Sadiq Khan poses for the cameras. Photo:Getty Images
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Why Sadiq Khan is the candidate with the best offer for renters

A fair deal for London's renters should be the first priority for London's next Mayor. For my money, Sadiq Khan is the man with the plan.

 

Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with housing, and with good reason. A generation of politicians have failed to tackle the problems in London’s housing market. So I’m delighted to see two of the front runners in our mayoral race have unveiled their housing agendas in today’s Evening Standard.

No group has been let down by a generation of political failure on housing more than private tenants. With a strong focus on London's two million private tenants, Sadiq Khan has set out a comprehensive plan to make renters' lives better. As someone who has spent my career campaigning on housing issues, today was the day that Sadiq won my vote. 

By 2027, more Londoners will rent from a private landlord than own their own home. The average private tenant pays just under half their income in rent, and that figure is rising fast. But paying more rent doesn't mean living in a nicer flat or getting a better service - forty per cent of Londoners experienced problems with damp last year, and a third of say they cannot trust their letting agent. 

Sadiq has a comprehensive plan to reduce the cost of renting, improve the condition of rented homes and give more stability to renters. It consists of four crucial points:

1. To introduce a ‘London Living Rent’ option for new affordable housing. This will be a below-market rent, based on the principle that rents should be around one-third of renters’ incomes and not half. This will provide a genuinely 'affordable' option, filling the gap between the new social housing we need to build and homes for private sale or rent. By keeping rents down, tenants will be able to afford their rents while saving for a deposit if they want to. 

2. Sadiq will establish a London-wide not-for-profit letting agency, building on the work of Labour councils like Hackney and Islington in a federal structure. This agency will provide good landlords and tenants with a responsible and reliable alternative to private lettings agencies, while promoting longer-term tenancies and stable rents.

3. The Mayor's office will crack down on rogue landlords and publish a regular list of the best and worst landlords in the capital. Sadiq’s plan proposes cross-borough action against the worst offenders and encouraging local authorities to set up licensing schemes, like Newham has done.

4. Sadiq will campaign with Londoners for the power to freeze rents and for new rules to ensure that if necessary repairs are not started by  landlords within a reasonable time period, tenants will be able to carry them out and deduct the cost from the rent. A rent freeze over the last four years would have saved the average London renter £5,615 that could have been saved towards a deposit.

As a package this plan will make an immense difference to the lives of London's two million private renters. Over the coming weeks Sadiq will be announcing further important measures to tackle London's housing crisis. I can think of no more important thing for the next Mayor of London to do and that is why I will be campaigning for Sadiq Khan to be Labour's candidate next May.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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