A general view of housing near Herne Hill in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour will get Britain building to tackle high rents

The lack of supply is the principal cause of unaffordable rents and house prices. 

Today Ed Miliband announced that a Labour government would legislate to make three year long-term tenancies with predictable rents the norm and ban letting fees being charged to tenants, as part of our plan to deal with the cost of living crisis.

Nine million people now rent privately in England. And it’s not just young people: 1.3 million families also live in privately rented housing, and for far too many of them that means a great deal of insecurity. They have to live with the uncertainty that their rents could jump up from one year to the next and that they won't be able to stay in their home. 

Labour will make three year tenancies the norm. If a tenant wants a shorter tenancy, they will of course be able to get one, but the default will be that they can have three years as of right.  As long as they pay their rent, don’t commit anti-social behaviour or crime, or damage the property, they should have the stability to make their flat or house a home in the local community. Of course if a landlord needs to move back in or sell the property, they’ll have the ability to do so. But the default will be clear. This is also good for landlords because what they want are good tenants paying the rent every month of the year, rather than tenants moving in and out which means there are times they are getting no rent at all.

On rents, we’re suggesting that they be set initially, just as happens now, between the landlord and the tenant in line with the market and after negotiation. But once that rent is set, landlords should not be able to put it up unfairly or disproportionately during the term of the three year tenancy. At present, tenants can face unpredictable and costly rent hikes if they want to renew each year. So we will legislate to set a ceiling on any increase; what this ceiling will be will be decided on the basis of consultation with tenants, policy experts and, of course, landlords.

On lettings agents, we will ban charges being levied on tenants, rather like what happens with estate agents, where it is the vendor who pays all the agent’s fees and charges and not the buyer. Some lettings agent charges can be disproportionately high and can involve both the landlord and the tenant being charged for the same thing; for example charging both landlord and tenant £100 just for a credit reference check. We will put an end to this.

But we don’t just want to deal with the private rented sector’s problems to offer more security and stability. We all know that the lack of homes being built is the principal cause of high rents and high house prices. And that’s why Ed Miliband has pledged to get Britain building. We want to be building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament. The Tories have presided over the lowest level of housebuilding in peacetime since the 1920s and ours is an ambitious target. So we’ve pledged to work with communities and local authorities to unlock land and consent to build a new generation of homes, including new towns and garden cities.

I believe that in the same way that so many young renters, their parents and families locked out of owning their own home have reacted positively to Ed’s announcement today, communities around the country do see that we need to build more homes. Otherwise we will condemn Generation Rent to insecurity and the possibility of never having a home of their own.

In this way, we can help people who either want to rent, or are having to rent, to enjoy the peace of mind that they can be part of their community, put down roots, send their children to school, keep their local job and not have to pick up their belongings and lives and move. Peace of mind that they can plan their finances and not have to worry that they might be out of their home if the rent suddenly jumps up. And peace of mind that a Labour government will work hard to ensure they get the chance to buy a place of their own.

Hilary Benn is shadow communities and local government secretary, and MP for Leeds Central 

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war