Olly Grender: The sooner the Renters’ Rights Bill becomes law, the sooner tenants get a fair deal

A bill going through its final parliamentary stages cuts letting agents’ fees for tenants. This is down to the hard work of Lib Dem Peers, mainly Olly Grender. She writes for Politics Home about what this will mean for people:

When I first proposed this change in 2016 through a Private Member’s Bill, it was a flat “no” from the Conservative Government.  However, they could not keep ignoring the overwhelming evidence that people on low incomes or benefits who were renting privately were being ripped off with shocking admin fees.

The worst part is that families who are evicted or cannot afford a rent rise are pushed into homelessness by the astronomical up-front admin fees.  The option to move is not feasible, as even when they try to move to a cheaper home, agents were charging both landlord and tenant these up-front fees. With homelessness continuing to rise, and the leading cause being the end of a private rented sector tenancy, it is clear reform is needed – and fast. This is why this Bill is so vitally important. The double dip with both landlord and tenant being charged these extortionate fees will soon be a thing of the past and this change in the law cannot come soon enough.

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LibLink: Wera Hobhouse: Solving the housing crisis means using the empty houses we’ve already got

Housing spokesperson Wera Hobhouse has written for the Huffington Post about how a Liberal Democrat amendment passed in the Lords this week will help alleviate the housing crisis.

Politicians have a moral obligation to help solve this crisis, and one part of the process must be bringing empty properties back into use. Of course, we must build more homes – 300,000 per year to be precise – but bringing empty properties back into use is an excellent way in the short-term to help families in desperate need of a home, whilst saving valued green belt land from development. Equally, by bringing empty homes back into use, we can help regenerate struggling communities. After all, regions with the highest number of vacant dwellings are often also the areas that have been left behind in terms of economic growth.

Last year was the first year since the recession that the number of empty homes in England did not decrease. This is unsurprising. Tory Government cuts to local authorities hamper their enforcement capabilities. All dedicated empty homes investment programmes, programmes that my colleagues in Coalition fought tooth and nail for including my predecessor in Bath Don Foster, were severed in 2015. It was a 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto promise to reduce the number of empty homes by 250,000, and that is something they delivered in Coalition and can be incredibly proud of.

t is clear something must be done. The Liberal Democrats strongly supported the calls to double the council tax on empty homes, but now we have gone one step further. Yesterday in the House of Lords, the Liberal Democrat amendment, which increases council tax the longer you leave it empty, has been adopted and passed by Parliament. There are of course exemptions, for example where a resident is in residential or nursing care or when a member of the armed forces serves overseas for long periods. These premiums on council tax are not statutory. Councils have the flexibility to apply them or not.

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As MPs jostle for power, Tories take eye off house building

Construction output has continued its recent decline, the third consecutive fall. In May alone construction fell by 1.7%, mainly driven by a sharp decrease of 2.5% in new work.

Commenting on the statistics, Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Housing said:

“These figures show the Government’s complete failure to tackle the housing crisis. Last year social housing numbers hit the lowest since records began while the numbers of people sleeping on our streets rose dramatically.

“If we are to build the houses so desperately needed, smaller-scale builders must be given access to finance to break the stranglehold of big developers, and the borrowing

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Vince Cable outlines pragmatic steps to boost housing supply.

In a keynote speech today (below, in full) Vince Cable analyses the failures of the housing market in terms of the poor incentives to developers and banks, and the effect of the planning system, and offers some pragmatic solutions to boost supply and tackle the shortage of housing that is pricing many young people out of homes altogether.

The text below is quite long but you can use these links to jump straight to the analysis of the housing market, building for social rent, the compulsory purchase of housing land for affordable housing, existing stock, comments on the green belt, and homelessness.

Also reported in the Guardian.

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Radical Ideas for the Future

At the moment, virtually all of our policies – save for our stance on the EU – amount to tinkering at the edges of a flawed, if not broken, political system. This is a result of the fact that there is generally a fair amount of consensus within mainstream politics on a number of key issues.

All parties agree that we need to build more housing, that we need more funding of schools, the NHS and the police, and that we need to protect the environment. The major policy debates at the moment concern immigration, nationalisation of public infrastructure, the EU, education and public sector borrowing – most of which are couched in simple binary yes/no terms, depending on whether you support Labour or the Tories.

Rather than trying to join in the political consensus or meet Labour and the Tories halfway (e.g. see our current policy on housing), I genuinely believe that we have an opportunity to pursue an alternative set of policies that will mark us out as distinct.

Along with electoral reform and being pro-European, six policy ideas from various places within the liberal political tradition, come to mind:

1. A national housebuilding company

A national construction company set up to build houses, with the government taking a majority stake and offering financial guarantees. Instead of just pledging a high-sounding number of homes to be built each year and leaving it to the private sector, a government-backed company would have the opportunity to take responsibility for recruiting and training construction workers (with a focus on British workers), building homes and maintaining homes – with profits going back to the Treasury.

Combined with relaxing the rules preventing local authorities from borrowing to fund social housing, a national housebuilding company would be an exciting yet pragmatic way of building homes while balancing the risk and reward of construction projects.

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New Committee report out saying tenants needed more protection

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has released a report today saying that the “most vulnerable tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory evictions, rent increases and harassment so they are fully empowered to pursue complaints about repairs and maintenance in their homes.”

This report on the private rented sector found that many properties were sub-standard, calling on the Government to address the ‘clear power imbalance’, with

tenants often unwilling to complain to landlords about conditions in their homes such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.

I am appalled that this …

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Vince focuses on housing as he visits his old Council ward

Vince Cable is up in Scotland this weekend. He’s speaking at East Dunbartonshire Lib Dems’ dinner tonight. It’s the local party’s first dinner since Jo Swinson was re-elected as MP last June.

He took a nostalgic trip to his old Council ward in Glasgow Maryhill first. He was a Labour councillor back in the 70s. When he was a councillor he and colleagues got tenements refurbished and saved a community from dispersal.

He said:

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Action needed in Scotland to help terminally ill homeless people

Last week, Ed Davey introduced a Bill which, if it passes, would ensure that terminally ill people who are homeless are given the housing and end of life care to ensure that they die with as much dignity and comfort as possible.

Ed’s bill only applies to England. I thought I would have a look at what happens in Scotland. I’d thought that things would be much better north of the border, but they aren’t.

A Marie Curie Scotland briefing to the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee’s inquiry into homelessness makes me very worried:

It is clear that that providing both specialist and general palliative care for homeless people is complicated and challenging and at present not every homeless person living with a terminal illness is getting the care they need.

The Scottish Government needs to ensure that research is done urgently so that appropriate action can be taken to fill the gaps in care.

The Marie Curie briefing outlines where the problems lie. It is not easy for homeless people to access palliative care:

Access to hospices and care homes is very rare for homeless people living with a terminal illness. A lack of any fixed abode makes it difficult, if not impossible for community palliative care teams to meet the needs of homeless people. The only possibility may be through a hostel, a setting in which can be very difficult to deliver care and not necessarily set up for end of life and palliative care. Many staff in hostels will not have the training and support they need to support someone at the end of life, despite in many reported instances of going ‘above and beyond’ in their roles. Education and support in line with the NHS Education for Scotland and Scottish Social Services Council Palliative and End of Life Care framework should be made available to hostel staff.

They recommend a “housing first” approach:

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WATCH: Vince Cable on LBC talking homelessness, brexit, being a puritan on drugs, knife crime and Nick’s knighthood

In case you missed it yesterday, here is Vince Cable’s start of year phone in with Nick Ferrari

He got the chance to talk about the scandal of so many young people sleeping rough while there were so many empty properties. He highlighted the role of Universal Credit in causing homelessness among young people. He also talked about the need to build more houses.

Nick Ferrari actually raised the issue of homelessness among veterans which led to a discussion of how veterans with mental ill health don’t get the support and treatment they need.

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Wera Hobhouse argues for more social homes for rent

99 families stand to lose the chance of a socially rented home in Wera Hobhouse’s Bath constituency after the Planning Minister failed to call in a planning decision. In what Wera described as “social cleaning”, these families will be forced out of the city.

In an adjournment debate last night, Wera took her argument directly to the Housing and Planning Minister. She outlined the direct consequences of the lack of social housing provision:

What about the 99 most vulnerable families, who will now simply be moved out of their home city of Bath? They cannot stay because there will be 99 fewer social homes for rent under the current plans. This sort of social cleansing is unacceptable and it gives the Government the reputation of being uncaring. The Minister will know that I requested him to call in the planning decision that reduced the number of social homes for rent by 99, but he refused to do so. The implication is that this reduction in social homes for rent is in line with Government policy, but on Monday the Secretary of State, in a quick reply, said it was not Government policy to reduce the number of social homes to rent. It cannot be both things in this specific instance, so what is the answer?

Wera outlined the scale of the problem. The number of houses being built for social rent is plummeting:

Government statistics show that nearly 40,000 social homes for rent were built in 2010-11, and the figure for 2016-17 was just 5,380. In the 2016-17 financial year, 12,383 council homes were sold under the right-to-buy scheme. Year in, year out, the number of social homes for rent is being reduced.

The human consequences are horrific:

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Autumn Budget – what our Spokespeople say

The Lib Dems have been hot off the mark with what this Autumn Budget doesn’t do.  Here are 7 failures.

And leading Lib Dems have been speaking out about what the budget really means:

Leader of the Lib Dems Vince Cable MP says

Each person in Britain is set to be £687 worse off per year compared to forecasts before the election.

And as living standards are squeezed, the Government is setting aside £3.7bn to cover the cost of a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The Chancellor found more money in the Budget to plan for Brexit than he did for our struggling NHS, schools and police.

Liberal

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Economic Implications of Autumn Budget

Liberal Democrat Brexit Spokesperson Tom Brake commented:

“Instead of a bright future for Britain, Conservative plans will see a £65bn hit to tax receipts, slashed wages and higher borrowing.

The Government found £3bn to spend on Brexit, but nothing for our police or social care.

The Chancellor has completely failed to show the ambition needed to tackle the housing crisis, build the infrastructure the country needs or fix Universal Credit.”

And here is the breakdown of the economic costs:

1. £65bn hit to tax receipts: Tax receipts have been downgraded by £65.4 billion over the five-year period compare to …

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Wera Hobhouse MP writes…My housing priorities for the Budget

Tomorrow, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, will present his Budget to the House of Commons. He promises that housing will be the “number one priority”, but will he put the money where his mouth is?

People’s lives can no longer be dictated by a lack of affordable housing; whether to take a job, whether to start a family – many of these life-changing decisions are now overshadowed by the housing crisis. Access to housing is not a luxury, it is a human right.

To address the housing crisis, Liberal Democrats are calling on the government to include five priorities in the Budget:

Additional borrowing of over £100 billion to finance house building

If the government is serious about achieving 300,000 new homes a year, they must prioritise direct investment in house building. For far too long Britain has failed to meet the demand for new housing. Government intervention is now needed to help shift the market dynamics and spur development.

Empower local authorities to build more social housing

Almost two thirds of councils across England are struggling to find social tenancies for homeless people. To help address shortages, the government must remove the cap on council borrowing for house building and allow for suspension of the Right to Buy. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has been quick to point the finger of blame at local planning authorities, but what steps will he take to put power back in their hands?

Help under-30s get a foot on the housing ladder

The younger generation are clearly bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. In my constituency, Bath, house prices are notoriously high and for most young people owning a house here is little more than a pipe dream. To give people the opportunity to move out of the private rented rector and put down roots, I would like to see new “Rent to Own” homes where every monthly rent payment goes towards owning a house outright.

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Launch of All Party Parliamentary Group on Land Value Capture

In July of this year ALTER floated the idea of a Progressive Alliance round Land Value Taxation and put out a call for the formation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Land Value Tax in advance of our fringe at Bournemouth on this theme.

In a pre-budget speech in the City of London this week, Sir Vince Cable laid out Liberal Democrat proposals for tax reform including investigating the feasibility of Land Value Taxation (LVT).

He said;

Authoritative analysis of the British tax system, notably the Mirrlees Report, makes it clear that the taxation of land is the

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Tim Farron explains how the Government’s cuts to supported accommodation will harm most vulnerable

One of the (many) hugely worrying things about the Government’s plans for Housing Benefit is the cap being applied to supported accommodation.

Across the country, people are given the chance to live as independent lives as possible in accommodation which comes with its own support network. Government cuts threaten this – and the human cost is appalling.

This was discussed in a  Westminster Hall debate yesterday in which Tim Farron took part.

From my experience of the supported housing provided for constituents with autism and learning difficulties, I know that the LHA rent cap will mean that they simply will not be able to afford the support that they get in their current setting. They will end up in institutions or hospitals, which will actually cost the taxpayer far more money.

On Facebook, he went into a bit more detail:

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Property Uplift Recovery Tax

The Liberal Democrats have proposed increasing income tax by 1 penny which would raise just £4.6 billion pounds annually. There is a better alternative, called the Property Uplift Recovery Tax which is being proposed by Liberal Democrat ALTER. The tax would be paid annually by all that own housing in the UK and are either:

  • British citizens who are have non-domiciled tax status
  • Foreign citizens (or British citizens non-resident for over 15 years) who are not taxed in the UK, or
  • Corporate entities registered offshore.

The tax would be levied annually on the property price uplift in the local area, and would aim to recover 50% of the long term increase. The tax would raise about £8.5 billion pounds per year (see fully referenced article ).

Taxes need a compelling story which resonates with the electorate, and this tax has one. We are rightly proud to live in a country with a strong economy, a stable government and respect for the rule of law. Housing in the UK is a safe haven for overseas investors, and 10% of housing is now owned by foreign investors. They often leave properties empty, indeed some residential developments in Britain have been likened to towers of safe-deposit boxes. In England 216,000 homes have been empty for over six months.

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Radical, liberal rental reforms are needed

The government has launched a consultation on banning letting fees, a proposal originally tabled by Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender. It’s responsible and right to address the shortcomings for tenants of a private rental market that now accounts for 19% of all households. And as the consultation paper sets out, there’s an economically liberal logic to the ban as well.

As a liberal, I’m not against market-based proposals for social problems. On the contrary, I’m all for them. In the summer after I left school, I worked temporarily as a Housing Allocations Officer. I see no reason in principle why housing associations should be the main providers of homes to people on benefits, for example — providing there’s enough housing to go round, and so long as people aren’t trapped in poor-quality accommodation. Indeed, greater choice for those on benefits within the private sector may be to their advantage, and improve social mobility overall. What’s more, it’s cost effective provision from the point of view of the state. However, there’s an obvious barrier to decent private rental accommodation frequently faced by those on benefits: the reluctance of so many private landlords to rent their properties to them. For many people, this is unfair discrimination. Banning letting fees is a positive step, but won’t tackle this sort of problem. My issue with the government’s plans is that they’re another example of Theresa’s tokenism.

Private landlords, with perhaps a “buy to let” as their pension pot, and renters are both likely to be among our party members. What could we as Liberal Democrats propose to help groups of tenants with little available capital beyond their rent money into better quality accommodation and, at the same time, keep landlords on board who want to protect their assets from risk? 

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UK Government launches consultation on axing lettings fees – another Lib Dem win

Back in the day, Liberal Democrat peer Olly Grender worked for Shelter. Her passion to help people with housing matters has never left her and she continues to campaign on a range of housing issues. The pressure that she put on the Government resulted in their decision to end lettings fees for tenants. We reported that this was going to happen last November but the Government launched its consultation on Friday.

Olly introduced a Private Members’s Bill in the Lords last year which would have outlawed these fees. Five days after the debate, the Government announced the measure. Olly explained why it was so important to protect tenants from these charges in her speech proposing her bill:

Shelter’s research shows that average letting fees are £355 per move, with one in seven people paying £500. On rare occasions, renters have been forced to pay fees of £900 or more to a letting agent, simply for the privilege of moving into a home. Reference checks, credit checks, administration fees, inventory fees—the list goes on. Invariably, the fees charged are extortionate compared to the cost actually incurred by the agent and they are not necessary. Furthermore, any cost actually incurred should be covered by the lettings agent’s client—the landlord—not by the tenant. Far too often these high up-front costs are proving a barrier to tenants, who simply cannot afford to move.

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District councils: worried about funds and housing

Chris White (centre) talking about Brexit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

District Council leaders met in Lichfield late last week for the District Council Network conference. The DCN is part of the Local Government Association – which comprises most English and Welsh councils – and is a group set up to concentrate specifically on issues affecting district councils. There are similar groups for counties, metropolitan authorities and London boroughs.

Representatives in Kenilworth were clearly bruised by the decision of ministers to plug some of the adult care services funding gap facing county councils by transferring funds directly from districts.

Phrases like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ were used more than once at the conference, with some justification: council tax increases and transfers between local authorities are no way to manage a national funding crisis which too few people, including the Liberal Democrats, took seriously even after the point at which the warning signs were unmistakable.

Apart from money it was largely, for Districts, housing and planning. There is clear nervousness about the impending new ministerial power to direct authorities to produce a joint local plan (hardly surprising given the careless abolition of structure planning by the Coalition) or by inviting county councils to take over the planning powers of laggardly districts: relations between districts and counties are always tense at best but red rags were clearly being spotted.

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Lord John Shipley writes…Five foundations for the Housing White Paper

The lack of affordable housing in the UK is at crisis point. On average, house prices are now almost seven times people’s incomes and over 1.6 million people are on housing waiting lists in the UK, including 124 000 homeless children. This means that the Government’s White Paper on housing has been highly anticipated. But it needs to be extraordinarily ambitious to tackle the severity of the housing crisis.

It is too late then to simply paper over the cracks. We need a radical, far-reaching and comprehensive approach to housing. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for a complete overhaul of the housing system, with an emphasis on five key solutions.

Creating more affordable homes for rent

20% of the population lives in private rented accommodation. And yet, private sector rents have become unacceptably high in many parts of Britain, most notably in London. Many renters are now paying more than half their disposable income in rent.

That is why we have been calling for government investment in a new generation of quality homes for rent that are affordable for those on low and middle incomes. This means increasing the access to finance for councils and housing associations and reversing the sell-off of higher value homes.

Because the need for affordable homes for rent is now so severe, this should be accompanied by an increase in the use of offsite construction, or prefabs, to speed up the house-building process.

However, Brexit has complicated this picture. That’s because building costs will increase significantly due to the rising cost of imported materials and because it will be harder to recruit vital workers from Europe who are needed in some parts of the UK and to create the certainty necessary for investment.

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William Wallace writes…What should the Liberal Democrats be saying to the “left behind?”

What should the Liberal Democrats be saying to the ‘Left Behind’?  We’ve claimed a strong position as the voice of the 48%; but there are many among the 52% who are not illiberal at heart, and others who voted ‘Sod off!’ in the Referendum to London as much as to Brussels in their disillusion with politics and the distant elite.  People who live on partly-sold off Council estates, or in places built to house workers in factories that closed 30 to 40 years ago, where local services have been steadily cut back and jobs are hard to get to, low paid and insecure, have some justifiable reasons to feel resentful .

Theresa May has spoken about the ‘left behind’ at the Davos World Economic Forum, but said little about what an’ active state’ (yes, she has used that term) should do to help them. Donald Trump in his inauguration speech promised ‘the forgotten people’ from globalisation that they will now be remembered, but didn’t say what he would do to help them beyond putting up barriers to imports.  The right-wing media in Britain have portrayed their problems as mostly down to fecklessness and immigrants – taking their jobs and the social housing they want to claim, weighing down the NHS.  Labour is wavering over whether to give in to that narrative, or address more underlying problems.

But what do we want to say, consistent with our values, and without pandering to the ‘blame the East Europeans’ narrative?  Liberal Democrat peers have set up a working group to address this, to feed into party campaigning in ‘left behind’ areas.  The London-based media portrays the political choices for such voters as between Labour and UKIP (having forgotten the Lib Dem record in cities like Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Hull and elsewhere).  We know that Labour has already lost their trust, and that local campaigning has created new pockets of Liberal Democrat support, with encouraging local by-election results in recent months. Our group includes peers with local government experience in northern cities and neglected rural areas; and we are drawing on a number of reports on the social and economic conditions of England’s pockets of depression and deprivation.

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Olly Grender celebrates ban on lettings fees for private tenants

olly grenderLib Dem peer Olly Grender has welcomed the Government’s reported plans to ban lettings fees for private tenants. This move didn’t come out of thin air but as a result of tireless campaigning by the Liberal Democrats and others. Olly and Tom Brake have been pushing this in both houses of Parliament and have taken part in demonstrations. Liberal Democrat council groups up and down the country have also been campaigning on this issue.

Olly said:

Our relentless campaigning to get tenants’ letting fees banned has finally paid off and the Government has recognised this is the right thing to do. The upfront costs of renting are far too high, pushing many people into debt just to pay the fees, and stopping others from being able to move into a rented home.

“It’s no coincidence that just five days after the debate on our Renters’ Rights Bill, which urged the Government to ban these fees, they have agreed to make this important change. Now they must agree to our calls to make renting safer and more secure too.

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We need to focus on things which tangibly improve lives

Terraced housingAre we barking up the wrong tree?

I have wondered for a while if we are focussing on the wrong things, particularly where the EU is concerned. For the record, I want to remain in the EU. I see it as a flawed institution, run by the same cadre of neoliberal capitalists as those who run this country and most of the other countries in Europe. It has, however, two things going for it. The first is the possibility of deeper co-operation across national boundaries. The second is that it has woven into it a thick texture of human rights which the neoliberals, despite their best efforts, have been unable to unwind – it was after all woven in before they came along.

But when I look at this country’s biggest problems, the EU is neither the problem nor the solution. The media cacophony remains completely confusing as to why people voted to leave. The people who voted leave are equally confusing, and there are massive attempts to shut down debate by taking offence if suggestions are made that, for instance, cutting immigration will not solve any problems other than the fragility of some people’s sense of national identity. Taking back control does not take back control, but meely hands it to different members of the neoliberal elite. We still need to identify and solve the problems which have caused such disaffection with the political process.

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In protecting the liberal age, the charge of elitism must be avoided

There is a sense that if an election happens at any time in the next year, it will be fought out as much on values as economic policy. The argument is no longer just about fairness and equality. It is also about a philosophy of life.

Fears that the liberal age is now under threat both from Right and Left has the potential to galvanise those who have previously taken our liberal traditions for granted. The #libdemfightback has the potential to happen.

Identifying the 48% Remain voters as fertile ground for the Liberal Democrats was a fast and valid response, not just a sound political gambit for a party polling so low but one that was true to the party’s internationalist values.

Remain voters are desperate to embrace a coherent narrative and the liberal attitudes held by many of them will only turn into Lib Dem votes if that narrative is provided.

But that should only be the beginning. The Lib Dems must also respond powerfully and clearly to the illiberal, isolationist and anti-elite sentiment that lay behind Brexit.

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Olly Grender introduces her Renters’ Rights Bill “You have more rights buying a fridge than renting a home to put it in”

On Friday, Olly Grender introduced her Private Members’ Bill aimed at giving tenants in the private rented sector greater protections, particularly from the extortionate fees charged by letting agents. She gave some examples in her proposing speech which is copied below:

My Lords, the natural consequence of the chronic lack of social housing and the prohibitive cost of buying a home means that we now have a growing number of people who live in the private rented sector. Sometimes it would appear that this ever-growing customer base—almost one in five of the population, one-third of them families with children—have more consumer

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LIbLink: Cathy Bakewell: In the last days of the Housing Bill, peers will fight for equality

Liberal Democrat peer Cathy Bakewell has written an article for Politics Home in which she outlines the work that Lib Dem peers are doing to try to make the Government’s Housing Bill less bad.

Lib Dems have been leading the charge on many aspects of the fight, and three of the five remaining obstacles to the legislation passing are Lib Dem amendments. These are measures to make new homes more flood resilient and low carbon, and to give communities a Neighbourhood Right of Appeal when a council deviates from their local plan.

These things have become sticking points for us, because as we know from our local activism it’s not just the quantity of housing that desperately needs attention, but also the quality.

It’s no good ploughing ahead and building thousands of homes which make future homeowners liable to flooding and responsible for higher energy bills, when simple and cost effective changes could be made at the building stage to protect them. We need more homes, but they must be sustainable.

As well as the impact on individuals, it’s the impact on the environment that matters. If we are serious about making the Paris Agreement a reality and tackling climate change, then we absolutely have to reduce the carbon emissions from homes, which are huge contributors.

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Katy Gordon challenges SNP minister on housing and homelessness failures

Scotland 2016 held its final election debate, on housing, earlier this week. West of Scotland lead candidate Katy Gordon represented the Liberal Democrats. She put forward the Lib Dems’ plan, which takes in mental health, addiction and prison services as well and confronted SNP Housing Minister Alex Neil on his government’s failure to keep its promises and deal with a very real housing crisis in Scotland. As always, Katy was full of practical detail and put in a very thoughtful and engaging performance. You can watch her here.

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You can see the whole …

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Tom Brake MP writes…It’s time to reform renting

Recently at my surgery I met a distressed young woman who came to see me with her mother. Repairs are outstanding on their rented property. The landlord is refusing to sort them out while at the same time putting pressure on them to leave their flat. She didn’t know where to go or what to do.

This is a familiar story and it is no exaggeration to say that we have a national emergency in housing. There are vast numbers of people living in fear and uncertainty and in 2016 that is simply unacceptable.

We clearly have a rental sector which is broken. Many people are spending over half their disposable income on rent and yet a third of homes fail to meet the Government’s decent homes standard, with over 60% of renters having experienced either damp, mould, leaking roofs or windows, electrical hazards, animal infestation or gas leaks, according to a recent survey commissioned by Shelter.

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