Our homes are at the heart of all our lives. They are the foundation on which we raise our families, the bedrock for our dreams and aspirations. However, for many people in Cheltenham the housing pressures they face are getting worse with every year.
After seven years of failure, the Conservatives have no plan to fix the housing crisis. Since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since the 1920s, rough sleeping has risen every year, rents have risen faster than incomes, home-ownership has fallen dramatically, and new affordable housebuilding is minimal.
The Conservatives dream of a property-owning democracy is in tatters as the average price of a house in Cheltenham is now more than ten times the average starting salary of £25,000 in our area. For too many young families in Cheltenham they can see no alternative to remaining part of Generation Rent, unable to get a toe on the property ladder without the help of the bank of mum and dad. There is precious little affordable housing in our town and what little new build there is continues to focus on expensive detached housing and town centre retirement complexes to feed the profits of the private developers.
Meanwhile, the Conservative’s long war of attrition against social housing goes on. The right to buy council housing continues to reduce the stock of good quality housing for young families to rent. Many of these former council houses are now in hands of private landlords, poorly maintained and with high rents subsidised by housing benefit. Despite long waiting lists our local councils have been unable to replace this stock of lost properties. Councils are now building just one new home for every nine sold.
The impact of high local housing costs on young people and families is encouraging our working-age population to move away from the Cheltenham. This will bring with it negative effects on the local economy, on our ability to attract quality employers to the area, and upon the long term well-being and strength of our communities.
Meanwhile the spectre of homelessness continues to grow in our town. More and more families are living in temporary accommodation or bed and breakfast. The number of people sleeping in shop doorways on the High Street and elsewhere has increased significantly, fuelled directly by government decisions on housing, mental health and social security.
We are facing a national housing crisis but it doesn’t have to be like this in one of the world’s richest counties. The Labour Party has committed to building a million new homes in five years, with at least half a million council and housing association homes for affordable rent or sale, just the homes that first time buyers need. There will be an end to insecurity for private renters with controls on rent rises and more secure tenancies. There is an alternative to current situation but it will need a change of government. For many families in Cheltenham that Labour government can’t come soon enough.
Chair, Cheltenham Labour Party
(Originally published October 2017)