Politics

Keir Starmer can ‘only bring real change by fixing the housing emergency’

Activists from Shelter hung a banner from Westminster Bridge demanding Keir Starmer ends the housing crisis before he had even moved in to 10 Downing Street

Shelter activists hold up banner targeting Keir Starmer which reads: "Change? Time to Prove It".

Shelter activists headed to Westminster after Labour's landslide win to demand Keir Starmer delivers the change he has promised on the campaign trail. Image: Jake Darling Photography

New prime minister Keir Starmer faces a bulging in-tray when he enters 10 Downing Street but he is already being urged to get on with tackling the UK housing crisis.

While housing was down the pecking order when it came to big issues on the campaign trail, Labour promised 1.5 million new homes would be built by 2029 alongside planning reforms and an immediate ban on no-fault evictions to protect renters.

But Starmer had not even got the keys to Downing Street after his party’s landslide win before activists from charity Shelter hung a banner from Westminster Bridge urging the Labour leader to prove he would bring change by ending the housing emergency.

Mairi MacRae, director of campaigns at Shelter, said: “Keir Starmer has been elected on a mandate for change, and we’re in Westminster today to tell him that now it’s time to prove it, and that starts with tackling housing head on.

“Across the country, the housing emergency is ruining lives. Home is our foundation for a stable, healthy life and society – but right now, millions of people don’t have that.

“To deliver real, lasting change, the new government must turbocharge building social housing – we need 90,000 homes for social rent a year for 10 years to clear the social housing waiting list and help eradicate homelessness. And we urgently need new legislation that makes renting safer, secure and more affordable.”

Shelter activists hold up banner targeting Keir Starmer which reads: "Change? Time to Prove It".
Shelter’s banner was hung over Westminster Bridge just hours after Labour’s success was confirmed. Image: Jake Darling Photography

Successive governments from both Labour and the Conservatives have failed to reckon with the housing crisis and Starmer’s task is an unenviable one.

He inherits a situation where house prices are out of reach for many – a situation he hopes to fix by making the mortgage guarantee scheme permanent – and private rents are at record highs.

Meanwhile, rough sleeping is surging – including hitting new heights in London – and a record 113,000 households are living in temporary accommodation with 145,800 children growing up without a permanent home.

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The Big Issue’s Blueprint for Change called on the new prime minister to build more affordable and social housing as well as banning no-fault evictions, ending renters’ five-year wait for action.

Labour has promised to prioritise building social rent homes – but is yet to commit to a figure.

Amid gloomy forecasts for housebuilding in the months ahead, housing associations have urged Starmer to change how social housing rents are calculated to allow builders to commit long-term to delivering new homes.

Currently, social housing rents are set in the autumn and rise by the level of inflation plus 1% the following April.

“Not-for-profit housing charities, like Hyde, build over a fifth of all new homes in the UK, and we’ve been warning for months that affordable housing starts were set to plummet,” said chief executive of The Hyde Group, Andy Hulme.

“The 96% drop in the number of homes started by housing associations in London at the end of the last year being one piece of evidence of this.

“In the next settlement for social housing rents, it’s vitally important this government delivers long-term certainty to help us unlock additional private sector investment with a 10-year, inflation-linked settlement and a 10-year funding programme to build more affordable homes. Investors making long-term investment decisions need long-term stability and funding commitments from national government.”

John Glenton, executive director of care and support at Riverside housing association, said the new government must recognise that investing in housing to prevent homelessness and rough sleeping will save cash in the long run.

“The scarcity of housing supply is creating a humanitarian crisis as more and more families are priced out of housing and end up living in temporary accommodation,” said Glenton.

“This situation is also causing a financial crisis for local government with councils in England spending more than £1.7bn on temporary accommodation last year – double the amount they spent seven years ago.

“The new government needs to take an invest-to-save approach if we are to ease the housing crisis and be successful in reducing homelessness and rough sleeping. As the economy grows, the provision of social and affordable housing must become a top spending priority.”

Fiona Fletcher-Smith, head of the G15 group of London’s biggest housing associations, said Labour must also improve access to the building safety fund and social housing decarbonisation fund to boost social housing.

Meanwhile, both the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) and the property agent group Propertymark pledged to work with the Labour government to fix the broken private rented sector.

NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle warned Starmer that reforms must not worsen an “already chronic shortage of rental properties to meet demand”.

Oli Sherlock, managing director of insurance at lettings platform Goodlord, said the new government has “a hell of a job on its hands” and called for a “rapidly implemented plan for housebuilding”. 

“We need consistency of leadership,” said Sherlock. “This isn’t Premier League football, we can’t afford to have another merry-go-round of housing ministers – the sector is far too fragile. Long-term planning, consistent leadership, and clarity over details is what the market is calling out for as we enter this new chapter.”

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