The other election: Commonweal’s key asks for the next Mayor of London
I was asked recently by a former member of Commonweal Housing’s fabulous Advisory Panel, Elizabeth Balgobin, if I would be part of a ‘London’s Asks’ session at the AGM and conference of her current organisation London Plus. London Plus is a new pan-London civil society organisation set up in 2018 focusing on a range of activities, including social research and data, networks and partnerships, advocacy and voice.
This session was aimed at starting to identify key asks for the London mayoral elections taking place in May 2020. Elizabeth had invited a range of experts – and me – from across the social policy spectrum to highlight three key asks they would wish to see reflected in the manifestos of all those standing to be London’s Mayor in 2020.
Why Commonweal? Over the last 13 years or so, we have built up a reputation as an independent social injustice and housing based action learning charity. We use our charitable resources to enable expert organisations to develop and test new ideas, new services and new housing solutions to social injustice – we support test-bed, pilot projects. But fundamentally, we are about capturing the learning from those pilots and sharing it widely so others can repeat, amend or improve on what we found to work or avoid what we found didn’t and not make the same mistakes.
“Commonweal’s reputation, we hope, is as learned honest brokers supporting credible, impartial and valuable projects and research.”
We are an independent charity, investing our time, staff and financial resources to investigating social injustice; but always without vested interests, or visions of a long-term role for ourselves.
In all our work, we begin by wanting to understand what the injustice is: its causes and trajectories. Then, working with partners, we investigate whether housing might have a role to play in its solution. We passionately believe in the importance to people’s lives of safe, stable, secure and accessible housing: a situation which may not necessarily be obvious when first considering a vulnerable person’s immediate needs.
Unsurprisingly, housing was seen time and again by the policy experts at this London Plus session as key to addressing a wide range of injustices and policy issues. These included discussions of health, old age, economic inclusion, children and poverty, domestic violence, migrants and refugees.
Shelter is one of our basic needs. It is a place that can protect us from the elements, keep us warm and safe, and give us the encouragement to satisfy our other needs. It is one of the vital base requirements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Housing shone brightly as a general election issue last week, but disappeared again quickly as others came to the fore. We hope that in the London Mayoral elections, housing – and, crucially, home – will take its rightful place as a key election issue.
It should be noted that the current London Mayor was responsible for setting up the excellent London Housing Panel, chaired by Raji Hunjan, CEO of the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and supported and serviced by Trust for London. The Panel exists to help establish housing priorities, and is guided by expert voluntary and social sector organisations. We have drawn upon their work in the development of these key asks for the mayoral elections.
Beyond that, the fantastic London Funders have recently renewed their own Housing & Homelessness Group, which regularly meets to pull together a broad range of local authority, charitable Trusts, Foundations and grant givers to consider key issues around this topic and explore what role funders can, and should, play in addressing them. This group is chaired by Commonweal’s Deputy CEO, Amy Doyle, and is pulling together a broad based, widely informed set of priorities. What I set out in my London Plus presentation was clearly caveated as not based upon sector wide engagement and input but entirely our own – indeed more than that – my own views.
These are specific asks from Commonweal Housing for London and the London Mayor: not for candidates standing at the upcoming general election. However, should Mssrs Johnson, Corbyn, Swinson or Sturgeon (and any others) feel these may be things that should be addressed by a UK government, that too would be very helpful!
Commonweal’s Manifesto Asks – Housing & Homelessness
- Build more social homes. The 116,000 currently planned for 2022 are welcome, but the Mayor’s office estimates that we need to build at least 66,000 new homes every year to tackle the lack of affordable housing in London. in 2018-9, 14,000 new affordable homes were started. Of these 3,000 were based on social rents (London affordable rents). Going forward we need to see that these must be genuinely affordable (less than 35% of household income after tax and benefits), and physically accessible for those with disabilities. These must include a diverse range of housing options to meet the needs of a range of people at different stages in their journey, from shared housing options, to ‘supportive’ and supported housing, as well as interim housing for those who are not in need of intensive support, but are not yet ready to live independently.
- Invest in appropriate housing for marginalised groups of society. That means investing in the higher revenue and support costs involved in housing marginalised groups, including those with higher support needs, and migrants with NRPF. Invest in providing sustainable and long-term funding for the specialist charitable organisations that are best equipped to support these groups.
- Invest in the immediate term in tackling visible homelessness and rough sleeping – latest CHAIN data recording rough sleeping showed for the quarter to end of September 2019 – 2,069 people newly sleeping rough on London’s streets between July and September this year – a third more than the previous quarter and up from 1,382 in the same period last year. Half of rough sleepers encountered by frontline teams had a mental health need – with 48 per cent found to be UK nationals and 52 per cent of people originating from outside the UK. Tackling this means including by providing hostels, night shelters, and other innovative ‘meanwhile’ forms of temporary accommodation – while more long-term planning and investment takes place. This accommodation must be both safe and appropriate, including the option of women-only provision. But we must not let whoever takes on the role of London Mayor after May 2020 get away with having addressed homelessness and housing if all they do is provide a sticking plaster of more hostels or other accommodation for rough sleepers.
A healthy and functioning housing system must be able to meet people’s wishes and aspirations – their preferences and choices – not just address their immediate needs.
To do that, this fair City needs significantly more subsidised social housing as well as generally more private sector homes.