Housing

'Utter contempt': Fury as Tory minister says not all renters are 'weed-smoking bad people in gangs'

The housing minister told a Conservative Party Conference fringe event that not all private renters ‘smoke weed’ or ‘are in gangs’ as she defended Renters Reform Bill to landlords

housing minister Rachel Maclean

Housing minister Rachel Maclean was accused of suggesting only some renters deserve better conditions following her comments. Image: parliamentlive.tv

Housing minister Rachel Maclean has sparked controversy after she told landlords at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester that private renters do not all “smoke weed” or “are in gangs”.

Maclean was defending the Renters Reform Bill at a fringe event sponsored by landlord lobby group the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) when she made the comments.

The rent reforms, which aim to axe no-fault evictions and strengthen tenants’ rights, have been delayed after being introduced to parliament in May. Maclean reportedly said she had been told the bill was “not Conservative” and would face opposition from party members.

The Big Issue is calling on the government to bring the Renters Reform BIll into law, alongside unfreezing local housing allowance and reforming universal credit, through the End Housing Insecurity Now campaign.

Speaking at the event, titled ‘Going Private: reforming the private rented sector’, Maclean said: “There are plenty of young people who are in the private rented sector (PRS) who are not weed-smoking bad people in gangs and crack dens and everything else and smashing up the neighbourhood.

“There are decent people hard working people in the PRS, and we need to do the right thing for them.”

She also told the crowd, most of which were landlords, that her four children were all private renters and Conservative voters aged in their late 20s and 30s.

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The housing minister’s language has faced criticism from rent campaigners with some accusing Maclean of showing “utter contempt” for renters.

Liam Miller, spokesperson for the London Renters Union said: “These comments show the utter contempt the government has for renters. By refusing to cap rents or end the sell-off of our public housing, this government has created a rental crisis that is pushing millions into hardship and many out of their homes altogether.

“In this context, it is outrageous that the housing minister would suggest that only some people deserve better. The government must stop pandering to the landlord lobby and put the safety and security of all renters first by finally bringing in the Renters Reform Bill and taking action against skyrocketing rents.”

Nick Ballard, head organiser at tenants union ACORN told The Big Issue that, while Maclean was joking, the housing minister’s words may not going down well with renters with a general election on the horizon.

“Rachel Maclean’s in-joke with the landlord lobby yesterday just goes to show the contempt with which tenants are viewed by landlords and the Tory party,” said Ballard. 

“Classist jokes aside, we think the Conservatives should focus on the issue at hand: that since they promised to ban no-fault evictions 1,628 days ago, renters have still been turfed out in our thousands. 

“What Maclean’s comments do highlight is that the Tories will be punished in the next election if they continue to ignore the needs of England’s 11 million private renters. 

“Runaway rents, poor quality and unsafe housing, and lack of security are key areas they need to get a grip of if they want to stand a chance of appealing to generation rent, a key constituency for political success in the polls.”

Speculation in recent weeks has suggested that the Renters Reform Bill will not receive a second reading in parliament until after the King’s Speech on 7 November.

Housing secretary Michael Gove reportedly confirmed in a speech at a Shelter event during the Tory conference that the bill would be debated by MPs for the first time in the coming weeks. But Gove neglected to mention the Renters Reform Bill in his conference address on Tuesday.

Ben Twomey, chief executive of Generation Rent, said Maclean’s words and a lack of government action is leaving renters worried.

“It’s clear that the minister was trying to make a point to some party activists who have never taken the housing crisis, or the renter vote seriously,” said Twomey. “But to the renters in the room, including Conservative members, and who saw these comments on social media, the remarks were jarring to say the least and we need reassurance that the government is on our side against the bad landlords.

“Ultimately, we’ve had a lot of words from the government about reform while renters continue to face threats of homelessness and mouldy homes that too many landlords ignore. What renters need from the government is action, and they need it now.”

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Ben Beadle, chief executive of the NRLA said the government needs “the confidence of the vast majority of responsible landlords” for a thriving housing market.

Beadle added: “When section 21 repossessions end, landlords need certainty that the courts will more swiftly process possession claims where there is good cause.”

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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