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Government Housing Priorities

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 28th June 2019.

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Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Theresa May became Prime Minister promising to fight for those ‘just about managing’ – do you think she delivered on this for Londoners facing a housing crisis? What would you tell the incoming Prime Minister they need to do for housing in London?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

In 2016 the PM said the housing crisis was one of the country’s most urgent problems. She was right, but her actions over the last three years have been a total failure. The PM’s only real achievements have been to undo some of the damaging policies of previous Conservative and Liberal Democrat administrations. Removing the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap, reverting plans to force councils to sell off council homes in high-value areas and reinstating at least some funding for rented homes. The U-turns do not amount to the bold and far-reaching action we need, and meanwhile the Government has ploughed on with limiting benefits and moving to Universal Credit, which has fuelled homelessness and rough sleeping.

Of course, it is impossible to talk about the PM’s legacy without mentioning Brexit. The uncertainty created by her botched handling of Brexit is threatening the supply of new and affordable housing by dampening investment and increasing the scale of the construction skills shortage, but the next PM must do more than untangle the Brexit mess. They must also urgently begin discussions with us about devolving to City Hall the extra funding and powers we need.

Latterly, one of the candidates, my predecessor at City Hall [The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP], made clear last year [2018] his support for the fiscal devolution required, in his words, “To build the homes our children and grandchildren are going to need”. As Mayor he argued that cities should be given powers to raise locally the taxes they spend locally, and he specifically advocated devolution of stamp duty. I look forward to these proposals being taken forward if he is successful.

Devolution is not just about funding. Devolution must include strong new powers for City Hall and councils to assemble land for new affordable housing, to build far more ourselves and to overhaul the private rented sector and to make it fit for purpose. If the winning candidate is indeed the former occupant of the office I now hold, I hope he will support London getting the step-change of investment and powers we urgently need to truly fix the housing crisis.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Thank you for that answer, Mr Mayor, and you actually did pre-empt one of my supplementary questions which was about fiscal devolution and indeed the former Mayor’s very strongly expressed views on this when he was Mayor of London. I hope you will be writing to him immediately if, God forbid but unfortunately, as expected, he is going to become the PM.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The reason why I was really pleased when the leader of the Conservatives asked about honesty in politics is I assumed he was talking about Boris Johnson. If we want honesty in politics, then I would assume that Boris Johnson will keep his promise and carry through some of the stuff in the London Finance Commission.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

He is famous for never changing his mind or flip-flopping, isn’t he, Mr Mayor?

Can I ask seriously for a moment, moving to a very serious issue? We had the Combinations Homelessness and Information Network figures out yesterday, which showed that the number of people sleeping rough in 2018/19 rose 18% to a record 8,855 people, which is absolutely shocking. Rough sleeping in London has more than doubled since 2010. 650 people have died on our streets in the past five years, and last night, tragically, a person sleeping rough was killed in a fire in a makeshift camp in the London Borough of Redbridge, which should fill us with great sorrow but also with great anger. What would you tell the new PM if they are serious about eradicating rough sleeping?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

What we are doing in London is a huge amount to do with the causes of the housing crisis, so we have doubled the amount of money we spend on rough sleeping since I first became Mayor. We have doubled the size of our outreach team. We are helping more people now than ever before. It is not enough because the causes have not been changed and improved by the Government. It is like being in a boat. You have a bucket throwing out the water, but there is a massive hole in your boat that is not being addressed. We have to deal with the massive hole in the boat. The massive hole in the boat means changing the welfare benefits policies. It means investing significantly more in social housing, council housing, genuinely affordable housing, and doing far more to stop somebody becoming homeless or a rough sleeper in the first place. Until those things are addressed, we are going to carry on trying to get water out of our boat with a massive hole in it.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Absolutely. You mentioned also in your reply the private rented sector, and it is very clear that we need much greater stability and security for private renters across the city. After huge campaigning pressure particularly from Generation Rent, Theresa May’s Government pledged to end no-fault eviction. Given again that her likely successor as PM has repeatedly when he was Mayor refused to endorse statutory measures to provide long-term stability for tenants, preferring instead a toothless voluntary approach, are you concerned that he will quietly drop this policy if he becomes PM?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I hope he looks at the evidence. To be fair, all the PM has agreed to do is consult on any of this with no-fault evictions. We need to make sure that carries through and section 21 is scrapped. It is really important. We also need to make sure the Government is persuaded of the need for rent control now. For me the argument and the evidence is unarguable. One of the reasons why Karen Buck MP and James Murray [Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development] are doing this piece of work is to have the evidence base we can give to Government to make it realise that London is different. More and more Londoners are renting privately. We need to end section 21. We need to have rent controls. We should have some confidence that you and others were successful in persuading the Government to end the fees people are paying letting agents when they are tenants.  We have a track record of persuading Governments who appear to be unmovable. I am hoping we can persuade the next PM to realise the importance of rent controls in London.

Photo of Tom Copley Tom Copley Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor.