Forty years ago, I was one of those who organised the occupation of Centre Point, which was then empty. It was a protest that caught the imagination. It dominated the headlines for several days. It was against the obscene combination of a housing crisis on the one hand, with rapidly rising homelessness and Rachmanism, and office block speculation by the likes of Harry Hyam on the other hand. We then saw some welcome changes under the 1974 Labour Government, who tackled office block speculation and introduced security of tenure. I never thought that 40 years on we would be debating the biggest housing crisis in a generation. It is a crisis that is deeply damaging. It dashes the hopes of millions of people, damages the life chances of a generation of children growing up and holds back our economy.
What we now require is the utter determination necessary to make a great generational change. That is why Labour has put housing centre stage. We have done so for three reasons. First, millions of people desperately want to rent or buy a house they can afford. The gulf between supply and demand is massive and growing. I see it in the city I am proud to represent, where we need 80,000 homes to meet demand and where 33,000 are currently on the council housing waiting list. Secondly, history tells us that there has never been sustained economic recovery—after the depression, through the war and in every recession since—without a major programme of house building, both public and private. Thirdly, there is the impact of bad housing and instability on our country and our community. At its most chronic, in the private rented sector, bad housing harms health. Instability, for example, if someone has to move home frequently—those living in the private rented sector are 11 times more likely to have to move home than owner-occupiers—is damaging, including to the life prospects of kids at school.