Housing

John Bird: "The housing crisis is a declared state of emergency"

Lord Bird, founder of The Big Issue, has warned the government must prioritise housing to prevent rising poverty from getting worse in Britain

John Bird

This week’s Queen’s Speech unveiled a rare dose of positivity for renters in the form of the new Tenants’ Fees Bill, with “unfair” letting fees to be scrapped in England.

However, despite the move being welcomed by tenants and charities, questions still remain over the government’s failure to appoint a housing minister at cabinet level position.

As Parliament was officially reopened, the new housing minister Alok Sharma finds himself in a back-seat role reporting to Sajid Javid, who recently retained his position as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Lord John Bird, The Big Issue founder who attended today’s State Opening of Parliament alongside magazine vendor William Herbert (below), said the government needed to prioritise housing to prevent poverty from getting worse.

“Make no mistake, the housing crisis is a declared state of emergency,” he said. “Only a powerful Department of Housing, with a unwavering Secretary of State, would keep house-building at the top of the cabinet’s agenda.

“We need to build on land that’s available,” he said. “London authorities own up to a third of the land in their boroughs. NHS, Transport for London and the Army hold even more.”

Make no mistake, the housing crisis is a declared state of emergency

“The effects of shoddy housing, overcrowding, cold and damp are devastating. It costs the NHS £600 million each year. We need to treat housing as a health issue. And we need to bring more empty homes into use.”

This also comes at a time when the spotlight shines brightly on housing in Britain in the wake of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in West London earlier this month.

When The Big Issue asked 10 Downing Street why the housing minster was not in the central cabinet, we were told: “There is a minister of state who reports to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [Sajid Javid, who sits in Cabinet], so matters of housing have representation in Cabinet. In terms of the business of government, there is a minister of state who focuses on that area. But that is a political question.”

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