15/12/2015 12:57 GMT | Updated 15/12/2016 05:12 GMT

We Need More Houses - Not to Punish Those Who Have One


The government has added an amendment to its housing and planning bill which will end life-long tenancy for people living in social housing.

It's a change in the law which strikes not only at people who live in social housing, but also directly at a central concept of life in the UK - that people need and deserve a stable home life, and they can expect it here in the UK.

The Conservative plan, which David Cameron suggested in 2010, will see an arbitrary maximum tenancy of five years for each person who becomes a new social housing tenant. The minimum will be just two years.

It means no-one living in a socially-rented property can be sure they will be living in the same place, or even the same area, for any more than 60 months.

I was born in a council house.

When first appointed to the House of Lords, I had to choose a place name to distinguish me from all the other Jones' and I chose 'Moulsecoomb' because that's where I was born and grew up, on the post war, Homes Fit For Heroes council housing estate of North Moulsecoomb in Brighton.

I lived at my house with my mum, dad and brother. It was where my low paid parents built a life together, where I grew up, in the sort of security we all need to thrive, so we can take our places as active and contributing members of our society.

But a decent place to live, and the knowledge you have time to build a life there, is something no-one in the UK should feel lucky to have. It is something we should all be able to rely on.

The Conservative amendment threatens the security of the poorest in society. Two years in a house is only just enough time to settle in and know your neighbours. A five year span means a child will settle into a school then have to be uprooted to another.

The government claims the policy is designed to 'help social mobility' and to 'address the shortage of social housing' in the UK. But social mobility is not 'helped' by making people less secure in their homes and their communities. In fact, social mobility was and should still be served by making sure people in work have stability, and those without work have a secure base from which to build or rebuild their lives.

There is certainly a shortage in social housing. Almost 1.9million households are in need of a social home, more than half again of the almost 3.7million socially-rented homes currently occupied. The solution to that is not to threaten people with eviction in an arbitrary amount of time. Nor is it to ban local authorities from granting secure, long-term tenancies for people in social housing where they see they are beneficial.

In fact, those exact pressures are more likely to mean this amendment will see people forced from their homes, as they will increase pressure on local authorities to 'free' homes by refusing tenancy extensions.

And that is at the heart of the government's failures on social housing. It simply can't see that what we need is not greater churn, but a sensible, funded, local authority-led drive to build the housing we need. Not threats of eviction by slashing tenancy lengths, but the promise of decent secure homes.

It is what worked for my family, and millions more like us. It could work for millions more - and benefit the entire UK - if the government stops punishing people, and starts building houses.