Opinion

Paul McNamee: It’s time for the real work to start

"Don’t just promise to build loads of houses, let’s think long-term rather than one election cycle to another"

Last week something remarkable happened in Scotland. It’s the sort of news story that spreads quickly, engages and demands comment.

A house was put on sale for £1. Actually it’s a flat, in Airdrie, with a communal garden and on street parking.

It’s not the first time that homes have gone on sale for less than the cost of a Mars bar and a can of Tizer. In Liverpool not so long ago there were a number of them. But the pound there had come with an undertaking to pay a considerable whack for renovation. Like buying a bust company for a pound and taking on the associated debt. It was a canny means of rejuvenating areas and preserving some handsome Victorian streets. This sort of thinking led to the Turner Prize for a Liverpool street scheme.

The Airdrie flat won’t be winning the Turner Prize. Unless the KLF torch it. And in case of furious letters – I’m not advocating this!

Sticking plasters are applied, perhaps a few houses are thrown up, but there are no meaningful breakthroughs

It is significant, however, because again this focuses thoughts on home and housing. During recent election campaigns politicians talked a lot about housing. In London where the overheated market is of key concern, big numbers for new builds were bandied about.

Which is lovely, but doesn’t really get us anywhere. Mostly because such comments are meat and drink during the campaign, but in the aftermath analysis always moves to discussions about what the outcome means for political parties NOT for the electorate. And so, those new representatives excitedly head to their offices saying platitudinous things about serving the people, then realise the limits of their power and purse. Sticking plasters are applied, perhaps a few houses are thrown up, but there are no meaningful breakthroughs.

Issues around housing and homelessness, around social mobility and lack of social mobility, are complex. In the week of the Scottish £1 home, locals in St Ives voted to clamp down on people buying holiday homes in the Cornish town. These had stopped the kids of locals being able to afford to stay. Also, in the same week 100 per cent mortgages returned.

To say the messages are mixed is an understatement. So here’s a challenge to all the new politicians with their box-fresh shirts and their personalised mugs – if you’re serious, get serious. Don’t just promise to build loads of houses, let’s look at exactly what is needed, where it’s needed and then, importantly, what is the next step to really allow social mobility. The house is just the start. It’s about the people in them, and out of them.

Let’s look properly at the reasons why people are homeless. Let’s look at the reasons people are struggling to meet rent payments. Let’s not sling mud and blame the other side for backing right to buy a generation ago or for not backing it.

The solutions will be hard to work out but if we don’t start to properly tackle them, to think long-term rather than one election cycle to another, the mess will only deepen.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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