In the aftermath of the Second World War as our country was reborn the Attlee government created the NHS, a unique healthcare system, free at the point of need irrespective of the ability to pay, funded through general taxation. It ensured universal access to education for all young people and developed a welfare state so every citizen had a safety net to protect them if they were vulnerable or sick and fell on hard times.
The one new frontier it didn’t conquer was decent, affordable housing for all. This is the unfinished business that should be a priority for this generation of politicians of all parties. Why not set a target of a decent, affordable home for every citizen by 2025 or 2030?
So many of my constituents are living in unacceptable conditions due to overcrowding, damp, or disability. They remain on never-shifting waiting lists or move repeatedly in the private rented sector. Young people are unable to afford that first rung on the property ladder, or can only do so if they are fortunate to have help from the “bank of mum and dad.” Older people need greater access to housing with care and support options.
The number of people sleeping on our streets is a grotesque symbol of the inequality which scars our society. In our great city of Manchester people look up at the cranes in the sky and celebrate the development and growth they represent. Yet, before their eyes there are people huddled in doorways seeking their own small haven from the harshness and vulnerability of the streets. Every individual has their own story, their own truth. But the savage cuts inflicted on mental health services, drugs and alcohol support and social security have played their part. Sometimes arbitrary rules such as place of origin mean no one cares and no one accepts responsibility. Hostel and bed and breakfast places are at a premium and some are left to the mercy of a minority of unscrupulous private landlords who offer substandard accommodation which wouldn’t be acceptable for our parents or children, so why should it be for anyone else’s.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I know from first hand experience of the excellent charities offering people hope, dignity and compassion as an antidote to despair and hopelessness. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has not only donated 15 per cent of his salary to tackling homelessness – he has generated significant extra public and private investment, supported expanded housing provision and insisted on better support and greater coordination between public services and local authorities. He has personally championed the fight against rough sleeping and homelessness, ignoring those who warned him it is a thankless task, worth few votes and difficult to show results. This is the kind of political leadership we need.
At the time of writing it seems likely we are to have an early general election. Now and post the all-consuming issue of Brexit this country will need an era of rebirth again. Why don’t we ask all political leaders and politicians seeking election to commit to the right of every citizen to have a decent and affordable home – supported by an ambitious and credible plan to make it happen?
Ivan Lewis is independent MP for Bury South