Thursday, 4 December 2014

Renters : Screwed over twice in one week

Well, well, well - the Autumn Statement was quite a bonanza wasn't it? Well, no, actually. Or at least, not if you're one of the 9 million people currently renting property in England - if you're one of those people, you've just been screwed over royally, all in the space of one week. 

Tessa - fast becoming one of our best MPs on this issue.
First, we had the second reading of the Bill on Revenge Evictions last Friday. This is something that has made Tessa Munt one of my favourite MPs, because she's campaigned on the issue for a really long time. It's currently completely legal for a landlord to evict you from their property because you speak out about bad conditions, or because you ask them why they're not completing the repairs they said they would. This is something quite close to my heart - not only have I lived in rental accomodation since I left home, but since I've been a Councillor I've lost track of the number of times that I've been contacted by people whose homes are damp or in states of awful repair. One of these people was eventually moved, because their flat was so damp that their child had a perpetual chest infection for a number of years. My experience has shown me that we desperately need to strengthen the position of renters, because currently, it's up to them to go hand to hand with landlords in the fear that they might be evicted. What happened last Friday was an utter disgrace. With many Liberal Democrats turning up to back Tessa's effort, the debate was talked out by Christopher Chope and Philip Davies - unsurprisingly, two Tory MPs who make not insubstantial sums from the rental market. Tessa's work would have meant that tenants would have been protected from rogue landlords who evict tenants on spurious grounds, but the efforts of Christopher Chope and Philip Davies mean that yet again, no action will be taken. Of course, it's unlikely that either of these MPs will lose their seats next time, because that's the sad world we live in, but I hope that voters in Christchurch and in Shipley briefly consider the actions of these shameful men before casting their votes. 

The second thing, happened yesterday in the Autumn Statement - or, more importantly, it didn't happen. The headline from George Osborne's speech to Parliament was his reform of Stamp Duty, paid by people who sell property. Once again, this is policy that completely ignores those who don't own property and who aren't in shouting distance of doing so. It's a handout to those who are relatively lucky already, and one which will make no positive impact to those stuck on the rental ladder, being moved on every six months by Landlords looking to make quick money. I'd also be interested to see what impact this change has on the rental market - with landlords buying and selling property ever more frequently, what we could see is an even quicker churn in landlords offloading property. What does that mean? An even worse deal for tenants who already get moved on time and time again. 

More important still, the reform to Stamp Duty won't massively benefit those who own one home and move every ten years or so, it'll benefit those who own whole portfolios of housing who buy and sell to monetise their stock - it'll put more money back into the pockets of Landlords. 

Please forgive me if I seem a bit rabid about this, but my view is simple - that the Government that we're a part of has been pretty horrific for those renting property. We passed the National Planning Policy Framework - a piece of planning policy that might as well have been called the Linden Charter. Those of us elected to Planning Authorities will know that in effect, the NPPF has opened the doors to big developers as long as they can put forward some loose argument suggesting that it's 'sustainable' development. In my area alone, this has meant developments with no social housing, no affordable housing, and no local link. 

Quite frankly, the Government's approach to renters has been piss poor, and we've let them down. I'm glad that finally we're talking about the Government actually starting housing schemes rather than leaving it to the likes of Linden and Barrett, but it does feel like too little, too late. 

In the past week, people who can't afford to buy their own homes and who have very little security in rented accomodation have been let down. My question really is, if we Liberal Democrats don't go into the next election with solid promises to support renters - then who will stand between them and the Landlords who see a price on their head? Fantastic work from Tessa Munt, but we must do more. 

Please join me in donating to Shelter - they're doing fantastic work, and they're sometimes the only people fighting the side of renters up and down the country. 

Monday, 1 December 2014

My Question for Sal Brinton

So - there we have it! Baroness Sal Brinton will be the next President of the Liberal Democrats, and a fantastic job she'll do. The one thing I love about LibDem internal elections is that generally whoever wins, we all win. Sal has massive experience in the Party, she's a proven campaigner, she's a skilled Parliamentarian, and the important thing for me - her record on LGBT+ issues is incredible. Whilst I supported Daisy, I know that Sal will do a fine job in leading our Party through the General Election and making sure our systems are fit for the 21st Century.

I won't pretend that I wasn't sad on Saturday. I think Daisy ran a great campaign, and importantly for me, she inspired me. That doesn't happen so often in politics, for me and so I'll always be grateful for it. One thing I'm left feeling is that whatever she chooses to do next, Daisy's service to the Party is something that we'll all benefit from.

In looking toward her time as President, there's just one thing that I hope Sal will consider. She's been very heavily involved in the Leadership Programme, and we're still yet to see whether that will make an impact, but I hope Sal picks up Daisy's plan to diversify the Party's grassroots. I'm incredibly glad that the Leadership Programme targets support at underrepresented groups within the Party, but I also recognise that we'll never be able to truly represent the Country and appeal to all people unless our membership is representative too. The thing that I loved about Daisy's pitch was that she planned to start an outreach programme, one that targeted media outlets used by varying communities to recruit and train new members. Daisy's plan would see us advertising in newspapers and broadcasting on radio stations that don't have a predominantly white, straight market. Daisy's plan would then provide information and training to people who responded, and if they joined, would support those people into positions in the Party - whether that's becoming a candidate for election or a Local Party Chair.

I know that with her record on equalities, Sal understands that our Party must do more to become more representative - she's shown that time and time again in word and deed. So, if there's one thing that we take forward, please let it be the plan for the grassroots. It doesn't need to be expensive, and it doesn't need to be on the same scale as the leadership scheme, but it's something that we can do to start to build the Party we want to see in the future. Whilst I'd hate to put words in Daisy's mouth, I'm sure she'd be happy to spearhead such an endeavour, and I'd be very happy to work with her.

But finally, massive congratulations to Sal, she'll be a President we can all unite behind and be proud of.