Affordable housing

On May 1st, voters should consider the housing manifestos of each mayoral candidate because the new

It is now just over a week until London decides. The slanderous war of words is proliferating, with the candidates jousting in a marathon of hustings and journalists and commentators trading blows and insults as they throw their support behind one of the two front-runners.

There are few things that the most influential players in the mayoral election race agree on. Crime and transport are at the top of the agenda for the majority of Londoners, and there has been a raft of differing proposals concerning bendy buses, residential speed limits and the congestion charge, as well as all the interpretations about whether London has become more or less safe in the last four years.

But there is another issue that is marching up the ladder of electoral importance, both locally and nationally, and that is housing; or more specifically affordable housing, and London’s lack of it.

London has the most acute housing and homelessness problem in the country. At least 3,000 people slept rough in London in the past year and the capital accounts for around 70% of the 79,500 homeless households in temporary accommodation in the country.

Stark though these figures are, homelessness is not an issue upon which election campaigns are won and lost. The reason why housing has shot up the agenda in London, as it has throughout the country, is because of a housing crisis which is deepening, and beginning to pervade throughout all sectors of society.

The average house price in London is almost £360,000. This is roughly 13 times the average wage, of £27,868. Shelter’s ROOF affordability index revealed last week that house prices for first time buyers in London have risen a staggering 250 per cent in a decade.

With the housing market as it is, despite recent talk of a market downturn and a credit crunch, the housing policies of a prospective mayor’s manifesto would always have taken on added significance. But this importance is intensified by the recent GLA Act which gives the next mayor direct authority over spending and investment, which, amongst other things, allows him to determine the budget that will be made available for social rented housing.

So as the pledges in their housing manifestos take on greater consequence, how do the mayoral candidates plan to help ease London’s housing crisis?

Let’s start with the current incumbent. While Ken would not be able to use London’s record on affordable house building as a staunch platform indicative of certain re-election, his term in office has been underlined by a firm commitment to the delivery of affordable and social rented homes. He has introduced a target for all London boroughs to ensure that 50 per cent of all new developments are affordable housing, with 70 per cent of this affordable housing allocated as social rented housing and 30 per cent intermediate housing.

Boris echoes the man he is hoping to succeed regarding the importance of affordable homes, with plans to build 50,000 more in the next three years at the centrepiece of his housing manifesto. He would scrap boroughs’ 50 per cent affordable homes target, leaving each Local Authority to set their own goals for housing delivery. He argues that this would make their targets more achievable, but with the vast majority of boroughs already failing dismally in delivering affordable housing, too much flexibility would sanction targets that are too low. The Tory candidate has also stated that he would split social rented to affordable at 60:40 as opposed to Ken’s 70:30 - at a time when waiting lists in the capital are standing at around 334,000.

Brian Paddick’s plans are the most inventive. He has pledged that the publicly owned land will be used to produce low-cost affordable rented accommodation and has been vocal in his support of housing associations and his commitment to affordable housing. However the manifesto does not explicitly state which groups this low cost, rented accommodation will be targeted at and he hasn’t stated a specific target or numerical commitment on social rented housing.

Albeit to varying degrees, there is much to be optimistic about in each of these manifestos. But manifesto pledges are just that, and often, even the most well intentioned promises, they might not be achievable. For despite Ken’s clear commitment to housing – there has been a year on year increase in the number of social homes built during his term as mayor - last year the 32 London boroughs built a grand total of 7,965 social rented homes.

So while I am tentatively optimistic having read the housing manifestos, the most important thing for Londoners is that their elected mayor can work with councils and local authorities to ensure the housing is not just promised but delivered. Whoever the winning candidate, they may not be elected on their housing manifesto, but they have the opportunity to be remembered for it if they successfully meet Londoners' housing aspirations.

Adam Sampson is the Chief Executive of Shelter

To find out who you should be voting for in the London Mayoral Elections on May 1st, click here.

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State