Thangam Debbonaire took the opportunity during her address at the 2021 National Housing Summit to expose the perceived failures of the government’s approach to housing during the pandemic.
Speaking at the National Housing Federation’s (NHF) annual event, which this year took place virtually, the shadow Housing secretary explained why she thought the government’s implementation of the evictions ban, Universal Credit uplift, and other core policies born out of the pandemic were flawed.
On the evictions ban, Debbonaire said: “I’m glad the government listened to Labour’s call for that…but unfortunately we didn’t have any attempt at dealing with the underlying problems.”
She added: “There’s literally nothing economically sensible about allowing thousands of people to go into arrears.”
The shadow secretary was keen to applaud the uplift to Universal Credit, saying: “£20 makes a huge difference when you’re on a comparatively low incomes.”
Debbonaire was far less enthused, however, about the government’s plan to completely drop the uplift at the end of September.
She said: “There is going to be a tsunami, unfortunately…of possible unemployment and possible evictions.
“I would like the government to think again about how they target, how they graduate, the removal of financial support.”
Debbonaire used her keynote to address a number of other prominent issues within the housing sector, most notably decarbonisation.
Wasting no time in digging into the government’s Green Homes Grant scheme, she said that “it could” have helped, “but we all know it has failed to deliver.”
Despite the scheme’s inauspicious launch, though, Debbonnaire was keen to show her desire to see it succeed.
“It needs to succeed…in the Labour Party we want it to succeed,” she said.
Zooming out slightly to the government’s wider approach to sustainable housing, Debbonaire said there was a communication issue between government and residents.
“A ‘green home’ – most people don’t really know what that means,” she said.
Other key issues
Elsewhere in her talk, Debbonaire spoke of her desire to see more “ministerial responsibility” with housing.
Pointing out the high turnover of Housing ministers, the shadow secretary said she was “determined” to stay in her role role for as long as possible.
When he was appointed as Housing secretary in 2019, Debbonaire’s counterpart Robert Jenrick became the third Housing secretary in the space of 18 months.
During her talk, Debbonaire also spoke of how homes “should be” a human right.
She said: “A home should be safe, secure, truly affordable, warm and dry, efficient to heat and cool, close to amenities…”
She added: “If it isn’t all of these things then it isn’t a home.”
Debbonaire rounded off her address by urging the sector to continue making the case for social housing.
“Keep speaking to politicians, keep speaking to government, and keep publicising the importance of investing in social housing,” she said.
Debbonaire’s keynote followed an earlier address by Housing secretary Robert Jenrick, who was keen to stress the need for social housing tenants to be treated with “dignity and respect”.
Are you a social housing professional? Sign up for a FREE MEMBERSHIP to upload news stories, post job vacancies, and connect with colleagues on our secure social feed.