Being MP for Newcastle Central has been the greatest privilege and honour of my life. It is particularly important to me to represent the place I grew up in – the people I grew up with.
At the same time, as an Engineer I know the pitfalls of following your ‘gut’ as opposed to the facts. Anecdote is not evidence, as the saying goes.
So to make sure I have the facts about what matters to my constituents I record and publish the issues people raise with me. After seven years as an MP the evidence is clear – consistently the top three issues that matter enough to the people of Newcastle Central to make them get on a bus and come to a surgery, or pick up a pen or a computer and write to me, are benefits, immigration – and housing.
At my surgeries I have heard stories about housing that make me bite my lip to keep from crying: parents battling mould and humidity for their children’s health; a single mother trying to keep down two jobs and still having to take her children by bus across town because she couldn’t afford to stay in the home they once had near their school; a father who can no longer see his children because the bedroom tax took away his spare room and his children aren’t allowed to stay with him unless he can provide proper accommodation; a disabled man told to leave a flat which had been adapted for him at the cost of thousands of pounds for one where he could not get out of bed without help; a young woman coming to terms with the fact she is unlikely get to the top of the housing list unless she has children or a serious illness… the list goes on and on.
Housing was one of the reasons I came into politics. When my Mum and us three children fled the Biafran war to return to Newcastle, we spent six months in my Grandma’s OAP bungalow in Montagu before the Council housed us. We moved into a three-bedroom ground floor flat in North Kenton with under floor heating and a second toilet – it was luxury!
I was very young but my Mum made sure I understood that council houses didn’t just erupt from the ground like bricks and mortar mushrooms. They had to be built, they had to be paid for and it had taken generations of struggle by working people to make affordable homes a priority for the Government.
My mum taught me that the labour movement – that coalition of all those who have to rely on their own labour or that of their friends and family to survive – had worked over centuries expressly to make sure that I had a proper roof over my head. A home.
The Tories changed that. Not just because Margaret Thatcher sold off the council houses but because she also hijacked the idea of council housing. When I was growing up on a council estate in the seventies almost all my neighbours had jobs. We were the exception, living on benefits. But the Conservatives prevented local authorities building homes and ensured what social housing there was had to be reserved for the most vulnerable. The Tories turned ‘homes fit for heroes’ to homes for those the free market didn’t want.
Now the Tories are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. They’ve pledged to build an additional half a million homes by 2025, but have not said how they will do it, how much it will cost or how they will fund it, and as we know homes do not grow on trees. This is another Tory promise that—like the target of eliminating the deficit by 2015, or reducing immigration to the tens of thousands —isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Since 2010 home ownership has fallen, rough sleeping has doubled, private rents have soared, and fewer new homes have been built than under any peacetime government since the 1920s. There are now more than a million people on housing waiting lists, whilst more than 6 million face tenure insecurity and no prospect of ever buying their own home. First-time buyers are struggling more than ever to get on the housing ladder, and since 2010 there are now almost half a million more 20-34 year olds having to live at home with parents
In contrast Labour, under John Healey as Shadow secretary of state, are offering a fully funded New Deal on Housing. We have pledged to invest to build one million new homes with 100,000 a year being social housing by the end of the Parliament. We will also introduce tougher regulation of the private rental sector, in order to put an end to the disgracefully high fees and completely unreasonable rent increases that confront many hard working people in this country. As John Healey, our Shadow Secretary of State for Housing has set out, Labour will make Help to Buy work for young people and those who currently can’t afford to a home of their own.
Homes matter to the people of Newcastle. We need a Labour government on 9 June so that the people of Newcastle and the UK can have the homes that matter to them.