The sun was shining on the second day of Housing 2021, and so was the spotlight on Labour’s big names.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, the headline act of Day 2, was keen share his views on the state of housing in Greater Manchester and the UK.
Although “housing is at the heart of everything”, according to the ‘King of the North’, the current state of UK housing is “dysfunctional”.
Burnham said: “We need something of that post-war spirit, where there was a recognition of housing as an absolute centrality to people’s lives.”
He went on to highlight the fact that, in Greater Manchester, four in 10 homes in the private-rented sector fall below the Decent Homes Standard.
“What chance have we got to improve people’s health…if those homes aren’t above that Decent Homes Standard,” he said.
Burnham added that he found the lack of debate around the issue “staggering”.
Burnham was also eager to discuss the role of decarbonisation in both housing and ‘levelling up’.
According to Burnham, decarbonisation and levelling-up should be done simultaneously.
Burnham added that, as part of the government’s upcoming spending review, he is going to propose a “levelling-up” deal with Greater Manchester.
On retrofitting, Burnham said it “needs to be about home improvement in the broadest sense”.
Shadow Housing secretary’s address
Shadow Housing secretary Lucy Powell echoed many of Burnham’s concerns.
Expressing a similar sense of dismay at the current state of housing in the UK, Powell said she was “worried” that lessons learnt from the pandemic are being forgotten.
According to Powell, the link between wages and affordability “is now broken”, while the decision to end the £20 Universal Credit uplift that was introduced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was “economically illiterate”.
Powell was also keen to highlight the issue of homelessness.
“Everyone In [was] a remarkable achievement, but too soon has become Everyone Out again,” she said.
She referred to Andy Burnham’s efforts to tackle homelessness as “phenomenal”.
On decarbonisation and climate change, Powell said that it was the “the big, big challenge of the present and the next few years”.
“Retrofitting of homes is probably the biggest policy issue in that context,” she added.
Elsewhere, Powell pledged that she and Labour would “hold the government to account” on the “looming” housing crisis.
She also said that it was her “ambition” to make housing the top of the agenda and that “housing “should once again be seen as a fundamental human right”, a sentiment echoed by Burnham in his address.
Update from the Regulator of Social Housing
Day 2 ended with an update from the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH).
Chief executive Fiona MacGregor was keen to address the “unprecedented” media attention the social housing sector has experienced over the course of the pandemic, highlighting high-profile cases of maladministration and tenant neglect.
“It was always clear that coming out of lockdown would present more challenges,” she said, adding that she felt “ashamed” on hearing some of the details that had emerged.
Commenting on the sector’s response to such cases, MacGregor said that “there was no room for competition or even schadenfreude”, adding that such behaviour “does nothing to address social housing stigma”.
In regard to the Social Housing White Paper, MacGregor urged the sector to be proactive and “not to wait” for legilsative and regulatory developments.
“We expect providers to take action to deliver the aims of the White Paper…you don’t need to wait for the powers of the regulator to enforce these things,” she said.
MacGregor ended with a defiant message around calling out a breach in standards.
She said: “We won’t be influenced by size or organisation or type of organisation…we will not succumb to pressure.”
Housing 2021 is hosted by the Chartered Institute of Housing.
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.