The Houses of Parliament are not inviting buildings. That is changing with the People’s Parliament. Formed with the goal of bringing tricky political issues back into the fold, all are welcomed to discuss the nature of the problems we face and what solutions might be acceptable.
The event on housing and homelessness proved to be particularly popular, with a debating room packed with people from a range of backgrounds. Eileen Short, from Defend Council Housing, spoke about the need to halt the sell-off of council housing and publicly owned land, when access to affordable housing is so low. This was echoed by Anna Minton, who identified the lack of affordable housing in the Olympic Village, in spite of large public investment, as symbolic of the dysfunctional attitudes toward housing development across the country. Housing has become a commodity rather than a place to call home.
The result of this failed approach, is that the supply of housing is less important than turning a profit. A representative from Crisis placed the low levels of supply at the heart of increasing homelessness.
As a number of solutions were presented, from a tax on the value of land to bringing empty homes back into use, it became clear that there is no silver bullet policy to help people into the homes they are being denied.
Moreover, the portrayal of the crisis in the media is divisive. Homeowners are told that they benefit from increasing house prices while the rest of us see our homes become unaffordable. Heather Kennedy, from Hackney renters group Digs, explained that the private rented sector is not in a fit state to provide reliable homes to those priced out. When they try to improve conditions, tenants are pitted against landlords and one another.
To bridge these divides, all agreed that debate needed to extend beyond the walls of Parliament. Homeowners might have a narrow interest in spiralling house price inflation, but when their children are forced into the private rented sector or back home, the benefits are less obvious. In a time of austerity, a lack of social housing may seem a necessary evil, but people need to know that the maths is not that simple. The benefits bill has merely inflated as housing investment has fallen. Likewise, the unsuitable condition of rented accommodation needs to be communicated to the wider public so that all are aware of the consequences of inaction.
The People’s Parliament was a welcome reminder that we can all help to end the housing crisis. By making our voices heard and discussing the solutions, we can move the debate away from division and confusion.