Cat Smith column - The housing system is broken, and has to be fixed

England needs the biggest council and social house building drive in its history, says Cat Smith MP
England needs the biggest council and social house building drive in its history, says Cat Smith MP

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith backs a new report which says that, to solve the nation's housing crisis, we need to build more social housing

Half of our young people in this country can’t afford to buy their own homes. Instead, they’re forced into the rental market, where conditions are often very poor, with one in seven private rented homes posing an immediate threat to health and safety, according to the government’s own figures.

The homeless charity Shelter says four in 10 private landlords surveyed say they operate an outright ban on renting to people in receipt of housing benefit. As Shadow Minister for Young People, I regularly meet youngsters caught up in this situation who tell me they face an almost daily worry of how to keep a roof over their heads.

More than three million new social homes are needed in the next 20 years, according to a year-long housing commission launched in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. This week, the cross-party commission told the government England must launch the biggest council and social house building drive in its history to rescue millions of people from a future in dangerous, overcrowded or unsuitable homes.

Investment in new social homes has fallen dramatically since 2010, and the Conservative re-definition of ‘affordable housing’ is a sham. The commission’s report states that “affordable rents” for typical two-bedroom properties work out at 30 per cent more expensive than social rents and that “these rent levels are completely out of reach for most people who are eligible for social housing”.

One of the report’s authors is Baroness Warsi, a former chairman of the Conservative Party. She admits that “one in four families with children now live in a privately rented property and that a generation is looking at a future raising children in unstable private renting: being uprooted every few years with no hope of building a strong community network or owning a stake.Could young renters be saving more? Not really, when you think half a million working households spend more than half their income on rent. If that’s the cost of keeping a roof over their head, you can see just how prohibitive private renting is”.

Housing has been at the top of Labour’s agenda, with a commitment in our last manifesto to build a million new low-cost homes in the first ten years. Fixing the broken housing market is a way to build strong communities and it’s critical this government accepts and implements the report’s findings without delay.

There has been an increase in the reporting of malicious calls, text messages or emails to members of the public from callers saying they’re from HM Revenue and Customs.

Fraudsters state that as a result of non-payment of tax or other duty, the victim is liable to prosecution or repossession of belongings to settle the balance – but that they can avoid this by arranging for payment to be made immediately by bank transfers or even by iTunes gift cards.

If the victim is hesitant or refuses to comply, the suspect makes a threat such as immediate arrest.

Often, the period for which the tax is allegedly due is distant enough to guarantee the victim will have little, if any, paperwork to verify the claims. Once the money is paid the suspects sever all contact.

Please remember to always question requests for your personal or financial information. Just because someone knows basic details doesn’t mean they are genuine. Instead, contact the company directly using methods such as a known email address.

n If there’s anything I can help you with, you can email me on cat.smith.mp@parliament.uk or call 01253 490 440.